Behind the scenes with Kristi Tingle Higginbotham as she returns to Alabama Symphony Orchestra’s Birmingham Does Broadway on September 21

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Kristi Tingle Higginbotham on Broadway in Homewood. Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now

On Friday, September 21, Alabama Symphony Orchestra will be holding one of their most popular concerts of the year, Birmingham Does Broadway, at Samford University’s Wright Center, featuring Broadway musical classics like Les Miserables, Wicked, Phantom of the Opera, King and I, Sunset Boulevard and much more. Get tickets now.

Continuing an annual tradition, the symphony will be joined by local vocalists and theatrical performers, Kristi Tingle Higginbotham, Abijah Cunningham, Brad Simmons, Caleb Clark and the Steel City Men’s Chorus under the direction of Michael Weinberg.

Earlier this week, Bham Now talked with Birmingham Does Broadway vocalist and locally beloved performer Kristi Tingle Higginbotham about her musical career in Birmingham, a dramatic story about how she nearly missed performing on Broadway, and why this year’s Birmingham on Broadway concert will be special to her.

Catching the Bug

When asked how she got started performing in musical theater, Kristi described catching the performance bug at a young age growing up in Mountain Brook.

“Around Junior High, my parents sent me to summer camp and they wanted me to learn how to play tennis and ride a horse, but I signed up for singing, dance, and acting. I knew I was not an outdoor girl, I didn’t want to play sports. I was bitten by the bug, falling in love with musical theater.”

Kristi went on to attend Birmingham-Southern College, becoming the first student to receive a musical theater degree at the prestigious liberal arts college.

Kristi Tingle Higginbotham in the musical Gypsy. She played mama Rose last summer. Twenty years ago, she actually play the title role Gypsy. Photo courtesy of Kristi Tingle Higginbotham

Birmingham Summerfest, Jim Nabors and the Alabama Symphony

According to Kristi, the connection with Broadway musicals and the Alabama Symphony go back decades when the symphony would perform at Summerfest Musical Theatre, which is now Red Mountain Theater Company.

“My first Broadway musical was the Music Man at Summerfest. Jim Nabors (of Gomer Pyle fame) from Sylacauga performed that year. Back then, we did 3 musicals in Boutwell Auditorium. He had a beautiful voice. A huge booming baritone voice. I was just a little chubby chorus girl back then. I still remember, the curtain opening and the thrill. There were over 2,000 people there, because busloads of Sylacauga residents were coming to see him. Back in those days, the Alabama Symphony played in the ‘pit’ for those summer musicals. It was glorious playing with the symphony, whether it is in the pit playing a musical or with them behind you in formal wear in a concert.”

Kristi went on to perform for Summerfest/Red Mountain Theater and Town and Gown/Virginia Samford Theatre. Over the years she has been in 80 concerts musical and theatrical productions at those two venues and numerous symphonies across the U.S.

Almost made Broadway

Tingle Higginbotham with her quartet group called Four For Time. They were the four soloist with the Alabama Symphony Orchestra Birmingham Does Broadway three years ago. Photo from Kristi Tingle Higginbotham

Broadway is close to Kristi Tingle Higginbotham’s heart. She told us how, she nearly made it all the way to the “Great White Way.”

She had just graduated from Birmingham-Southern, when she got to work with Broadway composer and Birmingham native Hugh Martin, who was in town to work on a new musical at Town and Gown theater. Months later, Martin called Kristi and told her he was working on the Broadway musical Meet Me in St. Louis.

“He said you are my Judy Garland, so I spent all this time doing cattle calls for that musical,” said Tingle Higginbotham.

She made the final four for the lead role of Ester, who was Judy Garland’s role in the movie. Meanwhile, tragedy hit. Here is how Kristi described it.

“I came back to Alabama – I did a show with the Birmingham Children’s Theater. We were on tour with it. One evening they let us out of the hotel in Troy, Alabama. They said you are on your own for dinner, so my roommate and I crossed the street, and on the way back I was struck by a car. I was on the highway laying there. There is the Kristi Tingle Higginbotham spot on U.S. 231,” Kristi chuckled.

She had surgery the next day. The verdict – a broken arm and leg, with all ligaments destroyed. New York called back and wanting to see her for the final audition. It was six months later, but she was wearing a brace and still limping. She missed her chance at Broadway.

“After that I made Birmingham my happy place, performing with the Orchestra for years and years. It truly has been a blessing.” Kristi added.

This year’s Birmingham Does Broadway will have a special meaning for Kristi Tingle Higginbotham

Kristi Tingle Higginbotham on Broadway in Homewood. Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now

Last time Kristi did Birmingham Does Broadway was almost 3 years ago to the date of this concert.

According to Kristi it was at one of the worst times of her life.

“My son had a terrible skateboarding accident and my mother passed away two days before the concert. I remember walking in for rehearsals. Chris Confessore and the entire ASO were extremely supportive.”

Kristi dedicated “Dream a Dream” from Les Miserables and “Don’t Cry for me Argentina” to her mother at the Birmingham Does Broadway concert, two songs she sang at her mother’s bedside before she died.

“This year, is going to be special because it is so close to the anniversary of her passing. It will have special meaning,” concluded Tingle Higginbotham.

Don’t miss this year’s Birmingham does Broadway

This will be the most memorable Birmingham Does Broadway yet. Don’t miss the Alabama Symphony Orchestra! Buy your tickets today for Birmingham Does Broadway!

And, don’t forget to checkout the entire Alabama Symphony Orchestra Red Diamond Super Pops 2018/2019 season!

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Author: Pat Byington

Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.