azzling lights and a packed arena—this is what dreams are made of for Natalie Marsan, MCAS ’21. On Friday night, they came to life. As this year’s Pops on the Heights performer, Marsan earned the chance to take on the largest performance of her life, one that she hopes will be experience for the future.
Pops on the Heights brings the famous Boston Pops Orchestra to Conte Forum every year to raise money for financial aid and scholarships. For 27 years, Pops on the Heights has been both an important night for student scholarships, as well as a celebration of everything BC.
Not a stranger to the stage, Marsan has been a part of the Boston College musical theatre scene since she was a freshman, performing in Chicago, a concert version of Mamma Mia!, and 9 to 5. Currently she’s also rehearsing for Murder on the Nile, which will run from Oct. 10-13 in the Robsham Theater.
Despite her experience, Marsan was still nervous about her performance.
“I feel like when I’m in a show, I’m not really me, like I’m being the character, so it’s a little easier for me to be like a little less nervous,” Marsan said in anticipation of the event. “But now that it’s me standing on the stage in front of like, thousands of people, it’s going to be completely different. It’s a little more nerve wracking.”
Coming into BC as a nursing major, Marsan soon felt something wasn’t right. When struggling in her sophomore year to figure out whether nursing was the career path she wanted to pursue, Marsan credits BC and the Halftime retreat for helping her find her way.
[aesop_quote type=”block” background=”#942093″ text=”#ffffff” align=”left” size=”1″ quote=”‘What is your purpose?,’ ‘What are your gifts?,’ ‘How can you contribute to the community?’—all of the answers pointed to theatre.”” parallax=”off” direction=”left” revealfx=”off”]
till in the nursing school, Marsan was part of Endeavor program, a three-day program for sophomores in the Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences and the Lynch School of Education and Human Development to explore their career paths. Marsan also attended Halftime, a three-day retreat for students to reflect on their major and future career, and how that fits with their passions and talents.
Marsan was already ambivalent about her major. She felt that nursing was no longer what she wanted to pursue, but her practicality kept her from diving head first into an artistic career. Halftime, however, helped her really reflect on what really was her calling.
“And then I went to Halftime and just, listening to other students who had gone through similar things as me—like being on the fence about what they wanted to do,” Marsan said. “And looking at those three questions like, ‘What is your purpose?,’ ‘What are your gifts?,’ ‘How can you contribute to the community?’—all of the answers pointed to theatre.”
[aesop_gallery id=”9630″ revealfx=”off” overlay_revealfx=”off”]
orn in Washington, D.C., Marsan shifted around the Midwest as a child, moving to Indianapolis in first grade and to Wisconsin during her sophomore year of high school. Her parents, a college counselor and an energy lawyer, were not particularly artistic people, but her mother enrolled Marsan in theatre classes—her older sister was taking theatre classes, and for convenience’s sake, Marsan also went to theatre classes so her mother could pick up and drop off the children at the same place.
This introduction to theatre quickly turned into something more, as Marsan fell in love with the stage. She continued with theatre classes and summer camps all through her life, and kept on pursuing it on the side before fully deciding to commit in college.
Having seen over 50 musicals in her life, Marsan’s favorite musical is Bye Bye Birdie, one she has loved since she was a kid.
“I originally saw the movie version, and I could say every word from the movie version, do every dance move,” Marsan said. “And then when I saw it on stage, it was just as magical.”
Her love of theatre comes from her love of singing, dancing, and acting. She credits theatre with giving her more confidence, as well as offering a welcome escape from her life off the stage.
“I love to sing. It really makes me kind of forget about all the craziness of life, and I can just go up there and take my mind off of it and do something that I love to do.”
Pops on the Heights is an especially valuable event for BC, Marsan explains, because it’s a rare moment when the entire BC community comes together to focus on the arts, a field she believes that is often overshadowed.
“Everybody is there to enjoy the music and just spend a night kind of appreciating the arts, and it’s—we don’t get a ton of that,” Marsan said. “But it’s when like the entire BC community comes together to not only raise money for such a great cause, but also just listen to some music and performers. And I just feel like the energy is always so high and warm.”
After receiving an email about auditions in April, Marsan sent in a video of herself singing two contrasting pieces, then received a callback where she and around a dozen others got the chance for an in-person audition in front of a panel.
[aesop_quote type=”block” background=”#942093″ text=”#ffffff” align=”left” size=”1″ quote=” “I had woken up early that morning. It was like six in the morning, and I noticed I got an email the night before,” Marsan said. “And I was jumping up and down and I called my parents and my friends. It just didn’t feel real.”” parallax=”off” direction=”left” revealfx=”off”]
or her video audition, Marsan chose to sing “Fly, Fly Away” from Catch Me If You Can, a more delicate song that showcased her soprano voice and musical theatre background, and “Don’t Rain on My Parade” from Funny Girl to showcase the power of her voice.
Marsan was notified through email in May about her acceptance.
“I had woken up early that morning. It was like six in the morning, and I noticed I got an email the night before,” Marsan said. “And I was jumping up and down and I called my parents and my friends. It just didn’t feel real.”
[aesop_gallery id=”9631″ revealfx=”off” overlay_revealfx=”off”]
usily preparing for the performance since, Marsan was set up with a voice coach by the Boston Pops coordinators, who practiced with her weekly or biweekly over the summer and at the beginning of the school year, all the way up to the performance. The first rehearsal she had with the entire orchestra was only hours before the big performance, but Marsan has been working with the coordinators and the conductor, Keith Lockhart, to perfect the piece.
The song Marsan performed is “When I Look At You” from The Scarlet Pimpernel, a classic Broadway musical that debuted in 1997. Interestingly enough, Marsan performed the song in her callback audition, and the coordinators liked the song so much that they asked her to perform the song at Pops on the Heights.
Her performance was incredibly well-received. She commanded the stage in a red ball gown after a warm welcome from Lockhart. Her showstopping performance was immediately followed by an enthusiastic and lengthy standing ovation. Later in the night, the crowd showed Leslie Odom Jr., the Tony-winning guest performer for Pops on the Heights, who was also part of the original Broadway cast for the hit show Hamilton, the same levels of appreciation.
[aesop_quote type=”block” background=”#942093″ text=”#ffffff” align=”left” size=”1″ quote=” “I would think I’m going to move to New York,” she said. “I think that’s the plan. And hopefully, do some regional theatre, some off-Broadways, I would love to get some auditions for that. Hopefully, one day, the big dream—Broadway.”” parallax=”off” direction=”left” revealfx=”off”]
hen Marsan learned Odom Jr. was selected to perform, Marsan was ecstatic. She is a big fan of Hamilton and saw the musical in Chicago, but not with the original cast.
“I didn’t get to see Leslie Odom Jr., but I listened to the soundtrack,” Marsan said of her trip to Chicago. “I know every word of every song. I was so in awe.”
To prepare for the big night, Marsan listened to his jazz album to try to get into his vibe. On Friday, Marsan expressed her hopes that he would sing something from Hamilton, but felt privileged just to get the chance to perform on the same stage as him.
With her first close experience with a Broadway heavyweight, Marsan, now studying theatre and psychology, plans to move to New York after graduation with her own hopes of pursuing theatre professionally.
“I would think I’m going to move to New York,” she said. “I think that’s the plan. And hopefully, do some regional theatre, some off-Broadways, I would love to get some auditions for that. Hopefully, one day, the big dream—Broadway.”
With her dreams in mind, Marsan sees herself in every musical she goes to. She picks out characters that she could play, every song she could master, imagining her future on the stage.
Marsan looks to Broadway legends like Sutton Foster and Bette Davis, people who she grew up admiring. Having powerful figures like them in the industry sets an example for her own aspirations.
“Just watching other people be so successful and perform with such emotion on stage, it makes me want to do it,” Marsan said. “I see them and I want to be like them up on stage.”
Marsan’s passion for theatre is evident. At BC, besides acting in shows, Marsan also works in the staging side of theatrical productions, where she helps build sets in the scene shop to make sure each production is perfect.
Marsan believes the appeal of theatre lies in the different characters that she gets to play. The ability to change into someone else is a magical experience, and coupled with her love of singing and dancing, Marsan’s true calling is in musical theatre.
“I think you kind of get to get out of your body and get out of your head for a second and you get to live,” Marsan said. “I feel like it’s the only profession or only activity where you get to like live someone else’s life. It’s really empathetic if you think about it.”
Emily Himes contributed reporting.
Featured Image by Celine Lim / Heights Editor