Theatre alum lends voice to Netflix series, upcoming ‘Mean Girls’ musical


Photo courtesy of Therese Boyich

Benjamin VanHoose

It’s not every day that your voice goes viral, but for Kent State alumna Therese “Tee” Boyich it’s a feat she is about to experience all over again.

After recording background vocals for the theme song to Netflix’s comedy series “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” Boyich, 25, witnessed the catchy track takeover the Internet, scoring more than 4 million views on YouTube. With the second season available for streaming Friday, her “Ooh, damn it!” lyric is bound to get stuck in the heads of binge-watchers everywhere.

“When the song went viral last year it was incredibly surreal,” she said. “I’m preparing myself for when season two premieres … I know I’ll hear it nonstop.”

‘She doesn’t even go here!’

Originally enrolled at DePauw University in Indiana, Boyich transferred to Kent State her junior year to follow her vocal coach Jay White as he took a position as associate professor in the university’s music department.

“From the moment (Boyich) entered my studio at DePauw, it was clear that she had an affinity for the musical theatre style,” White said.

In their lessons, White helped Boyich strengthen her singing fundamentals so that she could then venture to more uncharted territory.

“We explored what felt and sounded good for her … and then built more flexibility from there,” White said. “(Boyich) is rather fearless when it comes to trying things with her voice and musical skills.”

That musical fearlessness was noticeable to Boyich’s parents from a young age.

“The most important thing to my parents was finding something I was passionate about, regardless of what it was, so when I found something I was good at, they let me run with it,” she said. “I think if I had been great at knitting they would have been equally as thrilled.”

Boyich’s work ethic is exactly what her old professors remember best about her time in their classrooms.

“She always brought her very best to everything she did,” said Tracee Patterson, a part-time theatre department faculty member. “She was conducting herself as a professional long before she was actually hired as one.”

Perseverance has been a key vocabulary word for Boyich from the moment she decided to pursue music as a career. With a few big-time projects under her belt, she’s found that commitment is still the main ingredient to success in the industry.

“If there is someone more talented in front of you, don’t resent them; just get your ass in gear and work that much harder,” Boyich said. “You can’t control anyone else’s talent, only how much effort you put in.”

That same level of dedication applies to current Kent State students dreaming of a similar career path as Boyich, according to White. He believes that success will go to those who utilize the campus’ resources to their fullest potential.

“At (Kent State), we are building life-long performing artists,” White said. “To know (students) are using the tools they learned while at Kent State should fill us all with humble pride.”

‘I can’t help it that I’m popular.’

It was Boyich’s connection to Kent State that ultimately led to her booking the “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” gig.

She first met composer and Kent State alum Jeff Richmond when he spoke at her 2013 graduation ceremony. 

Richmondhusband of actress Tina Fey, needed a female vocalist to assist with a show and reached out to Kent State faculty for recommendations. 

“Jeff and I went to Kent State together … (and) I got a call from him asking if I had an alum that I could recommend to sing some demo music for him,” said Terri Kent, a theatre professor. “He needed someone who could sing any style … and not intimidated to be working with Tina.”

The process of recording the theme song began when the show was intended for NBC under the working title “Tooken.” Once Richmond and other writers decided on a tune, Boyich went to a recording studio near Times Square in New York City, where her singing abilities were put to the test.

“The whole thing only lasted a few hours and it was mostly me just singing to different harmonies,” Boyich said. “When they decide to change the key or a note or a lyric, you have to be able to fly with it—they can’t be sitting around waiting for you.”

Eventually, the theme was finalized and “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” was introduced to the world via Netflix on March 6. For some time after that, Boyich said her vocals were somewhat inescapable.

“I kept getting messages from friends and family who would hear it,” she said. “One time I even heard someone who had it as her ringtone; I was on a bus when suddenly I heard myself singing and was very confused for a moment.”

Boyich admitted that she doesn’t like to hear or see herself perform because “it’s impossible not to critique every little thing.”

“I listened to it a few times, but then I would skip over it at the beginning of each episode,” she said. “I know what I sound like; I don’t need to hear it every time.”

Though Boyich is enjoying some accomplishment right now, she doesn’t plan to quit her day job—yet.

“I sometimes joke that I peaked too soon, but I have no intentions of slowing down,” she said. “I look forward to making recording my full-time job eventually.”

‘Oh my God, Danny DeVito! I love your work!’

“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” follows the titular character (played by Ellie Kemper of “The Office” fame) as she escapes a life of captivity to acclimate to the adult world with the interrupted mentality of a 14-year-old—the age when she was kidnapped.

The comedy is bright and bubbly despite its heavy subject matter, thanks mostly to its similar crew of talent that was behind “30 Rock,” including Fey, actress Jane Krakowski and producer Robert Carlock.

“Ellie is just as wonderful and sweet in person as she is on screen,” Boyich said. “And Tina is one of the kindest, most brilliant people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting.”

Boyich underwent her biggest bout of awe when she met Tituss Burgess, who plays Kimmy’s roommate on the show. Burgess has frequented the Broadway stage, so naturally Boyich admired him.

“Tituss heard me singing when I was recording and complimented my voice,” she said. “Of course I panicked. I think I said something like: ‘You’re on my iPod. Your voice is unreal.’”

‘That’s why her hair is so big. It’s full of secrets.’

Although Boyich is attached to the show, she doesn’t know every detail of the new season. What she does know based on the recordings she did is that there is much more music this time around.

“I sang all sorts of crazy stuff for this season,” Boyich said. “There were a couple times in the studio that I had to take a break because I would bust out laughing while singing.”

Boyich also said the new season will explore each character more in-depth, and that the humor is “just as quick and hilarious as before.”

Another project Boyich is collaborating on is one an entire generation of fans will excite over.

The long-rumored “Mean Girls” musical adaptation of the 2004 cult classic movie was recently confirmed, and Boyich was brought on to test some potential original songs.

“I’ve recorded many demos for it,” she said. “Get ready—it’s going to be as amazing as you think it is.”

Though Boyich is limited to what she can divulge this early in production, fans do know that Fey and Richmond are writing the show and that its tone will be similar to the Broadway treatments of “Legally Blonde” and “Bring It On.” 

‘The limit does not exist.’

As far as the future of her career beyond “Kimmy Schmidt” and “Mean Girls,” Boyich is open to the many possibilities that come with her chosen career.

“I’ve learned so much in the past three years,” she said. “I’m not ruling anything out and I will go wherever my job takes me.”

One lifelong goal Boyich harbors involves using her passion to benefit future generations.

“Many years down the road, I’d love to open a children’s theatre to work with children of all backgrounds and abilities,” she said. “Theatre is a great way for children to discover themselves and express complex emotion they may not be sure how to handle yet.”

Until then, Boyich will continue to make fans laugh through her singing—and cause them to never stop humming that theme song.

Benjamin VanHoose is an entertainment reporter for the Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].