UTBA recently caught up with Natalie Hill, the Broadway veteran and author of the blog Mormon in Manhattan. Natalie is currently playing “Daniela” in Pioneer Theater Company’s In the Heights.

UTBA: Tell us a little about yourself and your background.

Natalie: I was raised in Orem, the oldest of 5 girls in a very musical family. My dad is an attorney (but really a frustrated actor) and my mom has a gorgeous voice. My grandmother was an opera singer and sang in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. I sang my first solo in church at 2 1/2. The first theatre memory I have is watching my dad performing as FDR in Annie for Payson community theatre. I quickly became OBSESSED with Annie. We have some pretty classic home videos of me singing “Maybe” and “Tomorrow” in a full red wig, red dress, locket, and stuffed sandy at 18 months old. I loved it. My first role was “Gretyl” in Payson community theatre’s The Sound of Music, then “Molly” in Annie at Mountain View High School.

Manoly Farrell as Vanessa, Natalie Hill as Daniela, Emily Vasquez as Nina, and Ariana Escalante as Carla. Photo by Alexander Weisman.

I attended NYU and got a Bachelor of Music degree. I took a few breaks in college and was able to do a lot of shows: Footloose (as “Rusty”), Brigadoon, and more. While in college, I also originated “Bernadette” in Romeo and Bernadette at Coconut Grove Playhouse. I reprised that role at Papermill Playhouse, and it was supposed to transfer to Broadway, but it didn’t. It was the first of many big theatre heartbreaks.

I made my Broadway debut in 2007 as Cha Cha Digregorio in the Kathleen Marshall revival of Grease. After a year and a half in Grease, I returned to Utah to play “Ellen” for Pioneer Theatre’s Miss Saigon. A week after Miss Saigon closed, I booked the 2009 Broadway revival of Bye Bye Birdie. I covered Gina Gershon as “Rosie” and had the great pleasure to play opposite John Stamos for a week of performances. Following Birdie, I did the pre-Broadway run of Wonderland and continued to do the Broadway run in 2011. In the fall of 2011, I joined the Las Vegas company of Jersey Boys as Mary Delgado and continued that run until the show closed at the Palazzo and re-opened at the paris theatre. I returned to New York City at the beginning of the year and developed a new musical with Hinton Battle, and now I’m here doing In the Heights!

UTBA: How long have you been in New York?

Natalie: 13 years this fall. I love living there.

UTBA: What have been some of your favorite projects?

Natalie: My favorite projects were Romeo and Bernadette because I really created every bit of that role; it was a brilliant show and wonderfully supportive and loving creative team. And Bye Bye Birdie? Kissing John Stamos is not hard work, and the cast was such a lovely little family. I loved starring opposite John and digging into such a cool role. I got to sing AND dance! It was heaven for me.

UTBA: You’re also a pretty popular blogger, right? What made you start blogging? Tell us about it.

Natalie: I started blogging because my sister, Nicole, had a really famous blog, and every now and then I’d get a spot on her blog. I’ve had some pretty crazy dating experiences and I wanted a place to write them down so that my friends and family could keep up (and so I could eventually create a body of work to turn into a television show or book). I really didn’t think it would take off as fast as it did. I started Mormon In Manhattan in 2007, and I really love the opportunities it’s afforded me. Blogging about things I love has made me more grateful and my life more meaningful. Also, laughing about my insane dates has made the crazy easier to get thru.

UTBA: How did you end up working with Pioneer Theater Co.?

Natalie: After Grease on Broadway, I hopped home to Utah for a vacation. While showering one day, a glass shower door fell on me and severed my toe. Oy. I cancelled all of my NYC auditions and decided to recover in Utah because I’ve done crutches in the city too many times to do it again. My agents called with an audition for Ellen in Miss Saigon, and I couldn’t make the NYC auditions and they had already had the SLC auditions. Luckily I knew Karen Azenberg (PTC’s new artistic director who was directing Saigon at the time) from college. I auditioned with a video (on crutches) and they offered me the role. Ellen was great because all I had to do was sit on a bed and sing. It was the perfect recovery show.

For In the Heights, I initially auditioned for Vanessa. In my audition, after I read, I just said, “You know what? This isn’t me.” They all agreed and I just thought there wasn’t a fit for me in that show. I was surprised to get a callback for Daniela which I had originally thought would go to someone older. But she fits like a glove. I’m stoked to work with director Matt August, and I’m really happy to return to Pioneer. They have an incredible team here, and I love the stage manager, Jeff Williams. He makes everything so easy and efficient.

UTBA: What’s the rehearsal process been like?

Natalie: We rehearsed 11 AM to 7 PM, six days a week, and we’ve really been plowing through it. Initially, I though this would be another Saigon experience where I show up, sing 2 songs and leave. I had so few rehearsals that it was a breeze. In the Heights is a different story. It’s very much an ensemble show and the arrangements are tricky. I’m learning rapid fire Spanish, and it’s a little overwhelming considering we have a few cast members who have already done the show on the national tour. I think this show’s success really hangs on the character of Usnavi and I’m so pleased that we have Joseph Morales. He’s completely brilliant and I’m really excited for Utah audiences to fall in love with him.

UTBA: Tell us about your character in In the Heights.

Natalie: I play Daniela who is closing the salon she’s owned in Washington Heights and moving it to the Bronx. She’s originally from Puerto Rico and has great pride in her country. She’s over the top and gossipy, but has a heart of gold and great pride in her home country. I’m really loving Daniela. She’s fabulous and hysterical.

UTBA: Any words for Utah audiences?

Natalie: I think Utah audiences will love In the Heights. It’s a universal message about finding your home. I think Utah has such a strong cultural community just like the Latino community in the Heights. It’s hilarious; the music is completely incredible (salsa, traditional musical theatre, rap, hip hop); and the message is incredibly uplifting and relatable. I’m really falling in love with this show.

See Natalie as Daniela in Pioneer Theater Company’s In the Heightsplaying through September 29, 2012. You can also visit her blog, “Mormon in Manhattan” at mormoninmanhattan.blogspot.com.