Lorna Courtney possesses a focused determination that is rare for most 24-year-olds.
Born and raised in Queens, she took the initiative to apply to the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, entering the esteemed program at age 12. From there, she steadily ascended through the ranks of celebrated drama programs, pursued a successful side career modeling in New York fashion shows, and made her Broadway debut at 20 in Dear Evan Hansen as an understudy.
Now, she’s leading a musical for the first time, as the titular heroine of the Broadway production of & Juliet. In the show, Juliet chooses to not kill herself after Romeo’s death, and instead learns to speak up for herself, and how to identify what she actually wants from her life. Belting out Swedish songwriter Max Martin’s pop music masterpieces eight times a week, Courtney is now a Tony nominee for her performance. & Juliet has picked up nine Tony nominations for the 76th Annual Tony Awards.
“It's a lot to handle!” Courtney smiles, waving away the whirlwind of her first leading lady Broadway experience. “It is very emotional, for sure. I feel so grateful and so blessed to have this opportunity to share my experiences, and everything that makes me who I am.”
When Courtney auditioned for the production, & Juliet was in the middle of its smash-hit run in the West End, where original Juliet Miriam-Teak Lee had just won the Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Musical. No pressure.
“I was extremely nervous,” Courtney laughs. “I knew they already had an idea of who Juliet was supposed to be, but the creative team gave me so much freedom to play.” It helped that she knew through the grapevine that one of the other finalists for the show was Ben Jackson Walker, a friend of hers from college who was eventually cast opposite Courtney as Romeo.
“Our managers worked in the same company together, so we both knew when I got the offer for Juliet and when he got the offer for Romeo.” At the memory, Courtney leans forward, her eyes alight. “We were so ecstatic. When we went away to Toronto for three months [for the show’s pre-Broadway tryout], we were in a dorm-like situation, so everyone grew really close. We had pasta nights, game nights. The show was running in London, but it felt like we were creating something new together, and that process has been nothing but joy.”
One part of customizing the show to Courtney’s personality: Incorporating Courtney’s personal jewelry into her costume.
“I wear two rings onstage. One is my great aunt’s gold ring that she gave me when I was in the fifth grade. The other one is an opal ring, which is my birthstone, that my mom gave me for my eighth grade graduation.” Courtney holds out her hands, fluttering her fingers to show them off amongst her other pieces of daytime jewelry. “Sometimes, if I'm feeling snazzy, I'll also wear a bracelet that my best friend gave me—a gold bracelet on my right wrist.”
Courtney describes leading & Juliet as a “crash course in growing up.” The role has helped Courtney identify her own voice and become more confident. “Juliet makes her own choices and decisions. She has this barrier against anything that has hatred or negativity, and just exudes these rays of positivity and love. I think of it like a forcefield, and I’m trying to have it in real life, too.”
After almost every performance, Courtney is inundated with fans who, after hearing her belt out empowerment anthems such as “Roar” and “Stronger,” feel like they can conquer the world. “There are so many people each night who need encouragement, or empowerment, or uplifting, that laughter and joy that everyone gets from the show. It's surreal, and it's wonderful. I'm so blessed to have this job, and to be able to change lives.”
Her own life included. Courtney’s elementary and middle schools have brought multiple groups of students to the show to see Courtney shine. Reflecting on how far she’s come makes her emotional.
“I'm from South Ozone Park. I’m a Queens girl. To be up on that stage, and to know they’re literally out there, watching me tell this story—” Courtney swallows a catch in her throat, “it’s full circle. My favorite part is after the show, when I sign for the little girls with their moms. Their eyes are so big, and they're just so inspired. That’s why I love doing what I get to do.”