NEW YORK CITY- Eleven-year-old Nina Grollman stands with an outstretched right arm showing off macrame fringe meant to mimic a bird's wing. She wears a fuzzy blue hat on her head and a green beak on her nose as she gives the camera a half-smile.
"That was my first big part," Grollman says with a laugh, reflecting upon the March 2006 cast photo of Fargo-Moorhead Community Theatre's production of "Stuart Little."
"I was Margalo. I wore this big poncho covered in feathers. It was so fun," she says.
Little would anyone guess that 12 years later, almost to the day, Grollman would be making her Broadway debut with one of the greatest actors of our time.
Grollman, a 2013 graduate of Moorhead High School, has been cast in the Broadway revival of "The Iceman Cometh" starring Denzel Washington.
We caught up with Grollman, over the phone, after a long day of rehearsal where she talked about her Broadway dreams coming true.
'The best start ever'
Grollman began acting in second grade after her mother, Stephanie Grollman, noticed how much fun she had during a small performance at her elementary school, so she signed Grollman up for the Third Street Acting Company's production of "Winnie the Pooh."
"I was Roo," Grollman says. "It was the best start ever. It was amazing!"
Many more roles followed, but Grollman never seriously considered a career on stage until she was a senior in high school where she starred as Olive in Moorhead High School's production of "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee." Later that year, she was accepted to the highly competitive Juilliard School in New York City, where she received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting degree last spring.
Just a few months, her agent sent her on an audition for "The Iceman Cometh." After just one call back, she was offered the role of Margie, described by SparkNotes.com as "a sentimental, lazy tart reasonably content with life." Grollman says she couldn't believe it at first.
"The first thing I thought was 'I can't wait to tell my family, especially my mom'," Grollman says. "She was totally overwhelmed. She was crying and so happy."
The show cometh
Grollman began rehearsals in February with what she calls "an amazing" ensemble cast. She's been "completely blown away" working with Washington, a two-time Academy Award winner.
"It's been such a privilege watching the way he works," Grollman says. "He takes it seriously, but he's not afraid to play. He's always bringing something to the play."
The play by Eugene O'Neill first debuted on Broadway in 1946 and isn't for the faint of heart. It takes place in a dive bar in New York City where alcoholic washouts, including Margie, revel in their "pipe dreams." It runs nearly four hours and includes two intermissions. With six to eight performances a week and just one day off a week, it will be an exhausting schedule. But Grollman is ready for it.
"Juilliard gave me a baseline of technique - tools you can rely upon so no matter how you're feeling or what's going on in your life so it won't affect your performance," she says.
She also says the part she plays makes it less intense.
"I'm playing a fun part. Margie is more like the comedic relief so I don't do the heavy lifting," she says.
The show officially opens on April 26, but is currently in preview performances where the cast and crew can fine tune details and make any needed changes. The first preview was Friday, March 23. "It was my Broadway debut, so I think it went well," she says. "It was overwhelming, scary, nerve-racking, but once I got on stage it was a real high."
'The same feeling'
Grollman says there are similarities and differences from her years on the Moorhead High school stage to her time now on Broadway.
"The stage is bigger ... so you have to get up for that," she says. "But in many ways it's the same as it was when I was younger. I get the same adrenaline rush, the same feeling. I'm just as nervous."
But Grollman is enjoying the process, soaking in the dream come true.
"I never thought I'd be on Broadway this early," she says.
Not bad for a bird in a macrame poncho.