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A native of Gray is performing in a New York-based musical focused on the life of singing superstar Aretha Franklin that is touring the U.S.
Meghan Dawson, 25, will be one of the three hosts, singing and narrating "R.E.S.P.E.C.T." She will be among supporting singers for some tunes and will sing lead for the songs "Rock Steady" and "You're All I Need to Get By."
The tour has so far scheduled 44 stops across the U.S. from Oct. 6 through March 30. Two of the venues will be nearby: Oct. 21 at the Lafon Arts Center in Luling and Nov. 11 at the River Center in Baton Rouge. Tickets are available now at respectontour.com/home/#dates-tickets.
As a child, Dawson said, she enjoyed acting out scenes from the Disney teen sitcom "That's So Raven." She attended Louisiana State University from 2014 through 2017, where she took a class on opera.
Dawson realized musicals were her calling in spring 2017, when she was accepted into the Springboard Program, a two-week crash course on everything theater hosted by the American Theatre Wing in New York. When it ended, she had made up her mind.
"Literally in the airport on the ride home from Springboard," Dawson said.
She started sending two-minute videos of her performances to cruise companies that were accepting applications online.
"And within about a week," Dawson said, "Celebrity Cruises contacted me."
Celebrity Cruises sent her a couple of songs and told her to pick two she liked and record them with a dance combo. She nailed it, and a week after the call, she got the part as Catherine Parr in cruise line's production of "Six the Musical," which focused on the life and wives of Henry the VIII.
She moved to New York in 2018. It hasn't been a permanent home; she moves back and forth from Gray to wherever she lands a contract to perform.
"At the end of the day, it's just whether you're embracing a character or singing a song by a famous artist, you're just playing dress up and you're able to play and that's honestly the best thing about it," Dawson said. "It doesn't feel like work at all because, I mean, I love what I do."
Dawson said college was making her unhappy, and the Springboard Program showed her another way into musicals. She was taking music courses at LSU, but they were focused on opera. She had other remedial courses, too, so even though it was her third year, she said she had at least an extra semester tacked on to graduate.
"And I just had to sit down with myself and say, 'Am I going to keep being miserable?' " Dawson said. "Or am I going to go after, you know, what I want?"
For some, college is the place to go to experience the world and gain independence. Dawson found it by getting out and performing in front of a crowd. She heard the siren's call to New York and keeps going back for gigs.
"Just having that first contract kind of made me grow up a lot as a performer and knowing that this was what I wanted to do," she said. "I can maybe do Atlanta or L.A., but when it comes to, like, what I want to do, New York is, like, the only place to be."
The cruise gig taught her a lot about musical endurance and herself. Dawson said she hated the opera class, not because of the teacher, but because she disliked the sound of her own voice. In the opera course, she had to listen to her voice and critique it.
In contrast, on cruises she learned through performing, which taught her more about using her voice well than she says she could have learned in a classroom.
"In college, I really didn't do that because I spent so much time critiquing it and trying to fit it into this opera box," Dawson said. "I was on the ship for months. It was just me and my voice, and, you know, you're doing these cruise shows that are high intensity and cardio and your voice goes through a lot and you've got cheap alcohol you're drinking, you party and you learn how to perform through it all."
Meghan credits her mother, Holly Dawson, with her drive. She said her mother has always been supportive and believed in her, which gave her confidence to chase her passion. Holly Dawson will be at both of her daughter's area performances and is in the process of getting tickets for her opening show in New York as well.
Asked if she was proud of her daughter's achievement, Holly said "of course." She has already bought 20 tickets for family members to attend the Luling performance.
"She has a beautiful voice, and she has the most amazing stage presence," Holly Dawson said. "Almost as much as hearing her sing, it's just as much a joy to see her stage presence because her facial expressions, it just tells it all."
This article originally appeared on The Courier: Local woman set to perform in New York musical about Aretha Franklin