Earlier this fall, Southold teenager Ella Watts-Gorman was sitting on a bench at the Mattituck ice cream parlor Magic Fountain, finishing a soft-serve vanilla cone, when she received a call telling her she had been cast as Louisa, one of the von Trapp children, in NBC’s upcoming production of “The Sound of Music, Live!” which airs Thursday Dec. 5 at 8 p.m. on NBC.
“I was crying,” the 13-year-old says. “I was so excited and so happy.”
“The Sound of Music, Live!” is a three-hour telecast based on Rodgers and Hammerstein’s timeless original Broadway musical about a young woman who leaves a convent in pre-World War II Austria to become governess to the children of a widowed naval officer. It stars country singer Carrie Underwood as Maria and “True Blood” actor Stephen Moyer as Captain Georg von Trapp.
Ella, an eighth-grader at Bishop McGann-Mercy High School in Riverhead, is no stranger to the stage. The daughter of general contractor Bill Gorman of Orient and Southold photographer Hannah Watts, Ella’s first starring role came at just 6 years old, when she was cast as Dorothy in an Islip Arts Center production of “The Wizard of Oz.” In 2010, she played the title role in the Riverhead Faculty and Community Theatre production of “Annie.”
It could be said the path to Ella’s landing the role of Louisa in “The Sound of Music, Live!” began when she auditioned for the Broadway production of “Annie” and first met Bernard Telsey, the lauded New York casting director who was casting that show.
“As soon as I met her I realized that her warmth, talent and smile all added up to a lot of potential,” Mr. Telsey says. “She was just too mature for ‘Annie’ but I remembered her and hoped there would be something else for her.”
True to his word Mr. Telsey, who has a home on the North Fork, kept Ella in mind this fall when he was casting “The Sound of Music, Live!” He encouraged her to audition for the role of Louisa, the mischievous third von Trapp child.
“I was thrilled to be casting ‘The Sound of Music’ and bring Ella in to audition,” he said. “I was so happy to find a way to introduce Ella to the New York theater and TV community.”
Ella is enjoying the introduction.
“It’s so much fun,” she says of her role as Louisa. After an audition in September and a series of callbacks, she was chosen for the part from among 850 hopeful girls, her mother said.
Ever since, Ella has been ensconced in preparations for the highly anticipated telecast, rehearsing five days a week in New York City with the rest of the cast.
Maribeth Mundell, a Cutchogue voice coach who has given Ella lessons since 2010, helped prepare her in the days leading up to her audition.
“Ella worked very hard for this part,” Ms. Mundell said. “She was at my house every day before the audition, in her pajamas because she would get out of bed and come over for a voice lesson. She has a beautiful, natural voice and is unspoiled, down-to-earth and very much a teenage girl.”
That strong work ethic has come in handy. Ella says work on “The Sound of Music, Live!” set begins at 9 a.m. with an hour of song rehearsals, followed by a long stretch of choreography and scene blocking. After lunch, she returns to the set for another hour of rehearsal before she is tutored for several hours with the other school-age actors in the production. She generally leaves for the evening at around 6 p.m.
“I love all the kids around me,” Ella says of the six other young performers who play her siblings in “The Sound of Music, Live!”
“They’re not my friends — they’re my family,” she says. “We act like siblings. We yell at each other, we fight with each other, we spit on each other, we tickle each other.”
And having the chance to act, sing and dance alongside a superstar has been “so cool,” Ella says of Ms. Underwood, a 30-year-old country singer from small-town Oklahoma who rose to fame in 2005 after winning the popular Fox television series “American Idol.” Today, Ms. Underwood is a multi-platinum-selling recording artist and the recipient of numerous accolades, including six Grammy Awards.
“She gives me advice about daily life,” Ella says of Ms. Underwood, whom she considers a role model.
To illustrate this statement, Ella recounts a recent lunch break she spent with Ms. Underwood during which a star-struck fan spotted the singer and excitedly exclaimed, “That’s Carrie Underwood!”
“Carrie was just staring straight ahead,” Ella says. “She doesn’t react to it. It’s really cool. I asked her, ‘How do you deal with it?’ and she said, ‘I’m in my own little world, because if I wasn’t, I would go insane.’ı”
When asked if she plans to assume a similar mentality next month in order to handle the rigors of performing live in front of millions of television viewers, Ella exudes a preternatural sense of calm.
“I’m not going to be worried, because I know that I practice and this is what I love to do,” she says. “I think the hardest part [of performing] is going to be thinking about what it’s going to be like when it’s over.
“I think about it, even at rehearsal — ‘Oh my God, what am I going to do without these people?’ It has, so far, been the best experience of my life,” Ella says, adding that she plans to get an agent and audition for more roles in the near future.
“The Sound of Music, Live!” airs Dec. 5 at 8 p.m. on NBC. For more information, visit www.nbc.com/soundofmusic.