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Alumna Allison Blackwell Stars in Broadway Musical

December 2018

Spelman Alumna Allison BlackwellAs a Spelman student, Allison Blackwell, C’2001, spent four years in the Glee Club and was an active participant in the theater department. However, she never thought she could measure up to her two musically talented parents. Instead, she set her sights on becoming an entertainment lawyer. But during the Sept. 11 attacks, she found herself re-evaluating her career choices.

“I was at one of the House buildings [at the Capitol] when we got the alarm. I ended up walking home that day.” Now she is performing eight shows a week on Broadway in “Pretty Woman: The Musical.” She plays Violetta, an opera singer. “I realized I didn’t want to become a lawyer and wanted to become a performer,” she said. “Looking back, Spelman taught me to be proud. It especially empowered me to walk in my truth when I may be the only person of color in my situation.”

“I realized I didn’t want to become a lawyer and wanted to become a performer,” she said. “We had the Pentagon [attack]; I was in midst of that. I was at one of the House buildings when we got the alarm. It was thousands of people standing outside. I ended up walking home that day because the subways were locked off. From that experience, reflecting, I decided to apply to graduate school for music.”

That decision took the Philadelphia native to the Boston Conservatory, where she studied musical theater and voice. After that, she moved to New York and began auditioning for everything.

She made her Broadway debut in the Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess alongside six-time Tony Award Winner Audra McDonald and Tony Nominees Norm Lewis and David Alan Grier. This life-changing experience allowed Blackwell to record her first original cast album and perform at the 2012 Tony Awards (Winner: Best Revival)

In 2013Blackwell was blessed to play one of her musical idols Aretha Franklin, in A Night With Janis Joplin.USA Today noted, "Allison Blackwell, veers from a stunning operatic rendering of Summertime to a shivery, booming impersonation of Aretha Franklin."  She subsequently joined the Broadway cast for Disney’s The Lion King after finishing her run in A Night With Janis Joplin.   Blackwell will next be seen in Pretty Woman: The Musical. Previews start July 20th at the Nederlander Theatre on 41st Street.

Allison Blackwell in Pretty Woman
Today you can find Blackwell, an English major, performing eight shows a week in the Broadway production Pretty Woman: The Musical at the Nederlander Theater. She plays opera singer Violetta.

Blackwell’s resume screams success. She has performed Live at the Lincoln Center with the New York Philharmonic and at Carnegie Hall. She’s done regional theater in Chicago, Dallas and Sacramento; and she performed in several Broadway shows including A Night with Janis Joplin (as Aretha Franklin), The Gershwin’s Porgy and BessThe Lion King and Lincoln Center’s Sweeney Todd and Show Boat.

The child of two music teachers who were also classical performers, Blackwell sought out Spelman after attending predominantly white schools in suburban Philadelphia.

She fondly remembers the skillful instruction of Spelman music department faculty Dr. Norma Raybon and later, Dr. Kevin Johnson. She studied voice with Laura English-Robinson and took part in several musicals and plays where Dr. Kenneth Green was a big influencer. 

She keeps in touch with professors and other Spelman alumnae who are currently performing on Broadway. Her advice for students wanting to get into the entertainment world, particularly New York’s theater scene: “Audition for everything, don’t discount anything. It’s very important to get a good acting coach and voice teacher who can teach you how to maintain yourself when you get a show. And don’t put yourself in a box. Learn as many tools as you can, dancing, acting and singing.”

“To get to do what I love to do is a gift. If you find something you love to do, cherish it and love it.”

Blackwell considers it a blessing to be able to perform for others. It’s important for her to be grateful and humble in all things.

 “I always remind myself before I go on stage, ‘Someone in that audience is going to be moved by you’.”

When Blackwell is not on a Broadway stage, she can be seen performing across the nation with The Boston Pops, The Philly Pops, The New York Pops, The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and The Houston Symphony Orchestra and many more.

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