Bright Lights, Big City | By Kelly Twedell
● Published by Anonymous
Peeking out from underneath Grady Bowman’s sleeve are the initials “LGM” tattooed onto his wrist. It’s a fitting tribute. The initials are in honor of Grady’s godfather, Leonard Grady McLeod, who urged him into theater and passed away in 2000. They are also emblematic of the native son who hasn’t forgotten the local art community that catapulted him all the way to Broadway.
In 2008 and 2009 Grady danced in “Billy Elliot” on Broadway, a show that went on to win 10 Tony Awards, including one for “Best Musical.” He says it was his favorite role to date.
“I will probably never do a show that was so well done. It was the show that I am the most proud of being part of, though it was rough on the body.”
He said “Billy Elliot” was one of the projects he wanted to do the most and he knew it was a special show from the start. The writing was minimal but the way it was directed brilliantly evoked emotions from the audience and cast alike. He left “Billy Elliot” in September of 2009 to take an out of town workshop to work on “Wonderland”, another Broadway show that is scheduled to open on April 17.
“There’s a lot of big shows this season, but “Wonderland” is the first family, kids oriented show that’s opened in awhile”, said Grady. “The music is catchy. You just never know how long it will run.”
He landed his first Broadway role in the ensemble of “The Pirate Queen” where he did 85 performances beginning in June 2007. The process was arduous and he was 23 when he first auditioned and 25 by the time the show actually opened. His second Broadway show was “South Pacific” which opened in 2008. He toured with the show for five months in the role of “swing” where he covered the male ensemble parts and served as assistant dance captain.
Bo Thorp, the owner of the Cape Fear Regional Theater, remembers Grady with great fondness, and with good reason. Some of Grady’s earliest stage experiences took place in her productions.
“Grady was one of the kids that grew up in this theater literally,” Thorp said. “Going to Broadway — it’s an unbelievable accomplishment and it does not happen for many,” she said. “He has talent and is likeable — not all have that combination. He is a team player and you want him on your team and he is very creative in the way he thinks.”
Grady’s professional debut came at Fayetteville’s Little Theater at the age of five in a play called “Listen to My Song”. McLeod, his godfather, was also in the show. McLeod was a staple at the Cape Fear Regional Theater, as well, and was influential in getting Grady involved in the local acting scene. The two performed together in numerous productions. Over the years McLeod drove Grady to several auditions, from commercials to movies in Wilmington, which helped Grady to land a film role in two episodes of “The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles”.
Throughout his childhood he was repeatedly cast in the annual community favorite production of “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” and he said that he loved working in the local production of “Big River”. Working under Dirk Lumbard in “My One and Only” was another memorable theater experience. Lumbard set the show and it was then that he had the chance to dance alongside Harold Nicholas in a tap role created for him as a shoeshine boy. Pondering the moment, Grady said: “What an awesome experience to be able to dance with Harold Nicholas at that age.”
At an early age he began dance training with the Linda Kinlaw School of Dance and at age 10 he began taking private lessons with Eddie George. By the age of 15 he went to Chapel Hill on the weekends to perform tap with the N.C. Youth Tap Ensemble.
Grady warmly recalls his time at Brentwood Elementary School, Lewis Chapel Middle School and Seventy-First Classical High School. It was at Seventy-First Classical High School that he first experienced a specialized school that was focused on the arts. There he had the opportunity to take modern dance classes in the school’s new facility. Later in his high school years he also had the chance to travel with a touring group called Common Ground performing tap, Irish dance and clogging. Grady also played sports throughout his childhood, including soccer, baseball and wrestling, and he credits his muscle development to his time in sports.
As fate would have it, his dance teacher in Raleigh, Kirstie Tyce, had graduated from the North Carolina School of Arts and Grady barely made it into the last audition spot for the school and was immediately accepted. He knew the training would be excellent and that the school was a good fit for him.
When most kids were hitting the beach for spring break, Grady and a group of friends spent their time in New York City and he became enamored with the city on each trip and began looking into auditions.
During his junior year of college Grady attended The Broadway Theater Project in Tampa, Fla. and had the chance to work with Ben Vereen, who singled him out and offered him a role in the international tour of “Fossie”. But the role required him to take a year off from school. Once he had worked up the courage to break the news to his parents, he got excited about the prospect of getting paid to travel and to perform in places like England and France. After the tour he returned to school for one year before moving to New York City in the summer of 2005, where he lived as a true starving artist, bunking on his cousin’s couch for two months and auditioning for any and everything. As a non-equity actor he would show up at auditions and sometimes wait all day for the chance to audition. Typically, he would try out for up to 10 jobs a week. He admits that job stability and big pay checks are not typically a part of the theater business. However, with his recent engagement to a fellow dancer and actress and a desire to move into the choreography end of the business, perhaps some of that could change.
He choreographed a production of “Beauty and the Beast” in Vermont at the Northern Stage Theater that ran from Dec. 2007 to Jan. 2008. Most recently he choreographed “Elephant Shoes” as a first project to begin putting his choreography role together and that video can be seen on Youtube.com
“My end state would be to choreograph musicals in New York and also do some concert work and delve into commercials and the world of television,” Grady said. “I get more from that — though I do love dancing.”