Jan. 10—NEW ALBANY — While growing up in New Albany, Cameron Hobbs often dreamed of making it to Broadway, and over the past decade, he has pursued a career in theater that has taken him from cruise lines to national tours.
On Dec. 29, Hobbs took to the stage for his Broadway debut as he performed in the ensemble of Disney's "Aladdin" at New York City's New Amsterdam Theatre.
It was "surreal" to perform on Broadway for the first time, Hobbs said.
"I remember the first time I ever played the 'Wicked' soundtrack and asking myself in middle school, will I ever make it to Broadway, will I ever be a Broadway performer," he said. "To know now that it did come true, it's so wild, and it's really hard to put into words how amazing it feels."
Hobbs, a 2008 New Albany High School graduate, became involved with the local theater scene at a young age. As a student at Mount Tabor Elementary, he was involved in the school musical, and in fifth grade, he auditioned for his first show at Derby Dinner Playhouse in Clarksville.
He performed in the show choir at Hazelwood Middle School, and when he got to NAHS, he was involved for all four years with the school's theatre program, which was directed by David Longest at the time.
At NAHS, his "claim to fame" was his performance as Troy Bolton in the production of "High School Musical," he said. He also performed in shows such as "Aida," "Beauty and the Beast" and "Crazy for You."
He took dance classes at the Weber School of Dance in Jeffersonville, and he took voice lessons from Debbie King Raque, who was a well-known vocal instructor in the Louisville area.
In the Louisville and Southern Indiana theatre community, he worked with many mentors and educators who helped him succeed, Hobbs said.
"I don't think I would be where I am today without all the people in the Kentuckiana area," he said.
Hobbs studied musical theater with a concentration in dance at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio, where he graduated in 2012.
At the end of college, he knew he wanted to perform on cruise ships to make some money and travel. He went to New York City, and following his second audition, he got a job on Disney Cruise Line.
He worked for the cruise line for two years back-to-back before returning to New York City. For about a year, he was auditioning for shows, and he got a steady job with a producer.
"I was basically auditioning for a year but didn't book anything," Hobbs said. "I was kind of frustrated and disheartened, like did I make the right choice coming here?"
He returned to Disney Cruise Line, where he was offered a job with the Mediterranean tour. He visited 30 countries in seven-and-a-half months, and he then decided to retire from the cruise line industry and return to New York City.
"I committed to staying in New York until I booked something big," Hobbs said. "I wanted to take the next step in my career."
After five months of auditioning, he booked his first national tour with the show "Something Rotten." He performed as a swing in the show, and he covered for nine men in the show's ensemble. As he toured with "Something Rotten," he had the chance to work with Adam Pascal, who performed in the original cast of the musical "Rent."
He then auditioned for the tour of "Aladdin," and he got the job in January of 2019. He performed for 14 months before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the show in 2020.
"When the shutdown happened, I spent time in Miami with my boyfriend and his family, and then we came back to Southern Indiana to spend time with my parents. We were just waiting out the storm, and then we found our dream apartment in New York, and we moved back while waiting out the rest of the storm."
As "Aladdin" on Broadway faced issues with performers out on quarantine due to COVID-19, some performers from the tour were called in to cover for a few weeks, including Hobbs.
He was actually preparing to make his Broadway debut when he learned on the first day of rehearsals on Sept. 30 that he had tested positive for COVID-19, he said.
"I just came home and cried, like did my Broadway dream just slip through my hands?" he said.
Several weeks ago, Hobbs was offered a permanent spot in the ensemble of the Broadway show, and he started rehearsals Dec. 16. When he made his debut Dec. 29, it was not a perfect performance, but he "had the most fun," he said.
During the performance, a fellow ensemble member kept reminding him to take a deep breath and take it all in, which helped ground him as he performed in his first Broadway show.
"It's not lost on me how special it is," he said.
He cried multiple times after the performance, including while taking bows and reading supportive messages in the dressing room after the show.
"I think of how excited I was to see shows when I was younger, and how excited I was to go to the stage door after to meet the actors," he said. "I think about that a lot when I'm on the stage. I remind myself, there are little Camerons out there watching, and this little boy watching is going to sit and go home, listen to show tunes and dream about being here."
"I'm doing it for them — I'm doing it for all the little Camerons out there, and also my nieces and nephews," he said. "We have a lot of kids at the show, too, and it reminds me that for a lot of them, this is their first theatre experience."
As he performs in a Disney musical, it brings back memories of watching the movies as a child.
"'Aladdin' was my childhood, and I wore that VHS out," he said.
Hobbs is thrilled to perform regularly on the Broadway stage, but he notes that performing during the pandemic has also been full of stress and uncertainty, Hobbs said.
"As elated as I am, as excited as I am, it really is a weird time in the theater world," he said. "It's a weird time backstage. I come to the theater every night, and I get tested every single day. I wear a mask at all times backstage and only take it off when I get on stage, and I keep in a pouch they give us."
"As exciting as it is, it is a scary time, and we're trying to keep the magic alive for audience members," he said.
His experience is a "doubled-edge sword," he said. Due to the recent surge in COVID-19 cases, he is trying to stay isolated outside of his work in the theater, and as some Broadway shows close due to COVID-19, he said some friends are congratulating him while he is consoling them after they lost their jobs.
"I'm the happiest right now, but I'm also the most anxious that I've ever been," Hobbs said.
Hobbs said he is proud of where he came from, and he enjoys opportunities to teach students when he returns to the area. He has taught students at NAHS, Floyd Central High School and the Bette Weber School of Dance as a guest instructor.
"If I can give back a few ounces of what I received growing up, that's another reason why I do what I do," he said. "I would not be here without everyone I crossed paths with in the New Albany area."