Antoinette Comer was on a train in New York City when she got the phone call. Erupting in spontaneous tears of happiness, she called her mom to tell her the news: She'd been cast as Lisa, a supporting role, in a nationally touring production of Mamma Mia!
For a young performer on the front end of her career, that was a huge break in her favor, albeit one she earned by years of training and auditioning, a trajectory that began in Kentucky.
Comer returns to the Bluegrass this weekend as Mamma Mia! visits the EKU Center for the Arts in Richmond. With three productions of the show in two days, Comer won't have a lot of free time to catch up with family and friends, but there is one important item on her to do list: eating her grandma's mac and cheese.
"I know it sounds so simple," Comer says, "but it's just the way she makes it."
Comer grew up mostly in Toledo, Ohio, but she moved to Lexington — where several relatives, including her grandmother, live — in 2006 for her senior year of high school.
While at Lafayette High, Comer performed in several productions, including The Sound of Music and Guys and Dolls.
After she graduated in 2007, she attended Kent State University in Ohio, majoring in theater. During summers, she came back home to Kentucky and continued to build her performing résumé.
Central Kentucky audiences might remember her from The Woodford Theatre's productions of Footloose and Oliver!; she also worked with the Lexington Children's Theatre as an ensemble cast member for Cinderella.
"I started out singing first," Comer says of her career. "I consider myself a singer who acts but can also dance."
Comer's career narrative is likely to hearten other theater majors and aspiring performance professionals. She wasn't plucked out of obscurity and made an overnight success. She worked hard, invested in training and just kept working and auditioning.
Comer learned about Southeastern Theatre Conference auditions while in college.
"You have 90 seconds to audition in front of dozens of companies," Comer says.
In 2012, SETC auditions landed Comer an invitation to work at Sight and Sound Theatres in Lancaster, Pa. Lancaster is just close enough to New York City to allow for forays into the city to audition, which Comer began doing.
When she attended the open call audition for Mamma Mia!, she got a callback. And then another and another.
"It was an intense week of auditions and callbacks," Comer says.
Once she landed the part, she had to scramble to get an apartment in New York for the duration of rehearsal. Then the company did tech rehearsal in Clemson, S.C., before launching the tour.
Comer has been on the road since October, and although the touring life can be challenging physically, she says she is having a wonderful time.
"I climbed a mountain in Arizona. I would never have been able to do that kind of thing before," she says of the adventures she has on the road. "When the tour is finished, I'll probably have been to about 45 states. I'd only been to about seven before."
Another highlight of the touring life? Family.
"I have family all across the country," Comer says, "so I've been able to catch up with them when I am in their area."
This weekend, you can expect Comer's family to be in the crowd. You also can expect them to continue rooting for her as her career unfolds.
"I'd love to play Nala in The Lion King," Comer says when asked about her dream role, adding that her ultimate goal is to originate a lead character in a musical.
"My goal is Broadway," Comer says. "I have full confidence that that is where I'll end up one day. It's just a matter of when I get there."
Candace Chaney is a Lexington writer.