Washington County resident Bobbi Mackenzie Chambers remembers what renowned composer Andrew Lloyd Webber told her when they met for the first time.
The pint-sized tween walked into a room with a giant piano and began to sing “If Only You Would Listen,” her final audition song for a role in Lloyd Webber’s latest Broadway musical.
“The last two lines he said to me were, ‘You always wanted to be on Broadway? Well, welcome to Broadway,’” remembers Bobbi, 11.
Last year, she and her father moved from their home in Tigard to New York City to pursue that career dream.
By day, the sixth-grader attends online classes through Oregon Virtual Academy. Six nights a week, her classroom is the stage and her classmates are fellow actors in “School of Rock,” a musical adaptation based on the 2003 film of the same name starring Jack Black.
Before a 7:30 p.m. show last week, Bobbi and her father, Astor Chambers, called from Ruth’s Chris Steak House near the Winter Garden theater, their next stop after a meal of barbecue shrimp and sliders.
After dinner, Chambers dropped Bobbi off at the theater, where a guardian helps her move through preparation. Every night, she and her fellow actors spend 10 minutes warming up their voices before heading to hair and makeup to get ready for the show.
Bobbi stars alongside a dozen other kids in the Broadway production. Every night is different, she said.
“Remember, we’re doing this live, so sometimes they’ll say different lines, or we’ll have different reactions, and it’s never the same, and that’s what I like about live theater, you can always change things up,” she said.
Bobbi has always been enraptured by music.
“The thing I probably loved about music as a little kid was just the feeling of it,” she said, listing Erykah Badu, Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder among her favorite artists. “I just loved hearing beautiful voices.”
Bobbi’s parents are music aficionados who took her to a variety of concerts from the time she was born. Her mother is a radio personality on Jam’n 107.5 FM, which broadcasts from the iHeart Radio office in Tigard.
“There’s a great deal of music in our family,” said Chambers. “We play a ton of different music all the time.”
Since Bobbi was a toddler, her parents noticed she had an unusual sense of presence when it came to singing and performing.
Bobbi sang and acted in holiday shows and school musicals at her elementery school.
Locally, she sang everywhere, from a mall opening to a performance with TedxPortland, where she was the youngest performer.
Her lucky break came when a Portland Trail Blazers executive overheard her singing while at a hair appointment and asked her to sing at a Blazers home game.
From there, she started taking vocal lessons, got an agent and started submitting auditions, including a tape mailed to New York.
Two callbacks later, Bobbi was cast in “School of Rock” as Tomika, a shy girl who eventually finds her voice.
“I feel like my character really inspires me, because she was really nervous before, and then she just broke out of her shell, and it kind of makes me more confident,” said Bobbi, who performs in several group numbers and also has two solo songs in the show.
A day in the life
Bobbi wakes up every morning, does her stretches and snacks on fruit. Then she logs onto her online classroom at Oregon Virtual Academy, where she completes assignments and tunes into video lessons from her teachers.
Online school is what made it possible for Bobbi’s family to make the great leap to Broadway.
“If that wasn’t an option, we didn’t know what we were going to do,” said Chambers. “The flexibility it offers is really vital for us.”
After lessons and a pancake-and-eggs brunch prepared by Chambers, Bobbi is ready to take on the rest of her day.
Chambers, a former Nike executive, left his job to support his daughter’s dreams.
“I have a marketing background so I’ve been using that to help create her brand,” said Chambers.
He is her learning coach, chauffeur and manager, helping to schedule opportunities such as participating in fashion shows and singing the national anthem at NBA games.
Like her character, Bobbi has learned the determination it takes to succeed on the stage six nights a week.
“Sometimes I’ll get nervous, but I tell myself, ‘You have to do the show, even if you’re tired, even if you don’t feel like doing it — you have to push through,’” she said.
It takes teamwork with her “classmates” to make sure the show runs smoothly.
“We’re one big family, and we help each other,” Bobbi said. “I’ve learned that you have to be there for your fellow classmates.”
Bobbi is wrapping up her run on Broadway this December.
“I’m going to miss the roars of the audience, all of my friends, just getting to be on stage,” she said. “I’m learning so much from everybody there, every day to be a better performer.”
As she heads home to Tigard, she’ll remain enrolled in Oregon Virtual Academy so she can take advantage of opportunities that come her way — she hopes to act on television and start a music career.
For Chambers, he’s seen his daughter’s growth extend beyond the stage.
“Shes been exposed to so many life lessons at such an early age,” said Chambers. “And that’s the thing I’m most proud of, watching her and helping her through life lessons that’s helping her grow as a person. The growth that I’ve seen as a person has been tremendous.”