They sat on the wooden floor to listen to their guest speaker, alumna Hollie Howard.
“We’ve got three hours to play,” Howard said. “What I want to do today is replicate a New York audition.”
It’s a topic she knows: Howard is the creator and president of “The Broadway Dolls” touring revue, in which she and female co-stars sing, act and dance five at a time in girl-group fashion.
She and several cast mates led the master class as part of an October 2012 visit to Springfield, which also included a performance of “The Broadway Dolls” at Juanita K. Hammons Hall.
“I was here when Juanita K. Hammons was being built,” said Howard, who lives in New York City. “It’s the coolest thing in the world that now, not only am I performing there, I am doing my show — the show I created. I don’t even have words to express. It’s just the coolest.”
Howard, who grew up in Jefferson City, chose Missouri State even though she considered colleges farther from home.
“I was so happy that I went here rather than going to one of the conservatories I had looked at. There’s better training here! And you don’t know that until you’re here and actually going to school,” Howard said. “You really realize it when you’re out of school and you’re meeting people and seeing what their skill-sets are versus what yours is — that made me realize we have a really great program here.”
Howard’s career took off after she earned a bachelor’s in theatre performance in 1997. Her first job was as a dancer at Walt Disney World in Florida. She was next selected to go to Europe with a touring company of “Fame.” Since then, she has appeared on Broadway in “Annie Get Your Gun,” “Hairspray” and “Mamma Mia!” She’s been involved with other projects, including nationally touring shows of “Fame” and “A Chorus Line,” and had film and TV roles.
Her success is no surprise to Michael Casey, coordinator of the musical theatre program. “She was part of a group of students who were very interested in musical theatre, and most of them have gone on to inspiring careers.”
Inspiring, indeed: “Broadway Dolls,” which Howard created in 2004, is “going great,” she said. They were booked through 2012, “then we’re going to China for two weeks, then opening for Chaka Khan on New Year’s. We’re entertaining the heads of Disney at an event. … and we already have 35 performing arts centers booked for the beginning of 2013. That will triple for the fall.”
In the future, she said, the show might have different companies similar to the model used by Cirque du Soleil. “I could see a sit-down theatre in Vegas, maybe one in Branson, maybe a company on a cruise ship, a group doing a Broadway show and a group doing an international tour.”
Maybe they could recruit from their master class: Howard and her fellow Dolls taught the students dance combinations and gave them audition secrets.
“It was so good to hear realistic advice about how to stand out in the crowd and to hear someone say ‘don’t freak out about being in this business,’ ” said Alana St. John, a sophomore majoring in musical theatre.
Casey agreed that students benefited from the class. “Planning to work as an actor can be frightening, and seeing people from here who are successful is really important for our program.”
Howard was glad to help students and indulge in nostalgia.
“When I was here, I had all of these dreams of being a Broadway performer. It’s so cool to see they have come full-circle.”