Bermudian takes on star role in New York stage show
Life is imitating art for Bermudian actress and dancer Gabriele Dunkley, who this week took the stage in her first starring role in New York.
While she was initially cast in a supporting role in the Congregation Rodeph Sholom Theater Company production of 42nd Street, Ms Dunkley was asked to take the leading role after the first actress cast dropped out.
The story mirrors that of the musical itself — in which young chorus member Peggy Sawyer wins a leading role in a Broadway show after the original star breaks her ankle.
“It's a crazy coincidence,” Ms Dunkley said. “It definitely helped me get into the role of Peggy. The first time I read through it I did the blocking with the script and with the entire cast. I was so anxious, but my director loved it so much she still tells me to go back to that feeling of not knowing.”
Ms Dunkley, 23, said she has been interested in performing almost all of her life, taking her first dance classes when she was just three years old.
“My parents told me that I never walked. I ran and jumped everywhere,” she said. “They thought they had to put me in dance classes to keep me from hurting myself.”
After taking classes at the Jackson School of Dance and the In Motion Schools of Dance and performing locally in Gilbert and Sullivan productions of Dreamgirls and Ragtime, Ms Dunkley continued her studies overseas.
She said she was taking a tap dancing class at the Debbie Allen Dance Academy when Ms Allen approached her and asked her about her future.
“I said I wanted to dance. She said I should consider musical theatre because it's a bigger field than just dance,” she said. “She kind of gave me the push, which was really cool.”
After earning her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Musical Theatre from the New School University in New York, she began working at a high school as a stage manager, auditioning and taking part in workshops whenever possible.
In January, she auditioned for a role in 42nd Street, a musical about a notorious director attempting to put on a successful Broadway show in the heart of the great depression and the talented chorus girl, Peggy Stewart, who becomes the show's star.
Ms Dunkley said she was initially cast in the supporting role of Anytime Annie, but at the beginning of last month the actress cast in the leading role of Peggy dropped out.
“The director and the choreographer called me and asked me if I would take over the role,” she said. “They gave me six rehearsals before dress rehearsals began in order to get the role, so I had a lot of work to do to get the role.
“I had new dance solos to learn, I had new lines to learn, I had new songs to learn. I had to fit into the previous Peggy's costumes. Thankfully, the entire cast were supportive and had so much faith, which helped give me the courage I needed.”
The production's five-show run began on Wednesday with a sold-out performance, which Ms Dunkley said was a great success.
“We had a full house. It was just beautiful,” she said. “Every time I had a chance to watch my fellow actors I would because they are all so talented.
“I was shaking in my boots. I have never been the lead in anything before. I've always been more of a character actor because I do funny faces and voices.”