Walking out on stage with bright lights shining down on her, the audience’s eyes follow JMU alumna Rachel Schur as she belts the lyrics to “Funny Hunny” in her role as Roxie in “Chicago.” After the performance is over, the crowd erupts into applause and cheers for her, and she knows she just put on a great show.
The actress, who always knew she wanted to be a performer, graduated in ’09 with a degree in musical theatre. With her mom being a former performer in New York City who moved to Melbourne, Florida, where she opened a dance studio, this lifestyle of performing came to Schur naturally.
When Schur started touring colleges, she didn’t know JMU existed. All that was on her mind was a change of environment, which meant getting out of Florida.
“We started looking around in D.C., Virginia, North Carolina and on this beautiful, sunny day, my mom was like, ‘Hey, there’s this college in Virginia called JMU,’ and we went and toured it, and I was like, ‘I’m coming here because it was so pretty,” Schur said.
At JMU, she was heavily involved in the theater program. From starring in student-run productions like “City of Angels” and “See What I Wanna See” to directing the play “Edges” and even being in a master class with the writers of “Dear Evan Hansen.” She went on to take the knowledge and experiences gained with her after graduation.
“I think for everybody, when you go into musical theater, like even if you don’t end up in New York, it’s still the pipe dream to end up on Broadway,” Schur said. “For me, that is definitely what it was. I knew that coming to New York with no agent and no real big experience, it was probably going to be pretty hard to get into the big audition rooms to audition for the big Broadway show.”
Although it was her dream to move to New York City, she immediately went on tour with different shows after graduation. One of them, “Fame the Musical,” went on tour in China. She thought if she went on multiple tours, the connection and experience she gained would prove she could perform in a big, blockbuster, million-dollar musical.
After being on tour for four months, she decided to move back to the states to achieve her dream of making it on Broadway. With only two suitcases in hand, she dropped everything to begin auditioning for different shows. Her first appearance on Broadway was in “Jersey Boys,” a musical she’d previously toured with.
The director called her when a cast member sustained an injury, and she went on the next night. After not doing a show in a year and a half, she was caught off guard but decided to take advantage of the opportunity.
“They threw me into a rehearsal the next day, and I made my Broadway debut,” Schur said. “My parents flew out last minute. I was, like, shaking and excited and terrified. It’s, like, all the emotions wrapped into one.”
After performing in “Jersey Boys” for six years, Schur wanted a change of scenery. To get into private audition rooms, she had to get an agent. Her current agent, Greg Uliasz, saw her performance in “Jersey Boys” and knew she had potential.
“The first time I saw her perform, I was blown away by the fact that, yes, she’s able to dance, and sings so well and above all — and most importantly, she’s one of the best actresses,” Uliasz said. “I thought she was unique, genuine, interesting and exciting, and she is a brilliant actress, which is why I knew she’d be fine.”
“Chicago” was looking for someone to join the ensemble and be an understudy for the role of Roxie. Uliasz immediately thought of Schur and sent her the details of the audition.
Schur was in the audition room from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. the first day, and then 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. the second day. The auditions began with 50 girls, and Schur was in the final 10.
“So, I was like, ‘Alright, I guess I have a one out of 10 chance at getting this,’” Schur said. “The next day, I got a call from my agent, and he was like ‘Are you sitting down?’ and that was how I found out [I got the part].”
Schur started rehearsing for the show with the dance captains. Current dance captain Beth Nicely knew she liked Schur from the start. Seeing how talented she was made her excited to teach her the choreography for the part.
“She’s always been great,” Nicely said. “She was great from the start but no matter what — when you get comfortable with the choreography — you find new things and get more confident than when you first start. The more she’s gone on and the more opportunity she’s gotten to do Roxie, the more you can see Rachel’s Roxie.”
Schur hopes to continue to grow as an actress and move on to other projects, both on Broadway and television, in the future. As for now, she’s living in the moment and pouring out her heart and soul both on stage and off.
“It’s amazing fulfilling your dream,” Schur said. “It’s interesting too because you’ve fulfilled your dream and I guess I have to have a bigger dream. You remind yourself all your years of hard work, and there’s so much rejected, and so many times I cried and wanted to quit, cause it’s really hard to hear ‘no’ that much, so when you do get the ‘yes,’ you want to bask in its glow as much as possible.”