Dream comes true for Ericka Hunter
She’s sung backup for Rihanna, danced her way across the Grammy’s stage with Shakira, shimmied with Justin Timberlake at the Nickelodeon Awards and performed to rapt audiences on Broadway. Yet for Ericka Hunter, there’s only one place she truly fantasizes about performing at: her hometown of Ottawa.
Now, thanks for Ottawa’s skating sweetheart, Liz Manley, the tap-dancing, song-writing, Los Angeles-based singer will have her chance to take the hometown stage as part of the Elizabeth Manley and Friends ice show in support of youth mental health awareness.Ericka Hunter is a homegrown actress, singer and dancer who will be performing in the Elizabeth Manley and Friends event.
Her break came when Manley was shown Hunter’s website after she mentioned on Dawg FM that she needed a singer for the show. “Within three hours of hearing her name, I was communicating with her,” recalls Manley, who says she wanted the ice show to feature Ottawa’s hidden singing talent as well as skating stars. “She’s so beautiful, talented and upbeat. She’s opening the show with all the stars. What better way to highlight what we have here.”
As soon as she was asked, Hunter jumped at the opportunity. “Liz didn’t ask me anything about my music. She just said, “will you do it,” says Hunter, 30. Although she won’t be skating-despite friendly pressure from Manley’s L.A.-based choreographer, Randy Gardner-she will be joined in the show by Olympians Joannie Rochette, Elvis Stojko and Nancy Kerrigan amongst others.
“I’m so excited; I’ve always wanted to tour with a Broadway show so I could perform for my family and friends in Ottawa, so this will be an amazing homecoming. I don’t think I could ever have dreamed up this possibility.”
That may be, but dreaming big has never been much of a problem in the past. Trained as a dancer since the age of three at the Greta Leeming Dance Studio, she got her first call up just as she graduated Canterbury High School, when she auditioned for-and landed-a place with the famous Radio City Music Hall Rockettes. After dancing in one of the Rockettes’ Christmas shows, she moved to Toronto to perform in the Lion King musical, then appeared in The Music Man movie, starring Mathew Broderick.
By then, New York City was calling-literally. In 2002, she landed a role in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s rarely staged production, Flower Drum Song. The day before rehearsals began, Hunter moved to the Big Apple. “After I got the role was when I found out it was a Broadway show,” she laughs. “That’s where my career really began.”
Although the show closed after 169 performances-”it came at a really bad time-a crazy snow storm that year, the musicians strike,” she recalls, Hunter had already booked her next big move: a spot in the dazzling, high-paced glamour of the musical, 42nd Street, where she debuted her tap dancing skills. “I wasn’t allowed to tap dance until 12 because it was too complicated for me,” she laughs. “Then I ended up doing a lot of it as an adult. I wasn’t that great at it, but good enough to book the job. I’m no tap dog. The only complaint my parents had was that it was a quintessential big Broadway musical, so they couldn’t find me on stage.”
Even so, they have seen her on show posters plastered around New York, says her mother, Kathleen Yang. “It would be great to see her on a billboard over Times Square, the sky’s the limit. I think it’s great; she’s doing something I could never do. She’s always been focused and driven to succeed and if there’s failure, she picks herself up and finds the positive.”
Not that there have been too many of those moments. After her New York debut, she took her song and dance act to LA, where she’s worked with some of the biggest recording acts including Jean Baptiste from the Black Eyed Peas. These days, she jets between LA and New York for regular appearances in the long-running Broadway musical, Rock of Ages.
When not criss-crossing the country, however, Hunter says she’s busy recording her first EP of electronic dance music, expected to be released this spring. Inspired by Australian electro-pop artists Sia and Kylie Minogue, Hunter says she can’t wait to perform live. “The whole point in my mind of recording music is to perform it, which is my true love. If I’m still performing my own music in five or ten years and enjoying it, that’s what I want,” she says, adding with a smile. “But rather than dancing at the Grammy’s, I’d rather be singing my own songs-at the Grammy’s.”
What: Liz Manley and Friends music on ice performance and gala dinner.
When: Jan. 25 for a Gala Dinner; Jan. 26 for the Ice Show
Where: Brookstreet Hotel, 525 Legget Drive for the gala dinner; Scotiabank Place for the ice show.
Tickets: 613-219-0633 for dinner tickets; www.capitaltickets.ca for the ice show. A portion of the funds raised will go to the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre, the Ottawa Youth Services Bureau and the DIFD (Do It For Daron) awareness campaign.
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