MC’s Young Alumnus of the Year Credits Alma Mater for Performing Arts Successes
Ezekiel Andrew’s God-given musical talents have taken him to regional theaters from California to Connecticut, and ultimately, to the bright lights of New York City.
Later this month, one of the liveliest stars of Broadway will return to Clinton to receive the Young Alumnus of the Year Award from Mississippi College.
Andrew ‘11 credits his alma mater for starting him on a mercurial career in the performing arts that has seen him portray some of America’s best-loved musical characters, including the Phantom in “Phantom of the Opera,” the Beast in “Beauty and the Beast,” Jim in “Big River,” and Coalhouse Walker Jr. in “Ragtime.”
He has sung in operas and operettas, performed in musical theater productions, acted in Shakespearean plays, and has current pursuits in modeling, commercials, and film and television. While it’s been more than a decade since he last visited the Clinton campus, he said MC holds a special place in his heart.
“What I’m looking forward to the most is seeing my teachers,” Andrew said of his Homecoming trip to Clinton. “When you think about the people who knew you before you became in demand, it’s amazing how impactful they are in your ‘origin story.’
“Just to be able to look my teachers in the eye and say, ‘Thank you’ – that is what I’m most looking forward to.”
In keeping with his twin loves of MC and musical theater, Andrew will be returning to Clinton not only to participate in Homecoming festivities, but also to perform for a supportive audience and share his professional experiences with the current crop of talented music students at the Christian University.
In conjunction with the MC Music Department, Andrew will give a concert featuring a medley of songs from “The Lion King” at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 27, in Williams Recital Hall in the Aven Fine Arts Building. Lyric Stage @ MC students will join him for a couple of selections. A live band, including Tyler Kemp, music instructor at MC, on piano and Ben Williams, associate professor and chair of music at MC, on bass, will accompany Andrew during the performance.
Andrew also will discuss his career journey during a Musical Theater Master Class and Question-and-Answer session for MC’s music students at 2 p.m. the following day in Williams Recital Hall.
Nicholas Perna, associate professor of voice and voice pedagogy at MC, said his students look up to Andrew for his accomplishments – and his talent.
“We are so thrilled our Lyric Stage @ MC students will get to perform two songs with him,” Perna said. “It’s truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have a current Broadway star come to MC, and our students are wildly excited about It.
“I was told that he had a truly gifted voice, and that turned out to be true,” said Turcotte, vice president and executive director of Alumni Affairs at MC. “He excelled at MC, and I believe it is here that he laid the foundation for his musical career.
“He’s one of the most highly accomplished musical performers we’ve had at MC, and we’re proud of his accomplishments.”
During his senior year at MSA, Andrew went to New York for the first time to sing on stage at the famed Carnegie Hall. He credits that experience – and the training he later received at Mississippi College – for setting him on the path to stardom.
“That trip sold me on the experience of being a singer and musician and pursuing it at MC,” Andrew said. “The guys I sang with as a high school senior at MSA, who were current students at MC, are still some of my best friends today. They’ve encouraged me every step of the way and I am forever grateful. While at MC, we went on to sing at Carnegie and at the Lincoln Center another two or three times. I knew then that someday I wanted to live and work in New York City.”
He credits MC for exposing him to musical theater. As a freshmen, he was asked to audition for a role in “The King and I”. He didn’t yet know what musical theater was, but he gave it his best. Surprisingly he was cast as the King of Siam.
“It was an eye-opening experience to have that kind of responsibility when I was so young,” he said. “I grew up really fast. I studied everything I could about the musical and watched the “The King and I” movie, starring Yule Brenner, more times than I can remember. After the run of that show, I was hooked. The stage became my new home and I went on to perform in “Oklahoma,” “The Secret Garden,” “The Magic Flute,” “The Marriage of Figaro,” and countless concerts.
“I built a strong foundation and understanding of the workload necessary to perform professionally. I had the vision. I had the dream. Now we build the work ethic.”
Andrew completed his bachelor’s degree in vocal performance at MC and would continue his educational pursuits with post graduate work at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music and a master of music degree from the University of Southern Mississippi. He is a member of the MSA Alumni Hall of Fame, and was previously named the Department of Music’s Young Alumnus of the Year in 2019.
His favorite and most noted role has been his portrayal of Coalhouse Walker Jr. in “Ragtime”. Ragtime tackles the complexity and struggles of racism, immigration, and classism at the turn of the 20th century in New York City. At the heart of this story is Coalhouse Walker Jr., a ragtime pianist turned activist, and his pursuit of the American dream for his bride to be and his newborn son.
During a 2008 trip to New York with the MC Singers, Andrew saw his first Broadway show, “The Lion King”, for the first time. The ticket to the show was sponsored Bonnie Blu Williams, an adjunct instructor of music at MC. From that moment Andrew knew that he would be in that show one day.
“Talk about an investment! I didn’t lie to myself. I first auditioned for The Lion King in May 2016, while attending USM. Casting passed through New Orleans for open call auditions and I was given a spot,” said Andrew. “This was my first audition for a Broadway show, I remember that day so vividly. Through a myriad of nerves and anxiety, I showed up and gave it my best,” he said. “Though I didn’t get a role that particular audition, I kept working at it and auditioning for it over the next five years. On November 18, 2021, I made my Broadway debut as an ensemble member and Mufasa understudy,” he said. “Dreams do come true when you work hard for them. They most definitely do.”
Throughout his countless performances and despite his many travels, Andrew emphasizes the importance of continuing education to the young musical artists he counsels.
“The success of your performance hinges on your ability to learn new things, grow, and adapt. I always have to be prepared to learn and to deliver.”
He tells students that the most important skills to master in the highly competitive performing arts field are developing a strong work ethic – and maintaining a strong chin.
“If you work hard, you can have it,” he said. “There is no time frame or magic formula – you have to work. When you think you have done enough, do more.
“Stay focused and stay committed. There’s always someone working as hard or harder than you. Stay sharp, stay focused.”
Before he “treads the boards” once again at MC, Andrew may require a few moments to reflect on how far he has come since he arrived in Clinton.
“I don’t know what flood of emotions I’m going to feel, but when we get to Clinton, one of my first stops will be at the auditorium in Aven,” he said. “It would be kind of tough to cry and sing at the same time, so I’ll need to go to that auditorium so I can get all the feelings out before the concert.
“Aven is special to me – I auditioned in the Jean Pittman Williams Recital Hall before it was renovated. I haven’t sung a note on that stage since my senior recital. I look forward to stepping on the stage that grew me, my home stage.”
Andrew vividly remembers his first day of orientation at MC, sitting in Swor Auditorium in Nelson Hall next to his father, neither of whom fully realized the scope of what the University had to offer him.
“My father hadn’t been to college and this was a new journey for him and me,” Andrew said. “On the screen, they projected the Mississippi College logo, along with the words, ‘A Christian University.’ That was the first time we had seen that symbol. My father said, ‘So, Jesus lives here. Oh, you’re going to be all right.’
“MC is a special place, not only for the level and quality of education you can receive there, but because it’s a Christian university. You can tap into the heart of God, no matter your situation in life.”
General admission tickets for Andrew’s Thursday night performance cost $30 each or $15 per student. For more information or to purchase tickets, click here.