PEORIA — Though Bradley University is not listed among the top performing arts colleges in the U.S., BU alum Eric Petersen, a rising star who has performed on Broadway and in numerous movies and television shows, credits the BU Theater Department with giving him a great start.
“Because it is a smaller program I got so much experience — I was the lead in so many shows,” said Petersen during a recent phone interview from his home in Los Angeles. “The professors really worked with me and pushed me. I was a snot-nosed kid, but they shut that down and taught me that you have to have a good work ethic. I learned so much at Bradley. When I got to Broadway and was a lead in a Broadway show, I said ‘I can do this. I know what to do.’”
Petersen will perform with the BU Jazz Ensemble during “Eric Petersen Sings Broadway” at the Hartmann Center for the Performing Arts Nov. 30 and Dec. 1.
It’s the second time Petersen has returned to BU to perform since graduating in 2003. He performed “Come Fly With Me” with the Jazz Ensemble in 2015.
“It was a great success. We sold out some of the shows,” said Petersen. “This time we’re doing more Broadway tunes.”
The performance will include music from the three Broadway musicals Petersen has performed in — “Shrek,” “School of Rock,” and “Escape to Margaritaville.” The show will also include a good dose of Frank Sinatra.
“I love Frank Sinatra,” said Petersen. “I fell in love with Sinatra when I was 9 or 10 years old, watching “Anchors Aweigh” on TV. I started watching it all the time. It had to be so funny to see a 10-year-old boy crooning in his room.”
Though Petersen performed in the church choir while growing up in Carol Stream, he didn’t have any formal voice training until he was cast in “School of Rock,” a very demanding production.
“It was the most challenging thing I’ve ever done,” said Petersen. “The show is super physical — you are running around on stage, shouting at people and singing, so when I came to the production, I was told that everyone is put with this voice teacher, Joan Lader. I learned so much from her. I wouldn’t have been able to do the year-long run of that show without her.”
By that time Petersen already had a lot of experience in Broadway musicals, and had been the lead in the first national tour of “Shrek,” a year-long gig which took him all over the U.S.
“My daughter was born two nights after that show opened,” said Petersen, who now has two children, Sophia, 8, and Miles, 3. Though his fellow cast members flew to the cities where they performed, Petersen and his wife Lisa drove a minivan filled with baby equipment from city to city.
“My wife is a rock star,” said Petersen.
Though Petersen works on both coasts, the family recently settled in Los Angeles where Lisa teaches preschool. The pair have been together since the summer after Petersen graduated from BU. They met while doing dinner theater in Michigan.
“She said she was moving to New York at the end of the season, so even though I was planning to move to Los Angeles, I told her I was moving to New York too,” said Petersen. “It ended up being a good decision.”
In New York Petersen discovered a love for musical theater he hadn’t previously recognized.
“I didn’t do a lot of musical theater at Bradley, but in New York there are basically two paths you can take — you either do the down and dirty off-Broadway plays, or you can go the musical theater route, which pays better.”
Petersen has also been successful in TV and movies. In 2013 he was cast in “Kirstie,” which starred Kirstie Alley and aired for a year on TV Land. He’s also had roles in “NCIS,” “Big Bang Theory,” “Modern Family,” the Disney series “Jessie,” and “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.” One of his recent projects is a role in the new Coen brothers’ movie “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” which started airing on Netflix Nov. 16.
Leslie Renken can be reached at 686-3250 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter.com/LeslieRenken, and subscribe to her on Facebook.com/leslie.renken.