Candlelight Media
Summer Naomi Smart as Kerra McConnell in "Passage to Zarahemla."

PROVO — Summer Naomi Smart says she gained strength of character from her studies at Brigham Young University, not only in her acting career, but also in life.

Smart, who plays the Wicked Witch of the East, Nessarose, in "Wicked" as part of the Chicago cast, was in Utah to attend the premiere of Chris Heimerdinger's film "Passage to Zarahemla" last week.

Smart plays Kerra McConnell, a girl who finds a rift in time on her uncle's Utah farm that takes her back to Book of Mormon times. There she meets a Nephite warrior played by Moronai Kanekoa.

Smart graduated from BYU's Music Dance Theater program in 2005. She is the youngest of seven girls in her family.

She caught the acting bug when she was in junior high and performed through high school. BYU gave her a safe place to explore a field that is often edgy, she said.

"It was an amazing experience," she said. "It took me five years to graduate, but I don't regret it."

"Working in Chicago I feel very different," Smart said.

She landed the role in "Zarahemla" when she and a friend passed the audition notice on the BYU campus and her friend convinced her to audition. She won the lead role against 600 girls.

Her path from "Zarahemla" to Broadway's "Wicked" came by way of a three-year stint at Tuacahn Center for the Arts near St. George and her feature film debut as Belle in "Beauty and the Beast, a Latter-day Tale." She made "Zarahemla" at the same time she was appearing as Belle in the Tuacahn's "Beauty and the Beast."

She has entertained at Lagoon and Robert Redford's Sundance Theater. A three-year member of the Young Ambassadors, she went on to perform in "Aida" at the Hale Center Theater in West Valley and took the role of Snow White in "An Enchanted Musical" at Disneyland.

After marrying David Smart, she and her husband relocated to Milwaukee where he is a medical student. With Chicago just two hours away, she learned of an opening on "Wicked" and auditioned.

The Broadway musical is playing in various venues around the United States.

But as fortune would have it, she got the part with the Chicago cast and she and her husband worked it out where they wouldn't have to spend much time apart. Starting a family is one of her goals, she said.

"We were very blessed. I could have ended up in New York or L.A.," she said.

"I gained a solid foundation (at BYU), not only in theater, but also in myself and in the Gospel," she said. "The stronger the person you are ... the better actor you are ... the better you can play a role."