A record number of eight alumni from the magnet program in Mableton — called the Cobb County Center for Excellence in the Performing Arts or ComPAny — are performing on Broadway in New York this season.
This year’s Broadway stars include Billy Tighe in “Pippin,” Cody Williams in “Cinderella,” Justin Patterson in “Annie,” Cary Tedder in “Big Fish,” K.J. Hippensteel in “Book of Mormon,” Nathan Madden in “Chicago,” Ryan Breslin in “Newsies” and Carlos Valdes in “Once.”
The eight former students who once graced the stages at Pebblebrook have come a long way. Frank Timmerman, executive director of the arts program, says that Broadway is a dream come true for many Pebblebrook performers.
“Broadway is the pinnacle for our musical theatre students,” Timmerman said. “But we also have students who aspire to careers as ballet dancers, opera singers, actors, choreographers, playwrights, conductors and teachers. Our graduates are achieving successes in all performing arts fields, both in this country and around the world.”
Tighe, 28, graduated from Pebblebrook in 2003. During his school career, he was in “Pippin,” “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” “Footloose” and “Forever Plaid,” among others. He is one of the understudies for the title character as well as the role of Lewis on the Tony-winning Broadway revival of “Pippin,” which opened in March. As an understudy, Tighe must take the stage at a moment’s notice in case of sickness or vacations.
The musical follows the life of a young prince named Pippin on his search for meaning and significance. Directed by Diane Paulus with choreography in the style of Bob Fosse, the show includes singing, dancing and acrobatics.
Tighe landed the role when he auditioned with 30 to 50 other male performers in a grueling day filled with round after round of singing and dancing cuts. He said Pebblebrook’s notoriously rigorous, competitive program helped him make the cut.
“I think the one thing that Pebblebrook has really instilled in me is a drive and determination to always sort of seek better of myself,” said Tighe, who majored in vocal and minored in dance at Pebblebrook. “The way that the program is run is very rigorous and very intense, and I think I really thrived in that sort of environment. It made me want to see how far I could push those skills. … I took my first dance class there when I was 15, and I started taking acrobatics there when I was 15 and continued my singing training, and all of those skills have been necessary in my career thus far. And all of those skills are extremely valuable in this show in particular.”
Williams, 26, graduated from Pebblebrook in 2006. He plays the raccoon who turns into the driver and drives Cinderella to the ball in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella” on Broadway, now playing.
Williams performed in every Pebblebrook production while he attended the school — with the exception of all-female cast productions — including “Pippin,” “Footloose,” “Copacabana,” “Big” and “The Diviners.”
He is known as a triple threat — a performer skilled in acting, dancing and singing. But he’s also skilled at gymnastics, making Williams a quadruple threat. He credits this versatility among many performers at Pebblebrook as the key to earning a place on the stages of Broadway. All of Pebblebrook’s male performers skilled in acting, dancing, singing and acrobatics have found their way to Broadway, Williams said.
“A lot of people can sing and dance, but when you can sing and dance then do acrobatics?” said Williams, who is also the understudy for the prince. “It’s crazy to think that 100 percent of the guys who pursued performing acting ComPAny who can do gymnastics are on Broadway. That’s huge.”
Timmerman said Pebblebrook encourages students to pursue as many areas of instruction as possible.
“We’re different from many performing arts magnet programs in that regard,” Timmerman said. “I think it’s the secret to our success and the reason why we’ve earned a reputation in New York and around the country as one of the top training programs for young performing artists.”
Timmerman says Tighe and Williams have set a high bar at Pebblebrook.
“(Tighe) was recognized as a leader and a very special talent early on. Billy was cast in every possible production during his high school career, usually in a leading role. He and his best friend from Pebblebrook, Colt Prattes (also a Broadway performer), were both selected to attend the prestigious Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. That was the first time we’d ever had two of our seniors chosen for that elite musical theatre program. The two have remained close friends throughout high school, college, and now in New York,” Timmerman said. “Cody Williams was a drama major with a double minor in vocal music and dance. We see a lot of very motivated, highly driven students in the magnet program, but Cody sets the standard. … Cody’s enthusiasm was infectious, and he inspired his classmates to achieve their best.”
Over the years, Pebblebrook has seen former students in 46 Broadway shows and countless national tours. They include Pink’s “Truth About Love” world tour, and TV’s “So You Think You Can Dance” and “Glee.”
Timmerman said audiences can look forward to Pebblebrook’s next musical theater production, “Les Miserables,” which will open the Encore Series at the Cobb Civic Center’s Jennie T. Anderson Theatre in February.