Samantha Ware Lion King

Lincoln's Samantha Ware played Nala in "The Lion King" in Las Vegas. (Courtesy photo)

Samantha Ware had planned to stage a one-woman show this summer at the Lincoln Community Playhouse.

But when Broadway called, she quickly made a new plan.

The 20-year-old 2009 North Star graduate will make her Broadway debut Thursday night in “The Book of Mormon,” the 2011 Tony Award winner for best musical.

Ware will play Nabulungi, filling in for six weeks for Nikki M. James, who won a best actress Tony for the role. James is taking a hiatus from the musical to film “Lucky Stiff,” the screen adaptation of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty’s 1988 musical.

In a phone interview from New York City, Ware said her agent threw her for a loop when he called to tell her she was replacing James.

Ware, after all, had planned to take it easy this summer in Lincoln after closing “The Lion King” in Las Vegas in December.

“The Book of Mormon” is a religious satire from Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Robert Lopez. Park and Stone are creators of Comedy Central’s animated hit “South Park,” while Lopez is co-creator of the Tony-winning “Avenue Q.” The national tour begins Aug. 14 in Denver.

Lincoln native Samantha Ware will make her Broadway debut Thursday night in "The Book of Mormon." (Courtesy photo)

“I had to keep asking (my agent) to repeat himself,” Ware said. “He told me I would be making my Broadway debut, coming in to cover for Nikki. I started cussing at him and telling him to shut up. I didn’t know if he was serious or not.”

He was.

Then Ware started making phone calls herself, including one to her mother, Rebecca Stalsberg, at work.

“She said she had something important to tell me,” Stalsberg said. “I thought, ‘Oh my, what could it be?’ Then she told me she was going to Broadway. ... Of course, you know, we started crying.”

Ware is the middle child and only girl of Neil and Rebecca Stalsberg’s five children. She has been active in local theater since she was little girl, and her first production was “A Christmas Carol” at the Lied Center for Performing Arts. She was one of the children to pop out from under the coat of the Ghost of Christmas Present.

Her community theater resume includes productions at the Playhouse (“High School Musical II,” “Hairspray”) and Pinewood Bowl (“Cats,” “Footloose”). She became known for her powerful, booming voice.

“She’s always sung like that,” her mother said. “At church, she would sing loud and clear. We have no idea where she got it from.”

She also sang with emotion.

“I don’t ever remember seeing a dry eye in the house,” said Noelle Bohaty, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln dance instructor who directed her in “High School Musical II.” “She has the ability to move people with her voice.”

After high school, Ware attended Doane College in Crete, where she studied with theater department chairman Robin McKercher and his wife, Rhonda Lake. She was at Doane when she learned she landed the role of Nala in “The Lion King” in Las Vegas.

Her Broadway debut will come one year and one day after she started her “Lion King” run.

“To watch her make this transition … this journey to where she is now a year later ... is pretty incredible,” said Bryan Johnson, Playhouse box office manager and one of Ware’s close friends.

Indeed it is, said Playhouse executive director Morrie Enders, who directed Ware in “Hairspray.”

“This is huge news in the theater community,” he said. “A lot of us are really excited by it. Broadway is the dream for a lot of people. She has kind of hit the lottery. What an exciting opportunity for her. This will push her into a whole new life.”

Johnson said hearing about her new life is “mind-blowing.”

“She will talk to me about having conversations with Stephen Schwartz, the writer of ‘Wicked’ and ‘Godspell,’ or she will send me a text that she is chatting in the office with Matt Stone and Trey Parker. It just all seems very surreal.”

To her credit, Ware is taking her recent success in stride. She said she’s been so busy preparing for the Broadway show that she’s had little time to think about its significance, but admitted “it’s been a whirlwind and definitely an adventure.”

Her mother, however, is picking up the slack in the nerves department.

The family won’t be there Thursday night, opting to go in early July instead, but have arranged for flowers to be sent to her at the theater.

“My gosh, my stomach hasn’t been right all week,” her mother said.

Reach Jeff Korbelik at 402-473-7213 or jkorbelik@journalstar.com, or follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/LJSjeffkorbelik.


Features editor

Jeff Korbelik is the features editor and covers dining, performing arts, TV and local media. Follow him at @LJSjeffkorbelik.

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