Jersey Village grad appears in Texas premiere
After growing up in Jersey Village, Paige Wheat made her New York acting debut in 2007 as a sexy cowgirl in Urban Cowboy: The Musical at Gateway Playhouse on Long Island.
Now, she's back in that show at Miller Outdoor Theatre July 14-19 and plans to return to New York.
"I moved back here in 2008 to get married, but we recently divorced, so on Aug. 1, I'm going back to where I would be if I hadn't come home," Wheat explained. "It's been a rough year personally, but I feel a weight off my shoulders. I'm really focused. I'm ready!"
Presented by Theatre Under the Stars, Urban Cowboy: The Musical is the 2003 Broadway musical version of the 1980 movie that was shot at Gilley's nightclub in Pasadena before it burned. The John Travolta film put the national spotlight on Houston, two-stepping and the fad of riding a mechanical bull. But Wheat, who's 26, had never heard of the movie.
"When I told people I was doing Urban Cowboy, they asked, 'Are they remaking the movie?' " she laughed. "I said, 'What movie?'
"I watched the movie before I was in the show; so now I know what the big deal was," she added.
About the musical, she said, "I loved it when we did it before. It was really exciting, and I think it's kind of ironic that it's my first show as I'm looking into this new phase of my life."
Roy Hamlin, TUTS associate artistic director, cast Wheat for the part.
"Great dancer, great singer, great acting, great person," he said. "Her Houston roots show the Texas can-do spirit and she's just a heckuva lot of fun . . . her presence makes any cast just more exciting!"
The musical features many hit songs from the movie's popular soundtrack, but Wheat's favorites are two Dixie Chicks songs, Cowboy Take Me Away and Sin Wagon, which were incorporated into the Broadway version.
Both productions of the show reunited Wheat with her childhood dance teacher, choreographer Paula Sloan. "I grew up with her at Texas Tap Ensemble," said Wheat, referring to Sloan's former dance studio in the Heights. "She was like my second mother."
Sloan said she has known Paige since she was 12.
"As she grew older she served as my dance captain for the TTE and did a wonderful job. I am so very proud of her and the good person she has become. I always used to tell the kids, it is good to be talented, but it is better to be a nice person.
"Paige has all the tools and talent to be successful in whatever she pursues," added Sloan.
At Jersey Village High School, where Wheat graduated in 2003, she performed in her first musical her senior year, portraying Lady Larkin in Once Upon a Mattress. "That's when I decided I wanted to do musical theater," she said, explaining that her decision was confirmed when the University of Michigan accepted her into its musical theater program.
The summer before Wheat completed her bachelor's degree, she returned home to appear in the TUTS production of 110 in the Shade, based on the 1956 movie The Rainmaker. "That's when I got my [Actors Equity Association] card," she said.
Most recently, Wheat played Helga in TUTS' production of Cabaret.
The Urban Cowboy cast includes actresses Michelle DeJean, Brittany Halen and Brooke Humphrey from the Cy-Fair/Spring area.