In Ms. Sessions’ musical theatre class at Taravella High School in Coral Springs, just about everyone has dreamed the impossible dream of Broadway. One of her former students actually turned that near-impossible goal into reality.
“He always says when can I come in, when can I talk to your students?” said Lori Sessions, the drama teacher at Taravella High.
She’s talking about Etai Benson, who went from Taravella class of 2005 all the way to his current role as Papi in the Tony-nominated musical, “The Band’s Visit” on Broadway. Benson also starred in “An American in Paris” and he played Bok in “Wicked”.
“When he was in Wicked, he met the students outside after the show, talked to them, did a talk-back with them, then even walked around the city us,” Sessions said, describing a class field trip a few years ago to New York.
Benson, she says, has no star ego.
“I’m in a hit Broadway show now and I’m very lucky but when that’s over I’m back to the drawing board, I’m auditioning and hustling and looking for my next gig,” Benson said. “I’m very blessed to make a living off of what I do, but it’s not like my life is all glamorous with parties and limos and stuff like that.”
When a high school coach has an athlete who makes it to the professional level, that in and of itself can be inspiring to everyone else who has similar ambitions. In this scenario, Benson is the star athlete.
“Knowing that someone from this program can reach that height is really, really inspiring,” said Boaz Levy, a student in the drama program.
“And to know that someone who sat where we’re sitting now is living the dream makes it feel more realistic,” added drama student Morgan Wolfe.
Benson credits Sessions with much of his success, saying the skills he learned in her high school class shaped his career. He recently came home to perform in the “From Broadway With Love” charity concert at the BB&T Center, which benefitted the ShineMSD Fund and the MSD Victims Fund.
“Stoneman Douglas was our rival high school, so when I saw the events unfolding it was devastating and I felt I had to be there,” Benson said. “I’m still very, very shaken by it, and I never thought that I’d be here to help heal after something like this, it’s my honor and privilege to do so, but I never imagined that I would.”
He did imagine, when he was in Ms. Sessions’ class, that he could one day make a living in theatre.
Benson knows, however, that it takes an extraordinary combination of talent, perseverance, and luck to become a successful actor, so his advice to kids is to pursue any other love instead of show business.
“But if this is what you have to do, and you know it in your heart and soul, then you have to follow it, and you have to at least give it a shot,” Benson said.
One never knows, maybe another kid from Taravella will follow Benson to the neon lights of Broadway.