Grady Bowman can't remember a time he wasn't performing. He cut his teeth on the theatre seats. He grew up performing. Grady, the son Up & Coming Weekly Publisher Bill Bowman and his wife, Merrilyn, spent countless hours at Cape Fear Regional Theater and at the Fort Bragg Playhouse as a youngster. Some of that time was spent watching his beloved uncle Leonard McLeod on stage. When he was old enough, he stepped out of the audience and on to the stage. He did what came naturally.
"I used to watch Leonard and think, I can do that," said Bowman. "It just seemed to be something I really liked."
Many local residents will remember Bowman from his stints on the stage at the CFRT or maybe from television's Young Indiana Jones, or even from his part in Forrest Gump. But while television and movies seemed to like Bowman, his eyes were set on the bright lights of Broadway.
With that in mind, he admits that he never actually chose performing as a career, it was just part of who he is.
"It was one of those things where it was always a part of what I did and what I was doing," said Bowman. "I can't ever remember a moment where I decided this is what I want to do. I don't ever remember there being a clear choice or a clear decision, it was kind of the natural progression of things and the natural path of things."
Bowman, an all-star athlete at 71st High School, attended the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, but his sights were always set a little higher, and he put in the hard work to make sure he could reach his goals.
At 27, Bowman has a resume that many life-long performers only dream of: he's traveled the world teaching and performing, and he's been in three Broadway productions (Pirate Queen, South Pacific and most recently Billy Elliot). South Pacific won seven Tony Awards last year and Billy Elliot received 10 this year.
Aside from talent and working hard, Bowman says that dedication and confidence really are key when it comes to succeeding as a performer.
"I just think it is one of those things, if you are going to decide to do it you can't be afraid of it," said Bowman. "I have a lot of friends who move up to New York to be in this business and they get up there and get a temp job or waitressing job and they don't go to auditions because they are just kind of afraid of the whole thing and intimidated by it. It is something you just have to dive into. If you make the decision to do it you've got to do it all the way or you can't expect anything from it."
In a move that surprised a lot of people, even to a small extent Bowman himself, he elected to leave the cast of the wildly popular Billy Elliot and take a stab at something new. He packed his bags and headed to Florida to work on a new show called Wonderland: Alice's New Musical Adventure, and will be traveling through the beginning of the year. The music for Wonderland is by Frank Wildhorn, the composer of The Civil War and Jekyll & Hyde, with lyrics by Jack Murphy. Gregory Boyd will direct.
"I have to learn all the male ensemble tracks in the show and I only go on when someone is sick or injured," said Bowman. "Which is great too, because you see the show from several different perspectives, which I really like."
Once he returns to New York from the tour, Bowman intends to take some time to work on a few things that have been on the back burner recently. With a solid record as a performer, he is looking to make his mark in other areas now.
"I would love to work as much as a choreographer as I am as a performer," said Bowman. "I think that I should keep performing. I love to do it and I should probably keep doing it while my body is still able to do it. I guess the ultimate goal is to transition into choreography and choreograph a show that you are really attached to and really believe in. You wanna be able to work on projects that you believe in artistically and that fulfill you - even if they are not going to get you commercially recognized and what not."
Being a risk taker is just part of the deal when it comes to pursuing dreams, but Bowman doesn't have a problem with that - he's come this far and has no doubts that he can reach the heights he's been dreaming of.
"It is hard to find a balance between that kind of stuff and making money because you've got to make money to live in New York," said Bowman. "You just have to find that balance."