Shawnee Mission West High School alum Valerie Fagan had two goals when she was starting out as a stage actress: to perform on Broadway and to sing on an original Broadway cast album.
She has achieved both and in the process appeared on stage with such legends as Nathan Lane, Bebe Neuwirth and Robert Goulet.
But this week, you’ll be able to catch Fagan on stage at the Starlight Indoors’ production of “Forbidden Broadway,” a musical roast of Broadway shows by comedy writer Gerard Alessandrini.
The revue will lampoon shows like “Hamilton” and “Frozen” for the first time, as well as “Wicked,” “The Book of Mormon” and “Les Misérables.”
Fagan was praised for her performance in “Forbidden Broadway” by Variety in 2007, saying that “the indisputable highlight is the cast’s gut-busting capsule rendition of the ‘Les Misérables’ revival, including ‘On My Phone,’ with Fagan as a bored Eponine killing time behind the barricades with her iPhone while waiting to be shot.”
At Starlight, Fagan will play Eponine and a whopping 15 other characters.
“So the whole show is about me running off stage, changing costumes running on stage, and a lot of Velcro,” she says. “It’s a lot of fun. I’ve done so many shows, but this is by far my favorite. I grew up on ‘The Carol Burnett Show’ and this is definitely Carol Burnett.”
Fagan was still in high school when she and her friend Brad Zimmerman, owner of the Chestnut Fine Arts Center, first saw the original version of the revue in New York City during the mid 1980s.
“It was the thing to see when it first opened,” she says. “Then I was in later (evolving) versions, including in 2006, when we were awarded the Tony Honors for Excellence in Theatre.”
In 2008, Fagan sang on the album for “Forbidden Broadway, Rude Awakening” which debuted on the Billboard top cast album chart, thereby checking off one of her career goals. As a bonus, she says, her recording of “On My Phone” was featured on BBC’s “Elaine Paige on Sunday.”
“Kids who are theater geeks, like I was, we all have these two goals: perform on Broadway and on an original cast album,” she says. “When I was growing up and listening to my mom’s music from ‘Sound of Music’ and ‘Camelot,’ it was those beautiful big albums that I’d open up at 10 years old, looking at all those stars, and I remember thinking, ‘I wonder if I will ever be on one of these.’ It was more exciting to me than being on TV or in a movie.
“When I finally got the cast album in the mail, I didn’t have the courage to listen to it,” she adds. “It took me about a month to put it on.”
She checked off her second goal to appear on a Broadway stage when she was cast in “The Addams Family” from 2009 to 2012.
The part required her, at 45, to learn to dance for Broadway.
“Honestly, I thought I was going to get fired,” she said. “I was trained as a singer and comedian and I wasn’t in the best of shape. I would go home after rehearsals and literally teach myself to dance in my studio apartment.”
The payoff was getting to stand next to Lane and Neuwirth (and later Brooke Shields) as the curtain rose.
“We had this big gate, and they’d play the iconic theme music and open the gate and the whole audience just started screaming,” she recalls. “I had never felt anything like that in my life. My heart was pounding so hard I could hear it in my ears. I couldn’t believe this kid from Kansas is on stage on Broadway.”
Fagan attributes her early success in part to Patricia McIlrath, founder of the Kansas City Repertory Theatre, who cast her in “Side by Side,” a Stephen Sondheim musical revue, shortly after graduating from UMKC with a degree in theater education.
Fagan also starred as Aldonza in the national tour of “Man of La Mancha” opposite Robert Goulet in 1996-97, and as Fantine in the first national tour of “Les Misérables.”
Since appearing in “The Addams Family” on Broadway, Fagan has performed in 14 shows and just published a new musical called “Goin’ to the Chapel.”
But a turning point in her life occurred in 2013 when Zimmerman asked her to come back home to do “Banjo on My Knee,” since Fagan plays the banjo. She said yes. A week later she got a call back to be in “Annie” on Broadway, which posed a crisis of conscience.
“I really thought about it and said, ‘It’s your old friend. You have to go back,’ ” she says. “When the show closed, I was heartbroken. I didn’t want to leave Kansas City. I was a workaday actress going from one show to another to another to another in New York.”
Six months after that, when Zimmerman offered her the role of Patsy Cline in the 2014 production of “Always Patsy Cline,” as well as an ongoing association with the Chestnut, she jumped at the chance. New York had been her home for 24 years, but she was ready for a new life, which also involved helping her sister take care of their aging parents.
She’s also found a new, unexpected passion. About a year ago, she began teaching drama classes at St. Peter’s School in Brookside.
“The minute I started teaching, I felt at home. I felt more at home doing that than on a Broadway stage,” she says. “I really feel like my path now is being a teacher. I’d never been around kids much. I was surprised at how much I felt at home with them. They’re so loving. I wouldn’t have imagined this 10 years ago. I think it took maturity and knowing what matters.”
“Forbidden Broadway” runs Jan. 30-Feb. 4 at Starlight. Go to kcstarlight.com for tickets.