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Q&A with alumnus and Broadway performer Barry Anderson

| Denise Olson

"I certainly wanted my name in lights. I wanted my name on a marquee. I wanted recognition on Broadway."  ~Stephen Sondheim

Few have what it takes to make the dream of Broadway a reality, and alumnus Barry Anderson, is one of those few. The 2000 music education graduate is a professional actor and songwriter based in New York City. With a career that has included music instruction, small scale theater productions, music composition and television, in 2007 Anderson landed his first role on Broadway, as Aaron Schultz in "Legally Blond."

"I was over the moon and excited to finally get to work in the city, especially in a show that had so much fun buzz about it at that time," Anderson said in an October interview.  

Currently performing in New York, Anderson took some time for a Q&A, reflecting on his time at UW-Eau Claire and the impact of his Blugold education on his life and career. 

Tell us what you are currently working on? What is keeping you busy right now?

My current acting project is playing Bob Crewe onstage in "Jersey Boys," which is the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Crewe was the group's record producer, and he co-wrote many of their hits. I began rehearsals for the national tour four years ago in the fall of 2011, and now, 1,400-plus shows later, I'm still enjoying the ride of it all eight times a week. The show really is like no other. It is such well-crafted theater. People absolutely love it, and it's been a blast for me to watch audiences everywhere from L.A., Toronto, Atlanta and even Tokyo identify so deeply with both the book and the show, as well as the music and all of those iconic hits. I recently joined the Broadway cast of the show for a couple of months in New York City, and that company is now celebrating its 10th anniversary. So it really has become a favorite and has had numerous productions globally at this point. I'm thrilled to be a part of its family. 

I've also been doing quite a bit of songwriting over the past several years. My co-writer and I released a songbook album in 2012 called "You Are Home: The Songs of Anderson & Petty," which was a huge undertaking but a complete labor of love. We had a slew of stand-alone songs that we wanted to give some sort of home to, and putting together an album seemed like a logical step. The songs feature Broadway and West End performers and a great band of musicians that I'd worked with over the years. In 2014 we did live concerts at St. James Studio in London and 54 Below in New York City. We continue to write, are developing a couple of projects, and have also just released a brand new single for charity featuring West End star Gloria Onitiri called "Dignity," which benefits the Alzheimer's Association.

What are some of your fondest or most profound memories of your studies at UW-Eau Claire? 

My most indelible memories of my time at UWEC are all connected in some way to the fine arts building and the people who walked its halls and the people who taught there. My social circle grew so much wider as soon as I began my freshman year, and I have a lot of great memories of the folks I met through the music and theatre department. I spent countless late nights playing piano in the practice rooms, whether it was rehearsing for a recital, preparing for juries or singing show tunes with friends until the building closed.

Being part of Concert Choir was special to me. The intimacy of Riverside Theatre, the versatility of Gantner Concert Hall, rehearsing and performing in shows, all while taking a full semester of classes during the day — time management skills became a must. I think that's when I began jotting things down in a planner, just because there were so many things happening every day and so many aspects to juggle at once. (That old-school planner habit definitely stuck; to this day, I carry one with me.) 

I have a very distinct memory of the first music rehearsal for the show "Company" during my junior year — the  challenge of singing Sondheim, piecing together that opening number. "Opportunity" is the word I now associate with what took place there for me. It was a challenging, safe, fun sandbox to learn and grow in. 

What aspects of your Blugold experience best prepared you for the challenges you met in the world of music and theater?

I think the college experience as a whole was most helpful to me in terms of making the transition from a small-town, rural kid to a young adult equipped and prepared for pursuing a career in a bigger pond. There is no way I ever would have survived moving to New York City straight from Osseo, Wisconsin, at 18 years old. I was at UWEC for five years, and even though it was very close to where I grew up, having the time there gave me a chance to sift through and discover what I was passionate about, what I was good at, and eventually even where I was marketable in the business. I wisely said "yes" to so many performing opportunities while I was there, and I tried to soak up as much experience as I could.

At the end of the day, we learn by doing. I learned a lot about self-initiative during college, which is certainly vital to any acting career. I will also never forget a phrase that one of my favorite teachers, Dr. Denson, often used — "The least you can do is the best you can." Wow. That one has stuck with me profoundly. And for me, it's a good one to keep in mind while doing eight shows a week. 

If you could talk to your 18-year-old self arriving on campus, what would you tell him?

If I were able to send a message back to my 18-year-old self, I think it would be to dig in even deeper into all of those things that I knew I had a passion for but perhaps avoided due to a fear of failure. It goes back to that idea of saying "yes" to opportunities. Truly, anything is possible, but the journey there requires the courage to simply get out there and try. Step out of your comfort zone. Meet people, talk about and focus on the things in your life that make you feel good. Trust that you ARE enough and know that the fun is in the process of it all.

Anything else about UWEC or your  time here that you’d like to share?

I think one of the best things about UWEC continues to be its beautiful campus along the river. For me, the best therapy during finals week was to take rides on the bike trail and get in touch with nature for a bit. I loved that, and I still enjoy biking it whenever I can during visits home. The current revitalization of Eau Claire's downtown area is so encouraging, really exciting. It's clear that Eau Claire is quickly becoming such a beautiful, true cultural hub. And the best part is, it still maintains that welcoming and inclusive small-town aura.

If you ask me, Blugolds will always be some of the luckiest students in the country. 

Photo captions:

Large photo: In a scene form Jersey Boys, Anderson is seated to the right on the sofa. His character, Bob Crewe, produced the records and co-wrote songs for Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. (Photo credit: Joan Marcus, NYC) 

Small photo: Barry Anderson, 2015. (photo credit De'Lon Grant, NYC)