Elon alums head ‘Back to the Future’ on Broadway

Step back into the future with Elon Alums, Hannah Kevitt ’23 and JJ Niemann ’17 as we talk about Broadway.

JJ Neimann ’17 outside for Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

It was early on Thanksgiving morning and Elon alumni were among the cast members from various Broadway shows who were preparing to perform in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Earning a spot in the iconic parade a “bucket list” wish and honor for so many music theatre performers who grew up watching the floats, dancers and singers making their way down Manhattan streets and dreaming about taking the stage on Broadway.

Among those waiting patiently in their trailers on Thanksgiving morning were two Elon alumni, Hannah Kevitt ’23 and JJ Niemann ‘17. The pair didn’t overlap at Elon but have recently become a dancing duo as part of the original Broadway cast of “Back to the Future,” which is now showing at the Winter Garden Theater. Along with being dance partners during various scenes, they are cast in other roles in the Broadway musical.

Niemann is an understudy for two leads, Marty McFly and George McFly, and is also a part of the ensemble while Kevitt plays Laura, a member of Marty McFly’s band, The Pinheads. In addition to the other ensemble roles, Kevitt is an understudy for Jennifer Parker, who is Marty’s girlfriend.

JJ Niemann ’17

Kevitt auditioned eight times over the course of her senior year at Elon for this opportunity, flying back and forth between North Carolina and New York City for auditions and asking her professors for advice along the way.

Like it has been for many performers, booking Broadway has been a lifelong dream and life-changing opportunity for Kevitt. She recalls that her first preview bow — taking a bow for the audience attending a rehearsal of the show — was very emotional.

“I was like, ‘this is it, I am bowing on Broadway,'” Kevitt said. “I’m an original Broadway cast member I am doing it in front of people, which was wild.”

While performing on Broadway is a dream come true for many performers, Niemann and Kevitt say that the experience comes with its own challenges. Being part of a Broadway cast includes a brutal schedule, hard work and long hours required to perform eight shows a week. There are the repeated rehearsals for performances and for special events like Good Morning America and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. “If current students don’t want to keep learning, don’t book Broadway,” Kevitt said. “I have never learned more in such a short amount of time in my whole life.”

Hannah Kevitt ’23

Throughout her training and debut, Kevitt has learned the most by putting herself in uncomfortable situations where she isn’t the best. She cites a music theory course at Elon, which presented mental and emotional challenges but proved to be an important part of her education and experience.

Kevitt recalls participating in coaching sessions with Associate Professor of Music Theatre Brian Kremer, and Associate Professor of Performing Arts Kim Shively offering guidance through a book about letting go of excuses and being attached to the outcome of the audition process. Assistant Professor of Music Theatre Courtney Liu worked with her on dance call combinations and offered valuable feedback.

“These professors gave me the tools and then it was up to me to figure out how to use them,” said Kevitt.

Niemann’s advice for students with Broadway dreams is to be nice, be fun and easy to work with and to show up to do the work. “I think the more prepared you are, the better you’ll feel the better people will feel about you and be a good person that people want to work with,” he said. “I think like, we really underestimate the personal relationships that go into the industry.”

Niemann and Kevitt both say the personal and rigorous training they received from dedicated faculty at Elon has contributed to their success as professionals.

Hannah Kevitt ’23 by Lauren Frost photography.

“I feel like every single teacher at Elon put what they had into every single one of their students to make them the best,” Kevitt said. “Whatever they can be like whether that was my academic courses, or my performing arts, professors believe in us so much.”

“Everything I learned from the voice training, my voice teacher, taking the acting classes and performance in musical theater helped me connect,” said Niemann.

They share a special Elon connection and have enjoyed reminiscing about their favorite restaurants in the area and other Elon memories backstage. As a veteran who landed a role in The Book of Mormon just three days after graduating from Elon, Niemann first welcomed Kevitt via Instagram when they both booked the show. “Hannah is my bestie. We literally are dance partners in the show,” he said. “We spend half of the show together.”

Kevitt said Niemann has been wonderful throughout her Broadway experience. “I admire him so much and he is ridiculously talented and, and he knows what it’s like in a very specific way,” she said.

Niemann started on Broadway in 2017 as a member of the cast of “The Book of Mormon,” and says “Back to the Future” has been pivotal for his career. The creative team has entrusted him with two very different understudy roles: the lead role Marty McFly, and the comedic supporting lead, George McFly, Marty McFly’s father.

JJ Niemann ’17

“It’s given me so many blessings,” he said. “I’ve gotten to take my first bow as a lead on Broadway. I got to debut as Marty in the third week of performances and preview in front of the entire creative team and everyone who wrote the show.”

Niemann is currently working “double duty,” performing with “Back to the Future while workshopping a new show for six weeks. This grueling schedule is part of the pathway to his dream of originating a lead role on Broadway.