From small town Michigan to the Big Apple, Saginaw Valley State University alumna Madalyn McHugh's determination and hard work helped her pursue her dreams of becoming a Broadway-trained performer. After fine-tuning her talents in New York City, that dream has since grown even larger.
“It’s about the people I meet along the way, while constantly growing to become the best performer and human along the way,” she said of her journey as a stage talent lately.
That personal and performative growth included her selection to a prestigious New York City-based development program for aspiring Broadway performers, her participation in a virtual holiday musical event captivating audiences in the region this month, and the development of a pop music album.
Before graduating from SVSU in December 2017 with a bachelor's degree in music, McHugh was highly engaged as a performer during her undergraduate years. She participated in the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival. And she was a member of two SVSU vocal ensembles, the Cardinal Singers as well as the Concert Choir, where she was a section leader.
“SVSU was the first gamechanger for me,” the Caro native said.
Her professors were extremely helpful and receptive to new ideas, she said. McHugh said she was always asked, “What are your dreams and goals?,” and she felt supported when they offered guidance toward those goals.
“You can try things, you can fail, and you have people here at SVSU to help you and pick you up again,” she said.
After graduation, McHugh in 2018 was selected to participate in the Open Jar Institute residency. The two-month-long training process provides learning opportunities for aspiring actors from Broadway directors, actors, singers, dancers, and choreographers. At the institute, she participated in workshops and auditioned for Broadway productions, national tours, regional theatres and more.
“Open Jar was a big gamechanger, where I went from not understanding the theatre realm in New York very well to knowing all about the ins and outs of Broadway ... and living in New York,” McHugh said.
Perseverance and determination helped keep McHugh’s hopes high as she attended audition after audition. After audition No. 80, she felt a new wave of determination as she dedicated herself to her craft despite not yet being cast in a production. As she hit her lucky number – audition No. 81 – she decided to take a chance and approach the director.
“I decided to do something different,” she said, even though she typically defines herself as a “rule follower.”
While approaching the director did not lead to her being cast in that production, the experience and strengthened network of professional peers led to her next audition. And she received that next role, for “Outlaws and Angels,” produced by Florida Studio Theatre in Sarasota, Florida.
She temporarily moved to Florida for six months beginning in October 2019, performing in 150 shows before the COVID-19 pandemic suspended the production earlier this year.
Since then, McHugh has traveled back and forth between New York City and Michigan, working to develop a pop music duo. The group, McHugh Girl, features McHugh and her songwriting sister, Mackenzie. The siblings are recording a debut album. The first released single, titled “Ex Boyfriend,” is available to stream on most music platforms.
Residents in the Great Lakes Bay Region also may recognize McHugh’s voice from her performance this month in “NOEL: Experience Christmas,” a holiday-themed virtual musical production organized by a nonprofit organization by the same name. The organization – which features a leadership team with many SVSU ties, including two alumni – pre-recorded performances at the Temple Theatre in downtown Saginaw. The group began posting the production as a series of performances on social media earlier this month. The installments will continue until Christmas Day, when the work will be consolidated into one video.
McHugh’s contribution to “NOEL: Experience Christmas” included a performance of “O’ Holy Night.”