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On Theater: Amy Decker returns home to Costa Mesa in ‘Phantom’

Amy Decker, performing in "Phantom" at Los Angeles' Pantages Theater.

Amy Decker, performing in “Phantom” at Los Angeles’ Pantages Theater.

(Courtesy of Amy Decker)

The last time Costa Mesa theatergoers watched Amy Decker perform in her hometown was in 1997 when she starred in “She Loves Me” as a senior at Estancia High School.

She’s come a long way since then in a professional career spanning nearly two decades, but next week’s opening of “The Phantom of the Opera” at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts will be her first visit to a Costa Mesa stage since that Estancia farewell.

Though she’s not playing the leading role of Christine in “Phantom” (as a swing performer, she understudies five different women in the ensemble), Decker is fully qualified for that assignment, and it probably won’t be long before she chalks that one up beside her leading performances in “Oklahoma,” “The Sound of Music,” “Guys and Dolls,” “The Fantasticks,” “The King and I” and “I Do, I Do.”

“I have been able to be a part of so many wonderful productions over the years,” says Decker, who’s currently performing in “Phantom” at Los Angeles’ Pantages Theater. “I grew up watching all of the classic movie musicals and have been able to play some of my childhood dream roles.”

Musical theater was in her blood, almost from day one. The daughter of a music teacher, she competed as a young girl in local and statewide voice competitions, placing first in the Los Angles Artists of the Future competition at the Music Center.

During her Estancia days, Decker starred in three school productions — “Kiss Me, Kate,” “Carnival” and “She Loves Me.” (I didn’t have to look those up. I saw them, since her classmate, my daughter Mindy, performed in all three shows.)

Following her graduation with honors from Estancia, Decker moved to New York City to attend the Manhattan School of Music, majoring in music with a specialization in classical vocal performance. She was one of two undergraduate students accepted into the voice studio of Cynthia Hoffman, a highly honored instructor at the Juilliard School.

“After graduation, I started pounding the pavement, going to every audition that I could,” she says. “Still to this day, in between theater jobs, I go to every audition that has a part right for me, sometimes going to up to three auditions in one day.”

While Decker may not have the starring role in “Phantom,” she is “very proud to be a part of such an iconic show.” As a girl, she listened to the original Broadway cast recording “to the point where I knew just about all of the words,” she says. She saw the touring production in Los Angeles twice, once with Michael Crawford as the Phantom and once with Robert Guillaume in the role.

“One show very dear to my heart is ‘The Will Rogers Follies,’ ” Decker says. “In 2005-2006 I portrayed Betty Blake, Will Rogers’ wife, in the national tour. I did a lot of research about Will, read Betty’s autobiography and was even able to meet their living family members. Will Rogers was such an important influence on our country. Telling their story every night was truly an honor.”

Decker originated the title role in the off-Broadway production of “Ophelia,” a musical based on the character from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” “It is always very special to be a part of creating the first staged production of a show,” she says.

She’ll have many fans and friends straining their eyes to spot her during the Costa Mesa engagement. Missing, however, will be her father, former Newport-Mesa School District board member Ed Decker, who passed away in 2012. Her mother, Mary Jane Hoogewind, “still lives in Costa Mesa and teaches piano in the same house I grew up in,” the daughter says.

If those fans and friends are eager to learn more about her career, that’s no problem, she says, giving her website, amydecker.com.

As a swing performer in “Phantom,” Decker must be ready for any assignment, and on short notice. “Most of the time I find out a few hours before showtime due to someone being ill or injured,” she says.

“A few week ago, I performed in five of the eight shows that week — but I was on for a different person in each of those performances,” she recalls. “Being a swing definitely keeps you on your toes.”

TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Daily Pilot, Coastline Pilot and Huntington Beach Independent.


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