Jackie Burns, a UConn alumna circa 2002 and current star of Broadway’s crowning jewel “Wicked,” is living proof that dreams do come true for many School of Fine Arts students. On Saturday, Oct. 28, a bus full of UConn undergraduates traveled to the Big Apple to watch and talk with Burns.
In addition to “Wicked,” Burns has starred in the national tour of “If/Then,” “Hair” on Broadway and “Rock of Ages” off-Broadway.
Burns’s success not only caught the theatre community’s attention, but the attention of UConn administrators as well.
The trip was coordinated by the Dean of the School of Fine Arts, Anne D’Alleva. D’Alleva teaches a First Year Experience class comprised almost entirely of students in the School of Fine Arts. Both her connections as the dean and the makeup of her FYE class likely motivated her to put this trip in motion. Similarly, in past years, her class has attended “Hamilton” in Chicago because a UConn alumnae was in the show.
Burns took the stage of Gershwin Theatre in the same fashion that the women’s basketball team takes the court in Gampel Pavilion: she owned it.
Nearly as soon as the curtain closed, the students raved about the performance.
Constance Chan, a first semester pre-pharmacy major, noted the jam-packed combination of visual and linguistic storytelling, which is characteristic of live performances. “It was so intense, if you blink you missed something so important,” Chan said.
D’Alleva agreed. “She uses her body really well. She’s a great comedic actor,” D’Alleva said.
First semester pre-pharmacy major Sumda Achar praised Burns’s performance of “Defying Gravity” right before intermission. “It was majestic. It was so overpowering, you just lost it and were just taken aback by how intensely amazing it was,” Achar said. “Walking out, I think my legs were trembling.”
Anthony Zor, a first semester digital media and design major also thought the show was overpowering at times. “I almost cried… because the emotion of everyone singing together really [impacted me],” Zor said.
Others echoed Achar’s astonishment with Burns’s performance of “Defying Gravity.” Diana Levytska, a pre-pharmacy major, said “I had chills running down through like the whole time.” Lily Zhu, another first semester pre-pharmacy major offered high praise. “[Her voice] filled the room,” said Zhu.
And if the inspiring performance wasn’t enough, Burns met with the current UConn students and answered questions.
Burns immediately demonstrated a humility that is most likely equal to her fame by responding to the first question with self-deprecating humor. She joked about always having to wear a hat to cover up the traces of green that never entirely come off her skin. The students laughed along generously, likely counting in their heads how many days that week they’d “bummed it” themselves (personally, I don’t know if I can count that high).
But the talk wasn’t entirely humorous or all about witches, wizards and flying monkeys. She warned that the amount of effort that you need to put forth in order to continue to pursue your passion never ends.
Like many alumni, Burns warned students against excessive partying and advised them to take their classes seriously. “There’s so much to learn. I know sometimes it may be boring in class, but soak up all the knowledge you can,” Burns said.
She recounts how, at times, she wasn’t a model student and didn’t always use her fours years at UConn to her advantage. “Honestly, pay attention in class because I didn’t and I wish I did!” Burns said.
“But you’re on Broadway so like...,” a student began with a hint of sarcasm. Burns responded with a humor that mirrored her early humble remarks. “I mean yeah,” Burns said.
Burns departed, leaving the students feeling not only moved, but at least partly inspired - not just to become a famous actor or actress on Broadway but to simply dream big so that when they get there, maybe they’ll have their own “I mean yeah” moment.
Alexis Taylor is a contributor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.