It’s a long way from Johnson County to the Broadway stage, but Meggie Cansler has done it. And now she’s back “home” in Kansas City performing in Starlight Theatre’s production of “Miss Saigon.”
The musical about an American soldier’s experience during and after the Vietnam War is running at Starlight from Saturday through Sept. 13.
Cansler, 29, is a graduate of Blue Valley High School. In “Miss Saigon” she plays the role of Ellen, the wife of a GI who is struggling between his love for her and a Vietnamese woman he falls for during the Vietnam War.
“This has been a dream role of mine, and now I get to do it,” Cansler said during an afternoon break from rehearsals. “She stood out to me as a very strong woman in the ’70s. In traditional musicals, the women often play the weakling. In this show, she is strong and empathy is her best quality.”
Cansler has sung the role before — at the age of 14 when she was a voice student of David Yoss at Miller-Marley School of Dance and Voice. Students at the school performed in a pre-show at Starlight. “David Yoss and Brian McGinnis cast me as Ellen and I sang ‘I Believe,’” said Cansler.
“When I was cast this time Brian texted me saying ‘Didn’t we cast you that role first?’” It’s a delightful twist of fate,” Cansler said.
Growing up in Overland Park, Cansler performed with various groups including Blue Valley Youth Players, Music Theatre for Young People and at Theatre in the Park.
“I played Cinderella twice — once at 14 and then I came back after college and did it again,” she said. From a young age, Cansler was determined to perform on stage.
“I set up an appointment to audition at the age of 12 at The New Theatre, and when I showed up they expected an adult and there I was,” she said.
While she wasn’t cast, it didn’t stop Cansler from pursuing her love of performing. Cansler did several shows at Starlight, making her debut at age 10 in a production of “Annie” and later “The Wizard of Oz.” She performed the role of Ruby in “Dames at Sea” at the American Heartland Theatre and the lead role of Ariel in “Footloose” at St. Louis’ MUNY theatre. She went on to attend the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, earning a bachelor’s degree in fine arts.
After graduation, Cansler packed her bags and moved to New York to pursue her dream. Despite having a significant resume, Cansler was nervous about life in the theater in the Big Apple.
“After my first audition, I called my dad and said, ‘What am I doing here,’” Cansler recalled. “Then I got my first Broadway show, ‘The Apple Tree’ with Kristin Chenoweth. It was exciting.”
Cansler’s been busy ever since. Her Broadway credits also include “Finian’s Rainbow.” She has toured professionally including understudying the role of Glinda, the good witch in the musical “Wicked.” On Mother’s Day 2008, “Wicked” was in Kansas City and Cansler got the call to go on as Glinda.
“My mom said it is a Mother’s Day she’ll never forget,” Cansler said. “I didn’t tell anyone I was going on for Glinda. It was such a special role.”
Recently, Cansler appeared in an episode of “The Carrie Diaries” on television. She was also in the Portland Center Stage production of “Somewhere in Time,” based on the movie by the same name. She’s hopeful the show will be revived for Broadway soon.
Cansler tries to make it home three times a year. She remains close with her former high school music teacher at Blue Valley, Marsha Moeller.
“We always try to get together whenever I’m home,” Cansler said. “She’s the best.”