SALT LAKE CITY — “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is a signature song of sorts for Utah recording artist and YouTube star Lexi Mae Walker.
One of her early viral successes included a performance of the song at USANA's 2013 International Convention, and she’s since gone on to perform it in places such as the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., the 2015 Utah’s Stars and Friends concert and on her 2017 album “Inspire.”
“It's definitely a song that has always held a special place in my heart,” said 16-year-old Walker in an interview with the Deseret News.
And she’ll get plenty more practice with the song as Walker stars as Dorothy Gale in Hale Centre Theatre’s production of “The Wizard of Oz,” which runs Dec. 10-Feb. 2 in the Mountain America Performing Arts Centre’s Centre Stage Theatre.
“I just feel honored that I'm able to (play Dorothy),” Walker said. “('The Wizard of Oz') is something that's beloved, and I hope I can do it justice.”
Walker burst into local and worldwide stardom when she was 11 years old, thanks to viral performances singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” at a Real Salt Lake game, “Let It Go” with Alex Boye online and with One Voice Children’s Choir during its stint on “America’s Got Talent.” Over the past five years, she has amassed millions of views on her YouTube channel, performed all over the world with other well-known artists such as The Piano Guys, Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel, and released her 2017 album under the SONY Masterworks label.
“I think my 11-year-old self would be very giddy about the opportunities and experiences I've had,” Walker said.
Walker will be adding Hale Centre Theatre to her resume as she makes her professional acting debut at the theater, according to a news release. Walker explained that Hale Centre Theatre’s staff asked her to audition and then single-cast her in the lead role, although she does have an understudy, Ava Hoekstra, who will be performing at the matinée performances and any afternoon or evening performances for which Walker is unavailable.
"I could not be more excited, not only to be in the show, but just for the audience members and for the treat that they'll be getting to come and see it,” Walker said.
Directed by David Tinney, HCT’s “The Wizard of Oz” tells the familiar story of Dorothy as she’s whisked off from her seemingly mundane life in Kansas to the fantasy world of Oz.
“With our incredible theater-in-the-round stage motion and flying technology that will move and lift actors and set pieces high into the air, our audiences will feel like they’ve been swept away by a tornado,” said Sally Dietlein, HCT vice president and executive director, in the news release.
“With the combination of the technology available, the creativity of Dave Tinney and the unrivaled caliber that our cast is, I think it'll make for just an amazing show,” Walker added.
Though the character of Dorothy Gale was forever immortalized by Judy Garland’s turn in the 1939 film version — one of Walker’s all-time favorite movies — the young actress hopes to bring her own unique take on the character.
“To me, Dorothy Gale is smart but naive. She's a strong and compassionate young woman who has the best intentions, and I think they relate to that,” Walker said. “I want to honor people's expectations, and to do that I need to share those traits and help them feel that familiarity with a character that they've known for so long — that I've known for so long.”
As Walker prepares to open the show at HCT, it’s given her time to reflect on how much she’s grown in five years. Although a lot has changed, her love of music has remained the same, a love she hopes will shine through every night she dons those iconic red slippers.3 comments on this story
“I have a favorite quote from Hans Christian Andersen and he said, ‘Where words fail, music speaks,’” Walker said. “I want the music to be my voice and hopefully lift and inspire other people, and that's the thing that has always stayed the same.”
If you go …
What: Hale Centre Theatre’s “The Wizard of Oz”
When: Dec. 10-Feb. 2, dates and times vary
Where: HCT’s Centre Stage Theatre, 9900 S. Monroe St., Sandy
How much: $44-$48 for adults, $20 for children ages 5-17, with some performances open to children ages 3 and up
Note: Visit lexiwalker.net for Walker’s performance schedule