Chugiak grad joins music star’s world tour

Saturday, April 15, 2017 - 14:58
  • Vanessa Bryan, a 2003 graduate of Chugiak High School, recently joined Tony Award winner Idina Menzel on her world tour as a backup singer and musician. (Photo by Marv Watson/Courtesy @mrvphotography)
  • Vanessa Bryan, a 2003 graduate of Chugiak High School, recently joined Tony Award winner Idina Menzel on her world tour as a backup singer and musician. (Photo by Trevor Cole/Courtesy)
  • Vanessa Bryan, a 2003 graduate of Chugiak High School, recently joined Tony Award winner Idina Menzel on her world tour as a backup singer and musician. (Photo by Marv Watson/Courtesy @mrvphotography)

Success didn’t come overnight for Vanessa Bryan. But when it came knocking, she was ready.

“Honestly, I’ve worked my entire life for this moment,” said Bryan, a musician from Eagle River who recently joined Tony winner Idina Menzel on tour as a backup singer and guitar player.

Bryan spoke from her home in Los Angeles, a day after returning to the U.S. from a tour stop in Japan. She said she met Menzel (who won a Tony for the Broadway role of Elphaba in “Wicked” and voiced the character Elsa in Disney’s “Frozen”) through friends, and the singer invited Bryan to her home. After a short audition, Menzel told Bryan she had the job.

“She was just like, ‘I’ll be in the bus behind you if you need anything,’” Bryan recalled. “It was super quick and really cool and laid back.”

Fast forward to last week, when Bryan found herself performing onstage in front of thousands of fans at the iconic Nippon Budokan in Tokyo. While in Japan, she said there were a couple times where she caught herself “just staring around and being like, ‘I can’t believe it.’”

In 2003, Bryan graduated from Chugiak High, where she sang in the school’s choir. She always knew she wanted to pursue a career in music, and moved to L.A. to follow her dream shortly after graduating high school.

“I’ve been working ever since,” she said.

Bryan has worked as a solo musician and as a singer supporting other artists. She’s a skilled guitar player and singer who has done session work, played small venues and even worked on video game soundtracks. Over more than a decade, Bryan honed her craft to the point where she feels like she’s earned her way onto the big stage.

“When I came in I felt like I belonged there, and the only way that could have come to pass is for me to experience all of these different roles in music,” she said.

When Menzel called, Bryan was working with Olivia Holt, a singer and actress known for her role in the Disney series “Kickin It.” Bryan said Holt’s representatives were 100 percent supportive of her decision to join Menzel on tour.

“They totally understood,” she said. “They made the transition very cool.”

Though she’s confident in her abilities as a musician, Bryan admitted it was a bit overwhelming to join a big tour like Menzel’s for the first time.

“I am still in awe of this journey,” she said.

Bryan’s parents both still live in Chugiak-Eagle River, though she doesn’t get to visit as often as she’d like. However, she said every time she returns home she’s instantly hit by how “the air smells different.”

“I love being able to get up there and recharge,” she said.

For now though, Bryan is busy. Very busy. She returns to the stage April 5 for a gig in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and will be on tour through early September. The tour includes more than 50 dates, with stops in the U.S., U.K., Belgium, the Netherlands and Ireland. In addition to singing, Bryan also plays guitar and does some percussion work in Menzel’s stage show, which includes many of the singer’s most popular Broadway and Hollywood hits.

It’s a role Bryan has been preparing for her whole life.

“I know for a fact this is what I was meant to do,” she said.

Bryan praised the “genius” musicians she works with, who she said have welcomed her with open arms.

“I’m just part of the crew now,” she said.

Although five months of riding tour buses and hopping planes will be a lot of hard work, Bryan said she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It’s the best job in the world,” she said.

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