This may be your last chance to catch actress Shannon Connors in Loudoun. But chances are you’ll be seeing her name in lights down the road.
The Loudoun County High School senior gives her final high school musical performance this weekend, starring as Laurey in the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic “Oklahoma!”
Connors created a Twitter sensation last summer when Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth chose her from the audience at Wolf Trap to sing with her on stage.
Connors and Chenoweth performed a duet of the song “For Good” from the musical “Wicked” (which Chenoweth performed on Broadway with Idina Menzel), leading to a standing ovation for the 17-year-old Leesburg resident and the hashtag #whoisshannon, along with glowing reviews on the Broadway World website for her “remarkable” voice.
“It was surreal. I still can’t believe it happened,” Connors said.
But based on her track record at LCHS, her six minutes of fame were no fluke. “It was like a little glimpse of, if I work really hard, what this could possibly turn into,” she said.
At LCHS, Connors is known for her talent—but also for her sense of teamwork.
“Having a student with Shannon’s talent and ability is always a joy for a director, not only because of the things they can do, but because of what they draw out of others,” longtime LCHS drama director John Wells said. “Having a group of really strong kids at the core of your cast and your program elevates every one else’s performance.”
Wells had initially planned a production of the ’50s gangster/gambler musical “Guys and Dolls” for the school’s traditional pre-holiday musical this year but wasn’t able to get the rights. That’s worked out well for Connors—the role of independent farm girl Laurey is a good fit, and “Oklahoma!” is the perfect vehicle to spotlight the other strong female voices in the school’s senior class, with Maria Brock as Aunt Eller and Madison Bare as the flirtatious Ado Annie, the director said.
“We had a wealth of female talent this year. … So choosing a show with several featured female roles was important. ‘Oklahoma!’ fit that bill quite nicely,” Wells said. “And, of course, there’s still something to be said for musicals with melodies you can sing on the way home.”
Many of those earworm tunes will be sung by junior Brody Brown, an aspiring opera singer who, like Connors, attended the Virginia Governor’s School for the Performing and Visual Arts summer program. As Laurey’s love interest, cowboy Curly McLain, Brown will be responsible for dishing out audience favorites like “Oh, What A Beautiful Mornin’” and “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top.”
For Connors, the classic role of Laurey, created in the 1940s, has meant toning down her more resonant contemporary vocal style (in line with performers like Menzel). “I’m normally a belter,” Connors said.
Connors, who earned the rare honor of scoring a lead role in a musical as a freshman, started her LCHS musical theater career as competitive spelling newcomer Olive Ostrovsky in “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” then starred in the title role in “Annie” her sophomore year and played Sally Brown in “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown” last year.
“I guess what’s been unique about working with Shannon, in particular, is that she was so good so young,” Wells said. “Kind of like having a freshman walk in and take over as starting quarterback on the football team. I’ve only worked with a handful of those kids in my career.”
Getting plum roles throughout her high school career and having had the amazing luck to be picked out of a crowd by a Broadway star have been honors, but it’s important to stay humble, Connors said.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to be at the right place at the right time,” she said. “I don’t ever tell myself it’s a pattern because once I get into the professional world there’s no telling.”
Connors is applying to musical theater programs at a long list of schools across the country. But Winchester’s Shenandoah University—where her current voice coach, Edrie Means Weekly, is on faculty—is high on her list. And while her Wolf Trap performance isn’t an automatic steppingstone to stardom, she will be able to use it in her college applications as an illustration of her stage presence in front of a large audience.
Connors gives lots of credit to Wells and her fellow high school performers for her success.
“It’s helped me grow and figure out who I am as a performer,” she said of the LCHS program. “I’m going to cry like a baby on closing night.”
Loudoun County High School’s production of “Oklahoma!” runs Thursday, Dec. 3 through Saturday, Dec. 5, at 7 p.m., with a Saturday matinee at 2:30 p.m. at the school. For more information, go to raiderdrama.com.