From a young age, Abigail Bensman ’25 knew that she wanted to be on a Broadway tour. But little did she know that she would be able to accomplish that goal during her time as a student at Southwestern.

During the summer between her sophomore and junior year, Bensman earned the role as “Brenda” on the North American tour of the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical Hairspray.

“It has been my dream since I was a little girl to be on a Broadway tour,” Bensman said. “I never in my wildest dreams thought that this would happen to me, especially so early.”

The actress’s passion for musical theater was sparked by her mother, a native New Yorker who exposed her to Broadway at a young age. Growing up in Central Texas, Bensman channeled this passion into performances across theaters around the Austin area.

Southwestern’s size and Paideia approach to a liberal arts education ultimately led her to Georgetown, where she began her pursuit of a business degree while emerging as a star in the Theatre program.

Photo credit: Carlos Charles Photo credit: Carlos Charles“I love that Southwestern is a small, private, liberal arts school,” she said. “It was a really big draw to me that I was going to be able to have closer relationships with my professors and get a one-on-one learning experience. I am really excited to be able to pursue a business degree while being in the productions at Southwestern.”

During her first two years on campus, Bensman acted in several productions, including roles as “Johanna” in Sweeney Todd and “Ocean” in Ride the Cyclone.These experiences encouraged her to begin auditioning for Broadway, even receiving a call-back to New York City for a different role in another national tour prior to her sophomore year.

“When I first met Abigail in my Introduction to Play Analysis course, it was clear she brought something special to the classroom,” Professor of Theatre Sergio Costola said. “Her vibrant sense of humor, infectious enthusiasm for collaboration, and undeniable authenticity set her apart. Beyond the confines of coursework, Abigail shone brightly, her genuine sense of self and quick wit making her a memorable presence in some of our stage productions. Her journey from the classroom to the national spotlight is a testament to the idea that passion, personality, and perseverance can shape a path to success that is as unique as Abigail herself.”

Now traveling on the cast of Hairspray, Bensman is receiving invaluable experience and learning from some of the industry’s best. The production marks a reunion of two Broadway legends - Director Jack O’Brien and Choreographer Jerry Mitchell. The duo collaborated to create the original Hairspray production in 2002, winning eight Tony Awards in its first year, including for Best Musical, kicking off a seven-year run on Broadway.

“The show is all about inclusion and togetherness,” Bensman said. “By the end of the show, you’re going to be dancing in your seats. It’s a blast. The beat never stops.”

The North American tour is in the midst of visiting 43 cities across the United States and Canada over the span of seven months. The tour concludes in Dallas in late June after upcoming stops in San Antonio and Houston. Throughout the experience, Bensman has been able to visit dozens of cities and perform in a wide range of venues.

Abigail Bensman “It’s really, really exciting to move from venue to venue,” Bensman said prior to a performance at Vancouver’s Queen Elizabeth Theater. “I love getting to see all of the different parts of the world while doing what I love. That really is the dream. I love my life living on the road.”

While on tour, Bensman has been able to combine her passion for musical theater with another passion of hers, video production, through her TikTok page. She launched her @abigail_bens profile during her time performing in Sweeney Todd at Southwestern. Now with over 32,000 followers and nearly three million likes, Bensman uses the platform to interact with fans, provide behind-the-curtain access to the tour, and share scenes about her life on the road.

“The most rewarding part of it is being able to inspire younger actors and to show that my journey is possible if you continue to follow your dreams,” she said. “I get a lot of messages saying ‘Your content really inspires me’ and ‘Because of this video, I’m not giving up musical theater.’ That’s the most rewarding part.”

With the curtain closing on the Hairspray tour this summer, Bensman is set to return to Southwestern for her senior year this fall.

“It was a really hard decision to leave Southwestern for a year,” she said. “The initial reaction when I told people that I was leaving school was ‘Is she going to finish and get her degree?’ I was always really, really set that I was going to come back and finish school.”

I will graduate college in three years with a business degree and have an amazing year of work experience under my belt. That is something that I’m really proud of.

With the full support of Southwestern’s administration and academic advisors, Bensman was able to temporarily pause her educational journey and pursue the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that she earned.

“I decided that school would always be there for me, and that this opportunity would not. I had to take the risk,” Bensman said. “I knew that Southwestern was going to have my back and support me. I’m going to come back and finish my degree with the help of my amazing advisors. I will graduate college in three years with a business degree and have an amazing year of work experience under my belt. That is something that I’m really proud of.”