At a young age, Lorna Courtney knew that she wanted to be an entertainer. Growing up in the South Ozone Park section of Queens, an exposure to the arts was as normal as the air that surrounded this beautiful city. Her talent was first recognized by her fifth grade music teacher, after she performed for the class during an assignment.
“This is something that I really enjoyed doing,” the actress reminisces about her early singing experience. “Also, when my sister and I were younger, we used to make up musicals as kids and put on shows for our parents.”
Although she was a shy child, Courtney was still an important component of the gospel choir at P.S./M.S 124. Her mother, who knew her daughter enjoyed singing, was inspired by an episode of an iconic television show, further pushing Lorna towards what she loved most. “My mom saw a CBS 60 Minutes special of Vy Higgensen’s Gospel for Teens Program,” Courtney tells ESSENCE.
“She thought that this would help me,” she adds. “It was an extracurricular activity to do outside of school that was arts related, and it’s a free program and it still exists in Harlem. They say once you’re in the program – you’re always a part of the family.” This family environment would help the aspiring singer to home her craft, and would eventually lead to her performing in Higgensen’s “Mama, I Want to Sing!” with the choir in Japan.
In the years that followed, Courtney attended LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts in Manhattan, where she studied opera. While enrolled there, she performed several student productions and starred in plays such as In the Heights and Beauty and the Beast, among others. This tenacity and unwavering desire to succeed was attributed to her “New York hustle,” as she says.
“You just learn to be your own best advocate and also form connections and create opportunities for yourself,” Lorna continues. In the years that followed high school, the young star graduated from the University of Michigan, made her Broadway debut in the Pasek and Paul musical Dear Evan Hansen, and was also part of the West Side Story ensemble prior to both being shut down in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
After sending out over dozens of audition tapes, an unlikely role in a critically acclaimed stage play would change both the life and career of the now 24-year-old, forever. & Juliet – which Courtney has been lauded for her portrayal of the titular character – came about while she was auditioning for another show produced by Eva Price, titled Jagged Little Pill. “I got pretty far in the audition process and many, many callbacks, but the part didn’t end up going to me,” Lorna says.
“I remember sitting across from my aunt, we were in Forest Hills, and she said, ‘That just means that there’s something bigger and better for you,’” the singer recalls. “Maybe about a week later, the audition for & Juliet came – the script was so moving, it brought so much joy, it flowed. I cried at one point and it seemed like a great opportunity to represent something that’s empowering and uplifting for others and spreads love, joy, inclusivity, and positivity.”
Being nominated for a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical has been humbling for the young thespian. It’s her first leading role, and Lorna hopes that this nod will be one of many in a long and prosperous career. “Everything I do, I do to the fullest with my whole heart,” she says. “So it feels great to be recognized and honored and appreciated in that way.” Her work ethic and positive character traits have been important to her growing popularity in theater, and the prosperity that she’s experienced in the wake of & Juliet’s success has helped her to progress in her craft, as well as in her life.
The possibility of receiving an accolade of this magnitude has brought about many changes for the U of M alumnae. It has also allowed Courtney to look at herself, as well as how her actions impact the lives of others. “I’ve come to see that Juliet influences Lorna every day,” she states. “And so as much as Juliet is growing and finding herself, Lorna is also on that journey and gaining confidence, and also just growing as a woman and finding her voice too.”
She continues her response, saying, “People message me, and tell me about their personal journey with themselves and just being confident enough to stand in their truth, and make the best decisions for them and their mental health and wellbeing.” It’s important to Lorna that her roles resonate with each audience member in the best way possible, regardless of what they may be going through.
“It’s great being a positive influence on people whether they want to be an actor or a singer on Broadway,” she continues. “And for others to be able to see themselves in me and know that it’s a possibility for them too.”