Theatre alum makes Broadway debut in groundbreaking new musical comedy
When Bonnie Milligan ’06 takes the stage each night in the groundbreaking new Broadway show Head Over Heels, she draws from her diverse experiences as an undergraduate in the Department of Theatre. As she sings, dances and struts her way through the dynamic production, which is based on a 16th-century poem and set to the music of The Go-Go’s, Milligan recalls the “limitless” education she received at Ohio State, which she credits with helping her become a better performer and writer.
Milligan recently took the time to share more about her journey from the Roy Bowen Theatre to the Hudson Theatre.
What drew you to Ohio State?
It was actually my high school choir and drama teacher. I hadn’t really thought about going to a state school before that, but I thought “You know, why not?” So, I visited the campus, and I thought it was just gorgeous. I loved Columbus and the big campus.
I loved the theatre program because it was so focused on acting. Instead of committing to just one style of acting, we were really exposed to many different things. I was able to be in the choir and take a couple different dance classes if I wanted to, but I really liked the focus on acting and writing. There was a great New Works program with Dr. Joy Reilly that really helped me develop as a writer while I was there too.
Milligan at the opening night red carpet event for Head Over Heels. Photo by Jenny Anderson.
What were your favorite classes or faculty members in the Department of Theatre?
I loved the vocal training program by Mandy Fox. She did the Kristin Linklater technique that really changed my life as an actor and a singer. It opened up a lot of things for me. And, I took amazing Shakespeare and acting classes with Maureen Ryan. I also enjoyed Jeanine Thompson’s movement classes. I learned so much about it coming from an acting perspective, which I think has made me a more “in my body” conscious actor than I had been before. I really loved everybody on the Department of Theatre staff. Dr. Reilly took me and so many kids under her wing. She was just the kindest lady. I grew so much as a writer under her tutelage.
The diversity of classes at Ohio State made me feel like I had such a big education in so many different ways," Milligan said.
How did your time on campus prepare you for your career now?
I think definitely the diversity on the campus. The diversity of classes made me feel like I had such a big education in so many different ways. I liked getting the liberal arts degree because I felt like I came out a very well-rounded graduate. I’ve gone on a lot of auditions for TV or film, and my agent told me “Well a lot of musical theater actors have a hard time with TV and film,” and I say “Well I didn’t actually go to school just for musical theater, I also took film classes.” So, I feel like I came out well-rounded, with a lot of tools in my tool belt. A lot of programs out there can really pigeonhole you with a very specific way to sing, and it can kind of limit you. But I felt like I came out limitless.
Let’s talk about your current production: Head Over Heels.
The book is in iambic pentameter, so I feel like a lot of my training, especially at Ohio State focusing on Shakespeare and focusing on the classics has kind of prepared me to deal with more complicated text. But we mash it up with the music of the Go-Go’s. It’s inspired by Sir Philip Sidney’s Arcadia, which is from the 1580s mixed with the music of the 1980s. It’s kind of like a modern-day family tale. It follows a royal family, and I play the older princess. An oracle tells the king he’s on a bad path and that prophecies are going to happen if he doesn’t change his ways. And we kind of go on a road trip to thwart the prophecy which, of course, doesn’t go well. It’s a journey of self-discovery for all the characters … It’s this idea that once you accept yourself and others, you can really find happiness.
We have a lot of representation in the show that I don’t think has been seen on Broadway before. We have a non-binary character being played by a trans woman, and she’s the first openly trans woman to originate a role on Broadway. We also have body diversity with me in the role of the beautiful princess, with nothing in the script about my size, which is like revolutionary. It has a strong LGBT element, too. It’s a really special show, and I’m really proud to be a part of it.
The cast of Head Over Heels with The Go-Go's after a surprise post-show concert. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.
What’s the best thing about being a part of this production?
To make my Broadway debut is pretty fierce. To originate a role is amazing. But I love the company. They’re amazingly talented, beautiful people that I just adore. So, work is fun. It’s exhausting, but it’s nice to go in and like the show that you’re doing and the people that you’re acting with. We’ve met so many amazing people at the stage door, and that’s been really cool too.
What’s one piece of advice you would give to current undergraduates in theater?
Don’t limit yourself. Don’t ever compare yourself to anybody else. Know that your path is different. It’s such a hard thing to do in this field. To not look at others to see them succeeding when you feel like you’re failing. It’s such a roller coaster — you have to be prepared always for the ups and downs. It’s never like “You’ve made it and you’re good.” So, I think holding on to what makes you special, and surrounding yourself with a good group of people who keep you grounded, and just going for it, without any fear. Because I had fear for quite a while, but once I let those things go and showed myself, that’s when things started working.
I love and cherish my time at Ohio State, and I still have such a community of people here in New York from Ohio State. It’s a great school where you can really find yourself, which is what I did. I loved it.
Ohio State alumna Bonnie Milligan is strutting her way through a new Broadway musical. #ASCDaily