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Hailey Kilgore in rehearsal for Once on This Island

Take it from Hailey Kilgore: “Broadway is no joke.” The 18-year-old, who grew up in Happy Valley, debuts this month on the most vaunted of boards, starring in Once on This Island as Ti Moune, a Caribbean peasant girl who falls in love with a wealthy, light-skinned boy. It’s the first Broadway revival of the much-loved musical—it premiered in 1990, before Kilgore was born—and was the very first Broadway audition for the teenager whom local audiences might know from recent Portland Center Stage productions Ain’t Misbehavin’ and Our Town.

What was the audition like?

It looked like clones of me walking in and out of that room. When I finally got to go in, I met Michael [Arden, the director], and he was the sweetest guy. I sang, and they all kind of sat up in their chairs.

You’d never seen a production of this show. What drew you to it?

When I heard there was a musical that wasn’t Hamilton that had a strong, independent black woman as the lead—and she wasn’t a princess or mistress or lady-in-waiting—that pulled me in. This is just an extraordinary day in an average life.

Does it make you nervous to perform with big-name Broadway veterans?

When you’re in the path of people who have won Tonys, it’s overwhelming. But you have to remember that they’re people. They’re just as nervous and just as excited.

Any particular challenges you’ve encountered so far in rehearsal?

My obstacle was realizing that there’s no wrong choice, and if you make a bad choice, then make it really, really big. Have it be terrible, because that’s when you figure out what works.

Tell me about working with acclaimed choreographer Camille A. Brown.

She’s a wizard. She wanted to bring in elements of social dance. She also brings in elements of voodoo, and the movements you see when people have been overtaken by the spirit. It’s so scary and beautiful. The show is set in a giant sandpit—dancing in sand is hard!

I read the director is taking a novel musical approach, using unconventional objects as instruments.

Oh my god—teacups, garden hoses, Oscar the Grouch–style trash cans. It’s all these weird, quirky things that have been custom-tuned to make specific pitches. If you wave the green hose, it’s gonna give an A-flat. If you wave the red hose, it’s gonna give a B-major. They made a tuba out of a hose with fishing net and a plastic coffee cone.

Beyond this show, any dream roles?

At least 8 million! If Lin-Manuel Miranda asks me to be Peggy in Hamilton, I will do it. He follows me on Twitter, so we’re getting somewhere.

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