Mindy Smoot: Back from Broadway - Y Magazine
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Mindy Smoot: Back from Broadway

By Spencer Rogers

Mindy SmootWhen Les Miserables stopped in Salt Lake City last February, around 250 people scrambled for tickets to one particular show: BYU junior Mindy L. Smoot’s interpretation of Eponine. After all, how often do you have the chance to watch your student, friend, voice coach, sister, or classmate play a major role in a Broadway musical?

No stranger to the spotlight, Smoot has been performing since she joined a singing group called “Buttons and Bows” at age four. She started regular voice lessons two years later. At Provo High School, besides playing varsity tennis and basketball, she acted in school plays, sang in musicals, and attended performance workshops put on by BYU.

It was at one of these clinics that Smoot caught the attention of music professor Randall W. Boothe, director of BYU‘s Young Ambassadors. “She was just a stellar performer,” Boothe says. “She has a way of holding people’s attention with her vocal and facial expressions.”

Smoot auditioned for Young Ambassadors while still a high school senior and joined the group when she enrolled at BYU. The experience helped prepare her for full-time performing—something she started after her freshman year. In May 1997, after returning from a Young Ambassadors tour to Africa, she headed to Disney World for 13 months of show work and improvised street acting.

Upon re-enrolling at BYU, the now-seasoned Smoot made up for lost time by taking on 17 voice students and carrying 21 credit hours. Then, just weeks shy of her first post-Disney World final exams, she fielded the phone call most performers only dream about—she was offered a spot on a Broadway tour. “I accepted it, of course,” she says matter-of-factly. “How could you not?”

As the backup Eponine, Smoot’s usual duty was to fill a smattering of roles—”like ‘Pea-picker Number 8,'” she says. But for about 40 of her 500-plus shows, she came onstage as Eponine. Boothe says her performance in that role at a Salt Lake City show “was just electric. There’s no question that she belonged on the stage.”

During her 15 months on tour, Smoot rubbed shoulders with some of showbiz’s finest. “They’re incredible,” she says of her 36 fellow cast members. “Being with great performers stretches you. I played tennis in high school, and I was always better when I played against someone who was amazing. That principle applies to anything.”

Touring with Les Miserables often proved difficult, however. For Smoot it wasn’t just the pressure of performing: she and Nancy Foster, also a BYU student and the only other LDS cast member at the time, found that many of their coworkers held misconceptions about Mormons. In fact, when Smoot piqued one man’s interest in the Church, other performers tried to deter him. “Once the cast found out that he was talking with the missionaries,” Smoot remembers, “the anti-Mormon literature began to fly.”

Full-time touring also presented other challenges. “The tour is your family, community, environment,” Smoot says. “And you have nothing else. You don’t have a home, you don’t have other friends, you don’t have a ward, you don’t have anything.”

Craving a more spiritual environment, Smoot resigned from the tour in February and enrolled in BYU classes for spring and summer terms. She plans to stay until she graduates in music dance theatre next year. “I am dying to go to a fireside. Or homemaking—I can’t wait to go to homemaking,” she said, wincing, days before she left for the last leg of the Les Miserablestour.

Still, leaving the tour was not an easy decision. “There’s a security that comes,” she says, and theatre is an uncertain business. “I may never work again. Being in one show doesn’t guarantee that you’re going to be in another.”

Six months after leaving the tour, however, Smoot knows she made the right decision. Having grown up camping and riding horses, she enjoyed spending time outdoors this summer. And after more than a year of full-time performing, she says, she needed a break.

Smoot won’t stay away from the stage for long—she’s slated for the cast of BYU‘s 2001 musical. Still, few future performances could match her best memories from the tour.

Last year, Smoot’s parents rallied the families of their three older daughters—22 people in all—to watch Mindy, their youngest, in Washington, D.C.

“At the end of the show,” she says, “All these people who had died in the French Revolution come up and sing, ‘Do you hear the people sing, lost in the valley of the night? / It is the music of a people who are climbing to the light.’ It’s all about returning to God. I could see my family about four rows back, taking up the whole middle section of the theater, and I just got tears in my eyes. Thirty-seven incredible voices on stage, these bright lights, the orchestra, and the family sitting out there—I will never forget that moment.”