Ashley Wongbi singing.
Mark Brown/University of St. Thomas

First-Year Student Named Finalist in Broadway World’s Next on Stage

When first-year student Ashley Wongbi entered the University of St. Thomas, she knew she wanted to be a part of the performing arts.

“Theater was a big part of me growing up,” Wongbi reflected. “I started in sixth grade through musicals at school. I started choir and started taking dance classes as well. When I got to high school, I started being really consistent. I did every single show every year, from one-act plays to musicals, I did everything.”

Because of her theater background, Wongbi was interested in finding an opportunity to perform at St. Thomas. When she heard of the a cappella group Cadenza, she was intimidated to join the group. “I was really nervous because the group had such a large following,” Wongbi explained. “But I ended up auditioning, and I have loved it ever since.”

Ashley Wongbi ’27 (Mark Brown/University of St. Thomas)

Wongbi, who is majoring in international studies and minoring in theology, proved she made the right choice to join the group through the impression she has made.

“Ashley is an insanely talented singer, and sometimes it blows my mind she’s only a freshman,” Katie Thull, musical director of Cadenza, commented. “She has shown to be an amazing addition to the group, not only because of her beautiful voice but also because of her amazing humor that always adds a brightness to our rehearsals. She’s definitely going to accomplish great things in her music career!”

Her passion for singing has led her to be among the top 10 finalists in the college category for Broadway World’s Next on Stage. Prizes for the competition include a full scholarship to American Musical and Dramatic Academy, charitable donation, a free trip to New York City to sing for Broadway stars in a live finale, and more.

Having performed at both the Orpheum Theatre and State Theatre, where she worked with choreographers who have been on Broadway, in addition to competing in competitions across the state, such as Minnesota Sings, where she won first place in 2022, Wongbi was looking for more competitions to compete in when she discovered Broadway World’s Next on Stage competition. Wongbi decided to apply, sending a video of her singing. Because of school and her other extracurricular activities (she works in the Student Engagement Center as a student engagement ambassador and is also a College of Arts and Sciences ambassador), Wongbi recorded her audition videos from 4-8 a.m., recording and redoing videos to give Broadway World her best work possible.

The competition requests singers to choose musical theater songs. Wongbi, a musical theater lover, was grateful because of the variety of song selections in the musical theater genre. Wongbi decided to sing “Your Daddy’s Son” from the musical “Ragtime,” “All Falls Down” from “Chaplain: The Musical,” and “Independently Owned” from a newer musical comedy called “Shucked.”

Wongbi impressed Broadway World and its voters; she competed against 140 other applicants.

Wongbi is grateful for the connections she has made through Cadenza, and for the group’s support. Fellow Cadenza members assisted her with song choices for the audition process and by voting and telling other people about the Next on Stage competition.

In addition to singing with Cadenza, Wongbi is involved in the university choir, where she performs traditional choral and gospel music instead of pop music and musical theater. Wongbi notes the difficulty in performing various genres.

“It’s tricky because in choir I sing a different part than I sing in Cadenza in terms of style. We’re singing pop music in Cadenza and we’re singing choral and gospel music in choir. Then for Next on Stage, it’s musical theater. So, I’m bouncing around between different genres,” she said. “It helps me, I think, vocally and mentally to make sure I’m able to still be flexible in all three genres, but it’s definitely a bit of a mind game, making sure I’m always doing the right things in the right places.”

Wongbi also works with University of St. Thomas voice faculty instructor Daniel Greco, who has been a mentor. He has given her advice on how to best utilize her voice for Cadenza and Next on Stage, in addition to giving her insight into the performing world.

“Ashley is an exceptionally expressive performer whose voice has the capacity not only for those big impact sounds but for transparent and tender ones too,” Greco explained. “Her skills as an actor help get the most from the instrument and gives her an uncommon ability to captivate an audience.”

In addition to Thull and Greco, Wongbi gives credit to several mentors and friends in the St. Thomas community: Musical Director of Cadenza Anya Overlien, Director of Choral Activities Dr. Pinsonneault, friends Kori-Ann Hermitt ’24, Monterey Knewtson ’24, Adam Jones ’26, Madison Pilla ’27, and Kianna Yasis ’27.

Wongbi also recognizes her faith as being the driving factor in her life and accomplishments.

“My faith has helped me stay levelheaded, and I feel so content in so many ways, even though I am terribly busy,” she said. “I know it’s all going to end up paying off. As I say, God won’t push you past your limits if you can’t handle it.”

Ashley Wongbi ’27 sings in Brady Education Center (BEC) auditorium. (Mark Brown/University of St. Thomas)