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Andrea Enright is still grieving the loss of her husband but returning to acting is bringing new joy

CRAIG MITCHELLDYER/BROADWAY ROSE THEATRE COMPANY - Andrea Enright poses on the set of the upcoming Broadway Rose show, 'Company.'Feeling nervous is a common occurrence for actors before opening night, but when Broadway Rose's "Company" opens Jan. 26, it will be an especially emotional moment for Andrea Enright.

Although Enright has been performing for 10 years, the show marks her first time on stage since the sudden death of her husband BJ one-and-a-half years ago, which left her a widow at 25.

"It seems sentimental, ironic even, that 'Company' was the first show I did in New York and the first after getting married," she said. "And now it will be my first show since being widowed."

In Broadway Rose's "Company," Enright plays the iconic role of Amy who sings a song on her wedding day about not being sure she is doing the right thing.

"Having done this show before, Amy is a dream role," she said. "It's an exciting, challenging role. Amy is all the reasons I went to school to study theatre. She's neurotic and funny and tender and nuanced. I wasn't sure I'd get the part but I knew I put my heart and soul into the audition in October. I never screamed so loud in my life as I did when I got this role. It felt like the first signpost that I was going to be OK.

"I'm completely excited about being back on stage, and Broadway Rose is the best place for me to take this first step. Before I moved to New York, I was in the ensembles in their summer shows, 'The King and I' and 'Evita.' I knew Broadway Rose and trusted them. Last year I was looking at their website to see what they were doing and saw this show. Now that I'm performing again, it's an emotional thing to be in my first show back."

Enright was raised in a military family that moved around a lot, so although she was born in North Carolina, her family moved to Okinawa shortly afterward. They also lived in Southern California and Texas when she was growing up.

But the family has strong ties to this area as her parents were born and raised in Beaverton, and with relatives living here during their wanderlust years, they often returned for holidays.

"Beaverton was always home, and when I was a sophomore in high school, my family moved back," Enright said. "I went to Southridge High School. I always loved theater, and since middle school, I had been involved in plays and community theater and also took voice lessons."

Enright was awarded a scholarship to the 500-student Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan for her senior year. "It was like a year in college," said Enright, adding that she met her future husband BJ there.

BJ, a Michigan native who was several years older than Enright, was a photographer, and as she was committed to going to college, they went their separate ways but stayed in touch while she earned her bachelor of fine arts degree in musical theater from Otterbein University outside Columbus, Ohio.

Ironically, BJ ended up moving to Portland while Enright was in Ohio, "and he became close to my family," she said. "They loved him."

As part of the Otterbein curriculum, Enright spent the second half of her senior year in New York at a Broadway casting agency, BJ moved there to pursue his photography career, and they got married and stayed. BJ's career took off, so Enright had the luxury of working part time as a nanny and auditioning.

"Because he was supporting us financially, I could do things like take unpaid workshops," she said. "After two years, I booked my first big job at a regional theater in the Dallas-Fort Worth area for a six-week contract."

But as Enright was becoming successful, BJ was diagnosed with Stage 4 Hodgkin's lymphoma in June 2014. They debated whether she should give up the job in Texas and come home, but he was assured it was very treatable, and both their mothers flew to New York to take care of him, so Enright finished the run.

"He worked and booked shoots in between chemo treatments, but we discovered New York is less glamorous when you're going through something like that and taking long subway rides to and from chemo," she said. "But we were told he had a 90 percent survival rate, and his doctors were optimistic."

According to Enright, BJ died in June 2015 of complications following surgery that was related to the treatment. "It was so unexpected" she said. "We didn't get to say goodbye. He died 10 days before his 31st birthday and one month before our fourth wedding anniversary.

"The day he died I was filled with a strange and holy sense of gratitude for the time we had together. Yes, it was shocking and devastating and numbing, but I felt God's grace and protection in that very dark moment."

The same day that BJ died at 10:13 a.m. was also opening night for a show that Enright had been cast in - "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" at a small theater in Brooklyn.

"I thought, 'I can't let the cast down,'" she said. "I had the lead role of Rona Lisa Peretti. Everyone would have lost money if I didn't show up. I thought, even if I'm at 20 percent, it will be OK. I wondered what my husband would have said – I wanted him to be proud of me.

"The cast understood and were OK if I didn't do it, but I got through it. I had to wear glasses because my eyes were so puffy from crying. The show was running for three performances, and I did the first two but just couldn't do the last one, and there was time for someone else to take over. That was the last time I was on stage until now."

Enright has gained a ton of perspective about life in the past one-and-a-half years, saying it comes with taking care of someone who is seriously ill, "but it never crossed our minds that he would die," she said. "I felt a disconnect from the theater when I was taking care of my husband because our lives were being changed in so many ways. We were planning to start a family right before BJ was diagnosed - I thought I would have a 2-year-old by now. My greatest dream is to be a mother."

After BJ died, Enright had to deal with all the realities of notifying his clients and wrapping up all the loose ends of his business and their lives together.

"We had a big, expensive apartment and two cats, but I knew I needed to be with my family as I grieved," she said. "I moved back in with my parents, and after a year I got a job at an elementary school as an after-school teacher. I've been accepted to a master's program in counseling but am now exploring getting my master's in teaching instead."

However, Enright can see the positive side of grief as well.

"Everything I've been through makes me a better actor," she said. "I don't care what people think anymore. I've been through the worst, so what if a couple people don't like me? Life is so short, and death does happen. But people can live again and trust again and love again.

"I feel my husband would be really proud of my grief walk. I laugh and I cry, and it's OK to do both. It's so good to have friends and family around, and it's been interesting to see people's reaction when they hear my story - some don't know how to react. It has been an interesting path to navigate, and I like opportunities to share my story.

"Being sad is woven into my life, and I think now I'm sadder but more compassionate, and I'm more hopeful than not. The show has been therapeutic in a way, posing many questions about love and dating and relationships that I have started to ask myself. When I left New York, I thought I'd never act again, but now that I'm back on stage, I've fallen in love with the theater all over again. I am realizing I really do want to start performing again. It was silly of me to think I could walk away from acting."

Enright is a blogger and has written extensively about her life and grief process, and readers can learn more about her journey at andreaenright.net.

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