OGDEN — People say it all the time — how they’ve been preparing for some huge, momentous thing their entire life.
Indeed, you hear it so often, the sentiment loses some of its impact.
But in the case of Jane Bruce, truer words were never spoken.
For about as long as anyone can remember, Bruce has been laser-focused on a three-step childhood dream: become an actress, move to New York City, work on Broadway. Today, at 29, Bruce has realized that dream.
The Ogden native is currently appearing — well, had been appearing, until the COVID-19 pandemic basically shut down NYC and all her theaters — in the Broadway premiere of “Jagged Little Pill.” The rock musical features the tunes of singer-songwriter Alanis Morissette, with book by Diablo Cody (perhaps best known for her debut feature film script “Juno”).
“It’s so cool to be an original cast member of something on Broadway,” Bruce said in a recent telephone interview from her parents' Ogden home. “It’s a really special show.”
The musical opened Dec. 5 on Broadway and was doing eight shows a week until the coronavirus shut everything down on March 12.
With “Jagged Little Pill” on hiatus and two roommates coming home from international travel, Bruce didn’t want to take the health risk and decided it was as good a time as any to head home to Utah.
“I hadn’t anticipated being home all year because of the show,” Bruce said, “so I guess that’s the silver lining in all of this.”
Her boyfriend, whom she calls “an amazing composer and songwriter,” remained behind in NYC.
“He says New York is kind of a ghost town now,” Bruce said. “He orders lots of delivery, and wipes it all down meticulously with Chlorox wipes.”
Bruce recalls her introduction to theater. It was an opera that she and her fellow students at Hillcrest Elementary School — aided by their teacher — wrote and performed.
“I”m sure the music teacher did more of the opera-writing than us 10-year-olds, but it was still a fun, collaborative process,” Bruce said.
When it came time for casting the opera, Bruce’s heart was set on being the star of the show — she confesses she wanted the biggest part possible.
“I was always,” Bruce pauses, searching for the right word, “flamboyant, I’d say. I desperately wanted to be the lead in the play. I had short hair at the time, and I believed I should play the male lead because it was the biggest part.”
Unfortunately, the teacher didn’t agree with little her progressive ideas, saying they’d be casting roles according to gender. Bruce had to settle for the second-biggest part, that of the River Princess.
Second billing didn’t go over well with the young actress. So after that first taste of the stage, she began calling all the local community theaters, “asking if they cast their shows ‘according to gender,’” she recalls. Bruce ended up doing a lot of shows at Terrace Plaza Playhouse in Washington Terrace; she also starred in musicals at both Mount Ogden Junior High and Ogden High schools.
“But it was that little opera in fifth grade that set my mind to being in New York and becoming a professional actor on Broadway,” she said.
On to high school
Bruce says she loved her high school acting classes; she learned quite a bit from then-Ogden High theater teacher Joe Crnich.
Crnich, who is now the theater director and department chair at Juan Diego High School in Salt Lake City, says he remembers Bruce as not only talented, but hard-working and dedicated to success.
And he says that work ethic went well beyond the subject of drama.
“She was extremely hard working, extremely hungry — not just for theater knowledge, but in all of her classes,” Crnich said. “She’s always been very hungry and driven to improve herself and gain knowledge and skill.”
Crnich also praises Bruce for her willingness to tackle a wide range of characters.
“She’s very fearless in the sense of what roles she takes on,” he said. “She just throws herself into completely losing herself in the parts she plays.”
As much as Bruce learned in high school theater, she also benefited from speech and debate classes. Bruce excelled at dramatic interpretation, an event in which a participant chooses an excerpt from a published work and performs it. Bruce says she usually “Frankensteined” literary pieces together for her entries; she qualified for nationals in the event and even won nationals as a senior.
Bruce says she learned volumes from her participation in these dramatic interpretation competitions.
“It taught me a lot about acting, how to listen to a room and tell a story,” she said. “I’m kind of a big theater nerd in the sense that I love doing the work. I love to crack the code of why something works, how to land a joke, or how to find a level of honesty in the work I do.”
'Not an easy road'
After high school, Bruce attended the prestigious musical theater program at the University of Michigan. After college, she went straight to New York to pursue acting.
“I moved to New York in the summer with one of my friends,” she said. “We sublet from a drag queen — it was the nicest apartment I’ll ever live in.”
Bruce spent the next few years hopping around, subletting apartments from various people and pursuing her acting career in and out of the city.
“I don’t think I even signed a lease until I’d lived in New York for five years,” Bruce said. “I kept climbing the ladder, trying to get my food in the right doors. Fortunately, (the University of) Michigan has a reputation, so having that on my resume was a huge gift.”
Still, it wasn’t easy.
“I’m just now making my Broadway debut, and I’ve lived in the city for almost seven years,” Bruce said. “It’s certainly not an easy road, but the experiences have been worth it, and very valuable. I’m a person who likes learning from things.”
Indeed, Bruce confesses that a few months before auditioning for “Jagged Little Pill,” she was contemplating a change of scenery.
“I was feeling uncertain, thinking about moving to Chicago or switching to a different city,” she said. “I also write music, and I had written a song that talks about, 'When is the point where you decide it’s too late for something?'”
Fortunately, shortly after that, Bruce got an audition for “Jagged Little Pill.”
Audition, audition, audition
Crnich said there’s always a little bit of luck involved in landing parts in the theater, but hard work and talent can give that luck a little boost.
“Jane’s a brilliant musician and singer on her own,” Crnich said. “This didn’t just happen — she didn’t just step off the boat or the bus and get discovered. It was audition, audition, audition. She struggled for what she got, and paid her dues.”
And even once you “arrive,” being a Broadway actress is anything but a cakewalk, Bruce says.
“It’s hard,” she said. “Eight shows a week is incredibly hard on your body.”
Jane Bruce is the older of the two daughters of Stephen and Kate Bruce, of Ogden. Her sister Claire, four years Jane’s junior, teaches third grade at a Salt Lake City school. Their father is a doctor; their mother is a local artist.
In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, all four are now at home together in Ogden, hunkered down with “lots of animals,” according to Kate.
Jane fills her time with hikes and yoga and sleeping in — not to mention the occasional online audition and callback.
Kate says her daughters are “super close,” although that wasn’t always the case.
“Jane wasn’t necessarily thrilled to get a little sister, initially,” Kate says. “She likes being the one-and-only, truly. We have some pictures from when they were little, with Jane holding her baby sister, and the look on Jane’s face says, ‘I’d like to kill her but (mom and dad) would probably get angry.’”
Kate says Claire could have been an accomplished actress, if she'd wanted it.
“Claire could have done the same thing; she’s quite talented and very funny,” Kate Bruce said. “She was the lead in all her high school musicals as well.”
But Kate says Claire came to her when she was in ninth grade — Jane had just finished her musical theater degree in college — and asked, “Mom, are you going to be upset if I don’t want to do this in college?”
“Claire told me, ‘I really want to be a teacher,’” Kate recalls. “Both girls decided what they wanted to do early on and stuck to it.”
Kate says Jane has worked consistently since moving to New York to pursue acting.
“And I’m pretty sure, since probably 2015, that she has supported herself totally as an actress,” she said.
Jane has done a few off-Broadway shows and some national commercials and advertisements, as well as a little television — a “Law and Order: SVU” episode, a Netflix show and some work for the Discovery Channel.
As parents, Stephen and Kate Bruce have tried to be supportive but realistic of their daughter’s dream.
“I don’t think I ever doubted,” Kate said. “I knew if she could get in the room, she could get the job. She’s pretty spectacular.”
Kate and Stephen were in New York City for opening night of “Jagged Little Pill” on Broadway, an experience that Kate calls “kind of surreal.”
Jane is in the cast ensemble, which acts as a sort of Greek chorus for the musical. She’s also the understudy for a couple of the lead roles.
“And I get to wear some cool lime green leopard-and-zebra-print pants,” she said with a laugh.
It was perhaps Mom’s proudest moment, her daughter’s Broadway debut.
“Would I have loved her to be the lead?” Kate asked. “Yes, and I can’t wait to go back and see her when she covers one of the leads. But very few people actually get there — she can actually make a living in New York on Broadway.”
Kate still gets goosebumps thinking of her daughter’s Broadway debut, and that moment when she and her fellow cast members took their bows at the end of that first show.
“I’m horrible,” Kate said. “Every moment I see her on stage, I cry. I truly am a mess — she can make me cry. I’m just amazed at what she’s capable of doing.”
'Jagged Little Pill'
For her part, Jane says opening “Jagged Little Pill” and getting a standing ovation on Broadway is something she’ll never forget.
“I still have to pinch myself,” she said. “In many ways I’m thinking that I’m living the dream, but I’m also constantly working on what I want to achieve.”
She admits that living her dream isn’t what she expected it to be — “and that’s great.” Jane says what she wants from her career is constantly shifting and evolving.
Going forward, Jane hopes to continue to act in new works. She’s writing her own musical this year, and plans to release more of her music.
And she’s excited for the day that “Jagged Little Pill” again opens, once the coronavirus pandemic has subsided.
“It’s really wild, it feels pretty bizarre,” Jane said of the country basically shutting down. “But the good thing is I feel the show is in a good place, with a lot of amazing fans, and I’m confident we’ll be able to come back when all of this dies down. And then it will feel like Opening Night 2.0.”
Whatever Jane does in the future, Kate says she’s just proud of the person her daughter has become.
“She’s kind, she’s smart and she’s gracious,” Kate said. “She’s taken this gift of a talent and she’s worked hard, but she’s also stayed grounded and is an all-around wonderful person. The people my girls are, that’s the best moment for me — the people that they’ve become.”