It’s not everyday you see a student from your alma mater, especially when there’s a six-year gap between your cohorts, but for Bella Hicks, it’s been a daily occurrence for the past few months.
Leading up to Tony Spinosa and James Bearhart’s new musical “Singing Revolution,” Hicks has collaborated with some of the theater’s biggest talents, including drama school student Chloe Willey as assistant stage manager. .
Their shared training on Trojan horses is just one of the unlikely threads that have been woven together to produce the story of “Singing Revolution”. Based on the revolution of the same name, the musical features a Euro-pop soundtrack, an enchanting love story and generations of intricate storylines, all against the peaceful protest movement that won independence from Europe. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in 1991.
To play Sofia Solokov, the female lead, Spinosa and his collaborators considered choosing a strong singer and actress who could portray the multidimensional character and captivate the audience. They chose Hicks, a 2016 SDA graduate, who years earlier hadn’t had musical theater in mind.
“I actually went to my mom when I was seven and said, ‘I want to be a pop star,'” Hicks said. “And she’s like, ‘Okay, write a song.’ So I wrote my first song when I was seven. It was terrible. I won’t sing any of that for you.
Despite her early passion for music, Hicks was unsure about pursuing the arts at the college level and eagerly sought to explore outside of her hometown of Los Angeles. Also wanting to pursue a financially stable career, Hicks studied geology at the University of Michigan in his freshman year.
“I was unhappy; I was cold; I was depressed,” Hicks said. “I was like, ‘This isn’t where my heart is. I had to do what I loved,’ and that’s always been music to me. He’s always been a performer.
Hicks transferred to USC soon after, taking music lessons while majoring in theater due to the absence of USC’s musical theater program at the time. Although she expected competition and exclusivity, she found dozens of collaborators and friends to help her pursue her dreams.
“It was that collaboration that made the whole USC experience for me,” Hicks said. “It’s always about the team, which I think is something I’ve led professionally, especially with [the pandemic] situation we are currently going through.
This bond has become especially valuable during the coronavirus pandemic, when the crew rely on each other to stay safe and continue to pursue their craft.
“It’s hard enough to put on a musical, a new musical and overlap with the pandemic. The coronavirus on top has been a challenge,” Spinosa said. “I’m not going to lie, it was a challenge.
Amid the panic and unease, Hicks took the opportunity to explore a space where she could feel in control – her art. To support her creativity, Hicks has been working on an album, which is due out in the coming weeks.
“It’s interesting because when all your opportunities are gone [away], What do you do? What are you turning to? “Hicks said. “It’s cool, creating my own content, I did something that I probably never could have done.”
Although the return to live performance gratified Hicks, her soul would not only be nurtured by a return to performing, but also by the opportunity to sing the style of music she loved the most.
“I grew up singing pop, R&B and soul music,” Hicks said. “So for me to hear this music in a musical theater context is definitely the direction the tradition is going… [It] was so satisfying to me, because our music director was like, “You can riff, you can improvise, you can have fun with it,” and I was like a kid in a candy store.
Hicks, Spinosa said, is the perfect actress to star in the modernized musical he envisioned. Her ability to work with directors and hone her character is remarkable, but so is the natural love she shows for music.
“She brings so much soul to the show’s music,” Spinosa said. “She is a brilliant musician. I know she also writes music, and she brings all of her talents to the table in this production.
Spinosa wasn’t the only showrunner to enjoy working with Hicks. Willey, a senior specializing in stage management at SDA, praised Hicks’ skills and kindness.
“Bella is ridiculously talented,” Willey said. “She is incredibly caring about what everyone has to do. It’s amazing to collaborate with her, even for a quick change.
The pandemic has been incredibly difficult for performers, including Hicks’ experience. However, through struggles and setbacks and with an optimistic outlook, she says working with the “Singing Revolution” crew has made her a better actress.
“It’s definitely [been] an intense journey. I grew up as an actor because I see myself as a singer first and foremost,” Hicks said. “It’s been a challenge and also really, really fun pushing myself and doing all this work.”
The show is set to premiere on January 29 and will run through February 20 at the Broadwater Theater in LA.