The Free Press, Mankato, MN

April 3, 2014

Versatile MSU grad touring country with Broadway musical

Wellin and 'Once' return for Orpheum performances through Sunday

By Tanner Kent
tkent@mankatofreepress.com

---- — Good thing Claire Wellin learned a little something about versatility during her time at Minnesota State University.

From dance programs and jazz duos, to the fact that Wellin appeared in no less than 13 MSU Theatre productions, the recent Broadway performer and current touring member of the award-winning musical "Once" took full advantage of her time in Mankato.

"('Once') is absolutely about versatility," said the Bismarck, N.D., native and 2008 MSU graduate. "Everything is an extension of the story. The music helps tell the story, the movement helps tell the story. All elements have to be intact."

Last year, Wellin became the first MSU graduate to act on Broadway when she joined the cast of "Once," replacing Elizabeth A. Davis in the supporting role of Reza.

As described on the musical's website, "'Once' tells the tale of a Dublin street musician who’s about to give up on his dream when a beautiful young woman takes a sudden interest in his haunting love songs. As the chemistry between them grows, his music soars to powerful new heights — but their unlikely connection turns out to be deeper and more complex than your everyday romance.”

In addition to rave reviews, the production garnered 11 Tony Award nominations, winning eight. Now, the production is being staged in London's West End and is several months into a North American tour that is booked through the summer of 2015.

Wellin, who will remain with the touring cast through October, returned to Minnesota this week for an eight-show run of "Once" at the Orpheum Theatre. Performances began Tuesday and continue through Sunday.

With the musical's intertwining of storytelling and musicianship — orchestration is provided by cast members who remain on stage for songs — Wellin said "Once" demands a variety of skills from its performers. Her character, Reza, plays the violin and Wellin said she not only drew from her own musical training as a multi-intrumentalist but also her previous experiences as a dancer and (of course) as an actress to fulfill the role.

For such a role, Wellin said her time at MSU prepared was beneficial in a number of ways — not the least of which was being allowed to explore her own abilities.

"One benefit I found at MSU was how much opportunity there was for creating," she said. "There were so many opportunities and I was incredibly busy. I think that served me well for the real world."

Even in the midst of a national tour, however, Wellin is still finding time to exemplify her versatility.

Apart from her acting career, Wellin also anchors the musical project, Youth in a Roman Field, that exhibits influences of jazz, folk and classical music. When the "Once" tour stops in San Francisco in June, she plans to record an EP during her days off.

Playing to mostly sold-out houses, however, Wellin said the tour still feels a bit overwhelming.

"It's especially exciting because other people are so excited about it," she said. "I feel like I'm finally in a place where I need the show and the show needs me."

For more information about productions in Minneapolis, visit www.hennepintheatretrust.org.

For more information about Wellin, visit www.clairewellin.com.