This Is Rutherford
This is Julia Alati
by Jennifer Ersalesi
Within the small community of Rutherford, the arts are thriving and there are talented, successful artists, whether young or old who have stories to tell. One of those artists is talented singer/dancer/actress, Julia Alati, sophomore at Rutherford High School. She has been seen on many stages in Rutherford, as well as in other towns. This is Rutherford was fortunate enough to chat with Julia before her upcoming performances in this weekend’s original production of “Brooklyn” written by Maureen Cavanaugh-Kastl, Director/ Owner of Broadway Bound and the RHS production of Mamma Mia, in which Julia plays Donna on March 15 and 16.
TIR: Rutherford has been your hometown for many years. Did you grow up in Rutherford?
JA: Yes! I was born in New York City and moved to Rutherford when I was around 3 years old.
TIR: Whether singing the National Anthem at a ball game or a performing a show tune on stage, you’ve had many opportunities to share your talent. How long have you been singing? What do you enjoy most about it?
JA: I have honestly been singing my whole life. There was never a time I wasn’t performing in my living room or kitchen. I have always loved singing. However, my favorite part about it is how you can interpret pretty much any song with your own unique style and really make it your own.
TIR: As a musical theater actress, you spend a lot of time singing, which requires a lot of skill and strength. Voice lessons have helped you further develop your talents. Your vocal coach, Jenna Avenda, told TIR, “This is my second year working with Julia. She always works hard and is always prepared. She knows how to take direction so that she can produce the best sound possible,” Tell us more about how taking voice lessons has enabled you to fully express your talent.
JA: I have been taking voice lessons since I was 10 years old and it has been the best and most helpful experience. After working with three other voice teachers, my current and now permanent voice teacher is Jenna Revenda. She has brought me to such a different level and I am forever thankful for her and everything she teaches me. The whole experience is truly something I could never take for granted, because everything I learn in voice lessons comes in handy with the many shows I do every year. When I compare the way I have to sing for a show like “Mamma Mia” to a show like “Les Miserables”, there are different aspects of my voice that belong in one and not the other, and taking voice lesson allows me to reach those levels and beyond.
TIR: Dance instruction has been an important component of your musical theater training. When did you begin dancing and where have you taken lessons?
JA: I have been dancing since I was around 2 years old. I went to a little place in the city for a year when I was young. I started with ballet. When I moved to Rutherford, I enrolled in another dance school a few towns over for a few years, but didn’t really get much out of it. My parents wanted me to go somewhere that I could improve as I got older. I found out about Broadway Bound, The Center for Performance and Dance in Lyndhurst, and began dance lessons there when I was around 10 years old. Now I do jazz, ballet, contemporary, hip-hop, and tap dance. I have been dancing there ever since and everything I have learned there has enabled me to be the dancer I currently am.
TIR: As a Broadway Bound student, what have you enjoyed most about your experiences there so far?
JA: The most enjoyable thing about being a student at Broadway Bound is the community. The people are so genuine, even the teachers. Of course there are always ups and downs, but in the long run the teachers and other students there have made me into the growing performer that I am and I am forever grateful for every single person there. Not only am I learning theatrical and dance skills at Broadway Bound, but also life lessons that aspire me to not only grow as performer, but as a person.
TIR: At such a young age, you have already played many different characters on stage. Jenna Avenda explained, “Each person’s voice is unique, so Julia and I have worked on developing uniqueness in her voice for each character she plays. Julia has already developed many of the skills needed to take on a character’s voice while keeping the qualities of her own voice.” You have played a wide variety of characters. Who are some of those characters?
JA: The most common roles I have played are generally comedic. I started off by playing The Scarecrow in “The Wizard of Oz” two years ago at Union School, followed by Paulette in “Legally Blonde the Musical” the following year. After those two roles, I decided that I needed to challenge myself and break that comedic barrier. So last summer I auditioned for Vi Moore, (Ariel’s mother), in “Footloose The Musical”. This role was completely serious. It was very difficult to play her and involved a lot of research. In the long run, it was totally worth it, because not only was it totally fun and different, but it helped me personally improve as an actress. I proved to myself that I can play a serious character, as well as a comedic character. Although I did play that one serious role, I just recently was in a production of “Les Miserables”, where I played the role of Madame Thenardier, and it was so exciting being the comic relief in a show where mostly everyone dies (laughs)!
TIR: “Julia has been at our school since she was 8 years old She is very talented and she has a great instinct for comedy and musical theater. She is a triple threat performer!” explained Broadway Bound Director/ Owner Maureen Cavanaugh-Kastl. Musical theatre provides actors with the ability to combine all of their talents; acting, singing, and dancing. What do you find most exciting about doing musical theater?
JA: The most exciting thing about doing musical theater is being able to bring a character to life in your own way, live. There is something truly special about performing live because it just seems so real. Yes, things can seem real when you watch a movie or television show, but there is something magical about performing on the spot in front of a live audience that I’ve loved for the longest time. The constant movement on and off stage and the adrenaline of all of the actors is something you can’t find on the set of a movie.
TIR: Courtney McManus, 6th grade teacher at Pierrepont School and Director of the RHS musical, “Mamma Mia” said this about you, “I have had the pleasure of working with Julia as both a teacher and a director. When she auditioned for the musical as a freshman, we knew that she would be an asset to our program because of her passion and determination. She spends a lot of time honing her skills, and puts her whole heart into her character. She has emerged as a leader, on and off stage. We cannot wait to see her shine in her role as Donna Sheridan!” What has been most enjoyable about this role so far? What has been the most challenging?
JA: First off, I would like to say how thrilled I am to be playing Donna in “Mamma Mia”. Not only has it been my dream role since I was 5 years old, but I get to play my idol, Meryl Streep’s, iconic character. The most enjoyable thing about playing Donna is, honestly, that she is me (smiles). She has this constant flow of emotions and spunk about her that I see in myself. There are so many times when I will be reading the script and I’ll think to myself, “wow that’s something I would do, or that’s something I would say”. Not to mention the fabulous songs I get to sing in this show of course, because that is just an added bonus. The most challenging part about being Donna is definitely having to portray a mother figure. I have already played a mother in another show as I mentioned earlier, however every mother is different. To fully play Donna, I had to go into further research of the character and her past. Donna is a very complex character and to understand how she really feels in the show, I had to fully understand how she felt in the past. After doing this research and watching the first and second movie, along with productions of the show, I finally found that inner Donna inside of me and I cannot wait to bring her to life on stage!
TIR: Your vocal coach, Jenna Avenda, spoke about the work that you have done to prepare for your upcoming role as Donna, “Julia and I discussed the age difference between her and her character. We had to explore ways for her to act more mature. She had to find a way to relax her voice enough to make it sound like a woman’s voice. She’s been very successful”. What can people expect when they go to RHS to see “Mamma Mia” the weekend of March 15?
JA: This production is amazing. I am not just saying that because I am playing Donna or because it is my high school, although I may seem biased. I am saying this because it tests the limits for RHS, considering we haven’t done a show as ambitious as this one in a long time. This show has constant movement, many ensemble dance numbers, a moving set, and every song has background singers. This year the RHS drama team has the chance prove to everyone that we have so much talent and we can pull of an iconic show like “Mamma Mia”. Every single person in the musical is so talented. All in all, everyone should be expecting A LOT of dancing and singing, and we encourage you all to get on your feet and be the ‘dancing queen’!
TIR: Successful individuals usually have mentors from whom they receive guidance, support and encouragement. Who are your mentors?
JA: I have three mentors. These three people have inspired and supported me for as long as they’ve known me. My first two mentors are my parents, Sergio and Jennifer Alati. They are always there to get me from rehearsal to rehearsal every single day and be at every single one of my shows. They always give me positive feedback and make sure I push myself to a certain extent. They believe in me and my dreams 100% and I know they will always be there for me if I make it in the acting business, even in old age! My third mentor is my voice teacher Jenna Revenda. Not only is she an amazing vocal coach, but she is an amazing performer and friend. She is honest, kind, and has ALWAYS been supportive of me and what I want to become. She is always helping me improve not only vocally, but theatrically as well. Her talent amazes me and I look up to her more than she knows. If I ever make it to Broadway, she will be the reason and I’ll make sure the world knows it.
TIR: We already know that you are incredibly talented and driven, but what might surprise us about you?
JA: Something interesting about me is that I go for runs in order to increase my stamina while I am in rehearsals for a show. For “Mamma Mia” especially, there is a lot of singing and dancing at the same time and being able to withhold both is very important! In addition, I am currently taking piano lessons with my voice teacher and it is exciting learning how to play another instrument! After I become better at the piano, I would also like to learn how to play the guitar. Lastly, believe it or not, before I did theatre and all of that, I used to play basketball and softball, which were actually very fun, but I was definitely meant for the stage, not sports (laughs).
TIR: “Julia takes her dancing, acting and singing very seriously. This year she was even doing three shows at once. At our program we do an original musical and Julia is very involved (the musical Brooklyn, which I wrote, goes up this Saturday, 3/9 at 2 pm and 6 pm at JCC in West Orange). One of the remarkable things about Julia is that she is wise enough to know that she doesn’t always have to play the lead role. Even at such a young age, she understands the casting process. It is amazing that she understands that she is chosen for a role that she will shine in and she embraces that. She has devoted herself to musical theater,” Cavanaugh-Kastl told TIR. You have already proven what a hard-working, versatile actress you are and those that see you perform know that your future is looking bright. What are your goals for the future?
JA: My ultimate goal is to eventually be on Broadway. I know this seems almost like a pipe dream, but I am ready to keep auditioning until I get that first role. The entertainment business is tough because you can be extremely talented, but there are so many other talented people who want to be in the industry, giving you this constant 50/50 chance. The stage is somewhere I have always felt like I belonged (as cheesy as that may sound-laughs) and I know that if I work hard enough, one day I will achieve that lifelong goal.