Thirteen years after she set foot on stage at the S.C. Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities, Patina Miller set foot on another stage, the Radio City Music Hall in New York City. The scene this time, to accept the Tony Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical.
“This is an honor of a lifetime,” Miller said as she accepted the award Sunday night. “This is a childhood dream come true for me, from a little Southern girl in Pageland, South Carolina, with a big dream of wanting to come to the big city and be a part of this thing, of this Broadway community.”
Daniel Murray, her teacher and coach at the Governor’s School, recalls the “awkward teenager” who auditioned for a spot at the prestigious performing and visual arts school, but even then, he said, he could tell Miller had “raw talent.”
“When you consider where she was in winter of 2000, that is extraordinary what she was able to do,” said Murray, drama chairman at the Governor’s School. “She’s managed to absolutely transform herself into a kind of artistic superhero.”
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The Tony nomination was the 28-year-old Miller’s second, but her first win. Two years ago, she got the nod for “Sister Act.”
Miller was cast as the lead in “Pippin,” the story of a mysterious circus troupe, in 2012 and has awed critics. Variety wrote: “Miller is charismatic, vocally arresting and completely in command as the troupe’s high-hatted ringmaster, insinuating and seducing with devilish intent.”
But Murray said he isn’t surprised at his former student’s success. Even though the play is a hit and Miller has much more visibility these days, with appearances on David Letterman and “The View,” it is her talent that supports her.
“You’ve really got to have a lot of game to be able to sing, dance act at the same time,” Murray said. “They’re all individual disciplines. You need to be able to do one of them well, which most people can’t do. To be able to do all three of them well enough to be where she is, you’re a decathlete.”
Miller grew up in Pageland in the Pee Dee. She wasn’t so much an actor when she auditioned at the Governor’s School, Murray said, but she got the singing without a hitch. By the time she graduated, she had earned a scholarship to Carnegie Mellon.
“She knew what she wanted,” Murray said. “And she was quick on the up take, she learned fast. So I think it’s that adaptability, and her belief in self that are strongest for me.”
Those characteristics came through when USA TODAY asked Miller what’s next after “Pippin.”
“I was really fortunate enough to do a role where I get to sing, act and be on a trapeze,” she said. “Maybe next time I’ll add to that and do something really crazy. I like pushing myself and working really hard and challenging myself as an actor.”
Murray said, it is prestigious to have a well-known award-winner associated with the Governor’s School, but not just for faculty. For students, Miller’s success makes their passion for the arts relevant, like, “me too, I can do this too,” he said.