Gateway: Living

Gig Harbor local Kirsten deLohr Helland makes her dreams come alive performing on 5th Avenue Theatre

Maria, played by Gig Harbor’s Kirsten deLohr Helland, center, plays with all the von Trapp children in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “The Sound of Music” at The 5th Avenue Theatre. The show runs through Jan. 3.
Maria, played by Gig Harbor’s Kirsten deLohr Helland, center, plays with all the von Trapp children in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “The Sound of Music” at The 5th Avenue Theatre. The show runs through Jan. 3. 5th Avenue Theatre

Gig Harbor’s Kirsten deLohr Helland is making her dreams come true at the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle.

Helland, 27, is performing the leading role of Maria in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “The Sound of Music” this holiday season.

“It’s a dream come true,” she said in an email interview, resting her voice for the next performance. “I think I bring a very relatable and loveable and human Maria to the audience. To bring this story to life every night is such an honor.”

Helland said that performing such an iconic character — which many people identify as legendary actress Julie Andrews — presents its own set of challenges.

“(The role) comes with a certain kind of pressure to be the Maria that everyone grew up watching on their TVs,” she said. “But going into this show, I knew I wasn’t Julie ...(and) I knew I never would be. So I quickly embraced the Kirsten version of Maria.”

This production of “The Sound of Music” features a local cast and is directed by David Bennett, with choreography by Trina Mills and musical direction by Kat Sherell.

“The iconic Maria is a role made famous first by Mary Martin on Broadway and then by Julie Andrews in the film,” David Armstrong, executive producer and artistic director, said in a release. “It takes a talented and charismatic performer to do the part justice, and Seattle’s own Kirsten deLohr Helland will dazzle audiences when she makes the role her own.”

While this is not Helland’s first time performing with 5th Avenue — her previous performances include Ado Annie in “Oklahoma!” in 2010 and as Rizzo in “Grease” early in 2015 — this is her first leading role for the company.

She had previously performed as Maria in the Peninsula High School production of “The Sound of Music,” as well as Adelaide in “Guys and Dolls” and as Princess Winifred in “Once Upon a Mattress.”

While at Peninsula, Helland also participated in choir — including the Razzmatazz and Madrigals ensembles — as well as All-State choirs and competitions.

It was while she was in college at Pacific Lutheran University that the role of Sally Bowles in “Cabaret” set her on the road to musical theater.

“There was no other path for me. I knew it would be hard, really hard,” she said. “But I love it so much.”

Another passion to emerge from her time at PLU is Hanschen & Ilse, an acoustic “folk-rock” duo formed with her best friend, Justin Huertas.

Hanschen & Ilse performs both original and cover songs and maintains a strong social media presence to keep the group afloat while Helland and Huertas are both busy with recent theatrical productions.

Helland is definitely busy with 5th Avenue performances — eight performances a week keeps her social life to a minimum.

“Carrying a show is physically and mentally exhausting,” she said. “If I am not healthy, the show will suffer.”

Her time at 5th Avenue has helped her learn how to better take care of herself, while also challenging her to be a better performer and a better person.

Looking toward the future, Helland remains flexible.

“I live day to day. I’d like to be able to be in theatre for as long as possible,” she said. “I want to play as many roles in as many different kinds of shows as possible. As long as I can continue to find work and happiness in Seattle, I’ll stay here and do it.”

Helland’s next 5th Avenue performance will be as Jennifer in “Paint Your Wagon,” a reimagined production by 5th Avenue set to run June 2 to 26.

“The Sound of Music” runs at the 5th Avenue Theatre through Jan. 3.

Andrea Haffly: 253-358-4155, @gateway_andrea

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