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March 6, 2017

Tampa Kids Making it Big on Broadway

By Laura Byrne

Originally published in the March 2017 issue of Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine.

The lights of Broadway are shining even brighter with two Tampa Bay area performers on stage who have won the roles of a lifetime. Ryan Foust, 12, of Tampa was recently cast as Charlie Bucket in the Broadway production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and 27-year-old Francesa Granell, also from Tampa, landed a role in the Broadway revival of Cats. The two share a passion for performing, but they also share in their gratitude for their local teachers, instructors and parents for helping to pave their way to success.

Ryan Foust: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Tampa-kids-on-Broadway-Corbett-PrepRyan Foust, a 12-year-old student at Corbett Preparatory School in Tampa, is about to make one of the biggest debuts in his theater career, cast as one of three young men to play Roald Dahl’s beloved character, Charlie Bucket, in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” He’s held several theatrical roles locally in Tampa Bay, but this is his first go on Broadway! His parents didn’t push him into theater at a young age, but they did instill the importance of being able to talk to people whether it’s one-on-one or in front of a large crowd. This sparked Foust’s love for the stage, but it was the connections he made at Corbett Prep that helped land him the role on Broadway.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory opens March 28 at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in New York City. Ryan’s dad Mark tells us Ryan has signed on for one year to preform as Charlie Bucket and will continue his studies with Corbett Prep remotely.

Learn more about the production at charlieonbroadway.com.

1) What inspired you to become an actor/performer?
Watching the 25th Anniversary of Les Misérables on PBS. I was 5. My parents taped it (on our DVR) and I wanted to watch it over and over again. After two months, I memorized the entire play. Then my parents introduced me to Phantom (of the Opera). Les Mis inspired me, but Phantom made me want to get onstage.

2) How did your teachers encourage you to go after your dream?
It wasn’t an encouragement to go on Broadway. It was encouragement to be better. Seth Travaglino (Ryan’s Community School of the Arts Theater Director) and the older performers (middle school students) became mentors and helped me. I was only looking to get better.

 3) We have to know: What was going through your mind when you found out you were cast as Charlie in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?”
It was my first audition for a Broadway play. I loved “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” but never expected to get cast. I was so excited to be brought back for an audition (after a video submission). I then had a couple more auditions and then waited to hear back. When I found out I was speechless. My mind was racing through thoughts of what was to come and how this could change my career and my life. I was laughing, crying, jumping, excited, motivated and relieved. I thought of going up on that Broadway stage in New York City.

 4) What has it been like living in New York City and being a part of the Broadway experience?
Thrilling. I love the activity in New York. It is so alive. When you see all of these people passing by you, you think “I can’t wait to perform for these people.” I can never stop smiling. It is like a movie. You walk into the rehearsal space, it makes you feel alive—like a bird flying through the air. In school, I’ve been lifted by Mr. T (Seth Travaglino) and this is the chance where I have the running head start to fly.

5) What’s your advice for other kids about pursuing their dreams?
Don’t be worried. Tell yourself your nervous energy is really excitement. Think about “How can I be better?” Before you go onstage, you always get nervous. You have to learn how to go onstage. Once you get onto that stage, it feels amazing.

Francesca Granell: Cats

Tampa-kids-on-BroadwayFrancesca Granell isn’t a kid anymore at 27 years, but the Tampa native wouldn’t be where she is today without the guidance of her family, teachers and dance instructors in Tampa. Her passion for dance started at age 4 when she began taking lessons at Frank Rey Dance Studio in Tampa. The Gaither High School graduate went on to earn her Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature from Florida State University in 2012 before moving to New York City to pursue her lifelong dream of performing on stage. It was a good gamble. She was immediately cast in the national tour of “Shrek” and then went on tour with Green Day’s “American Idiot” before taking on roles with several regional productions. She got her big break on Broadway in 2015 when she was cast in “Finding Neverland,” but the chance of a lifetime came when she landed in a role in the Broadway revival of “Cats” last year.Tampa-kids-on-Broadway

You can see “Cats” now at the Neil Simon Theatre in New York City. Learn more about the production at catsthemusical.com. 

1) What inspired you to perform on stage?

I was inspired when I saw my first musical at the Straz Performing Arts Center at age 7 — “Carousel.” I discovered a passion for singing and dancing at an early age, and I loved how you could do both in musical theatre!

2) How did your teachers and parents encourage you to pursue your dreams?

My mom put me in dance classes at such an early age, and my teachers must have sensed how much I loved it, so they always supported me and pushed me to keep going. My mom took me on many trips to New York City and exposed me to Broadway shows and dance classes at Broadway Dance Center. For instance, I met my “Cats” choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler when I was only 10 years old in his week-long summer dance intensive. I’ve kept in touch throughout the years and taken his classes ever since. Now I’m fortunate enough to call him my boss.

3) What keeps you motivated in such a competitive field?

It’s important to not get caught up in comparing yourself to other people in the business. It’s a very competitive industry, but it’s important to stay grounded and supportive of your peers. We lift each other up. I still take class when I can and see as much theatre as I can so I’m constantly exposing myself to the world of art around me. You have to always replenish and let yourself remember why you love it.

Tampa-kids-on-Broadway4) Describe how it feels to be part of such an incredibly popular production like Cats.

It’s pretty surreal. I literally cried everyday in rehearsal just from observing the sheer brilliance of everyone around me. It’s a dancer’s dream show. The music is epic. And I’m a swing, so every time I get onstage, I’m on for a featured role. It’s the most exhilarating and exhausting physical feat I’ve ever been a part of. My favorite experience so far with “Cats” was when 150-plus alumni from the original companies of “Cats” were invited to see the show. They never stopped cheering us on from start to finish. The energy in the theatre was so electric, and it fueled us to dance harder than we ever have. It’s a performance I’ll never forget.

5) What advice do you have for kids who would like to perform? Or even just go after their dreams?

The thing is, this business is hard. Breaking in is difficult, and roadblocks will get in the way, but you can’t let a few “no’s” stop you from pursuing what you love. It was not an easy road for me at first. I didn’t get accepted into any of the musical theatre college programs that I auditioned for. I didn’t get cast in any musicals at FSU. But I knew I wanted to do this, and the setbacks pushed me harder to prove to myself that I could. You just have to let that thirst fuel you. And take note of the little victories along the way.

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