Alumna Follows Her Dreams, Sets Sights On Broadway

Lutz Performs 'South Pacific' Lead Role on Dallas Stage

By Tarah Thomas '16
6/28/2018 4:47:45 PM

Janelle Lutz, ’09, plays 'South Pacific

If someone encouraged you to “follow your dreams,” where would you begin? In 2011, Janelle Lutz turned to Google and typed “Dallas Auditions.”

Lutz, a 2009 graduate of John Brown University, couldn’t have imagined the next four years would bring lead roles in musicals and plays around Dallas or that her performance as Judy Garland in the “The Boy from Oz” would be recognized by the Dallas/ Ft. Worth Theater Critics Forum.

Now, this 28 year-old actress, originally from California, has set her sights on the New York City, the city that never sleeps, to awaken a dream long in hibernation. Lutz plans to move to the city June 2016, saving up and earning her actors’ equity card till then.

Lutz made her theater debut in the seventh grade in a church production and has been involved in theater ever since.

While majoring in vocal performance at JBU, Lutz participated in six theater productions and the Cathedral Choir. She credits her mentor Donna Rollene, an assistant professor, with helping her technical skills.

“Her genius in teaching voice is why I sing today or why I sing like I do,” said Lutz.

Lutz is using those skills to teach voice and piano lessons while she works toward performing as a full-time career.

David Burney ’08, and Lutz became friends the first day of college and were often together on stage during JBU productions and even community theater shows at the Sager Creek Arts Center in Siloam Springs. Burney and his wife Emily recently traveled to Dallas to attend Lutz’s most recent show, “South Pacific” in which she played the lead role of Nellie Forbush.

“Emily and I always make an effort to connect with her every time we are in Texas,” Burney said. “Janelle always does the same every time she is in Arkansas, whether it is a quick hello or a longer conversation over coffee or a meal. If I attempted to summarize all of the nuances of South Pacific or even Janelle’s acting and singing talent, I would have to use the word professional. She has transitioned, or shall I say, blossomed into an absolutely incredible performer.”

When actors talk about their dreams of making it “big,” fame and fortune usually seems to be included.

But Lutz says she just loves the craft and enjoys connecting with audiences through music. It doesn’t matter whether she is playing a tree or the star of the show, as long as she is onstage.

“There are some things that cannot be expressed in words and it comes out in song,” Lutz said. “That’s when I really feel that by my singing or acting a role hopefully, I can touch one person’s life to help change them. One of the roles I did this spring was very emotional and heavy. A girl came up to me after one the shows and said, ‘I just went through something really similar to what your character just did and I just wanted to say thank you.’ It was like a connection, and me showing you can pull yourself out of a dark situation. That’s why I do this!”

Janelle Lutz ’09 in 'South Pacific'

With every show comes a rollercoaster of challenges and emotions for Lutz.    

“Going into an audition is sheer panic,” Lutz said. “You want to be what they want for the role. But you have no idea if you are what they are looking for.”

Lutz said she usually feels calm and collected the first week of rehearsals, but during the second week her confidence often falls away as she second-guesses her easiness with character, music, lines and choreography.

Then dress rehearsals and technical run-throughs that occurs in the third and fourth weeks allow Lutz to relax and focus on keeping the same energy and emotion for every performance.

When Lutz is onstage, the curtain raises; the crowd’s applause begins to fade, and the darkness envelopes the audience — that’s where she feels most alive.

“Theater and singing is how I breathe,” Lutz describes. “As uncomfortable as it is because you are outside of yourself and you are being pushed outside of your comfort zone in front of a whole bunch of people, it is still where I feel most comfortable and most at home.”

Letters on a page become a living form as she takes the stage, utilizing the techniques she learned at JBU and looking to reach her dream. Soon her name may even be in New York lights as she pursues a talent that has her heart.


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