An emerging Broadway singer whose career took root in Sarasota will return to her hometown in early March to perform as a featured soloist with Sarasota Orchestra in our season's second Pops concert, My Favorite Things.
Maria Wirries was just eight months old when her adoptive mother brought her from Haiti to raise her in Sarasota, a city drenched in sunshine as well as the arts.
"As long as I can remember, I've been singing," Wirries says. When she began performing publicly in churches, at fairs, and wherever she found the opportunity, Wirries stopped listeners in their tracks with a clear, brilliant voice that sounded perfectly at home across genres from opera to gospel. She attributes her ability to "genre-bend" to training in classical vocal technique, which she began at age 10.
"Much like some people say ballet is the root of all dance, I learned that classical singing is the root of everything vocal," Wirries says. "You need to learn the technique to then be able to express yourself in different genres."
When she was 11, Wirries made her debut with Sarasota Orchestra at a birthday fête for Beatrice Friedman, the Orchestra benefactor whose daughter, Eileen, was a major proponent of Wirries' early musical development.
"I was taught to acknowledge the musicians that I work with after we perform because it's a collaboration and group effort," Wirries says. "And I turned around to this incredible, wonderful orchestra and said, 'Great job, guys!'"
The sparkle of both Wirries' voice and personality charmed Orchestra audiences. She went on to become a favorite performer at the Orchestra's outreach performances, opened Masterworks concerts with the national anthem, and took the stage at the Orioles' Ed Smith Stadium as a star singer at the Orchestra's annual Outdoor Pops.
"It's amazing to think of how far I've come with [Sarasota Orchestra]," Wirries says. "In the past, it's been overwhelming to have the opportunity to work with such esteemed musicians in their field and to feel, in a way, they see me more as a peer as I've grown."
She continues, "I am so excited that I get a chance to come home, be in the community again, and work with these musicians. I truly feel as though I've grown up with them."
Wirries attended the Manatee School for the Arts, left high school after her sophomore year, got her GED while studying musical theater at State College of Florida, and was then accepted into the musical theater program at Penn State University at age 16. She says the program of My Favorite Things—which has Wirries belting out showstoppers from The Sound of Music, Mamma Mia!, Les Misérables, and more—reflects her own deep love for musical theater.
"I'm in love with the songs that I'm going to get the chance to perform with Sarasota Orchestra. I'm such a sucker for the classic musical theater songs that we all know and love," she says. In reference to the program's Sound of Music medley, she adds, "It's an especially unique thing for me, for sure, to sing a part that I would love to do in the future that shares my name!"
After graduating from Penn State in 2018, Wirries immediately won an intense, fiercely competitive audition to join the Broadway cast of Dear Evan Hansen, the Tony Award®-winning Best Musical that The Washington Post called "one of the most remarkable shows in musical theatre history." After three months in New York, Wirries hit the road with the production's first tour and has been traveling with the show since. The national tour of Dear Evan Hansen currently has bookings on the calendar for the next four years.
"It's amazing to have fallen into such a successful show, but more importantly to me, it's a show that really speaks to people," Maria says. "A lot of communities have been affected by mental health and suicide. Being able to go on tour has been something special because we're able to have question-and-answer sessions, speak to high school kids, and just be in communities and talk to the people after the show. It's amazing to see how that impacts people so much, and to connect with people who aren't able to go to New York."
As much as she loves life on the road with Dear Evan Hansen, Wirries says she always looks forward to an opportunity to come home.
"There is a feeling of community and overwhelming love and support as I continue on from Sarasota that I definitely miss and enjoy when I'm home," she says. "It's something that I've been overwhelmingly lucky to have in my life."
[This story was originally featured in the February 2020 issue of West Coast Woman.]