Broadway Beckons

Kanisha Feliciano has her Broadway and Lincoln Center debut in “Flying Over Sunset.”

Photo by Jeff Fitlow
Kanisha Feliciano rehearses with her professor, Nova Thomas. Photo by Jeff Fitlow

It’s not every day that Rice students have the chance to perform on Broadway, but for opera singer Kanisha Feliciano, it was the right opportunity at the right time. Feliciano, an Artist Diploma student of voice professor Nova Thomas, made her joint Broadway and Lincoln Center debut as Clare Boothe Luce’s daughter in “Flying Over Sunset” at the Vivian Beaumont Theater Dec. 13. The new musical was created by Broadway powerhouse James Lapine with music from Tom Kitt, lyrics by Michael Korie and choreography by Michelle Dorrance, the world-renowned dancer and MacArthur grant winner.

Set in 1950s Hollywood at a beach house overlooking the Pacific, the musical depicts Luce, Cary Grant and Aldous Huxley on an LSD trip together. Described as “an exhilarating journey into the most colorful corners of the human psyche,” it delves into the private desires, hopes and secrets of the three main characters.

Feliciano said that she’s new to the musical theater side of the business. A casting agency’s invitation to audition for the role of Christine in “The Phantom of the Opera” — which calls for a classically trained singer — ultimately led to her “Flying Over Sunset” audition. She made the final two out of 4,000 people who auditioned for Christine, but the role went to an actress with more musical theater experience. As that door closed, a window opened. Feliciano was contacted during the COVID-19 pandemic to see if she was interested in trying out for another Broadway role requiring a classically trained singer.

Photo by Jeff Fitlow
Photo by Jeff Fitlow

“Instead of flying to New York and, you know, getting a hotel, making the trek and being in the room to audition with everyone, [the process] was all online,” Feliciano said. It wasn’t long after the audition that Lapine invited Feliciano to join the cast — a life-changing moment. “I’ve been walking on cloud nine ever since,” she said.

Being a part of Rice’s Artist Diploma program, which offers postgraduate students the opportunity to refine their craft while learning how to navigate a career in the performing arts, has been unique for Feliciano. “While they’re training you for that next step in your career, and how to make the transition from a student to a working musician, they encourage you to get gigs,” she said. Feliciano will return to the program after the performance closes in February.

While Broadway roles are atypical for Shepherd School singers, extraordinary opportunities are not, said Thomas. “Excellence and achievement are hallmarks of the students here, and Kanisha is emblematic of that.”

Listen and watch Feliciano perform on her website

— Amy McCaig