Having been raised in rural Erie, Pennsylvania Blake Roman never really considered musical theatre a viable career path. The same goes for Leanne Antonio, who spent the first years of her life in the Bahamas, where musical theatre doesn’t typically get much attention.
However, both of them now find themselves graduates of the prestigious University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance. Additionally, the two have each received the 2019 Equity/Alan Eisenberg scholarship, established in 2007 in honor of Eisenberg’s 25 years of service to Equity as its executive director. The annual $5,000 award is presented to a graduating senior from the university’s Musical Theatre Department to recognize outstanding talent and career potential.
This year’s faculty chose two recipients to each receive the honor, and both of their merits were on full display during this year’s showcase at New York City’s Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Antonio sang Stevie Wonder’s “Ribbon in the Sky” and led the entire graduating class in a finale of Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered.” Roman performed “Getting There” from Fugitive Songs (a show whose score also provided the showcase selection for one of last year’s Eisenberg Award recipients, Noah Kieserman). Additionally, Roman accompanied a classmate’s performance of “We Are Never Ever Getting Back together” on guitar.
Roman most recent played Anthony in the University of Michigan production of Sweeney Todd. His other credits include Vittorio in the school’s production of Sweet Charity, George in a production of Our Town at Theatre Aspen under the direction of Hunter Foster and Willard in Footloose at Wagon Wheel Center for the Arts. He has also been a featured singer in Gavin Creel’s Loud Nite and Michael McElroy’s Broadway Our Way.
But these performances might never have happened with Roman if it hadn’t been for a fourth-grade choral director who made Roman aware of his vocal gifts. Still, “I didn’t really get exposed to musical theatre until middle school,” Roman said. “It was while doing community theatre during my junior year of high school that I started looking at it as more of an actual career path. After graduating from high school, I took a gap year to audition and put my whole heart into it. And got into Michigan.”
“I come from a family of musicians and everyone plays an instrument except me,” said Antonio, who is of Jamaican decent but born in the Bahamas. She migrated to the United States during her last year of elementary school, giving her brother and her the opportunity to grow up in America. It was there that she discovered the stage and found her own artistic calling. “I realized that I can act and sing at the same time.” she said.
“My parents knew how hard that life is, but they were pretty supportive,” Antonio said. “I auditioned for three schools for musical theatre and thought ‘If I don’t get into any of them, this wasn’t meant to be,’ and I got into Michigan, and thought ‘Well, I’ve got to do this now.” Recent roles at Michigan have included Desi in the Michigan production of Passing Strange and Ashley Rose in the world premiere of One Hit Wonder, as well as Levora Venora in the Connecticut Repertory Theatre production of Disaster!
“University of Michigan is a terrific school and I’m a very proud member of the alumni association,” Eisenberg. “I think it’s one of the best, if not the best, programs in the United States, as evidenced by all the talent that is on Broadway and LORT theaters all over the country.”
Eisenberg is also very pleased that the endowment has grown to the point where two graduates are now able to receive the annual scholarship. This award will surely give a very helpful boost to Antonio and Roman, both of whom have already secured housing in Manhattan as they embark on the beginning of their careers.
And both recipients hope to pay Eisenberg’s generosity forward. “I want to perform and entertain and share messages any way I can,” said Roman, who also writes narrative stories and music in addition to performing.
“I like art that changes, and I like making changes in communities,” Antonio said. “I am an immigrant, so I know how hard it is to work for what we have and we’re a huge community of minorities. There’s so much art that can bring change and just to be a part of that in any way would make me happy.”