Ever since she was a young teenager, Happy McPartlin's friends have been telling her she was born old.
"Yeah, I've been 50 since I was 15," said McPartlin, a 43-year-old Niskayuna native who is currently performing in her second Broadway show, "Come From Away," about the week after 9/11 in a small town in Newfoundland where 36 planes were suddenly redirected after the terrorist attack. "My friends said I always had an old soul or something like that. It's like I've been waiting to get older for my career to start."
While she's thrilled to be on Broadway for a second time - she made her debut in "Hands on a Hard Body" in 2013 - McPartlin has been a very busy actress since graduating from Niskayuna a half-year ahead of her class and heading to New York back in 1993. She's been in the national tours of "Memphis," "Hairspray" and "The Full Monty," and has numerous regional credits in New York and around the country.
In "Come From Away," based on the true events that happened in Gander, Newfoundland after 9/11, McPartlin is a standby for two of the characters and has also filled in for three other roles.
"There are only 12 of us in the cast, six men and six women, and we each have two primary covers," said McPartlin. "I play a women from Texas who happened to meet a gentleman in Gander and ends up marrying him, and the other character is a composite of two people that were there. I've also played three of the other women and I've gone on quite a bit. This week there's also a woman who's leaving the show so I'll be even busier."
The show has been a critical and commercial success, and was nominated for seven 2017 Tony Awards, winning Best Direction of a Musical for Christopher Ashley.
"Being a part of this show has been an incredible blessing," said McPartlin, "and what an amazing story to tell. Gander used to be the midway point for trans-Atlantic flights until the size of fuel tanks were increased. So they always had this big airport without a lot of traffic. But then 38 jumbo jet planes are redirected there right after 9/11, and it's the story of how this town of 7,000 people in northern Canada welcomed 7,000 stranded travelers with open arms. It's an amazing story of the human spirit."
All of the events that take place in the show actually happened, according to McPartlin, who grew up just off of Balltown Road and competed in the junior nationals with the Schenectady Curling Club.
"They took these people in and took care of them and entertained them for a week," she said. "Most people didn't have cell phones in 2001. It was a different world. But these wonderful people of Gander just took this horrible situation and reacted in a very positive way. I've had first responders in New York who saw the show and told me afterward how they really appreciated how it gave them something good to think about on what was an otherwise terrible day to remember."
"Come From Away" is sung throughout the show, which is fine with McPartlin, who grew up doing musicals at the Schenectady Light Opera Company, Park Playhouse and the Cohoes Music Hall. She was so comfortable singing in front of people, that when she started taking classes at New York University, she majored in acting, not music.
"I went to New York and auditioned for six months before I went to college," McPartlin said."People told me I would do good in New York, but I didn't want to go to school and study theater for four years and find out the job wasn't quite for me. I knew my voice was a gift, but I wasn't so sure about my acting. So I auditioned for six months, had enough light shown on what I was doing and realized that the theater was still something I wanted to do with my life."
She eventually graduated from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts and immediately went to work in New York.
"I always tell young people that it's incredibly difficult, but if you want to go through all that and you still want to do it, then do it," said McPartlin. "It's not like I went to New York and became a big star. There are ebbs and flows to a career. It's not a sprint, it's a marathon. In fact, it's two marathons. I always had that older look, and most of the great roles are for the ingenue or the complete opposite. There's not much in between."
McPartlin actually moved away from New York to Washington, D.C. with her husband and started a family before landing the job in "Come From Away."
"My baby is just over 3, so I thought that was old enough to take this job and move back to New York," said McPartlin. "We had moved to Washington because my husband had family there and we thought with the baby it'd be nice to have them nearby. Now I'm signed on to this show through at least November, and hopefully beyond that."
While McPartlin has landed many impressive regional theater gigs in major cities like Boston, Houston and Atlanta, she's hoping to stick close to New York these days.
"I feel like I've been waiting to hit 40 and 50 in order to get more roles, and now I'm there," she said. "It's a very good time for me in the theater, and leaving New York now, well, it would have to be a spectacular opportunity to get me away from here."