“I’m from California and in the 8th grade we took a field trip to New York City. There are still stars in my eyes just thinking about it. I had always loved singing and performing but it never dawned on me that what I thought of as ‘fun’ was an actual profession that grown-ups were pursuing. We saw Wicked that week and from the start of the overture, I had been changed for good. It was incredible. I had chills throughout the entire show partly because it was so good and partly because God was whispering to me, ‘If you like it, pursue it. It’s not impossible.’ I was 13!”
That’s how Salisha Thomas fell in love with live theater and today, she’s part of the cast of the Broadway hit, Beautiful, a show that has an especially important place in her heart in that she’s been performing it on tour around the country.
“The tour of Beautiful was the first big thing I’d ever done,” Thomas explained. “It was so much fun and I loved it so much. But, I will say, I was a lot more tense on the road. I was overly worried about lines and blocking and making sure I got everything just right. But on Broadway, everyone is so laid back and chill. Because of that, I think the quality of my work is better because I’m not so stressed out. I’m more in the moment.”
Even being “in the moment,” it begs the question: How does someone stay driven as an artist when they’ve been doing the same show for so long? For Thomas, she says it helps that she truly loves Beautiful.
“I genuinely love it. I love the creative team and my cast members. I’m living my dream and even if I’m having an off day, it’s okay. I’m having an off day in the best possible place to be having it. I’ve sung ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’ on stage 1000 times, literally, as of this month, and I still love it.”
For Thomas, though those “off days” may happen every now and then, they aren’t an excuse to give less than her all in a performance. That’s a lesson she learned while working at Disneyland playing Princess Tiana from The Princess and the Frog.
“We did five shows a day and one of the biggest things I learned there was it didn’t matter how tired you were at your last show of the day because there were people in the audience who may be in their first day at Disneyland and this could be the first show they’re seeing. We had to have as much magic in the last show as we did in the first. So, bringing that to Broadway—I could be tired and on my eighth performance of the week but I need to show up. This may be someone in the audience’s first Broadway show, ever. Not only that, but there are a lot of girls who would like to trade places with me so I better be grateful for it because there are people waiting who want it.”
So many of the people in the audience at Beautiful have a long history with the music of Carole King. Hers is the music in which they’ve felt connected for decades of their lives—some since childhood. For Salisha, the list of music she turns to in order to recharge is rooted in her youth as well.
“I have a feeling I am going to be judged so hard for this right now but I really love my 90s jams: N*Sync, Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, Spice Girls. That music takes me out of my head and inspires me to just let go and relax. It’s the music of my childhood. Which is also probably why when people come see Beautiful, they tend to love it. It’s the music of their childhood and it’s instantly relatable.”
The past year of Thomas’ life has been a big one. From living out of suitcases on the 1st National Tour of Beautiful to making her Broadway debut in the show she loves so much, it’s been a year full of changes and new opportunities.
“I left the Beautiful 1st National Tour so I could come back to New York and see if I could possibly get in a Broadway show. Since then, I’ve made my Broadway debut and bought a home. An actual home! And my walls are pink. And there are white French doors. And for the first time in possibly my entire life, I am more grounded than ever.”
A big part of that grounding? The city she now calls home.
“I know I’m a California girl born and raised, but New York has felt like home since the day I arrived. This city can be tough, but I love it. In this city, I can be my most fearless, sparkly, fun-loving self that God intended. But most of all, here in New York City—I’m free. Central Park is my favorite place. I take my shoes off before stepping on the grass in Sheep’s Meadow because I feel like I’m in my home. Lately, I’ve been waking up and I can’t explain it but I wake up happy for no reason. When that happens, I look at the light coming into my apartment and thank God. We go through seasons in life and it’s so nice to wake up in my favorite city. No one is making be here or keeping me from here, I’m just here and I love it. Any moment I wake up with joy, I thank God and refuse to take that moment for granted. It’s not always sunshine and rainbows so when it is, I’m like, ‘thank you, thank you, thank you.’”