by Mo Brady
She’s originated a leading role on Broadway. She’s a graduate of one of the nation’s leading performer training institutions. She’s performed in the most famous theatrical juggernaut to come out of Broadway since A Chorus Line. And yet, she can’t rent a car. At 24 years old, Samantha Pollino is one of Broadway longest-running ensemblists with a wealth of experience under her belt.
In an ensemble of just eight performers, Head Over Heels, Pollino stands out for her precision onstage. In part this is because of her dynamism as a performer. However, it also comes from years of experience, having made her Broadway debut over a decade ago.
The athletic and technical movement in Head Over Heels is a showcase for her determinate style of dance. “The choreography is athletic, technical, gritty, vintage and new all at the same time,” she states. “There are a lot of tricks and showy movements. You get to dance as hard and as big as you possibly can.”
In 1996, she originated her first Broadway role in an original musical. Like Head Over Heels, Hot Feet was an athletic, technically challenging dance show. While the show featured an incredible cast - including current Broadway ensemblists Karla Puno Garcia and Vasthy Mompoint - the show was panned critically and ran just 97 performances.
Although short-lived, Hot Feet taught Pollino a lot about working in the theatre. “As the only child in the show, I was surrounded by seasoned professionals whom I constantly learned from,” she remembers. One of the most distinct memories of the experience was when her role in the show changed mid-rehearsals: “I was cast as the understudy to the part I had originated, until I was called to the stage during tech rehearsal and told that the roles had been reversed and I would be playing the part. I learned how to separate business from personal emotion, and that most of the time, it isn’t personal.”
After Hot Feet, Pollino returned to Baltimore to continue her training. “It was important to me to get a solid education, especially because I knew I wanted to continue performing as an adult, and as much as I was already immersed in the world in NY, I wanted to come in with new skills to offer as an adult.” In between, she received her degree from University of Cincinnati College - Conservatory of Music.
Just after graduation, she was cast in the first company of Hamilton outside of New York, which opened in Chicago in 2016. In choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler’s Tony Award-winning movement, she found a language of movement was that just as dynamic, but imbued with emotion. “Executing the choreography of Hamilton is all about intention,” reveals Pollino. “You feel like you are water that is steaming under a lid. At any moment you could burst. You’re never doing a dance move just for movement’s sake.”
Now, she’s back on the New York stage for the first time in over a decade performing eight shows a week in Head Over Heels’ ensemble, as well as covering the leading role of Philoclea. Prominently featured in the show’s staging by choreographer Spencer Liff, Pollino’s movement is steeped in personality. “Spencer is very persistent on casting dancers who bring their own energy to the table,” she reveals. “That is incredible evident in our show. We have all worked together to create the movement quality that is Head Over Heels.”
However, even with all of the experience she’s gained she still brings a childlike wonderment to her work at the Hudson Theatre. “I still look at Broadway with wide eyes. I tear up almost once a show looking out into the house. While I’m only 24, growing up in the industry has given me a lot of knowledge I carry with me. My skin is thicker, my passion runs even deeper, and I truly realize how lucky I am to get to do this for a living.”