Alysha Umphress: From Bay Area to Broadway and back

“Cabaret star” is a new kind of homecoming for Bay Area native Alysha Umphress.

The New York-based performer has been home to visit, but other than a couple of songs at a benefit for the San Francisco nonprofit No Bully and a summer stop singing “On the Town” with the San Francisco Symphony, her work has been elsewhere.

“It’s really the first time I’ve done my own show in my home town since I graduated high school,” says the Concord-born singer, talking about her two-night stand at Feinstein’s at the Nikko this week.

She made the move to New York in 2004, learned the ropes, got the requisite restaurant job and started making the rounds.

“When I first moved to the city and I was auditioning for Broadway shows it was so easy to get star struck like, ‘OMG, that person was in that show!’ You definitely put people on a pedestal. Then you’re there for a couple years and it starts to wear off, that shimmer of Broadway stars,” she says. “You come to realize, they’re my peers. I’ve got this. I can do this.”

That kind of confidence got Umphress noticed. She appeared in dozens of cabarets and ensemble concert events featuring new and rising talent around Manhattan. She also connected with the new works circuit, performing in readings of new musicals and recording demo songs for shows in development.

It paid off. She was cast in a succession of ensemble and featured roles in Broadway productions of “American Idiot,” “Priscilla Queen of the Desert,” “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” and “Bring It On The Musical.”

Then came an offer to go out of town for a revival of Leonard Bernstein’s “On the Town” at Barrington Stage Company in Massachusetts.

“I never took that job thinking it was gonna go to Broadway,” says Umphress. “Not in a million years.”

It did, and the part of wise-cracking cab driver Hildy – originated by Nancy Walker in 1946 – and her big number, “I Can Cook Too” – fit the Umphress style perfectly.

Now Umphress is contemplating her next career steps. The trajectory of “On the Town” precluded continued involvement with a workshop of the stage adaptation of the film “Beaches” and the role of CeeCee originally played by Bette Midler.

“It was such a huge challenge for me because it was something like 19 songs, the type of role where I literally never left the stage. So it was quite a feat and again I learned, ‘I can do this.’”

IF YOU GO
Alysha Umphress
Where: Feinstein’s at the Nikko, 220 Mason St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Nov. 11, 7 p.m. Nov. 12
Tickets: $35 to $50
Contact: (866) 663-1063, www.ticketweb.com

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