Passion for the stage paying off Sara Schmidt may not be a huge celebrity yet, but she's making a living and gaining more exposure.

Posted: July 08, 2007

The night of Sunday, Nov. 6, 2005, was a big one on Broadway, the opening night for Jersey Boys, the musical biography of the '60s pop group the Four Seasons.

About an hour and a half before the curtain was to go up, everyone gathered on stage at the August Wilson Theater in Manhattan to participate in one of Broadway's many superstitions.

Called the gypsy robe, it dates to 1950, when Bill Bradley, a dancer for the Broadway production of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, borrowed a robe from one of the "gypsies" - the ensemble cast members, not the leads - on opening night and danced through the backstage area, blessing everyone before the curtains went up.

The show was a hit, and a superstitious tradition was born, one with very stringent rules and regulations. The most experienced member of the ensemble cast dons the robe and blesses the show for every Broadway musical; for Jersey Boys, that honor fell to Sara Schmidt, a 1994 Conestoga High School graduate in her third Broadway role as Francine (Frankie Valli's daughter) "and others" (more on that later).

Schmidt and that robe must have spun some serious magic that night, as the show struck a chord with audiences and critics alike. More than a year and a half later, Jersey Boys has taken Schmidt to appearances with her fellow cast members on the Today show and Late Show With David Letterman and, most important, kept her employed.

"I didn't anticipate it being this hard," the 31-year-old said as she sat in a Starbucks down the street from the August Wilson Theater. "I mean, I've auditioned for hundreds of things, and I've gotten like what, five?" she added.

Schmidt's brown hair was pulled back under a red headband, lending her a schoolgirlish look belied by crow's feet circling her strikingly pale brown eyes.

In discussing the ups and downs of a life on and off Broadway with Schmidt, you get a sense of her ability to maintain confidence while constantly dealing with the crushing blow of rejection. For Schmidt, it's been a life she's been destined for since birth.

Pegged by a nurse as expressive in her first moments of life (she said, "Oh, you've got one of those. . . . Good luck," recalled her mother, Julie), Schmidt first ventured into theater in the fifth grade when she beat out dozens of her peers in Birmingham, Mich., for a role in the local high school's production of The Sound of Music.

The Schmidt clan relocated to Devon not long after her performance as a Von Trapp. In search of musical guidance for their daughter, Dan and Julie Schmidt were directed to Gail Reilley, a Norristown-based singing coach.

"After about a month, I realized she had amazing potential," said Reilley, 68. "A year later, her improvement was so amazing. . . . It was very obvious she was a major talent."

Her pipes earned Schmidt a scholarship to Ithaca College, where she studied, of all things, theater, before hitting New York to try her luck professionally.

One of her first roles was a spot in an off-Broadway production of The Fantasticks 10 years ago. Her career has included stints as an understudy on the Broadway shows Dance of the Vampires and Brooklyn, but only Jersey Boys has earned her a spot on stage in every show, most notably when she belts out "My Boyfriend's Back" in the first act. The "and others" in her role denotes Schmidt's playing 24 people, including Valli's mother and girlfriend as well as daughter, which begs for some kind of Sigmund Freud joke.

"I'm lucky - I've worked pretty much steadily since I was 20," Schmidt said.

"The unbelievable passion she has to have for this is incredible," said Dan Schmidt, who cited Sara's dream to be the last woman out on stage during the curtain call. When asked about that dream, she started to cry, moved to tears by the thoughts of her parents' support of her lifelong dream. As for whether that dream will ever become reality?

"Oh, I hope so. If it doesn't, things are pretty great, so . . . ," she trailed off before finishing, "I can't turn my dreams off. Right?"

As Schmidt rose from her table at the Starbucks and headed back to the theater to prep for her evening performance, Kathleen Parker, 20, of Brooklyn Heights, ended her phone call so she could hurriedly ask, "Was that Sara Schmidt from Jersey Boys?"

When Parker was told that it was, her face lit up. "I really like her as Francine. There's something about how she plays it that I can relate to," said Parker, who has seen Jersey Boys 10 times.

Which goes to show that no matter when Schmidt comes out during her curtain call, a large chunk of her childhood dream has already come true.

Sara on Broadway

For photos of Sara Schmidt in Jersey Boys, go to www.broadwayworld.com./gallery.cfm and write her name in the search box.

For more information on the show itself, go to www.jerseyboysbroadway.com.

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