Soaring, Flying . . . Breaking Free
Olivia Oguma Is a Key Member of the ‘High School Musical’ Stage Production
When the stage version of the first “High School Musical” movie begins its 13-day run at Washington’s National Theatre next week, cast members will settle into their hotel rooms and live out of their suitcases, the way all traveling actors do.
Among them will be 21-year-old Olivia Oguma, who plays Kelsi, the young pianist who writes the music and accompanies Troy and Gabriella at their audition.
Oguma is used to living like this. When she was just 8 she got the role of the young Cosette in the traveling show of “Les Misérables,” one of the most popular musicals ever.
Oguma has been in the public eye almost her entire life. She began modeling at a very young age, and her picture has appeared in ads for stores such as Gap. Growing up in New York City, where her mother was a ballet dancer and her father a sushi chef, Oguma would beg her parents to let her audition for parts.
“We sort of have an eccentric, creative family, and nothing’s normal,” she says.
At age 6 she began appearing on TV’s “Sesame Street.” The next year she saw the stage version of the classic book “The Secret Garden” and fell in love with the theater.
“I decided I wanted to transition,” she says, laughing at the memory of telling her mom, at age 7, that she wanted to act on stage, not in movies.
Landing the role of the Cosette a year later was a really big deal. There aren’t too many 8-year-olds in major shows.
Oguma’s little brother, Oliver, had just been born, and the two kids and their mom went on tour together. They traveled to dozens of cities with the rest of the “Les Misérables” cast. (Oliver is now an actor, too, and Olivia paid him back a few years ago by traveling with him and their mom while he was performing in the musical “South Pacific.”)
Oguma got her high school diploma by using tutors who met with her teachers at home and took all her lessons and homework on the trips.
She didn’t have recess but says she was “a happy kid. I don’t think I missed out on too much.”
There is one childhood activity she never did, though. Maybe it’s because she grew up in super-crowded New York City, but Oguma still doesn’t know how to ride a bike.
“I also don’t know how to drive,” she says, “but the driving thing I’m hoping to learn before the end of this tour.”
— Jennifer Frey
Olivia Oguma (above) portrays Kelsi, and Bobby List and Chandra Lee Schwartz (right) are Ryan and Sharpay in the stage production of “High School Musical,” coming next week to National Theatre.