Zhang Aojia (COURTESY OF SHADOW)
Broadway's Chinese girl
Shadow's success was not just a series of coincidences, but is the result of her long-term persistence.
She was born in Shanghai, and after graduating from Shanghai International Studies University, she went to the United States to study drama at the University of California, Berkley. On a Christmas Eve in New York in 1999, she saw her very first musical, Babes in Arms. Shadow was shocked by the direct, exaggerating and enthusiastic performance genre and realized that it's the same as what she had dreamed of doing when she was six—singing and dancing on a large stage. That night changed Shadow's life forever. She transferred to the Chicago College of Performing Arts because they have one of the top 10 musical performance theater majors in America.
After graduation in 2003, Shadow continued her love and determination in the industry. She was later called "Broadway's Chinese girl" because of her Asian face.
"We usually say being a musical stage performer is a blue-collar job," said Shadow. "Unless you have a deep love and dedication to what you are doing and are willing to sacrifice your youth, passion and talent for it, you could choose to sell hamburgers as that may make you richer."
One night in 2004, Shadow received a phone call from her teacher and now musical producer Li Suyou.
"Come back! The spring of China's musical is approaching," said Li. With her musical dream and 13 boxes of luggage, Shadow flew back to her hometown.
Realizing dreams at home
In 2005, Shadow took the lead in the large-scale homegrown musical The Gold Sand, which became a box office success. In 2006, she set up her own performance studio in Beijing's 798 Art District, giving free performances every weekend to let more Chinese know what musical performance is.
In 2009, when the musical theater market was in depression, she continued her perseverance and acted in the homegrown musical I Dreamed a Dream, a 90-minute solo show.
While singing and dancing for one and a half hours all by oneself may sound daunting to others, for Shadow, it's a thrilling experience.
"I like it! The bigger the stage, the better, because every actor or actress wants to conquer the stage on their own. This time, I really fulfilled this dream. The chance is rare because it is even rare for an actress to perform alone in a musical, either on Broadway or off Broadway."
The story of I Dreamed a Dream was based on Shadow's personal experiences, telling a young actress' dream, pursuits, struggles, sorrows and persistence. In Shadow's 90-minute show the audience is treated to a feast of 18 Broadway's most well-loved musical pieces, including Over the Rainbow, All That Jazz, Don't Cry for Me Argentina and Memory in both English and Chinese.
As part of the Seventh Beijing International Theater and Dance Festival, I Dreamed a Dream was staged at the Capital Theater from November 12-14, 2010, before touring major cities including Wuhan, Chongqing, Shenzhen and Zhengzhou.
Shadow has been a guest lecturer at the China Central Academy of Fine Arts since 2005. She has published several albums, collecting classic songs of musicals, and some essay collections. She is also a TV hostess. But she never forgets her dream lies in musicals.
"Every time I am waiting for the start of Mama Mia!, I still can't believe this is really happening," said Shadow. "Mama Mia! marks a new start of China's musical industry. I'm confident in its future and will continue to stand on this stage for as long as I can."