Musical theater lovers, rejoice! Show business has a new star, and you won't have to fork over a month's rent to pay Broadway ticket prices to see her. Not only can you watch her from the comfort of your very own home, but she performs from her very own home, with living room or bedroom as the only set piece. Forget the fancy scenery; for this actress, the backdrop may be just her bed, a few show posters or maybe even a sheet hung up behind her to help with sound.
The scenery, though, doesn't really matter, once you hear "the voice." Since 2007, Alex Heinen has been building a name for herself with a YouTube channel, where she goes by the user name "Miss Broadway Dork." With more than 2 million video views, Heinen is followed by a host of eager subscribers who highly anticipate her musical theater gems. And they can be quite vocal, freely expressing their feelings in the comments section.
Some fans can't quite believe that Heinen's exquisite voice comes out of, well, Heinen. Though all videos on her channel posted after Oct. 12, 2007, are sung live, prior to that, Heinen would often post videos of herself lip-syncing to a prerecorded tape of her own voice, leading some to speculate that Heinen wasn't actually singing the songs. This suspicion was compounded, in part, by her physical appearance. No-frills when it comes to style, Heinen rarely puts on costumes or makeup to perform; she just pushes the record button. Having struggled with weight issues, Heinen's physical appearance varies in the videos, and commenters have thrown jabs about her looks, assuming (falsely) that someone who appears as she does could not possibly sing the way that she does.
Heinen pushes aside such bullying, affirming that her passion lies not in the fame but in the performing. For this "Broadway Dork," the pleasure lies in creating one's own stamp on a role and diving into artistic challenges. Currently residing in central Illinois, Heinen received her B.A. in theater from Hampshire College and recently took time to share with me more about her passion, theater, and her potential next steps.
Kergan Edwards-Stout: Thanks so much for agreeing to chat! Like many, I stumbled upon your YouTube channel one day and was immediately impressed.
Alex Heinen: Thank you so much!
Edwards-Stout: What inspired you to start your channel?
Heinen: I think it was simply that I love singing. I grew up doing a lot of musical theater in high school, but I got very nervous when it came to singing in public. I had a bad case of stage fright, which led to what I call "goat girl" voice, where my vibrato gets really fast. I thought it might be a good challenge to put myself out there on the Internet and see if it helped my nerves. And I guess it did!
Edwards-Stout: In a big way! You don't seem nervous at all. Where did your love for musical theater come from?
Heinen: I used to watch a lot of movie musicals, especially all the Shirley Temple films, and my mom was a big fan of Judy Garland. Meet Me in St. Louis is one of my favorites. And all the great Disney musicals, and Willy Wonka and other childhood films. Being exposed to those at a young age really shaped me.
Edwards-Stout: What was your first performing experience?
Heinen: In sixth grade, we did a production of Aladdin, which I doubt was even authorized, in which I had a very small role, but it really set me on this path.
Edwards-Stout: What are some of your ideal roles?
Heinen: Well, Stephen Sondheim is my favorite composer/lyricist, and I'd love to take on Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd, which I've played before.
Edwards-Stout: Your "Another Hundred People," from Company, is terrific.
Edwards-Stout: If you could play any role at all, regardless of whether you were physically right for it, what would be your ideal dream role?
Heinen: Out of everything? Well, I'd say George in Sunday in the Park with George!
Edwards-Stout: That would be amazing. So what are the differences between performing essentially in your living room and performing on a stage?
Heinen: Onstage, I love the interaction between the actors. That connection between fellow performers is something I can't get singing by myself.
Edwards-Stout: What prompts you to pick a particular song?
Heinen: I'll listen to what my fans suggest. I think I'm going to have some upset fans if I don't soon sing "On My Own" from Les Misérables ! Overall, if a song goes well with my voice, I'll give it a shot and try it.
Edwards-Stout: Do you have a long-range plan for your channel?
Heinen: I'll just keep doing it, as long as I'm enjoying it. I've taken some short breaks, but overall it's been a fun experience.
Edwards-Stout: How many times do you typically record a video before it's good to go?
Heinen: Sometimes it is just once, and others maybe eight times until I feel like I can post it.
Edwards-Stout: How do you feel about the comments people make on your channel?
Heinen: Well, for the most part, they're very positive. People seem to like my voice, which is terrific, but I used to be heavier, and I'd also get some negative comments about my weight. One person wrote that they thought I should just kill myself. Others have written that I look hideous or look like a troll -- just awful things!
Edwards-Stout: That must be really hurtful.
Heinen: It is! Nowadays, they're more positive. I've met some of my best friends through YouTube, which I'm very grateful for.
Edwards-Stout: You went so far as to address your weight loss in a video.
Heinen: I wanted to remind people that it isn't about how heavy someone is; it's about how healthy a person is. A lot of people were wondering about my weight loss, which was something personal to me, but I wanted to let people know that I believe being attractive and one's self-worth isn't related to size. And just because I now weigh less doesn't mean my life is suddenly perfect, either.
Edwards-Stout: It seems to me you've got all the prerequisites of a Broadway diva. You've got musical theater fans, gay fans and a compelling story, so what the heck are you doing in Illinois?
Heinen: [Laughing.] It's a long story, but after college I wanted to spread my wings a bit, and I had a friend here, which made it a fun idea.
Edwards-Stout: Are there outlets for your talent where you live?
Heinen: There are some community theater companies in the area, which I'll be auditioning for.
Edwards-Stout: I have to tell you that when you sent me your bio, I found it very intriguing that you mentioned that you see yourself settling down at some point and maybe opening a small theater where you could produce little-known or new works.
Heinen: I love exploring seldom-produced works, which might be a bit challenging, and introducing them to new audiences. For example, I'd love to put up a production of Caroline, or Change, which almost never gets produced.
Edwards-Stout: And yet every other comment on your channel is, "Why aren't you on Broadway?" Do you have dreams of taking this further?
Heinen: Back in high school, I thought I knew exactly what I wanted to do: Go to New York and be an actress on Broadway. For a while, after college, I dabbled a bit in that world, but I wasn't sure if that competitive, intense life was the one I wanted. At heart, I'm a laid-back kind of girl, so I guess you could say that I'm still trying decide what I want to be when I grow up.
Edwards-Stout: Part of you envisions a more intimate life, and yet you have so many followers!
Heinen: I've had offers for some of the singing reality shows, but while I have a drive to perform, I'm not sure I have that passion for stardom. I'm not sure that competitive atmosphere is really what I want. I think I'd be just as happy whether performing in my community theater or in my living room -- or on Broadway.