Former Ravenscroft runner English Bernhardt gets the spotlight

tstevens@newsobserver.comMarch 4, 2014 

English Bernhardt, left, a Ravenscroft senior who ran track for the school in the past, had a starring role as Eponine in North Carolina Theatre’s Les Misérables.

NORTH CAROLINA THEATRE

The Ravenscroft girls’ track and field team has to do without English Bernhardt this spring.

The senior helped the Ravens’ 4x100 meter relay team finish second in the N.C. Independent School Athletic Association championships last year, but she’s busy starring in another way this spring.

Starring as in performing beside Broadway veterans Craig Schulman (Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera, Jekyl & Hyde), Chuck Wagner (Beauty and the Beast, Jekyl & Hyde) and Lauren Kennedy (Les Miserables, Sideshow, Sunset Boulevard, Spamalot).

For the past couple weeks, many of the loudest cheers and much of the fervent applause went to the slight 17-year-old who tackled the role of Eponine in the North Carolina Theatre’s production of “Les Miserables.”

A year ago, she got cheers for running in the 100 meters as part of the Ravenscroft track team.

Bernhardt has been in dance since she was 21/2 and has played some prominent roles in area theater, including the title role in the NCT production of “Annie.”

But in the fall of 2012, she told Ravenscroft track coach Shon Hardy that she wanted to be a part of the track program. Her brother Chase had run for the Ravens.

She found a spot on the 4x100 and 4x200 relays.

“As a dancer, singer, and performer, English exudes confidence on stage and brings passion to all she does,” Hardy said. “The same could be the said of her on the track.

“Although not the fastest sprinter of the group, she was one of the hardest workers in practice and always a gamer for meets.”

Track isn’t in her future, but after her acclaimed performance on the Memorial Auditorium stage, she is pondering whether to head to New York and the Broadway lights this summer or to school in the fall.

“I asked the Broadway veterans and some said to go as soon as I could to get started and others said to head to school first,” she said. “I don’t know what I’m going to do. I know it is a huge decision, but I keep telling myself that it isn’t a once-in-a-lifetime type of thing. If I go to school, Broadway still will be there later. If I go to New York, school will be there later.”

Schulman, who has more than 2,000 performances as Jean Valjean in Les Mis, said Bernhardt has the makings of a star.

“Voice. Acting. Presence. Everything. She’s got it,” Schulman said.

Dave Clemmons, who directed the NCT production, said he had considered other actresses, professionals from New York and elsewhere around the country, until he saw Bernhardt in auditions.

“She earned the role. It wasn’t given to her,” Clemmons said. “She blew me away.”

Les Mis is a huge show and she was cast in a huge role among actors with huge reps. Hers was a huge accomplishment.

“English worked very hard and dug deep to find her inner Eponine,” said Lisa Grele Barrie, the NCT president. “Once she landed the role, she did not let up but continued to develop this unforgettable character. She is a consummate professional and is adored by her fellow cast members.”

Despite her success on the big stage, she still is involved in the Ravenscroft drama program. She’ll be with Broadway professionals in one show and with her classmates in the next.

“I love the school shows,” she said. “They help you stay humble and well-rounded. I love theater, not just professional theater, or just making money. I have just as much fun in the school shows.”

She wanted to make the track thing work again this year. Last year, she was able to balance track meets and practices with her dancing lessons.

On her busiest day, the Triangle Independent Schools Athletic Association championships, she ran in the 4x100 relay, dashed off a rehearsal for the Summer Theater Arts School, returned to the track for the 4x200 relay, and left to return to the STAS rehearsal.

Her life is a little less hectic this year, but she misses track.

“I loved track,” she said. “It was a different set of people and I loved to compete. I didn’t want to be known just as a theater girl. Some people think that if you’re involved in the theater that’s all you do.”

And Hardy said the track team misses her.

“She is one of the most well rounded, down to earth and impressive young people I have ever had the opportunity to work with,” Hardy said. “Everybody on the team misses her.”

Stevens: 919-829-8910

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