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Where Are They Now? Q&A With Notable Jenks' Grads

Julie Hanson ('97) playing the role of Christine in a performance of The Phantom of the Opera.
5889562cab4e8Julie Hanson ('97) playing the role of Christine in a performance of The Phantom of the Opera.
Julie Hanson ('97) playing the role of Christine in a performance of The Phantom of the Opera.

Julie Hanson - Actress, Singer, Broadway Performer

From the Jenks High School stage to the bright lights of Broadway, Julie Hanson (Class of 1997) has played some of the most iconic roles in the world of musical theatre. The subject of tonight’s “Where Are They Now? Wednesday,” Hanson used her time at Jenks to develop the skills and courage required to dazzle audiences from coast to coast and everywhere in between. Read more about this actor, performer, and mother of two who says she will always be proud to consider herself a Trojan!

What are your fondest memories of attending Jenks High School?
Hanson: I have a lot of fond memories from Jenks…being in choir and show choir, performing in the musicals, being involved with student council, and cheering on our football team!

Was there one particular teacher or principal who inspired you or made a lasting impact in your life?
Hanson:  I remember feeling a lot of support and encouragement from many different teachers, but Larry Downey is probably the one who made the greatest impact on my life and career. He cast me in the high school musical (The King and I) when I was in third grade, and that really set the ball rolling. Also, the opportunities and education that he gave me throughout high school were very instrumental in my deciding to pursue a career in the performing arts.

What is your favorite “on-stage” moment from a high school performance?
Hanson: I played Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady my senior year at Jenks…that was definitely a highlight for me.

How did your time at Jenks High School prepare you for your career?
Hanson: The performing arts education at Jenks was very strong and provided so many opportunities for me. I gained a solid training in music from participating in the choirs, had a variety of performing opportunities through show choir, the musicals and plays, and competition experience…it was invaluable. When I went into a musical theatre program in college, I felt very prepared on many levels.

How did you decide to pursue a full-time career in performing arts?
Hanson: I think it started when I had to make decisions about where I wanted to go to college and what I wanted to study. I remember thinking that I wanted to perform more than anything else, so I decided to go to Oklahoma City University for Musical Theatre and give it a try.  I do think the education and opportunities I received at Jenks were a huge part of that, though! Had I not had the exposure at such a young age, and the opportunities throughout high school, I don’t know if I would have had the confidence or courage to pursue a performing career.

How would you describe the moment when you learned you would be part of Phantom of the Opera on Broadway?
Hanson: Making my Broadway debut was certainly a dream come true and incredibly exciting, but I was first cast in the national tour of Phantom, and it’s the moment I got that job that really stands out in my head. It was unreal and a dream come true. I was only 21! I was working on a show in Texas at the time (over the summer), and my car was packed to go back to OCU right after the show closed to start my senior year. I had had a series of auditions for the show Les Miserables over the few years prior, while I was at OCU. That summer, I got a call from the same casting director, asking if I could come to New York to audition for Phantom of the Opera. I flew to New York, saw Phantom for the first time, auditioned in the lower lobby of the theatre after the performance, and was offered the job on the spot! My life changed in an instant. I had to go finish the show I was working on (The King and I again, ironically) and had one day after the show closed to go home and repack to go out on tour. Getting to do the Broadway show a few years later was another dream come true and icing on the cake. (By the way, after leaving college a year early, I did finish a general liberal arts degree online…years later!)

What is the most satisfying or exhilarating part of being on stage?
Hanson: I think the thing I enjoy most about the theatre is being able to really examine and get to know another person, and then being able to tell their story. It’s definitely thrilling to be able to entertain and offer people an escape for a few hours…to be able to take them on a journey they might connect to, or learn from, or be inspired by in some way. Theatre can be very powerful, and that is exciting!

Of all the characters and roles you’ve played, which one is your favorite and why?
Hanson: Ah, that’s so hard! I think I’ve enjoyed different roles and productions for different reasons. Some shows have been pure fun; others have challenged and taught me vocally, emotionally, and/or physically; others have brought me life-long friends. Christine in Phantom will certainly always be special to me, as it was my Broadway debut, a huge part of my career, and a character I felt very close to. I also really loved playing Julie Jordan in Carousel, and Fiddler on the Roof.

What kind of advice would you give to Jenks students who aspire to become professional performers?
Hanson: I would tell aspiring performers to take every opportunity you can to learn and make yourself as well rounded as possible. Take voice, take dance, take acting, audition as much as you can, but also develop other skills and interests. Your experiences and knowledge make you unique and give you more to draw from as an actor. Also, as you try to be versatile, stay true to yourself and know your own strengths. Don’t try to be someone or something you’re not; trust in your own individual qualities and talents.

Julie Hanson pictured with her husband Jason, and daughters, Mia (right), and Nora (left).

How often do you make it back to Jenks?
Hanson: I get back to Jenks about twice a year. My family is still there, and my nephew is now super involved in theatre, so we try to get back to visit and see his shows from time to time! Two small children make it a little more challenging right now!

What is next for you both personally and professionally?
Hanson: I now live in St. Louis with my husband and our two daughters (Mia-5 and Nora-1 ½ ). After Mia was born, we were ready to get out of the New York area and settle down somewhere a little closer to my family. St. Louis has been a great spot to raise a family, while still providing a lot of work opportunities for me. It’s a better balance for this stage of our lives, because I don’t have to be constantly auditioning and/or leaving town, but I can (hopefully) still work on a few productions a year at the wonderful, professional theatres in town. I just finished a production of Follies at The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis in October. That show was one of the most spectacular I’ve ever worked on, and the theatre is right in our neighborhood! We are in the middle of audition season for most of the St. Louis theatres right now. The bulk of musical theatre work here happens in the Summer and Fall, so we’ll see what falls into place this year! I have a little Gershwin concert coming up in April at the Sheldon Concert Hall here in town, and otherwise, I’ll be home playing mommy!