By Charles Donelan
For every star on Broadway, there are thousands of hopefuls toiling away in summer stock, college productions, and high school shows. What keeps them going — along with the sheer pleasure they take in performing — is the dream that someday they will break through to the big-time and join their idols on stage in a full-scale Broadway production. For Dana Musgrove Costello, that Broadway dream came true. The young singer/actress is currently appearing in the season’s most popular new Broadway musical, Finding Neverland, alongside Glee’s Matthew Morrison and Kelsey “Frasier Crane” Grammer. Costello’s road to Broadway started at Santa Barbara High School and continued through the Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts (PCPA) in Santa Maria, which makes her a perfect demonstration for area theater kids of the fact that, yes, it can happen here, and maybe even to you.
I spoke with Costello by phone from New York recently, and then I corresponded with some of the teachers who knew her when she was here. The portrait that emerged from these conversations confirmed some of the musical theater’s most deeply felt convictions. From the loyalty of “Together (Wherever We Go)” to the moment when “Everything’s Coming Up Roses,” and even to that place where it is appropriate to belt out “If My Friends Could See Me Now,” Costello has done it her way and in grand showbiz style.
Otto Layman, artistic director of Santa Barbara High’s renowned theater program, describes her arrival this way:
I remember her from the very first class of that year. [Dana was] 14 years old, having just moved here from the East Coast, knowing no one — and the first thing I had her do was stand on a table in front of the class and sing. And oh, did she sing! I went home that night and told my wife that I just met this actor, this tiny young girl, who sang with every fiber of her body. She was then, and she is now, a huge voice, an incandescent talent, and a remarkable presence.
Mark Booher, artistic director and associate dean at PCPA, provides some insight into what has taken Costello so far in the highly competitive world of Broadway musical theater:
It was really great to work with Dana as a student and see her growth as an actor during her time in training at PCPA. I think I can safely say she left the program a better actor and has carried on with that growth during this first decade of her professional career. She is an actor who also happens to be an amazing vocalist. The nice thing is good actors often improve with age because life has a way of deepening our understanding, creating complexity and maturity. We become more dimensional humans through experience and just have more to bring to the play.
For her part, Costello has nothing but praise and gratitude for both SBHS and PCPA, citing the fact that “PCPA is a real conservatory, with every class focused on what I wanted to do,” as a driving force behind her decision to go there out of high school. Highlights of her recent success include the experience of developing Finding Neverland at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge under director Diane Paulus before bringing it to New York. But those early theater memories remain vivid, as she recalls her first SBHS show, The Wizard of Oz, by saying, “I wanted to play Dorothy so badly, but Otto said no, you should play the Scarecrow, and he was right!” Here’s to following the yellow brick road — you never know where it might lead you.