Before Broadway came calling, Hailey Kilgore was a typical Portland soccer fan.
For nearly a decade, she and her father, Eric, were fixtures at Timbers and Thorns FC home matches, singing and yelling with the Timbers Army and the Rose City Riveters.
Kilgore still remembers her first Timbers match and the sensation of sitting in the front row of the Army: the passion around her in the stands, the fierce battles on the pitch, and the emotional catharsis of victory.
“People were yelling and getting excited and our players were so strong and unified,” she recalls. “It was everything to me. It kind of gave me the same feelings of being onstage and getting applause.”
Over the past month, Kilgore's become accustomed to those feelings as she's performed the lead role in the new Broadway musical Once On This Island. So far, every single performance has sold out and Kilgore’s performance is drawing rave reviews: “A winsome Broadway debut,” in Time Out New York, “a dynamite performance filled with heart” in Entertainment Weekly, and a performance that should “clinch the future theater career of this thrilling young talent” in Variety.
The 18-year-old Kilgore has quickly transformed from a young student who could only dream of Broadway stardom to a full-time actress braving 16-18 hour work days on the set of a major Broadway show. And if all that sounds exhausting–and it is–Kilgore hardly has had time to reflect on it; after getting home at midnight from a preview performance, she wakes up early the next morning and does it all over again.
Kilgore has been so busy, in fact, that the Timbers and Thorns fanatic could only follow the Thorns' NWSL Championship match on Twitter.
“I was in rehearsal [and] I teared up because I was so proud of them,” she says of her reaction when the referee blew full time on the Thorns' 1-0 victory over the North Carolina Courage.
But Kilgore's journey from Happy Valley, Ore. to the Broadway stage is straight out of a Hollywood screenplay.
In August, Kilgore was cast as Ti Moune, the lead role in Once On This Island, a 1990 musical fairy tale set in the French Antilles archipelago. The unique challenges of the role had prompted a worldwide casting search to find the perfect young actress, a search that ultimately settled on the little-known Kilgore.
“Our director found a video of me singing when I was like 12 [years-old] on YouTube and a friend of his, who was a teacher to me...said, 'You know, there's this girl and you need to bring her in,'” Kilgore explained.
Fortunately, the moment when Kilgore learned she had secured the role was captured on video.
“Would you do one more thing?” the show's director, Michael Arden, asks Kilgore after she's performed a song in her sixth and final call-back audition. “Would you play Ti Moune on Broadway?”
Stunned, Kilgore could do nothing but walk right out of the rehearsal room. Moments later, a visibly shocked Kilgore returns. “Wait,” she says. “Wait. What just happened?”
In a single moment, Kilgore's life changed forever, but that fact can sometimes still feel like a fantasy.
“You watch these movies about the girls who go to New York and they get that one big audition and then they get the job,” Kilgore says of landing the role of a lifetime. “That's kind of what it was like for me.”
Even so, the stage had always had a way of beckoning Kilgore, and once she had gotten a taste for it, Kilgore began to want more.
In 2013, Kilgore, then in her early teens, got brought up onto the capo stand to lead the cheers during Thorns matches.
“I was being insane!” she remembers about the first time she was asked to lead the Rose City Riveters in chant. “There was a game that was really exciting a couple weeks into the first season and Sunday White, who is the lead capo, she saw me and she was like, 'Come here!' She had me get on the main stage and they just kept asking me to come back.”
This, it turned out, was her natural habitat.
“It felt like being on stage,” she says of being on the capo stand. “It gave me that same rush of energy!”
While she could not have imagined it then, Kilgore now has to channel that same rush of energy night-after-night on the Broadway stage. For the 18 year-old dreamer, she wouldn't have it any other way.