Keeper of the Plans

From Newton to ‘La La Land,’ Kansas singer achieving big-screen dreams

Newton native Angela Parrish is a featured soloist in the opening track of the upcoming musical film “La La Land.”
Newton native Angela Parrish is a featured soloist in the opening track of the upcoming musical film “La La Land.” Courtesy photo

You can call it luck. You can call it having the right connections.

You can also call it a talented musician getting her first big break.

It’s all pretty surreal for Angela Parrish right now.

The 30-year-old Newton native and Wichita State grad landed her first major gig as a featured vocalist in the widely heralded film “La La Land,” set to open in Wichita soon.

Parrish’s is the first voice heard in the movie – as a soloist in the opening song, “Another Day of Sun.”

“It feels very fulfilling after a long time of working hard and trying to pursue my dream,” she said. “It’s really rewarding for me to have made something that will last forever and something my parents get to see and experience.”

How it happened

After attending graduate school in Colorado, Parrish decided to leave her Newton home to pursue a music career in Los Angeles in 2012.

She had $700 in her pocket, no job and no place to stay.

“I knew if I didn’t just go, I would never go,” she said.

She lived in her car for about three months, teaching private piano lessons and working at a call center. Then the gigs started to come at restaurants and bars. She began releasing and selling her own self-made albums – her latest EP and one of her songs were recently nominated for an Independent Music Award.

“I sing and play piano six times a week here in LA,” she said. “That’s been my regular source of income.”

A drummer she plays with knew someone at Lionsgate who was searching for a singer for “La La Land.”

Parrish’s name was thrown out, she auditioned and was cast for the part.

The song in which she’s featured, “Another Day of Sun,” has been playing in trailers and commercials for the film.

She doesn’t appear on screen, but she also sings in the film’s roughly 40-person chorus, featured in “Someone in the Crowd” and “Epilogue.”

She recorded her part in “Another Day of Sun” over three days of sessions.

All of the choral pieces were recorded in one day, as the chorus sight-read the music, she said.

“That’s standard for LA session-singing gigs – you have to be a solid enough reader to be able to interpret it and get it to recording level instantly,” she said. “For (‘Another Day of Sun’), I had more time to do it on my own. ... I put in maybe 20 to 30 hours of rehearsal on my own, just to make sure I could go in there and nail it.”

“Without a nickel to my name, hopped a bus, here I came. It could be brave or just insane – we’ll have to see,” she sings.

Sound (somewhat) familiar?

‘Very proud to be from Kansas’

Parrish said she thinks Wichita has a “unique appreciation for musicals as an art form because of (Music Theatre Wichita), because of nationally regarded it is.”

“La La Land” is a classic Hollywood musical, much like “Singing in the Rain,” with Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone as the modern-day Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Stone plays an aspiring actress in Los Angeles who falls in love with a down-on-his-luck pianist (Gosling), who has dreams to open his own jazz club.

The movie, set in modern-day Los Angeles, has already won Critics’ Choice Movie Awards for best picture, best composer, best screenplay, best director, best cinematography and best art direction. It also picked up seven Golden Globe nominations, the most for any film nominated. Oscar nominations have yet to be announced.

“I think it’s a film the Wichita community will especially enjoy,” Parrish said. “It’s a beautiful film. I’ve seen it three times already. It transports you, and it’s something every artist will relate to – really, anybody with a dream that seems out of reach will really relate to the story.”

In a limited release in only five theaters nationwide, the film garnered a “staggering” $855,000 at the box office last weekend, according to the Los Angeles Times.

It’s expected to open in 200 more theaters, including the Warren in Moore, Okla., and theaters in Olathe and Denver this week.

It will open in yet more theaters on Christmas and will be fully released by January.

It’s possible “La La Land” will come to Wichita on Christmas, but that hasn’t been confirmed.

Parrish plans to fly back to Wichita over Christmas to see her parents in Newton, she said.

She wants to take her father, who has Parkinson’s disease, to Newton’s movie theater to watch it – if it’s playing.

“He doesn’t get the opportunity to leave the house much – he can’t travel to see me perform much anymore,” she said. “It’s been really meaningful to me that he can see and hear this.”

Parrish said she is “very proud to be from Kansas” and has many friends and colleagues still working in the Wichita area.

“The arts community in Wichita has been very supportive. ... I’m really excited for them to be able to see this,” she said.

Will her featured solo in “La La Land” be her breakthrough to more work in film and television?

She hopes so, but “nothing in creative arts businesses is a guarantee.”

“It’s my hope that, by having established work and continuing to be professional, that it will lead to more,” Parrish said. “I’m just soaking it in and kind of enjoying the moment of it.

“You hope for more in the future, but you just try to stay thankful and grateful for what’s come along.”

Matt Riedl: 316-268-6660, @RiedlMatt