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Faces: From children's theater to center stage, Pequot Lakes actress leads upcoming 'Bus Stop' play

Brianna Engels, of Pequot Lakes, plays the role of the nightclub singer, Cherie, in the upcoming Pequot Lakes Community Theatre production of “Bus Stop.” Theresa Bourke / Echo Journal

The stage has always called Brianna Engels' name.

"I think I was probably destined to be a performer in some way," the community theater actress said. "My grandma used to perform the pre-show at the Woodtick Theater in Akeley, and she would have me do things in her show with her, so from the time I was able to walk, I was being put on stage."

Engels didn't mind the spotlight as she grew up in Akeley. Her first official role came at the ripe old age of 5, when she played a dodo bird in the Prairie Fire Children's Theatre production of "Alice in Wonderland."

High school brought Engels to a bigger stage, where she started doing one-act plays and musicals with her peers. She starred as Ado Annie in "Oklahoma!" for her first lead role and then went on to play Miss Adelaide in "Guys and Dolls." Those two roles proved to be extremely influential.

"Even though it was just high school, I think that that was when it really solidified to me that I wanted to find ways to be able to perform after that," she said. "I didn't want to stop."

And she didn't stop.

Later in high school Engels did a show with the Northern Lights Opera Company and then took a break for a couple of years before moving to Pequot Lakes and taking on backstage work. In 2014, she found her way back to the mainstage and has since played minor roles in "Legally Blonde the Musical," "My Fair Lady" and "She Loves Me" with Pequot Lakes Community Theater.

Now Engels is starring as nightclub singer Cherie in the upcoming PLCT production "Bus Stop."

The show is set in 1955 and follows an eclectic group of bus passengers who get stranded overnight at a diner during a snowstorm.

"The characters in 'Bus Stop' are really interesting," Engels said. "It's got some really funny moments and some interactions that really make you have to stop and think, so it's got a nice mixture of the really funny and the really thought-provoking, and I think that's a really interesting juxtaposition."

Engels dubbed the show as a 1950s era romantic comedy with a twist.

"I think it's a nice snapshot into the sort of thing that was thought to be romantic in the '50s," she said. "But it's got some stuff in there that you wouldn't see in a normal romantic comedy."

As for Cherie, Engels enjoys the character's feisty and aggressive nature.

"She's almost more aggressive than Bo, who's the cowboy who has dragged her on this bus to drag her off and marry her, and she's not having it at the beginning," Engels said, adding that throughout the play, Cherie tries to figure out where to find happiness. "By the end, she at least thinks she has figured it out."

Taking on a lead role like Cherie is no easy task, but Engels is lucky enough to have the support and "undying patience" of her husband, Will, to help her.

"I spend so much time rehearsing, and I'm walking around the house talking to him in a southern accent because I have to practice my accent, and he puts up with it amazingly. I wouldn't trade him for the world, and I wouldn't be able to do this if it wasn't for him," she said. "He's willing to basically allow me to put in the hours that I would for a second job to make sure I'm doing what I need to do, and I don't think just anybody would do that."

And with that support, Engels get to continue doing what she loves.

"There's something special about being able to make people feel something," she said. "Whether I can make them laugh or leave them at least thinking about what they've seen. I think that's the best part."

'Bus Stop'

When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Friday, July 11-13, and Tuesday-Thursday, July 17-19.

Where: Pequot Lakes High School auditorium.

Tickets: $14 for adults, $12 for seniors (60+) and $10 for youth. Visit www.glapa.info or call 218-568-9200. Credit cards are accepted.

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