At an age when most girls looked up to television and movie stars, Laura Soto-Bayomi admired Sarah Brightman, the actress and classically-trained soprano who starred on Broadway in “Phantom of the Opera” and other Andrew Lloyd Webber productions.
“She influenced me a lot when I was younger,” Soto-Bayomi said, though now her tastes run more toward fellow musical theater actresses Bernadette Peters, Natalie Dessay, and Kristin Chenoweth.
Soto-Bayomi, who hopes to follow the path of these stage legends, will begin her own music theater journey this month when she debuts in the New Jersey Youth Theatre’s production of “Sweeney Todd” at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark.
“One of the best things about this production is it follows all the rules for Actors Equity,” Soto-Bayomi said. “We don’t get paid and we don’t earn Equity points, but aside from that, it’s the same as being in an Equity production, so we’re getting the same professional experience we’d be getting if we were performing on Broadway.”
The experience will come in handy for the young soprano, who will attend the New England Conservatory this fall to receive classical voice training.
High school musicals trained well
Soto-Bayomi first tested her singing and acting chops while attending school in Secaucus. Last year, she was cast as Belle in “Beauty and the Beast” and this year as Mayzie La Bird in “Seussical.” She also had a lead role in the high school production of “Hello Dolly.”
“I was very musically involved in Secaucus,” noted Soto-Bayomi, who graduated from the high school two weeks ago. “I’ve been in all the school shows since eighth grade. In seventh grade I was part of the ensemble.”
“She influenced me a lot when I was younger,” Soto-Bayomi said of acclaimed classically trained soprano Sarah Brightman
“The high school productions are very well-done and the director is demanding and tough, so if you plan to go into theater as a career, you get a sense of what will be expected of you in the professional theater world,” said Soto-Bayomi, who lists “Gypsy,” “Phantom of the Opera,” “The Lion King,” “Wicked,” and “Light in the Piazza” among her favorite musicals.
Soto-Bayomi supplemented her high school training with acting classes at the Mannes Preparatory School in New York City.
‘Something we all want’
To land the role in “Sweeney Todd,” Soto-Bayomi had to audition three times.
“In ‘Sweeney Todd’ everything is mimed,” she explained. “And for the audition we had to pretend we were baking a pie. I’ve never baked a pie, so I had to really think about it at first. And when I first started my audition I could tell I wasn’t giving [director Cynthia Meryl] what she wanted. I learned I had to be very precise with my movements, otherwise, as Cynthia told us, to the audience it just looks like you’re flailing your hands around.”
She added the production has made her more mindful of how she uses her body and movements on stage.
But she also likes the camaraderie, too.
“One thing I like about being in this production is everybody here is really passionate about theater and acting,” she said. “This is something we all want to do, so even though we have fun, there’s less fooling around, like there can be sometimes in the school productions.”
Meryl, who founded the New Jersey Theatre Group and puts on a production each year at the PAC in Newark, agreed.
“This is where the kids figure out whether the theater is for them or not,” she stated. “It’s a matter of priorities. These kids put in a lot of work. We’re putting in eight hours of rehearsal a day. If you’re not into it, and you’d rather be in soccer or gymnastics, you’re going to know it right away. And that’s good thing. It’s better for them to find that out sooner rather than later.”
Long-term, Soto-Bayomi plans to pursue musical theater but said she wants to concentrate on training her voice now and will study with vocal teacher Patricia Misslin when she gets to the New England Conservatory.
“Eventually I know I want to do musical theater because that’s where my heart is,” Soto-Bayomi said, “so I know I’ll get to it eventually.”
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.