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Deborah Lew: stories from Broadway

Grand Rapids native Deborah Lew shared her experiences on Broadway to the Calvin College January Series audience last Monday.
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From early childhood Deborah Lew was dazzled by the promises of Broadway. Warm lights shining down from the rafters, a stage on which to sing with gripping exuberance, costume changes and endless rehearsals matching almost as endless rejections. In her youth, Deborah had no qualms about announcing her passion to the world. She wanted to be a “belly dancer” -or to use her parents pronunciation, a “ballet dancer.” Julie Andrews, a Broadway gem, was a particular inspiration for young Lew, who later had the surreal opportunity of meeting her idol in person.

Growing up in Grand Rapids with a Christian Reformed minister, Lew attended Calvin College with a double major in English and Theatre. After graduating in 2000, she spent two years traveling through Europe in a small theatre company. Upon returning to the United States, Lew decided that she was ready and destined to experience the thrills and challenges of New York City.

An old brick tenement building with crumbling ceilings was Lew’s first apartment. Despite the apartment having only one sink and tentative access to heat, Deborah was not deterred. Yes, the streets may be noisy, the air as clogged as the drain, people yelled and children howled, but these aspects were viewed in a beautiful light to the shining eyes of aspirational youth.

She still has that glimmer today. When Lew sings, one is transported to a cheerfully sardonic world where one hears joy and hope mixed pleasantly with a reality that may be grimy, but never discouraging.

As she explained, and all of us have loosely deciphered, choosing acting as a profession is making an active choice to live a volatile existence. Actors are never guaranteed a job, though belonging to the union Actor’s Equity may help. Auditions are endless, call-backs laborious, and free work expected. But Lew says it is all worth it once you hit the stage. The two biggest performances of Lew’s career thus far have been the Broadway revival, The Threepenny Opera and her role as Belle in Beauty and the Beast.

Her passion remains as she supports new plays and works on the ground level with musicians and writers to develop and nurture a show from birth. Thriving in the acting community, Lew remains true to her Grand Rapids roots with shimmering eyes and transcending voice.

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