Cyndi Steele-Harrod has lost a lot during her 41 years: her mother to heart disease, her memory to a head injury she suffered while performing, and more recently, 86 pounds. She's also missed out on a few roles, but that's something that every actor faces.
What she's gained, though, defines her in so many ways: a supportive husband, two talented sons, countless leading and secondary roles that have stretched her acting abilities, a quick wit, a disarming sense of humor and the remarkable ability to prepare students for a life in the theater.
Steele-Harrod has lived in New York for nearly six years but she's still very much an Oklahoma girl. She returns often to give master classes, direct musicals and catch up with family and friends.
One of life's many lessons is that little of value or significance can be achieved without the help of others. Steele-Harrod says she's been lucky to have had mentors who shaped, molded and guided her to be successful, not just in her career, but also in life.
“Martha Knott was my idol and I wanted to be just like her,” Steele-Harrod said. “She raised four kids, she married the man of her dreams and she was an amazing performer. She had the perfect balance. Watching her was a master class in life.
“Tamara Long believed more in me than I believed in myself. Deep down, I knew I could do it but she made me take advantage of every situation. She always said you could sleep when you die. Tamara became my subconscious. I still hear her telling me not to settle.
“Carveth Osterhaus is my mentor and he is the reason I'm a successful teacher. Because he is such a class act, he taught me how to express what I do with grace. When I struggled with a character or an acting choice, he'd always tell me to go play. Just play. That's been my mantra since I was 18 years old. It takes away the pressure and lets you have fun.”
Steele-Harrod hasn't gotten where she is by being meek or quiet. She's a risk taker, she knows how to think outside the box and she isn't afraid to speak her mind. That attitude, when combined with the oversized talent she possesses, has filled her resume with some of the most sought after roles in the musical theater.
She's played Miss Hannigan in “Annie,” Mrs. Lovett in “Sweeney Todd,” Miss Mona in “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.” She'll soon add another classic role to that list: Norma Desmond in “Sunset Boulevard.”
A joint production between the University of Central Oklahoma's Broadway Tonight series and the UCO musical theater department, this production marks the state premiere of Andrew Lloyd Webber's classic take on Billy Wilder's famous screenplay. Performances are at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 2 p.m. April 15 in UCO's Mitchell Hall Auditorium, 100 N University Drive.
“I'm not going to be your typical Norma,” Steele-Harrod said. “First of all, you don't have to be pencil thin to play Norma. I knew at age eight that I wanted to be a character actress. I wanted to get the laughs. You find success when you're young and then you try to reinvent yourself.
“There were people who told me I'd be washed up at 30. But I'm still working and, knock wood, I know I have a lot of years left in me. Playing Norma has been the most glorious journey I've ever taken.”
HAVE YOU MET?
Scan this QR code or go online to NewsOK.com to watch Cyndi Steele-Harrod perform “As If We Never Said Goodbye.”