The Secrets of a Broadway Dancer
Sarah Meahl had a secret; so did her mother. Sarah’s secret was wanting to dance on Broadway. Her mother, Kelly’s secret was financial. “She was taking money out of all these different accounts so my dad didn’t know how much they were spending on dance lessons,” Sarah says with a laugh.
Years later it all came together as Sarah landed a leading role in Cirque du Soleil’s “Paramour” on Broadway. Sarah, who plays the second female role – is also the understudy for the top role. A few weeks into the run, in the Broadway tradition, the lead was off and Sarah was the star. Her parents happened to be in the audience. “When I took my final bow, it was terrifying. I saw my parents, I just lost it. I did it. I was dancing on Broadway, but it was the fruit of all of our labors.”
Sarah wanted to be a dancer before she was even potty trained. “I was a pushy two-and-a-half year old and wanted dance lessons,” she says. “But I had to be potty trained and I wasn’t. I promised my mom there would be no accidents. Even at that age I loved dancing. By the time I was eight, I knew I wanted to be a dancer.”
One of her dance teachers, Miss Denise, changed her life. “I studied her posture, how she talked and did her hair. She had danced at Disney World, which was really cool,” she says. Kelly took Sarah to watch the Disney dancers. “It was magical. I loved the dancing and the costumes. Early on I became aware that the dancers and actors had a job. I could make money dancing. My goal was to dance at Disney.”
Her first professional gig was playing Barney when she was 12. She won dance contests and practiced incessantly. She danced at Disney World and did commercials. “It was enough to start accruing points for my Equity card. I was very focused.” Her father, Rick, worried that she was “putting so much into dancing. I don’t think he ever saw where it was heading until I went to college. When I was 21 my father saw me in “Cats” and saw I could do this. It only took him half of my life to realize that I was serious,” she says laughing.
Goodbye Disney, Hello Broadway.
When she was 13 her parents took her to Broadway to see “The Lion King.” It was life changing. “I didn’t know what Broadway was. I didn’t know there was anything bigger than Disney. By that time I had been dancing for 11 years. I looked at those Broadway dancers and thought ‘I can do that! I am doing that!’”
And, that is when the little secret was born. “I knew I could do it. I was sitting in the audience watching and I knew I would do it. I didn’t want to tell anyone,” she recalls. “I didn’t want to put this goal on a pedestal. I didn’t want it to be so far out there that you think it’s out of reach. My mom always told me that if you believe in yourself you can do anything – and I believed.”
Sarah pursued her dream with more dance lessons and added voice and acting lessons. She auditioned at Point Park University in Pittsburgh for both dance and musical theater. She was rejected for dance but accepted into the musical theater program. “The school rejected me in dance because they wanted me in musical theater where I would get more acting and voice lessons.” Dance was her minor, her focus was on old school jazz. “I worked hard but I knew it would pay off.”
It did. She headed to New York City right after graduation and booked her first job. “Lucky, not normal. I had one stellar audition and hit the ground running.”
She toured the country in regional theater until she built her resume up enough to get in the door for a Broadway audition. She told her agent she wanted to stay in New York and be on Broadway.
Cirque Du Soleil was auditioning for “Paramour,” a Broadway musical with (naturally) incredible acrobatic and gymnastic stunts. Sarah, a trained gymnast, was hired for the ensemble and then the understudy job for the lead. During rehearsals it was obvious that a second female lead was needed. Sarah got the part and helped create Gina. “She’s from Long Island and Marilyn Monroe is her idol. She’s got sex appeal and sass but she’s not a floozy. She knows where she’s from and doesn’t care that someone thinks less of her. I made her up and I learn from her.”
While “Paramour” was successful and planned on running for years, the theater was bought out by the Harry Potter musical for $25 million and “Paramour” will close – for now. There is talk of moving to another theater and also opening in Germany.
But ever the Broadway trooper, Sarah is moving on. She has already booked a “dream role” in one of her favorite shows at a summer stock theater. “This is the life I choose and I trust that, if I work hard and I am kind, I will book my next show. You have to move on and have faith.”
Ironically, when she formulated her secret, it never was playing the Broadway lead. “I never aimed at the lead, I just wanted to dance and, as a dancer, you get more roles than being the star. I fulfilled my dream and have to set new goals.”
Some of those goals include doing commercials, fitness modeling and teaching. She is even considering opening up a dance studio. She would love to go back to Broadway, especially in a revival with classic choreography.
Her favorite place to work is St. Louis. “I’m never so happy as when I’m at the Muny, an outdoor theater. It’s just lovely.”
She also hopes to perform in New Orleans, as well as Chicago (where she has family) and Orlando. “I grew up around there and my parents live near there.”
Her family traveled often. “We call ourselves the Meahls on wheels,” she says laughing. Venice is the family’s favorite spot. “I love the gypsy life. We were always traveling.” Whether it’s on vacation or touring, she likes to see the landmarks and museums but also go native. “I’ll ask Facebook friends where’s the best place to get a cup of coffee or someplace where actual locals go.”
However, when she’s homesick, she has a cure. “I go to Target because it reminds me of Florida and shopping with my mom. It makes me happy. And, I go to Starbucks because it is a nice, safe, comfy place and it is familiar.”
As she plots her next moves toward stardom, Sarah knows that she made her secret dream a reality. “Being in the show you make people happy and you take them away from their troubles. It’s an absolute joy,” she says. “I love hitting the beat and telling stories. Maybe those stories gave them hope, made them stronger or maybe just made them call their mom.”
She adds, “Being on Broadway is a gift and I enjoy every minute and I know the next great thing will come.”