Senior musical theatre twins show off talent in the Big Apple

Brooke Bower

Twins Miriam and Gunther Henkel-Moellmann have been sharing the spotlight since they were children. Now the senior musical theatre majors are preparing to graduate and start careers in musical theater. They just returned from presenting their senior showcase in New York, along with nine other Kent State students.

The First Steps on Stage

Miriam started dancing when she was 3 or 4 with her older sister, Lydia.

At age 6, Gunther joined his sisters when The Cincinnati Ballet needed boys to dance in the “Nutcracker,” and asked Gunther to be in the show. Miriam said Gunther was “heartbroken he didn’t get to audition” like his sisters had.

They had their first musical theater production while in third or fourth grade in the kid’s choir of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat.”

The twins were involved in chorus in fourth grade until their senior year of high school. Allen Moellmann and Cheryl Henkel, their father and mother, paid for them to have vocal and acting lessons.

Gunther said he got his “big break” in fifth grade while playing a knight in “A Knight’s Tale”.

In eighth grade the twins auditioned for “Annie.” Miriam was cast as Lily Saint Regis and Gunther as Rooster.

“I said no way,” Miriam said about the character choices. “They’re kind of dating. It was the only time I had a problem with casting.”

Miriam said she turned down her role, and the directors were willing to recast her as Grace Farrell.

Acting in High School to Prepare for College

In high school they took part in four productions, two musicals and two plays each school year. Henkel said her favorite plays from high school were “Cabaret” and “The Diviners,” while Moellmann liked “The Crucible.”

“I didn’t really get it into my head that I could possibly do this (in college and as a career) until my senior year,” Gunther said. “I wanted to go into special education and double major in history at the University of Kentucky, but my parents said ‘No, don’t do education; you do really well in theater; try that’.”

Miriam said she considered vocal performance but always felt like she should major in musical theater.

Gunther and Miriam traveled to Kent State to watch a friend perform as the witch in “Into the Woods.” Gunther said the two-person cow costume from the show was the “coolest cow costume ever.” They rented the costume for their high school because they liked it so much. He said after seeing the show, he became “fascinated with everything they did and wanted to go there.”

Mr. Moellmann said “Into the Woods” was the “beginning of their love affair” with Kent State.

When they were looking for colleges, both liked Kent State’s musical theater program and what it had to offer, including the Musical Theater Senior Showcase.

“We both got in to Kent,” Miriam said. “We purposely didn’t plan it that way. A lot of people ask us that question; it’s just how it happened.”

Pursuing Theater in College

“We’ve been really lucky in college that we’ve been cast every semester,” Miriam said.

Gunther added that most people don’t get cast in every show all four semesters.

Terri Kent, theatre professor and director of the showcase, said she has cast Miriam in every main stage show she has worked on the last four years, including productions at Porthouse Theatre and Weathervane Playhouse.

“I don’t know if I’ll be able to direct one without her,” Kent said jokingly.

Kent recalled a time when Miriam was dropped by a group of guys during a scene in “Jane Eyre” and hurt her foot. She said Gunther comforted her and was demanding ice for her foot.

Gunther and Miriam went to New York their junior year to act as stage managers for the senior showcase. Miriam said the juniors would bring seniors water and help them out. This year, they are acting in the showcase.

“Being involved in it last year makes me less nervous,” Miriam said. “I know what’s going to happen and the results.”

Preparing for Showcase

Miriam said after much debate over what song to sing as a group, the seniors picked Stephen Sondheim’s “Merrily We Roll Along.” Gunther said in addition to the group song, each senior prepares a song that is about two minutes long “to give the agents a taste of what we can do.”

Miriam said she sang “Pulled” from “The Addams Family” for a musical theatre performance class and decided to use it again for her showcase. She said the piece is vocally demanding and allows her to be very specific with her movements.

“I compare your showcase to your wedding,” Miriam said. “The song you pick is like the song you’d march down the aisle to, and the showcase outfit would be your wedding dress.”

Gunther said he had a lot of trouble selecting his song, and their music director Jonathan Swoboda helped him find his song. He ended up choosing “I Say Hello” from “Destry Rides Again” because it suits his voice well.

Miriam lost her voice for two weeks, and Gunther had a cold in the final weeks of showcase preparation. Gunther said they had been taking plenty of vitamins and zinc to stay healthy. They said the group tries to eat well and go to the gym before the showcase. Miriam said it has been hard for her to get to the gym since she sprained her ankle earlier in the semester during “Grease.”

Gunther said he “completely screwed up during rehearsal.” He forgot what to do near the end of the rehearsal so he starting bowing while everyone was still moving around. He said it caused a traffic jam on stage.

The seniors previewed the showcase at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday March 17 in the EZ Black Box Theatre in the Music and Speech Center. Miriam said there was a great turn out for the show and that underclassmen and professors showed them a lot of support.

“I remember seeing every single showcase preview since my freshman year,” Miriam said. “It was very surreal to finally be performing in my own showcase.”

Arriving in New York

Miriam said the seniors arrived in New York on March 18, found their hotel and explored the city.

Miriam said Kent pulled her aside with concerns about her fuchsia halter dress being too bright under the lights for the performance.

“My first dress was my baby,” Miriam said. “I spent much of my savings paying for it and planned my shoes and accessories around it.”

She said Melissa Cotton, a senior musical theatre major in the showcase, and her sister Lydia who lives in New York went on a shopping rampage with her to find a replacement dress. Her replacement dress was navy with jewels on it.

“The second dress was a good fit for the showcase because it was more mature and made a good first impression on industry people.” Miriam said.

On Saturday the group of seniors had a final rehearsal in New York.

Miriam said the night before the show, she stayed with three other seniors in the showcase and they ordered in Chinese food. She said they just wanted to spend the night relaxing.

Gunther said he spent Sunday night thinking about his headshots and resume because he hadn’t finished putting them together.

Senior Showcase

Gunther said he woke up early March 21 to finish putting together his things. He said he wasn’t as nervous as he thought he would be, just excited.

“It was surreal,” Miriam said. “It’s something you never think you’re going to get to as a senior.”

They had a tech rehearsal in the morning and were able to meet with Laura Beth Wells, a Kent State alumna, who performed in “Spiderman,” who introduced the senior showcase.

Miriam said she was anxious before the shows, but a pep talk Kent and Swoboda gave them before they performed helped her calm down.

“They reminded us that it is OK if you do not receive feedback immediately,” Miriam said. “It’s the memories made and the connections gained that count. This put us all at ease.”

Gunther said everything went well in the 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. performances. He said any anxiety he initially had was quickly dispelled. Miriam said there were only 10 or so people at the 4 p.m. show but that more people came to the later shows. She said the earlier two shows offered refreshments and light snacks.

The 8 p.m. performance was open to alumni, friends and family, as well as agents. The twins’ parents and sister watched them perform.

“It was a great experience to be there with them and see a culmination of their college careers,” Moellmann said.

Henkel said it was interesting to watch the agents in the row ahead of them taking notes on the showcase. She said she kept wondering what they were writing.

Showcase Results and the Future

Gunther said he got callbacks from several agents and met with some while he was still in New York. He said the receptionists told him he would only get to meet with the agents for two minutes, but his meetings were 10 to 15 minutes long at both places. He said they told him to contact them directly when he moves to New York City. He said they will most likely want him to re-audition, or they may want him to sign on with them.

Gunther is working in a rock ‘n’ roll musical show at Cedar Point over the summer and will also be moving to New York City in the fall.

Miriam didn’t get any callbacks, but said an actors internship program talked with the group about moving to the city, gave them some advice and answered any questions they may have had. She said the group got to meet with some music composers and were given some new songs to check out.

“At first I was disappointed I didn’t get any individual callbacks, but at least they’ve seen me,” she said.

Miriam will work at The Barn Theatre in Augusta, Mich., over the summer and plans to move to New York City in the fall.

Both said they will always remember their first show in New York City. Miriam said she can’t wait for next year’s showcase when she will be on the other side watching the seniors perform.

“I’m lucky I’ve come this far,” Gunther said. “I’m ready to move to New York City with the tools from my education, connections from the school and the confidence in myself to survive out here.”

Contact Brooke Bower at [email protected].