Jacque Carnahan’s show business calling came at an early age.
“I was really hooked,” recalled Carnahan, who grew up on the Central Coast. “I was 10 years old going on 30. I really knew what I wanted to do.”
She’s been pursuing her dreams of performing arts greatness ever since.
Carnahan will share the ups and downs of a show business career at the West Coast premiere pre-of “From Main Street to 42nd Street,” Saturday at Unity of San Luis Obispo.
The one-woman show, co-produced by Kelrik Productions, charts her decades-long journey from star-struck kid to successful actress.
“It’s everything under the sun,” Kelrik Productions cofounder Erik Austin said of the show, which originally debuted in January. “It’s funny. It’s touching. It’s sad. It shows struggles. It shows strengths.”
Carnahan was 5 when her family moved from Huntington Beach to the Central Coast, living in Arroyo Grande, Cambria and San Luis Obispo.
She made her first foray into show business at the Academy of Dance in San Luis Obispo, appearing in multiple productions of “The Nutcracker.” She also performed with the Great American Melodrama in Oceano, and with Kelrik Productions and Pacific Light Opera in San Luis Obispo.
After participating in an Idyllwild summer camp at age 12, the aspiring actress was invited to attend the prestigious Idyllwild Arts Academy in the San Jacinto Mountains of California.
Alumni include “American Idol” finalist Casey Abrams, influential street artist Shepard Fairey, child star Mara Wilson, and Michael Tilson Thomas, music director of the San Francisco Symphony and founder/artistic director of the New World Symphony.
Carnahan, then 13, quickly realized that she couldn’t afford to attend the academy on her own. She reached out to her grandfather’s service organization for help.
Rick Low, a member of the Cambria Rotary Club since 1989, remembers being impressed by the young girl’s determination.
“Everyone was blown away,” he recalled. “(We thought), ‘Wow, let’s give her a leg up. She really wants to do this.’”
He and a handful of other Rotary members eventually donated thousands of dollars to fund Carnahan’s dream. She graduated from the Idyllwild Arts Academy in 1998 and studied musical theater at the Boston Conservatory, graduating with a bachelor of fine arts degree in 2002.
“She made us all really proud,” Low said of Carnahan. “Everything she’s done has been outstanding. She’s such a prize example of how you can chase a dream and really make it happen.”
Now a professional actress living and working in New York City, Carnahan has performed with the Boston Pops and appeared in such shows as “The Baker’s Wife,” “The Boyfriend,” “Cinderella” and “The Pirates of Penzance.” She’s currently working on a musical version of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” by Lindsay Warren Baker and Amanda Jacobs.
According to Carnahan, the biggest challenge of a show-business career is the emotional roller coaster.
“One minute you’re performing in a huge show with an incredible cast and you’re on the top of the world making money. You have arrived,” said Carnahan, “And then the show closes, and you’re not at the top (anymore). It’s a crazy business. It really is.”
With that in mind, she created Believe NYC, which offers educational events for performing arts students.
Carnahan and music director Barbara Anselmi were working on a cabaret-style show when they came up with “From Main Street to 42nd Street.”
“She looked at the songs (I had picked) and she said, ‘It’s nice that you’re singing but I think there should be a reason you’re singing,’” Carnahan recalled. “We started writing down stories. It’s probably the most collaborative, seamless project I’ve ever worked on.”
Carnahan will share those stories Saturday along with songs from “A Chorus Line,” “Spring Awakening,” “West Side Story” and more. Cathy Harvey will accompany her on piano.
The second half of the evening features hits from the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, performed by Austin, Matt Ambrose and The Bald Spots, a doowop group founded by Carnahan’s father, Gerry, and composed of San Luis Obispo Vocal Arts Ensemble members. Gerry Carnahan will reunite with his fellow singers onstage.
Proceeds from Saturday’s show benefit the Cambria Rotary Club and the Jacque Carnahan Scholarship Fund, which awards $1,000 to one graduating high school senior each year.
“Looking back and thinking about these people who gave me this money, I (am) so humbled and so grateful,” said Carnahan, who also received scholarships from the Cambria Follies and the Cambria Chorale. “My life would have been completely different if I hadn’t gone (to Idyllwild).”