Alumna to star in ‘Singing Revolution’
It isn’t every day that you see a student from your alma mater, especially when a six-year gap separates your cohorts, but for Bella Hicks, it’s been an everyday occurrence for the last few months.
In the run up to Tony Spinosa and James Bearhart’s new musical “Singing Revolution,” Hicks has collaborated with some of the greatest talents in theatre, including School of Dramatic Arts student Chloe Willey as assistant stage manager.
Their shared Trojan training is just one of the unlikely threads to have woven together to produce the story of “Singing Revolution.” Based on the revolution of the same name, the musical features a Euro-pop soundtrack, an enchanting love story and generations of intricate plot, all set against the peaceful protest movement that achieved independence for Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in 1991.
To play Sofia Solokov, the female lead, Spinosa and his collaborators considered choosing a strong singer and actress, capable of portraying the multidimensional character and captivating audiences. They chose Hicks, who graduated from SDA in 2016, who, years earlier, did not have musical theatre in mind.
“I actually went up to my mom when I was seven, and I said ‘I want to be a pop star,’” Hicks said. “And she’s like, ‘Okay, write a song.’ So I wrote my first song when I was seven. It was terrible. I will not be singing any of that for you.”
Despite her early passion for music, Hicks was unsure about pursuing the arts at the collegiate level and eagerly looked to explore outside her hometown of Los Angeles. Also wishing to pursue a financially stable career, Hicks studied geology at the University of Michigan her freshman year.
“I was miserable; I was cold; I was depressed,” Hicks said. “I was like, ‘This is not where my heart is. I had to be doing what I loved,’ and it’s always been music for me. It’s always been performing.”
Hicks transferred to USC soon after, taking music classes while majoring in theatre because of USC’s absent musical theatre program at the time. Though she expected competition and exclusivity, she found dozens of collaborators and friends to help her pursue her dreams.
“It was that collaboration that made the whole USC experience for me,” Hicks said. “It’s always about the team, which I think is something I’ve carried through professionally, especially with [the pandemic] situation that we’re going through now.”
That bond has grown especially invaluable during the coronavirus pandemic, when the crew relies on each other to stay safe and continue pursuing their art.
“It’s hard enough putting on a musical, a new musical, and to layer on the pandemic. The coronavirus on top of it has been a challenge,” Spinosa said. “I won’t lie, it has been a challenge.
Amid panic and unease, Hicks took the opportunity to explore a space where she could feel in control — her art. To sustain her creativity, Hicks has been working on an album, set to release in the next few weeks.
“It’s interesting because when all of your opportunities go [away], what do you do? What do you turn to?’” Hicks said. “It’s cool, creating my own content, I did something I would probably never get to do.”
Although the return of live performance has gratified Hicks, her soul wouldn’t just be fed by a return to performance but also the opportunity to sing the style of music she had come to love most.
“I grew up singing pop music, R&B and soul,” Hicks said. “So, for me, hearing this music in a musical theater context, it’s definitely the way the tradition is heading … [It] was so satisfying to me, because our music director was like, ‘You can riff, you can improvise, you can have fun with it,’ and I was like a kid in a candy store.”
Hicks, Spinosa said, is the perfect actress to star in the modernized musical he envisioned. Her ability to work with directors and hone her character is remarkable but so too is the natural love she shows for the music.
“She brings so much soul to the music in the show,” Spinosa said. “She’s a brilliant musician. I know that she writes music as well, and she brings all of her talents to the table in this production.”
Spinosa wasn’t the only showrunner to appreciate working with Hicks. Willey, a senior majoring in stage management at SDA, lauded Hicks’ skills and kindness.
“Bella is ridiculously talented,” Willey said. “She’s incredibly thoughtful about what everyone else has going on. It’s amazing to collaborate with her even just on a quick change.”
The pandemic has been incredibly difficult for performing artists, Hicks’ experience included. However, through struggles and delays and with an optimistic outlook, she says working with the crew of “Singing Revolution” has made her a better actor.
“It’s definitely [been] an intense journey. I’ve grown as an actor because I definitely see myself as a singer first,” Hicks said. “It’s been a challenge and also really, really fun to push myself and do all of this work.”
The show is set to premiere Jan. 29 and run through Feb. 20 at the Broadwater Theatre in L.A.