IAN YEE firstname.lastname@example.org
WAY before Rachel Berry made dreams of broadway completely uncool with her trademark constipated singing face, our very own Petaling Jaya-born Stephanie Van Driesen, 28, was already working her way to becoming a musical star – without being an insufferable tool.
Back when she was 16, Dutch-Eurasian Stephanie attended a course at the old The Actors Studio in Kuala Lumpur called “Intro to Musical Theater”, and she’s wanted to be a musical actress ever since.
It’s taken her a while, no doubt, having only started to really shine in the last couple of years when she was cast to play roles like Sally Bowles in Cabaret and Dorothy in The Wizard Of Oz , both of which were successful local productions. There ain’t no two ways about it now, though, as triple-threat Stephanie is a rising star of local musical theatre.
It’s little surprise too, considering she was the first batch of students who graduated from the highly-touted degree in musical theatre course at Singapore’s Lasalle College of the Arts, and she did win the college’s President’s Award.
“It was crazy,” said Stephanie of the course. “We had to do jazz, ballet and tap (dancing), singing, acting. And because it was a performance course, you had to actually be a performer. We had classes in the morning and rehearsals at night. Quite a few from my batch dropped out.”
After four years in Singapore, Stephanie returned in 2008, even though many had told her not to. For two years, it seemed her dreams wouldn’t come true with few roles coming her way; but she continued to do a lot of singing at corporate events and venues like No Black Tie in KL.
But since 2010, she’s been pretty much a full-time musical actress, having performed in The Secret Life Of Nora in addition to Cabaret and Wizard, seemingly riding a wave of interest in musical theater locally. Ironically, she does credit shows like Glee and Smash for this.
“I never really planned much (for her musical career),” she said. “It’s not like, ‘I must go to Broadway!’ I just go with the flow. I’m very ‘flowy’. Maybe too flowy!”
Some of her coursemates at Lasalle weren’t so “flowy”. They checked things like work permit and visa requirements while they were studying, and flew straight to London after graduating in hopes of being in West End shows. Only two out of 12 of them got anything “remotely close” to a proper job there.
Hearing from Stephanie how incredibly difficult it is to be involved in musical theatre, it can be hard to imagine why some still want to do it.
“It’s just physically exhausting. You go through gruelling rehearsals, where you have to give your all to impress the director. That means falling flat on the floor, crying your eyes out. That’s why actors like Hugh Jackman are so fit – he works out so he can pull through.”
“During the show, you have to make sure you hit your markers every time, dance right up to the line the director tells you, keep the emotion of the character … At the same time, you have to worry off-stage about costumes, props, drinking enough water, and still come out remembering that Dorothy’s supposed to have just been through a twister,” she said.
For now, Stephanie’s spending her time between productions singing at events and trying to record an album of original songs.
Her dreams are very much still alive, and they include playing either Elphaba or Glinda from Wicked, and Christine from The Phatom Of The Opera; and of course, making it in Broadway or the West End.
“All of us want to end up there. If not, why do it at all? But for me, it’s not like I’ll die if it doesn’t happen,” she quipped.
“It’s just a case of doing your best, and you’ll never know what could happen, who you might meet. It’s not impossible.”