Interview: Hannah Elless, the Midwest Girl Making it on Broadway

By Caleb Forlong

'Everything You Want is on the Other Side of Fear'

Interview: Hannah Elless, the Midwest Girl Making it on Broadway


For this week’s #CrushWorthyWednesday we spoke with the stunning Hannah Elless, currently preparing for her next principle Broadway role in Steve Martin and Edie Brickell’s new musical Bright Star. Beginning with her 2013 debut in Steven Schwartz’s Godspell Hannah has fast become one of the next generation of Broadway’s leading ladies. Bright Star will make its debut at the Kennedy Center in D.C. this December, and will open on Broadway in March, 2016. We wanted to know what it was that made her star so bright!

Hard work and faith continue to teach me resiliency, endurance, and how to find joy in every day no matter what circumstances I face. – Hannah Elless

How old were you when you first discovered a love for the theater?

Since I didn’t grow up in NYC or Hollywood, movie/tv musicals became my introduction to theatre as a young girl. Shirley Jones (Carousel, Oklahoma!, The Music Man), Rosalind Russell (Gypsy, Mame, Picnic), Carol Burnett (Annie, Once Upon A Mattress, Noises Off), Audrey Hepburn (My Fair Lady, Funny Face), Mary Martin, Judy Garland, Barbara Streisand, the list goes on… these women all made me fall in love with theatre (and film!). They showed me that you could win Oscars, Golden Globes, and Emmys and do musicals too.

Do you remember having a favorite song as a child that has always meant a lot to you, did the meaning evolve as you grew up?

“Tomorrow” from Annie. Annie was the first lead role I ever played and now, as a (mostly) grown up person, the lyrics and sentiment of “Tomorrow” mean much more to me than when I was 12 years old. The sun’ll come out tomorrow/So you gotta hang on till tomorrow/Come what may/Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love ya tomorrow/You’re always a day away. Simple. True. Perfect. It’s special because in Bright Star I sing a song called “Sun is Gonna Shine Again” which evokes a similar feeling. Life comes full circle!

What was it like wanting to be a performer, coming from a large family and being home schooled in Michigan? Was it hard to have your voice heard?

I actually feel that, by being home schooled, I was better able to cultivate my imagination and curiosity because I had the time, attention, and resources to pursue my individual hobbies/interests. While my friends were on a bus or waiting for other students in class to finish their tests, I was done with my homework and busy creating tree forts, concoctions in the kitchen, fully staged original plays, and a family “newspaper” that circulated exclusively to the bedrooms in our house. My private education instilled in me confidence, individuality and independence. By the time I hit my freshman year of college, I had a full theatre resume as well as several college credits to transfer. I knew what it was like to set goals, run my own schedule, and get things done by myself. And I come from a huge “arts” family! They are all musicians, composers, performers, teachers, etc so I was in good company. :)

Who is it, and what was the greatest thing you learned from one of your theater role models as a child?

Mychelle Hopkins is an amazing director who mentored me through middle school and high school. Theatre is a “practiced” art and she gave me so many opportunities to practice! Mychelle also instilled in me a love of Shakespeare and the classics. She taught me what it was like to act in a professional environment and never let me get by with half-done work. Even though I sing and dance and play instruments, I make sure I am always an actor first. Thank you, Mychelle!

Was there a moment where you became more than that girl from southwest Michigan? Did moving to New York, or being on Broadway make you feel like a new person?

I really enjoy traveling and experiencing new scenery, cultures, foods, etc. but my roots are in Midwest America and that will always be a part of who I am. That being said… Broadway is magical! New York City is magical!! *Cue the dreamy underscoring*

Hannah C12

Credit: Matt Monath Photography

What is it like keeping a dream alive, were there ever any moments of doubt or fear, what advice would you give to someone else pursuing their dreams?

Oh yeah, I doubt myself all the time! There are days I wake up and think, “Should I get some horses and move to Montana?” You have to surround yourself with family and friends who can have vision for you when you are having trouble visioning and believing for yourself. You will never be “enough” if you try to find your worth in your worldly success. My worth lies elsewhere. I love my work – but work is what I do, not who I am.

Professionally speaking, being from a small town in the Midwest you definitely don’t come to the big city with many connections/favors. The phrase “the harder you work the luckier you get” became a real reality in my life! Hard work and faith continue to teach me resiliency, endurance, and how to find joy in every day no matter what circumstances I face.

You’re married! What does your husband’s support mean to you? Which Disney prince or fairy tale character best describes him?

I lucked out. Like, realllllly lucked out! Being married in this business is hard, but he has my back in every situation. I take great comfort in knowing that he loves me no matter how many jobs I get (or don’t!). He’s funny and sassy like Flynn Rider from Tangled, but he has that Prince Phillip look from Sleeping Beauty. If you meet him you will instantly know what I’m talking about. *Swoon*

Hannah Elless

Credit: Emma Mead Photography

Has what you wanted out of life changed in any way, and how?

Life constantly changes and, consequently, so do my dreams and expectations. I’m getting more excited as each new step unfolds! I try to roll with the punches, celebrate the victories, and get as much sleep as possible!

Do you have a favorite quote or mantra?

The phrase “Everything you want is on the other side of fear” is really true. You can’t let fear of failure or fear of the unknown stop you from accomplishing the things that you have been called to fulfill in your life!

Can you tell us a bit more about your experience with Steve Martin? Has working with him surprised you in any way? What have you learned from him about yourself?

Steve Martin is as generous and kind as he is witty. He truly lives up to everything you imagine. (Including an occasional prat fall through the rehearsal door!) Steve reminds me that success comes when everyone is succeeding so collaboration is key. I’ve never seen two people compose music together at the same time so watching him and Edie work is magical. By the way, Edie Brickell is also a total talent-babe!

What would someone be surprised to find out about you?

I play more than six instruments but I can’t whistle! It’s like, hey God, what happened there?

Any final thoughts?

Come see Bright Star at the Kennedy Center or on Broadway! And then tweet me and let me know your thoughts. 😉

Be sure to follow Hannah on Twitter, Facebook and see behind-the-scenes pics of on Instagram (@RealHannahElless) as Bright Star makes its way to Broadway!



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