By KATELYN MASSARELLI
Bri Mooney fell in love with being Mulan. As her first acting role, the high schooler was hooked on transforming into another person on stage.
Now, 11 years later as a senior musical theater major, Mooney clinches another lead role as main character Billie Bendix in UT’s production of the musical Nice Work if You Can Get it, coming to Falk Theater Nov. 17-20. Billie is a hard-shelled ‘20s bootlegger who has never experienced love until she meets Jimmy Winter (Sean Royal), according to Mooney.
“[Billie] had a tough upbringing and is so stern and stubborn,” Mooney said. “Jimmy shows us that love can open someone’s eyes and change them.”
Mooney is used to playing strange, comical roles like her role as Marcy in Dogfight this past spring. But as Billie, a more conservative character, Mooney is forced to step out of her comfort zone. For this reason, Mooney is focused on getting to know Billie.
“I’m taking the time to go through each moment and experience it as Billie would and thinking of the best ways Billie can be portrayed on stage, so it comes off as natural as possible,” Mooney said.
Mooney’s passion for acting links directly to the deeper appreciation she gains from the many things she learns from her characters. Her ability to not empathize for her character but to sympathize with her characters is something Mooney focuses on so that she can feel what her character feels. It’s this passion that keeps her motivated to push through the rejection that sends others running far from the theater world.
Assistant theatre professor and director of Nice Work if You Can Get it, Paul Finocchiaro and associate professor for speech, theatre, and dance Michael Staczar have left a lasting impression on Mooney throughout her time at UT. Mooney appreciates both professors because of their differing styles in theater and teaching. Staczar, who taught Mooney’s audition seminar, has given her the harsh critiques that have made her the more focused and confident actress she is today, according to Mooney.
Finocchiaro says Mooney has taken in his advice like a sponge for her first lead role at UT.
“There’s a ‘gender expectation’ element to this role that she brings a hilarious take on and she sings like any Broadway veteran,” Finocchiaro said. “Her combination of dance along with song and her ability to bring her own take on the material is what put her in this role.”
Mooney’s chance to co-star with close friend and senior musical theater major Sean Royal has made getting into her character’s love for Jimmy, Sean’s character, much easier. Royal and Mooney are both fond and appreciative of the hard work they must put in as friends and actors to become lovers on-stage.
“Bri [Mooney] is honestly one of the most gifted people I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with,” Royal said. “She is so hardworking. She keeps me in check with all the choreography so I’m really thankful for that. I couldn’t picture myself sharing the spotlight with anyone else. She’s probably going to be one of the best parts of the show.”
Mooney’s love for acting stems from the reactions and feedback she receives from the audience and other she works with. She takes pride in working with fellow actors and actresses that are just as passionate as her.
“There are a lot of incredible and talented cast members,” Mooney said of her fellow actors in Nice Work if You Can Get it. “I love the journey we are taking. [Nice Work if you Can Get it] is going to be a whole new side of musical theater at UT with one of the biggest casts we’ve had for a specific production.”
Katelyn Massarelli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.