Penn State Alumna ‘Defies Gravity’ With Post-Grad Broadway Career
Caroline Bowman described her time at Penn State as a blur. She may not have a crystal clear memory of her Happy Valley experience, but it’s certainly starting to pay off.
And now, four and a half years later, the 2010 musical theatre graduate is starring in one of her dream roles as Elphaba in the legendary Broadway hit musical “Wicked.”
In November, she found out that she would perform in the Land of Oz after a whirlwind of success last year. After playing the lead role of Eva Peron in “Evita,” she received Penn State’s Alumni Achievement Award for her post-graduation success.
But Bowman’s Penn State experience had dubious beginnings. A Maryland native, Bowman didn’t know when she was applying to colleges that she was meant to go to Penn State. It wasn’t until she arrived in State College that she realized that the university was the place for her to expand upon her talent and become the performer she is today.
“Studying at Penn State almost feels like a dream to me,” she said. “Time flies when you’re having fun and working hard.”
Bowman noted that Penn State does a superb job of being “a nurturing facility” in which musical theatre students diligently strive to reach their goals.
“Penn State celebrates and hones in on the individuality of each student,” she said. “No one comes out as cookie cutter. They encourage expressing individuality.”
Joyce Hoffman, the College of Arts and Architecture Director of Alumni Relations, praised Bowman’s drive.
“Caroline emerged as a nominee because her career was seen as being on an impressively fast trajectory, starting with her international tours while she was still a student,” she said.
Bowman’s pre-Broadway résumé while at Penn State is impressive, with tours to China for “Fame” and Turkey for “Grease,” both of which counted as credit towards her degree.
After graduation and her national tour in “Spamalot” as Lady of the Lake, Bowman received her first Broadway stint as part of the ensemble of “Wicked” and was cast as an understudy for her current role. After that, she performed in “Kinky Boots,” a hit musical that won six Tony awards while she was part of the cast.
Bowman said that coming off of the difficult role of Eva in “Evita” helped her prepare for the yet another demanding role as Elphaba. Each iconic role served as the fruition of hard work for Bowman and each provided new challenges for her. Since the show started in December, she has had to perform in eight shows a week, with only Monday to rest.
During the holidays, she had to perform 11 shows in a row. Despite the long run, Bowman said it gave her a chance to get more comfortable with the role and now it seems easier for her. And if her version of “Defying Gravity” doesn’t give you chills when she hits every note fantastically, there is something wrong with your ears.
Bowman said she makes efforts to go see her fellow Penn Staters on Broadway whenever she has a chance. Her best friend is currently performing in “The Book of Mormon,” the musical originated by the creators of “South Park.”
Bowman’s social media presence is almost as captivating as her stage presence. She often tweets entertaining quips about life outside of the theatre, which provide a glimpse into her vibrant, if not sassy, personality.
I’m thankful for hot showers and soap!
— Caroline Bowman (@CarolineVBowman) November 25, 2014
Two things I’m learning about playing Elphaba…there can always be more sleep and I can’t get enough cheeseburgers. — Caroline Bowman (@CarolineVBowman) January 24, 2015
In conversation, Bowman is the same as she is on Twitter — down-to-earth, funny, and humble. With eight shows a week and one day off, Bowman takes advantage of her spare free time, and wasn’t afraid to admit to me that she was still in her pajamas at 1 p.m. on the Tuesday I spoke with her on the phone.
Bowman attributes her personality to her parents.
“They are extremely wonderful human beings. I wouldn’t be anywhere without them,” Bowman said. “I count my blessings to remind myself how lucky I am to do this and pursue my dreams and be an artist.”
Hoffman echoed these humble sentiments.
“Her photograph may be in lights outside of a Broadway theatre, but Caroline continues to be as down-to-earth a person as you will find,” she said.
Bowman explained that even though she is a star of a hit Broadway musical, she still tries to stay grounded, in large part with the help of her family and friends.
“At the end of the day, it’s just a job,” she said.
And she neglected the idea that being a Broadway star is a glamorous affair.
“I really live my life around the theatre,” Bowman said. “It’s not like I go to extravagant parties and makes millions of dollars.”
Photo: Handprint on my Heart