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With Broadway debut, Winnipeg actress fulfils her childhood aspirations

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As Alexandra Frohlinger chats over the telephone to home in Winnipeg, she is on the move, navigating the crowded streets of her New York neighbourhood, Hell's Kitchen, on her way to Broadway.

It's a direction the fresh-faced actress, 24, has been heading, and she reaches it Aug. 15, when she steps on the stage of the Circle in the Square theatre in the premi®re of the new musical Soul Doctor.

Frohlinger arrives on theatre's Great White Way less than a month after fellow River Heights resident Samantha Hill ended her run as Christine in The Phantom of the Opera. They both lived on the same leafy block of Campbell Street. She also went to school here with dancer Josh Assor, who grew up in Garden City and performed on Broadway in Mary Poppins until earlier this year.

It's getting to the point that Winnipeggers on Broadway are not so rare -- they bump into each other in the Big Apple.

"It's such a Winnipeg story," she says. "I ran into Sam in the subway. We grew up together down the street from each other and are doing exactly what we planned to do."

Frohlinger is the oldest of three performing Frohlinger siblings, (Joey, 22, and Becky, 19). She joined the cast of the North American tour of West Side Story the day after graduating from the Boston Conservatory in 2010.

Anyone who was at her stage debut as a preschooler performing with the Karpat Hungarian Dancers would be doubtful Broadway was in her future. Frohlinger went on at a national dance conference and quickly retreated with a terrifying case of stage fright. She was coaxed out of a stairwell and back onstage to a standing ovation.

"Since then, I was hooked," says the graduate of the Gray Academy of Jewish Education, "smitten, as they say."

Her stage life began as a dance student at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, where her small stature would be accepted and her natural athleticism could thrive and boost her self-esteem. Frohlinger lacked a ballerina's body type but she still became an accomplished jazz, tap and ballet dancer, which has become the foundation of her musical-theatre career.

She made her stage debut in the musical Oliver at the Rady Jewish Community Centre in the title role. It would be the first time she would cross gender lines onstage, but not the last.

"I've made a career out of playing little boys and females," says the perky five-foot brunette with a pixie-ish haircut. "It has to do with my height, but it is awesome I still get to play children, even as an adult. It's truly acting."

Frohlinger made her professional debut as a pre-teen in Big the Musical in 2001 and has appeared in many local productions, from A Christmas Carol and The Drowsy Chaperone for the Manitoba Theatre Centre to The Secret Garden for Dry Cold Productions and Romeo and Juliet for RWB. Her last show here was as Maureen in Rent at Rainbow in 2010.

For two years she portrayed the androgynous Anybodys in West Side Story. It's an obscure character, a girl who wants to hang out with the boys of the Jets gang. She's the odd one out between the boys and girls in the landmark Leonard Bernstein show.

"It's such a special role," says Frohlinger, who finished in the top 12 on the CBC-TV's Triple Sensation in 2007. "There's nothing like it in the musical-theatre lexicon. A modern understanding of her is that she's transgender, but in '50s understanding, she was a tomboy. She desperately wanted to be a member of the gang and the only way to do it was to be a boy."

As an ensemble member in Soul Doctor, she plays characters of both sexes, including a Hassidic Jewish boy. So far, because of her age and body type, she has found a niche doing character work but she possesses the soprano voice and versatility to tackle ingenue parts. Still, she is naturally drawn to best-friend roles. She would prefer to play lesbian performance artist Maureen in Rent than female lead Mimi.

"I like quirky things," she says. "I'm a quirky person, so I relate to quirky people. Something in me relates to those people and I want to tell their stories for them."

In the three years since graduating, Frohlinger has gone far, travelling all over the continent and Japan in West Side Story. On the road she has many learned life lessons, ones that should serve her well in a brutally fickle profession, where recognition and work opportunities can be fleeting.

"I learned the temporary nature of everything, that everything will pass, whether it is good or bad," she says. "You become very grateful for the good moments. Appreciate everything for what it is and know it will pass in a moment."

Her parents, Thomas and Heather, will be in the audience Thursday to see Soul Doctor, which follows, according to the advertising slogan, the journey of a rock star rabbi named Shlomo Carlebach. When the curtain rises, it will be a moment of triumph for Frohlinger, who will be too busy with first-act quick changes to savour it.

"This is the exact plan that I cut out for myself as a child and I have to pinch myself every once in a while because I achieved the goals and dreams I set out for myself," she says.

Frohlinger hasn't had much time to indulge the personal joy of her accomplishment or sit down for an interview.

"I will let you know when I get there. I still remember my first curtain call for West Side Story. I will live in the moment and enjoy what comes and not worry about the future or the past."

kevin.prokosh@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 15, 2013 C1

History

Updated on Thursday, August 15, 2013 at 6:42 AM CDT: Replaces photos

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