The singer and actress fell in love with the performing arts right here in the Winter Park/Maitland area.
Years before she became a world-renowned singer and actress, Mandy Moore was just starting to show her talent to the rest of the world — right here in the Winter Park/Maitland area.
Moore’s passion for singing and the stage can be traced back to Park Maitland School, where she attended from kindergarten through sixth grade in the late 1980s and early 1990s. She lived in Longwood with her family but attended the Maitland school because it had a reputation for supporting children and their natural talents — especially in the arts.
Today, Moore is a part of an ensemble cast for NBC’s hit drama, “This Is Us.” As matriarch Rebecca Pearson, she is one of the show’s most popular characters, and through the role, Moore has been able to bring storylines about issues such as alcoholism, adoption and racism into primetime TV.
THE DREAM BEGINS
Park Maitland School featured a big musical production every year for the older students at the Bob Carr Theater, and it wasn’t long before Moore — in first grade — had her heart set on performing in it as well, Moore’s mother, Stacy said.
“We went to see the show, and Mandy saw the star of the show, and it happened to be ‘Oklahoma’ that year,” Stacy said. “That was it. She said, ‘I want to do that. I want to be that girl in sixth grade.’”
Moore went on to do just that after taking voice lessons over the next several years. The 12-year-old earned the lead role as Miss Adelaide in the sixth-grade production of “Guys and Dolls” at Bob Carr.
“The show was everything, my entire world,” Mandy Moore said. “As the date approached, I remember being beside myself with adrenaline and nerves. I felt confident and ready, mostly just anxious to get those moments on stage in front of all of those people. I also remember asking my mom if I could dye my hair red because in my mind, Adelaide was a redhead — what a dork.”
Mary Margaret Bowen, a semi-retired owner/administrator at Park Maitland School, remembers Moore as a “cute little thing,” often wearing little caps and her hair in pigtails.
She also vividly remembers Moore’s sixth-grade performance that ultimately led her to pursue a career in the performing arts. It was all a wonderful surprise, Bowen said.
“When she started coming to Park Maitland, she was very shy, believe it or not,” said Bowen, who was Head of the School at the time. “All through the years, none of us knew she had the talent that she has. None of us knew she could sing.
“When she got on stage that night, she blew everybody out of the theater — she was so good,” she said. “She was amazing and stayed in character. I could see her on Broadway doing that now. She was adorable.”
Stephen Nelson, Moore’s music teacher from second through sixth grade, noticed Moore’s great dedication to music even in her elementary school years.
“Mandy was always motivated in music and used her talents quite well, always,” Nelson said. “She was very focused in class, and she always responded in music class with great joy. She just really enjoyed it.”
It wasn’t long before word spread about Moore’s talent. Her performance in the sixth-grade musical quickly garnered attention — even immediately afterward, Stacy said.
“The night of the show, John Loesser, whose father was Frank Loesser, who wrote ‘Guys and Dolls,’ came up to my husband and I and said, ‘You’ve got to get her an agent. You know how many times I’ve seen ‘Guys and Dolls’ and she’s right up there,’” Stacy said. “That got the ball rolling.”
“She was kind of a precocious kid,” said Moore’s older brother, Scott, who also attended Park Maitland School. “It was really cool to see my little sister be able to be so precocious and so talented at such a young age.”
THE DREAM IS FULFILLED
Moore would go on to join acting camps at Stagedoor Manor in New York. Her stardom continued to grow as she sang the national anthem at an Orlando Magic game and other sporting events. She attended Bishop Moore Catholic High School for one semester before signing a record deal with Epic Records, a division of Sony Music, at age 14.
Moore even came back to Park Maitland School years later to give a concert to the sixth-graders on the PE court.
“All the children just went nuts over seeing Mandy,” Bowen said. “It’s funny how quickly word spread around town. Teachers had called their friends to bring their children over to see her. We had all these children I didn’t even know.”
Moore released her first full-length album, “So Real,” in 1999, which was followed with five more releases. She went on to star in several movies, including “The Princess Diaries” and “A Walk to Remember,” also contributing her voice as Rapunzel in Disney’s “Tangled.”
But perhaps her most popular role is as matriarch Rebecca on NBC’s “This Is Us,” now in its second season. The show — known for its emotional storytelling and tearjerking potential — has received numerous accolades, including three Golden Globe nominations this year. Mandy Moore’s performance was up for Best Supporting Actress in a Series, Miniseries, or Motion Picture for TV.
Moore said she still sees her years at Park Maitland School as the beginning of her acting and singing career. The school gave her a place where she could spread her wings and discover her passion for the performing arts, Moore said.
“I feel indebted to the music and drama programs at Park Maitland,” Moore said. “Without them, I’m not sure I’d be where I am today. They introduced me to the arts in such an inclusive, celebratory environment and manner. I’m not sure I would have found my love for it had it not started at school.
“My time at Park Maitland School marked an outright shift in my life, where my dreams of being a performer were born and the makings of that side of my life started coming into focus,” she said.
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