Sprague High grad Andrea Goss, 27, is living the dream of many starstruck music and theater students.
She’s the understudy for three roles, including the lead female character, in the hit Broadway musical “Once.” It won eight Tonys, including top musical, in June.
The show is a bittersweet love story about two Dublin musicians over the course of a week. Each of the 14 roles requires singing, acting and playing an instrument in the onstage band.
“It’s been amazing,” Goss said recently from her Astoria, Queens, apartment, before taking the subway to work in Manhattan’s Times Square district.
“Even before the Tonys, there was a lot of buzz about the show ... the writing is incredible. I feel blessed to be able to work on it.”
She credits her success to her parents — Larry Goss, a retired Salem-Keizer teacher, and Elaine Goss, an instructional aide at Liberty Elementary School.
“The biggest influence was my parents allowing me and my brother and sister to try everything,” Andrea said. “They had me start music at 3, and that was the biggest gift ever.”
Those early piano lessons led to violin in third grade, then dance lessons, orchestra and choir. At Sprague High, she discovered the stage.
“Theater encompasses all the things I love,” she said. “I was dancing at the time, and then I learned acting ... I found the one thing I could do everything in.”
Tara Lee, artistic director at Sprague, remembered a “tiny” student who made her debut as an eighth-grader in “Ebenezer.” (Goss still is 5-foot-2 and weighs 98 pounds).
Lee had no problem reeling off Goss’ high school stage credits: “Footloose,” “Godspell” and “The Diviners.” Goss also was a gifted pianist and singer with perfect pitch, she said.
Lee used the word “dedicated” again and again in describing her former pupil.
“We reinforce that discipline is the heart of theater,” Lee said. “Many people think it is talent. You have to know your stuff and be on top of your game at all times. She definitely is.”
When Sprague staged “Into the Woods” in 2010, Goss caught a performance on a rare trip home. “To come from Broadway and come to a high school show, what a sweetie,” Lee said.
When it came time for college, Goss chose the highly selective theater program at Syracuse University in upstate New York. During summers, she acted in regional theaters around the country.
Goss graduated a semester early with her bachelor of fine arts in musical theater. By fall 2007, she had an agent and a supporting role in “Rent” as Alexi Darling, the lead actor’s annoying boss. She also acted in “Rent: Filmed Live on Broadway,” the all-star reunion of past cast members.
“That was an incredible chance for me, my first Broadway show,” Goss said. “The cast was incredibly welcoming. You see so many times that theater is competitive, but in the shows I have done, people have been so talented and so generous.”
The “Rent” gig also led to her Actors Equity card. “For me, joining the union was a huge thing,” she said. “That really pushed my career forward.”
She auditioned for “Once” while the play still was being workshopped in Cambridge, Mass. From there, it moved to Off-Broadway, then Broadway.
“I got a call that night, Saturday, and by Wednesday, we were watching the show and learning it,” she said. “Everything happens quickly.”
The key to being a good understudy, she said, is learning the parts quickly. Then she has to keep straight the blocking, violin parts and choreography, being prepared to go onstage at a moment’s notice
She shows up at the theater six days a week in case the actor for one of her parts (Girl, Reza or Ex-Girlfriend) gets sick or injured. However, she doesn’t secretly wish for ill fortune to befall someone, she said.
“Because they are all such good friends, you never can wish that on someone,” she said. “People take vacations and personal days. …. There are so many opportunities because I cover three roles. I stay very busy.”
Despite her relatively quick success, she also has had periods where she had to wait tables or work for a caterer.
“Even in down times, you’re reading, taking voice lessons and acting classes,” she said. “You never want to stop working ... When you stop, it becomes a problem for your career.”
She continues to audition as a hedge against becoming complacent in her current job. Her goal is to keep working on good material, whether on screen or in the theater.
Her advice for students with similar dreams: “Go for it. So many times, I’ve had teachers who said, ‘Don’t do this as a career; it’s too hard.’ I don’t agree with that.
“Theater is a very, very difficult career, but if you love acting, singing and dancing, you should go for it. When you’re doing a job, it makes up for those hard times.”