by Len Lear
There was never much doubt that Allison Miller (professional name Allison Blackwell) was going to be a singing star. As a little girl, she was a founding member of Temple University Children’s Choir. She was also in her Springfield Township High School’s Thespian Group and show choir, and at Spelman College (Atlanta, GA) the 1997 Springfield HS alumna was involved in the College Glee Club and various theater productions.
And you might even say that the Wyndmoor native has impressive musical talent in her DNA. Now both retired, her dad, Horatio Miller, was a concert pianist, and her mother, Judith Willoughby, was a conductor. They met at Temple University Boyer College of Music and Dance in graduate school, and both became professors of music there.
“So performing was always something in my life,” Blackwell told us in a previous interview. “I decided that I wanted it to be a permanent part in my life after graduating from college. I was toying with being an entertainment lawyer and was working as a congressional aide in D.C. for Stephanie Tubbs Jones, a Congresswoman from Cleveland, Ohio. Performing opportunities kept opening up to me, and I couldn’t do both, so I decided to trust my gut and pursue a career in music instead.”
When I asked Blackwell last week if she has ever regretted not becoming an entertainment lawyer, she quickly replied, “No. LOL!”
An only child, Blackwell’s obvious talent and dedication have elevated her up the ladder of success with no real missteps along the way. In August she finished a year-long run of the Broadway musical “Pretty Woman: The Musical” at the Nederlander Theatre. Miller had been involved with the show, based off the blockbuster Hollywood film starring Richard Gere and Julia Roberts, since its out-of-town tryout in Chicago.
According to theater critic Ben Brantley, of the New York Times, “It’s worth noting that at the performance I attended, the number that received the biggest applause wasn’t one of those wistful soliloquies about feelin’ free or even a high-spirited number about following your dreams. No, the loudest clapping came when Allison Blackwell, the soprano performing Violette in ‘La Traviata’ (the play within a play) sang her character’s farewell declaration of love. Something like real passion had finally entered the building.”
Blackwell just finished doing two solo concerts in Hawaii, and she has several guest performances planned in New York before the end of the year. She is hoping to get back to perform with the Philly Pops soon and is currently working on her debut album.
But Blackwell’s favorite performance ever was playing Fantine in “Les Miserables.” “She is such a strong yet vulnerable character,” said the Wyndmoor native.
“I learned so much about myself diving into the role and learned to appreciate my parents a lot more for all the sacrifices they made for me.”
According to a review of “Les Miserables” in the Dallas Voice, “Even his [the male lead’s] singing, though, is outshone by Allison Blackwell’s Fantine, whose rendition of ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ should be used to force Anne Hathaway to give back her Oscar.”
Blackwell, who has lived in New York City for 15 years, currently studies with vocal coach Darren Cohen. In 2013, she was blessed to play one of her musical idols, Aretha Franklin, in “A Night with Janis Joplin.”
A review in USA Today stated, “Allison Blackwell veers from a stunning operatic rendering of ‘Summertime’ to a shivery, booming impersonation of Aretha Franklin.”
Blackwell, whose own favorite singers and musicians are Leontyne Price, Maria Callas, Judy Garland, Ella Fitzgerald, Barbra Streisand, Sarah Vaughn, Nat King Cole, Itzhak Perlman and Duke Ellington, told us that the hardest thing she ever had to do was “to sing at my grandmother’s funeral ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ from the musical ‘Carousel.’ I made it through the song but barely.”
What is Blackwell’s most treasured possession?
What is her most impressive characteristic?
What is it that Blackwell would still love to achieve?
“I just love the history of London, England. When you walk along those streets, you feel you are surrounded by history and so much legacy. Gives me shivers to think about it. One of my goals is to perform in a show on the West End and spend some real time in the city. Fingers crossed.”
Visit AllisonBlackwell.com for more information.