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Campus News / News

From Rockford churches to the Great White Way, how one alumna credits her big break to skills learned at RU

07/26/2021 8:30 am

When Broadway went dark on March 12, 2020, Julia Schade ’08 was about to debut as musical director of “Six,” a musical retelling — presented as a pop concert — of the lives of the six wives of Henry VIII.

Though she’ll have to wait a little longer to return to Broadway, she’s taking advantage of the break to reflect on her journey and give back to the university that laid the foundation for her successful musical theatre career.

After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Music, Schade worked as music director of a local church, but after a few years she felt called back to her roots in musicals and to RU. She became an adjunct professor for music theory and served as music director for most of the university’s productions from 2015 to 2018. During this time, Schade broadened her musical horizons by accompanying classes like Rock Shop, directing choirs, and playing for opera workshops among other things.

At the beginning of 2018, Schade decided she wanted to pursue music directing as a career, so she took her talents to Chicago. She said, “It was really hard to say goodbye to my Rockford University Theatre family. But to grow, I had to step outside my comfort zone.”

Schade reached out to Larry Hochman, Tony Award-winning musician, who she’d met during her time at Starlight Theatre, and he connected her with the Chicago Shakespeare Theater. After playing for “Madagascar” and “Peter Pan,” Schade was in the process of determining her next move when out of the blue, she received a phone call. A group of writers asked if she could play the piano for the callbacks of the musical “Six,” which was about to make its debut in Chicago.

She jumped at the chance. The next day she played with the writers of the musical. Schade credits her ability to quickly learn the songs to a class at RU called Rock Shop.

“It taught me how to prepare for rock auditions for different eras,” she said. “I can play anything and the skills I learned at Rockford allowed me to be ready when the door opened.”

After the day ended, Schade was invited to play more callbacks because the “Six” writers loved what she did with the music, and she was later offered the role of Joan, a keyboard player.

“I was intimidated at first, because I thought it was out of my league. But I leaned on my skills and dove into the rehearsal process and nailed it,” said Schade.

After the Chicago run of “Six” concluded, she played the show in Boston. In January of 2020, Schade moved to New York City after being named music director for the debut of “Six” on Broadway. But hours before the opening, Broadway shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Schade decided to return to Rockford during the hiatus and has been helping RU’s performing arts department by teaching classes with friend and mentor Timm Adams, associate professor of music, and serving as co-music director for the recent production of “Legally Blonde.”

“Until we open, I know I have my place here at Rockford University,” she said. “This semester, I co-taught Rock Shop, which was surreal because that class helped make my Broadway dreams possible.”

This story was originally published in the Spring/Summer 2021 issue of Catalyst. View here:

After the publication of Catalyst, we sat down with Schade for an update on her Broadway debut.

“Six” will make its long-awaited Broadway opening on September 17, 2021. Schade will be heading to New York City in August to begin preparing for the opening.

“It feels amazing to have the opportunity to see “Six” on Broadway come to fruition, and live that dream of playing on a Broadway stage,” said Schade. “I couldn’t be more thrilled!”