Springstead alum taking break from Broadway, returning home for 'Carousel'

During their first time alone, Billy Bigelow, played by Zach James, and Julie Jordan, played by Ashley Schoendorf, discuss how life would be if they fell in love, singing If I Loved You.
During their first time alone, Billy Bigelow, played by Zach James, and Julie Jordan, played by Ashley Schoendorf, discuss how life would be if they fell in love, singing If I Loved You.
Published June 8, 2016

SPRING HILL — Zach James, by any measure, is a bona fide Broadway star.

After landing the role of Seaman Thomas Hassinger in the Tony Award-winning Broadway revival of South Pacific in 2008, James continued his upward rise, creating the role of Lurch in Broadway's The Addams Family in 2010. And he has continued to perform other Broadway and off-Broadway roles — too numerous to mention.

James is also a world-renowned opera singer and founder of the Metropolis Opera Project in New York City, and even appeared in an episode of TV's 30 Rock.

But what most people don't realize is that his roots are planted in Spring Hill, where, as a drum major and member of the Springstead High School band, he took an interest in performing on stage.

This weekend, local theater lovers will have a rare opportunity to see James when he returns to perform in Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel at Springstead Theatre.

"Springstead, the first stage I ever stepped foot on," said James, who was known as Zachary Poholek back in high school. "It's my home."

James, who stars as Billy Bigelow in Carousel, reunites with Springstead acting and choral teacher Mark Pennington, who is directing the show and performing as Jigger Craigin.

The two men began collaborating on putting on a show two months ago, when James, who is doing a reprisal of The Little Match Girl Passion at the Pérez Art Museum in Miami, was able to squeeze in a visit to his hometown.

Nearly simultaneously, they both suggested Carousel.

The show is about Bigelow, a carnival barker who falls in love with Julie Jordan, a millworker. After Julie becomes pregnant, Billy attempts to support his family by committing a robbery, which goes awry, and he is killed. Years later, he is given an opportunity to return to Earth for a chance to amend his mistakes.

"When Zach brought it up, I thought it was a great idea," Pennington said. "I always loved Carousel, but was never able to do it as a school show. It's hard for a high school boy to sing the role and do it right."

The production will also reunite Pennington with other Springstead alumni, including Ryan Gill (2002 graduate), who plays Enoch Snow; Ashley Schoendorf (2009), Billy's love interest, Julie Jordan, and Brittany Renee Gonzalez (2002), who will play Carrie Pipperidge.

Pennington said there also will be a few other professionals performing, including Jane Christeson, who is part of the faculty at Stetson University and is Pennington's former college voice teacher; she will play the role of Nettie Fowler. Also, James' husband, Tucker Davis, who teaches ballet and jazz at Ithaca College in New York, will provide choreography and perform as the carnival man.

"Tucker has had an amazing dance career and several Broadway tours," James said.

The show features a large cast of 40, including an ensemble of Pennington's best students at Springstead.

Pennington said he has a local costumer helping out with costumes, backdrops rented from Indiana and a professional track made for the show. And due to conflicting schedules, the cast has put in at least 50 hours of rehearsal time in the past week.

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"A lot of love is being put into this production," James said. "With the arts being cut from schools everywhere, I hope this extra show helps Springstead with future goals. … It's a special thing to have this opportunity to contribute a little bit."