Actress is glad to do another Webber musical

Grow­ing up in Ocean City, Md., with par­ents who owned and op­er­ated their own theat­er com­pany, Jen­nifer Hope Wills had a dream: To one day ap­pear in An­drew Lloyd Webber’s hit, The Phantom of the Op­era.

While not all dreams come true, hers did. For sev­er­al years Wills played Christine in the ma­jor mu­sic­al suc­cess, and, fresh from that ap­pear­ance, she is about to open at the Wal­nut Street Theatre in As­pects of Love, an­oth­er Webber hit run­ning Sept. 6 through Oct. 23. 

“I nev­er had any real big dreams to be a star, but I al­ways wanted to be on Broad­way in The Phantom of the Op­era and play Christine. I feel so lucky that I got to achieve that dream,” said Wills, 38. 

Soon, she’ll be play­ing an­oth­er ro­mantic fig­ure in As­pects of Love, a mu­sic­al that spans 20 years, bind­ing six people and three gen­er­a­tions as they come to ap­pre­ci­ate that “love changes everything.” 

The story is set against the back­ground of 1940s France and Italy, with Wills play­ing the beau­ti­ful Rose Vi­bert. 

“This show is re­min­is­cent of Webber’s Phantom in that it’s an­oth­er ro­mance in a sense with lush, beau­ti­ful mu­sic,” said Wills. “The story line is much more mod­ern than Phantom, but the mu­sic is still in­cred­ibly lush. Webber’s ro­mantic score is something that makes the two shows dif­fer­ent but some­how sim­il­ar. And, like his oth­er work, the show is al­most en­tirely sung.”

Add to that the fact that his mu­sic is ex­tremely tricky,” she con­tin­ued. “I think he writes for the voice al­most as if he’s writ­ing for an in­stru­ment, be­cause he has a very or­ches­tral ear. And while his mu­sic sounds simple, like a pretty little tune, it’s de­cept­ively chal­len­ging to sing. But I think I’m get­ting used to it. Aside from ap­pear­ing in Phantom, I’ve also done The Wo­man in White, so I feel more and more pre­pared to sing his gor­geous mu­sic. Many times, he writes where many people are singing at once, and you can’t al­ways un­der­stand what they’re say­ing. But he man­ages to get the emo­tions across thanks to his mu­sic.”

Grow­ing up, and ap­pear­ing with her par­ents and sib­lings in vari­ous pro­duc­tions at the par­ents’ play­house, Wills said she grew up want­ing to “get away from it all. So I de­cided to be­come a his­tory teach­er and went to Salis­bury Uni­versity to ma­jor in his­tory. But I kept tak­ing mu­sic classes. I just couldn’t get away from it, I guess.” 

She even went on to get a mas­ter’s de­gree in mu­sic from In­di­ana Uni­versity, still think­ing she might go on to be­come a teach­er.

“And I did teach voice and dic­tion for about two years,” she ex­plained. “But that didn’t feel the same as my life in per­form­ance. So even­tu­ally I took off and went to New York to give that a shot. And it turned out all right — even­tu­ally.”

Be­fore she hit the “big time,” Wills worked at night as a leg­al proofread­er, a job she said she loved.

“It was quiet and kept my brain work­ing,” she said. “It also gave me the op­por­tun­ity to go out of town oc­ca­sion­ally to do small re­gion­al jobs. But is wasn’t un­til I got a job at Pa­per Mill Play­house in New Jer­sey that I fi­nally got an agent and was seen in big­ger and big­ger au­di­tions. That took about two years.” 

Since then, some of her cred­its in­clude The Wo­man in White, Beauty & the Beast, and The Sound of Mu­sic among oth­ers. Her role in As­pects of Love marks her re­turn to the Wal­nut after hav­ing been seen last on the Wal­nut stage in Fini­an’s Rain­bow

“I really do love be­ing back at the Wal­nut,” she con­cluded. “I love the sense of his­tory here. My home today is on Long Is­land, and play­ing this theat­er al­lows me to be close to home, and while en­joy­ing be­ing an act­ress, also al­lows me time to be a wife and moth­er s well. I am com­pletely happy with the way things are now.” ••

For times and tick­et in­form­a­tion, call 215-574-3550.

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