“I was sitting in my office,” Jessica Vosk recalls. “I had just been promoted. It was right before a pitch meeting for a client, and I remember I got lightheaded and shaky, and my palms were sweating, and I was having a panic attack. I had never had a panic attack before. I was like, ‘Oh my God, what is happening right now? I don’t understand.’ I realized, ‘I’m so stressed out where I am. People would flourish at this job.’ It’s a great job to have, but it had hit me that I hadn’t done anything that I really wanted to do.”
Vosk was an associate director for a boutique investor relations firm in New York City, where she consulted major companies on Wall Street. She had clients all over the United States, and traveled around the world for work. But the New Jersey native didn’t have to look any further than her own backyard for what she truly wanted.
She grew up in a musical family, the daughter of two artistic parents, and pursued a degree in musical theatre at The Hartt School in West Hartford, CT, until she realized that the program wasn’t for her. Feeling lost, she resumed college at Montclair State University, graduating with a degree in Communications and Public and Investor Relations.
“Before I actually put a cap and gown on and walked in graduation,” she explains, “I got a job in Manhattan in finance, and I worked there for six months before I had to take a day off to graduate, which was wild.”
At 27 years old, she decided to trade in her business suit for Broadway ambitions. “It sucks—it really does—when you have to make a life decision by yourself and not everybody might support you,” she says, “but it’s not about them. I remember sitting in that cubicle being like, ‘I cannot live with this stress,’ and then I was out of there six months-nine months later.”
It wasn’t easy, but it was doable. Before putting in her notice, Vosk would work her Wall Street job from 8 AM-6 PM on Mondays, have dinner, and head to Birdland for Jim Caruso’s Cast Party, the popular open-mic night in New York to meet and mingle with industry folk and fellow hopefuls. It wasn’t long before the singer (now a go-to Broadway concert guest star) was noticed. By word of mouth, her name made it to theatrical musical director Paul Gemignani.
“Paul Gemignani gave me my first job,” Vosk explains. “The job was a show Kristina by [Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus of] ABBA, and it was at Carnegie Hall. I thought that I would audition for it, and it ended up being a straight offer. To this day, I thank my lucky stars that he took a chance on me. He really, really took the biggest leap in saying, ‘Apparently her voice is really good. I don’t know who she is, but I’m going to give her a chance.’ I was the guppy in the pool of very well-seasoned performers, some of [whom] are great friends to this day. [I] walked in the room the first day, met the guys of ABBA, and [thought], ‘I’m going to be singing in the ensemble of this show—no problem!’ Then Paul Gemignani walks over to me, introduces himself [and says], ‘I’m giving you a featured role.’”
Vosk played original Mamma Mia! star Louise Pitre’s daughter in Kristina and was asked to reprise her performance at London’s Royal Albert Hall. It was her first professional gig and a launching point for the new career she’d embarked upon, but, still, “It was really intimidating,” she admits. “Sometimes, you feel like you have to prove yourself just a little bit more, and that’s fine, girl. I’ll do it! Not a problem. But it doesn’t mean it’s easy; it’s really hard.”
Audition after audition led her to her Broadway debut at age 30 in Jason Robert Brown’s The Bridges of Madison County. She was cast as a swing, and she made her principal debut as Marian, the role played by Whitney Bashor, on a night that Brown conducted the orchestra. Now that the Broadway dream had finally become a reality, Vosk says that she used her “business brain” to maintain relationships and be the actor theatre creatives wanted to work with time and again. She went from 2014’s Bridges to the 2015 Broadway bows of Finding Neverland and Fiddler on the Roof.
When it was announced that she’d be leaving the role of Fiddler’s Fruma-Sarah behind, it was because Vosk had been cast as the outspoken, but gifted, green girl Elphaba in the national tour of the megahit musical Wicked. It’s the hardest job she’s had, Wall Street included—but, by far, the most rewarding. “The stress never ends,” she says. “It’s just a stress that I prefer.”
Though she’s now committed to the life of uncertainty that comes with being an actor, she thinks she’s made the right choice. “If this is what you want to do, then you do it,” she says. “And, you will succeed. There’s no story of success. None of us are getting an award for doing this in two years. There’s no Tony Award for fastest success story; it doesn’t exist. … If you feel like the right thing to do is to go and leave and be a performer, then you’ve got to do it, even if it really sucks for a little while. Even if it’s Ramen noodles and hot dogs, it’s your life.
“You will make the choice, and literally everything will fall into place. … If you don’t leave a current situation, whatever it may be, and go experience whatever it is that you really want to do, you’ll always be wondering. It is the scariest thing ever, but you have to do things that scare you. You have to.”
Michael Gioia is the Features Manager at Playbill.com. Follow him on Twitter at @PlaybillMichael.