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What the Sam Hill? She's off to Broadway

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Anyone who has been watching actress Samantha Hill perform on Winnipeg stages knew it was only a matter of time before she would be plucked for a much bigger stage elsewhere

That time is now, as the 25-year-old soprano leaves Monday for Broadway where she takes over in November as the alternate Christine in The Phantom of the Opera, the longest running production in the history of the Great White Way.

"Right now, it feels terrifying," Hill says during an interview. "I'm very much looking forward to this very incredible experience. It's going to open a lot of doors."

That means she goes from playing the floozy Lilly in Annie at Rainbow Stage in August to the female lead in the Tony Award-winning, Andrew Lloyd Webber musical at the 1,607 seat Majestic Theatre. Last season she impressed as smart-tongued Jean in August: Osage County at the RMTC Warehouse in March and as the lead Wendla in the Winnipeg Studio Theatre revival of Spring Awakening.

She had a can't-miss tag attached to her not long after graduating from the University of Winnipeg six years ago. Hill was still in school in 2008 when she auditioned for a Toronto stage production of The Sound of Music that was part of a talent search for an eight-part CBC reality television series called How Do You Solve a Problem like Maria! Toronto casting director Stephanie Gorin watched her audition and said, "To me she was special. She is one of the best that we have seen anywhere so far."

Earlier this year Hill flew to Toronto for a Les Miserables audition and was steered by musical director David Caddick to try out for Phantom in New York in June.

"It went quite well," says Hill, whose Rainbow credits include Wendy in Peter Pan, Belle in Beauty and the Beast and Rumpleteazer in Cats. "They called me right away and asked to work with me. I had a session on the actual Majestic Theatre stage.

"I thought if I don't get the part, at least I've performed once on Broadway."

Hill got the news of her casting at the end of the summer but kept it on the down low until producers settled lineup changes for Phantom. Rehearsals start Oct. 22 in New York, although she has been working on her part for weeks here. She will perform as Christine, the chorus girl who becomes the phantom's object of obsession, beginning the week of Nov. 12 and will perform at least twice a week until February when an extension will be considered. She arrives only months before the 25th anniversary of the Phantom's première next year when there is sure to be much hoopla.

At her audition Hill sang two of Christine's big numbers Think of Me and Learn to be Lonely.

"Think of Me was one of the first songs I sang," she recalls. "I remember singing it at my first recital when I was 15.

"Christine is one of the best roles for a soprano. I feel it's a great fit for my voice and what I play. It will be a great first exposure to New York playing that iconic role."

Lately, Hill, who has a BFA in acting from the University of Alberta, had been feeling it was time to take up the challenges of a bigger theatre town and now that it is happening is feeling sad about leaving the community that nurtured her.

"I love Winnipeg but I'll have to take this risk and be brave," she says. "Broadway doesn't come calling that often. I'm pumped."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 13, 2012 G8

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