by Bruce Strand, Arts Editor
To say Emily Bowersox was born on a stage would be stretching it, but not by much. She made her stage debut at age 6 months in “Rapunzel” and has rarely left the footlights ever since.
The 18-year-old Elk River resident is currently working on her 29th play, as Lilly St. Regis in Elk River Community Theatre’s “Annie,” which opens July 26. She has sung in more than 100 concerts and vocal competitions in six countries as member of Command Performance Choir.
It’s all about applause, she cheerfully admits.
“Whether you’re doing musical theater, straight plays or opera, applause is incredibly gratifying,” Bowersox said. “It lets me know, that, yes I can do this.”
A soprano, she was Outstanding Soloist at two big music festivals, New York in 2006 and Chicago in 2007, while touring with Command Performance Choir.
Her mother, Eileen Anderson, longtime play director and Command Performance Choir director, got Bowersox her first gig as baby Rapunzel for another director at Northern Lights Children’s Theatre. Anderson has directed most of her daughter’s theatrical and musical ventures ever since.
Anderson estimates conservatively that Bowersox has spent 35,000 hours of her life “in a formal rehearsal or performance setting, plus countless hours singing or studying scripts and music at home.” That started in second grade when she “drove her teacher nuts” by singing Disney tunes out loud when she got bored doing math.
Bowersox has performed in everything from classrooms to cathedrals to the Court of St. James in London, Anderson said, with Disney World her favorite.
A big step for Bowersox locally was when she delivered a hilarious performance as Imogene Herdman in “Best Christmas Pageant Ever” by Youth Theatre Workshop in 2008 when she was 13. Playing the oldest sibling and ringleader of a pack of incorrigible siblings who turn a Sunday School play upside down, she was a big reason that production worked really well.
Her favorite roles have been Imogene and Christine Daae, for whom the Phantom falls in Elk River Community Theatre’s “Phantom of the Opera” in 2011, plus her first, and only, opera role, as Lauretta in “Gianna Schicchi” at her high school, St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Arts, in 2012.
“What I hope all this leads to,” Bowersox said, “is an opera stage somewhere (as a career).”
Her roles also include Wicked Witch of the West in “Wizard of Oz,” Louisa in “Sound of Music,” Tinkerbell in “Peter Pan” and Sugar Plum Fairy in “The Nutracker.” She’s done 16 plays for Youth Theatre Workshop and eight for Elk River Community Theatre.
Her “favorite place in the world” is Disney World, where she has performed seven times, most recently with Youth Theatre Workshop’s “Little Mermaid” in 2012.
Bowersox had her senior pictures taken there, in front of Mann’s Chinese Theatre.
For those portraits, Bowersox went into Marilyn Monroe mode, donning a replica of the white dress made famous in the “Seven Year Itch” windy sidewalk scene.
“She’s been my idol ever since I was little,” Bowersox said. “She was so famous. Such a big icon. I remember thinking, the first time I saw her, I want to be that.”
Japanese tourists stopped to snap their own photos of “Marilyn” when Bowersox was posing that day. She caused another stir at Disney World two years ago when she dressed like Cinderella and got herself kicked out of the Magic Kingdom for looking too much like Cinderella, with kids lining up for autographs.
Bowersox, whose father Bob has also acted in several local plays, was home-schooled through eighth grade. She attended St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Arts in grades nine through 11. She originally signed up for music theater, but found there was too much dancing and not enough singing and switched to the vocal track her sophomore year.
“I just wanted to sing more,” she said. Especially opera. It helped that Nathan Herfindahl had just come on board at St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Arts, right after a gig in Beijing as understudy for Placedo Domingo. Anderson was happy to transfer Bowersox from herself to Herfindahl as her vocal coach.
“Learn from him. He’s great,” Anderson told her daughter, who raised her opera skills considerably.
At St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Arts, she took part in showcases at the end of each semester, but her highlight was “Gianni Schicchi,” directed by Herfindahl, held at Concordia-St. Paul. Enthusiastic crowd reactions after each act were exhilarating, she noted.
“It’s a small role, but Lauretta has the most beautiful song in the entire opera,” said Bowersox, referring to a song that translates to “Oh My Beloved Father.”
Bowersox didn’t return to St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Arts her senior year because she would have had to drive there herself, and being “a new driver,” she was leery of metro traffic. Previously, her dad or sister took her, or she’d ride the MTC bus.
Through a post-secondary enrollment options program, she spent her senior year as a student at Anoka Ramsey (through Elk River High School) while continuing with Herfindahl as a private student. She plans to finish her AA degree there and transfer to a performing arts college.
St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Arts was truly a place to flourish, she said.
“Everyone is there for the same reason, to do what they love,” she reflected. “A lot of them were kind of shunned at their old school, because they were the arts kids, not the sports kids.”
St. Paul Conservatory was wonderfully accepting, she added.
“My first day of school, freshman year, I knew no one, and a girl comes up to me, and says, ‘Hi! My name’s Katherine! What’s yours? Come hang out with me and my friends!’” Bowersox said.
Most of her shows have been local. Brian Budahn, musical director for “Annie” and many local productions and executive director for Command Performance Choir, watched her grow up.
“Emily literally grew up on the stage,” Budahn said. “She has a lot of backstage experience that most people don’t get. As a singer, you don’t have to teach her the basics. You can get right into the deeper details, the fine-tuning. That’s a pleasure for me.”
About the teen’s voice, he said, “A wonderful soprano sound. She’s got a little body but such a huge sound! And that’s only going to improve as she gets older.”