andrew kruse-ross | homecomings | sept. 2018
For more than 20 years, Jessica Tyler Wright has called New York City home. The multifaceted performer has made a career appearing on stages both on and off Broadway but she does little to hide her Green Bay roots.
“I have not left the Green Bay in Green Bay," says Wright emphatically.
The performer isn't shy about her love for her hometown or its Packers — a love now shared with her four-year-old daughter, who she says was a Packer bike kid during a visit to Green Bay last summer.
“She showed up with her cousin's tricycle and Dean Lowry walked alongside her," says Wright. “So, Dean Lowry is now her Packer, No. 94."
Wright will make another visit to her hometown to take part in the Weidner Center 25th Anniversary Concert which features Wright as well as violinist and fellow Green Bay native Wayne Lin and Broadway performer Brad Little.
Lin, as an 11-year-old, performed at the Weidner's inaugural event in 1993 and is currently the associate concertmaster of the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra.
Little made Green Bay his temporary home during “The Phantom of the Opera" in 1997 and 1999. He played the titular role in those productions.
The event also features the Youth Symphony Orchestra program at St. Norbert College and the Weidner Anniversary Orchestra.
For Wright, it wasn't originally as an actor that she aspired but as a musician. She began playing the violin at the age of 4 and was a member of the Green Bay Youth Symphony program at age 5. She remained in that program throughout high school.
“Violin was my soccer," says Wright.
Wright credits a combined admiration for the film “Annie" as well as attending a UWGB performance of “Snow White" as influencing her theatrical interests.
She would make her acting debut at age 11, playing the iconic orphan in a stage production of “Annie" at Marinette's Theatre on the Bay.
She credits her experience with Kids from Wisconsin, which she was a member of for two seasons, as an invaluable experience that informed her later career.
“That performing troupe taught me what it is to be a performer," says Wright.
It's during this time that she learned the responsibilities of being a performer: maintaining a show for an entire summer, maintaining her voice, and growing accustomed to life on the road and the rigors of touring.
Wright would go on to pursue both violin and acting at Millikin University and spent her summer months garnering as much acting experience as possible. She found work at Walt Disney World, Six Flags, Great America and Music Theatre of Wichita.
After graduation, Wright decided to make the move to the Big Apple. But, having only visited the city once for a single day while on a band field trip, she made the move with “extraordinary caution."
“I had a flight out and I had a return," says Wright. “I extended my return for as long as you possibly could for a round-trip ticket, which I believe was 30 days. So, I gave myself 30 days."
Wright landed her first role in New York five days later. Through sound advice and her theatrical connections, she was put in touch with a casting director in need of an understudy — and a violinist.
“I just got so fortunate," recalls Wright.
The actor wouldn't need to punch that return ticket home and has made New York her home ever since, working both on and off Broadway.
She made her on-Broadway debut in the Tony-nominated revival of “Sweeny Todd," followed shortly by roles in “Love Musik" and “Candide," which served as her introduction to the legendary director Hal Prince.
Wright's violin skills would again serve her well, helping her land a role in a national television ad campaign for Nexium. She's also appeared in an episode of the CBS hit “Blue Bloods" opposite Tom Selleck.
In 2014, her portrayal of Marjorie Taylor in “Allegro" earned her a Lucille Lortel Award nomination for Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical and in 2017, she was able to reprise her role in “Candide," and again work alongside Hal Prince.
Equally at home working alongside the industries rising talents as with its legends, Wright mentions her excitement working with young director Sammi Cannold, who she worked alongside in “Ragtime on Ellis Island."
“She's only in her twenties but so smart and together and just one of those people you need to watch because she's an up and comer."
In just a small glimpse of what one can expect during the 25th Anniversary Concert, Wright says she was asked to perform a duet with Green Bay's “Phantom" from the ever-popular “Phantom of the Opera" with the Weidner pipe organ in support.
When asked about the duet, Wright says despite calmly accepting, inside she was ecstatic and an image instantly came to mind: one of her senior pictures.
“It's me in my Phantom sweatshirt with a Phantom mask with my Phantom book. I'm wearing Phantom shoes. I have Phantom earrings. To say I loved that show … I was obsessed with 'Phantom of the Opera.'"
Her enthusiasm for “Phantom" might be matched only by her excitement in returning home for this event.
“I am so excited; it's hard to describe the feeling of your hometown asking you to come back and be a part of this. I'm so moved and I'm so honored — truly."
The Weidner 25th Anniversary Concert is Saturday, Sept. 22 at 7:30 p.m. For more information visit WeidnerCenter.com.