Three Lessons from Life on Stage

Morgan Marcell. Photo: Ted Ely

Writer: Michael Morain

When the best and brightest theater kids from more than 80 Iowa schools perform in the annual Iowa High School Musical Theater Awards Showcase on Thursday at the Des Moines Civic Center, they’ll share the spotlight with a Broadway star. The event’s emcee, Morgan Marcell, was part of the original Broadway cast of “Hamilton,” as well as “Moulin Rouge!” and “Noir!” the new musical by Duncan Sheik. She’s also appeared in NBC’s “Annie Live!” and FX’s “Fosse/Verdon.”

Not so long ago, she was one of those theater kids, too. She hopes to share a few tips during her trip to Iowa.

1. Sometimes, it’s up to fate.

Marcell grew up in San Diego. The summer when she was 5 or 6, her parents asked her whether she wanted to play soccer or go to arts camp. Her decision shaped the rest of her life.

In the camp’s production of “Mary Poppins,” she was cast as the old woman who feeds birds outside St. Paul’s Cathedral. “So there I am in an oversized costume and terrible makeup. My blocking is all over the place and I’m throwing around these breadcrumbs until I just sit down and sing the song,” she recalled. “But I remember having no fear, no judgment, no standards, and I thought, ‘Ohhh, this is so fun.”

So there went her soccer career. “I think about that all the time,” she said.

2. Don’t fear failure.

“If I could tell my younger self something, it would be to live the life you imagined,” she said. “And that’s past tense – imagined – because I think my fear of failure has held me back. It pushed me, but it also held me back from trying things because I was afraid I wouldn’t be good.”

Over the years, she’s noticed that the most successful people she’s worked with have pursued their passions without worrying too much about the results. Lin-Manuel Miranda, for example, started jotting down a few hip-hop lyrics about Alexander Hamilton before even imagining a full musical.

3. Be yourself. Things will work out.

When Marcell auditioned for “On Your Feet!” a few years ago, she got all dressed up and gave it her best shot. But she didn’t get the part. 

When she tried out for “Hamilton” a few weeks later, she didn’t do her hair or makeup and just pulled on her favorite pair of workout pants. “I figured, ‘It’s all about the work. I’ve taken every voice lesson. I’ve studied every style of dance. I’m just going to bring everything I know I have, and if you can’t see past the fact that I’m not wearing makeup, maybe I’m just not meant to do this role.”

And it worked. She landed a part in the ensemble and a place in Broadway history.

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