Soar­ing, Fly­ing . . . Break­ing Free

Olivia Oguma Is a Key Mem­ber of the ‘High School Mu­si­cal’ Stage Pro­duc­tion

The Washington Post - - Style On The Go -

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

PHO­TOS BY JOAN MAR­CUS

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.

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