Barry McNamara  |   Published January 19, 2022

Singer-Actress Makes History

Vocal by Gabriela Madu ’23 places second at regional theatre festival, and she also reached semifinal round of acting competition, both firsts for a Monmouth student.

 

'YOU MUST LOVE ME': And the judges did, awarding second place to Gabriela Madu for her re...'YOU MUST LOVE ME': And the judges did, awarding second place to Gabriela Madu for her rendition of the song from the musical Evita. MONMOUTH, Ill. – Judges at this month’s Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival loved Monmouth College junior Gabriela Madu.

That was the theatre department’s major takeaway from the Kennedy Center’s Region 3 festival, where Madu made history, not once, but twice. Region 3 consists of colleges in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and western Ohio. Its festival was one of eight events leading up to the national Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival in April.

Madu entered two competitive categories at the event, which was held online for the second year in a row because of the pandemic. She placed second in the musical theater competition and was a semifinalist in the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship Auditions. The College has participated in the festival since 1995, and no Monmouth student had ever reached either of those heights.

TODD QUICK: Monmouth professor says Gabriela Madu is as talented behind the scenes in theatre as ... TODD QUICK: Monmouth professor says Gabriela Madu is as talented behind the scenes in theatre as she is on stage.“There were several hundred entrants, from programs big and small,” said Monmouth theatre professor Todd Quick. “Some of the larger schools there were the schools in Chicago, and Ball State, which has a big competitive performance training program. For Gabi to hold her own against that competition from tiny Monmouth College is pretty incredible.”


‘You Must Love Me’

For her musical entry, Madu sang “You Must Love Me” from the film adaptation of the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice musical Evita.

“I go to YouTube to find shorter pieces,” said Madu, who submitted her entry via video from Las Vegas, where she was spending Christmas break with her mother. “I look through hundreds of songs, seeing what I can find that’s in my range and feels comfortable.”

'BEAUTIFUL SOLO': Gabriela Madu is pictured performing a solo from the 2019 holiday produ... 'BEAUTIFUL SOLO': Gabriela Madu is pictured performing a solo from the 2019 holiday production of "A Child's Christmas in Wales."She liked “You Must Love Me,” but it wasn’t until she heard a version by Solea Pfeiffer – “I’m obsessed with her,” said Madu of the Zimbabwe-born actress and singer – that she moved it high on her list of possibilities.

“I felt it could use more emotion, more soul,” she said. “When I heard her version, I thought that is exactly what the song needed.”

Madu did well enough on her initial attempt to reach the finals, earning an encore performance.

“All of the finalists had the opportunity to work with musical theater vocal coaches, people with Broadway-caliber credentials,” said Quick. “They provided one-on-one instruction in a 30-minute Zoom session. The finalists then submitted a new video of themselves singing their same song, implementing the notes, feedback and guidance they’d received.”

One of the coaches noticed regular shoulder movement when Madu took a breath, so she gave Madu a technique to help with that. The other coach, who serves as the artistic director at Open Jar Studios in New York City, had her put some thought into the lyrics.

“He asked me what each repetition meant to me. I said the first one is a question, the second one is a demand and the third one means he must be right there with her. He told me I needed to sing exactly that.” – Gabriela Madu


“In the final chorus, the words ‘you must love me’ are repeated three times,” said Madu, who sings in Monmouth’s Chorale and Chamber Choir. “He asked me what each repetition meant to me. I said the first one is a question, the second one is a demand and the third one means he must be right there with her. He told me I needed to sing exactly that.”

Madu went to work improving upon her performance.

“I ran the song a couple hundred times – not a lot,” she said with a laugh.

Performances by the finalists were compiled into a “cabaret” video. Carthage College’s Tyler Meyer won the competition and will compete in April at the national festival. Thanks to her runner-up finish, Madu is Meyer’s alternate, should he not be able to participate.


Learning theatre at Monmouth

Madu’s most recent vocal performance on the Monmouth College stage came during last spring’s musical, Little Women, when she played the major role of Meg March. She also sang what Quick called “a beautiful solo” in the 2019 holiday play, A Child’s Christmas in Wales.

Since Little Women, Madu has been behind the scenes, learning all facets of theatre production as she prepares to attend graduate school and pursue a master of fine arts degree.

“One of the most impressive things about Gabi is that she’s as talented behind the scenes as she is on stage,” said Quick. “She was the stage manager for A Christmas Carol, and she’s been my assistant director for a couple of shows.”


She can act, too

The good news from the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival began with Madu advancing in the Irene Ryan competition. She had watched the competition in person at the Region 3 festival in 2020 and was nominated to submit an online performance in 2021. This year, she and others were allowed to self-nominate. For her initial performance, she dug into her vault of monologues, settling on one from the contemporary play Cry It Out by Molly Smith-Metzler.

“Professor Quick always tells us, ‘When you find a monologue you like, put it in a Google Drive,” said Madu. “When I let him know that I advanced, I looked him in the eye and told him ‘You were right.’”

'LITTLE WOMEN': In last spring's musical, Gabriela Madu had one of the major roles, p... 'LITTLE WOMEN': In last spring's musical, Gabriela Madu had one of the major roles, playing Meg March.In the second round, she teamed up with Monmouth student Celeste Lythgow ’24, who was in Lafayette, Colorado. Through Zoom, the pair presented a scene from an Aaron Posner play.

“While doing that, I got the email about reaching the finals in musical theater,” said Madu. “I physically didn’t know how to react to that. I was home alone at the time, and it was chaos.”

In the Irene Ryan semifinals, where Madu was one of 16 remaining competitors, she went back to a monologue, which was from the Nilo Cruz play Anna and the Tropics.

“One of the finalists, a professional performer from Wayne State University, reached to Gabi and told her how impressed she was by her,” said Quick. “The musical theatre program at Western Illinois has also reached out and wants Gabi to come down there for their master’s in fine arts program.”

Quick said he is proud of all the Monmouth students who’ve competed at the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival, where another highlight this year was an interactive Zoom session with Tony Award-winning actor and singer Brian Stokes Mitchell.

“Of course, we’re over the moon for Gabi’s success,” he said. “But I’m so impressed by all our students who put themselves out there. They’re not daunted by the competition in our region, and I think they’ll find a lot of success after they leave Monmouth.”

“Plan A is to attend the Yale School of Drama. That’s the dream and the goal. Ideally, I want to become a professional in acting or vocal performance.” Gabriela Madu


That’s certainly the hope for Madu, who also serves as president of Scots Student Senate, the College’s student government.

“Plan A is to attend the Yale School of Drama,” said Madu. “That’s the dream and the goal. Ideally, I want to become a professional in acting or vocal performance.”

And if, for some unlikely reason, her musical or theatre goals aren’t realized, there’s always another possibility.

“If it all goes wrong, Plan F would be to use my computer science degree from Monmouth,” said Madu, who is majoring in that subject in addition to theatre.

Listen Up …

Gabriela Madu ’23 discusses making Monmouth theatre history on the 1853 podcast.

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