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Ronnie Thomas

Jeania Major is being considered for a role in Cirque Du Soleil's musical 'Ka' after performing for fans at opera singer Sarah Brightman's birthday dinner in Las Vegas.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Jeania Major is being considered for a role in Cirque Du Soleil's musical "Ka" after performing for fans at opera singer Sarah Brightman's birthday dinner in Las Vegas.

A 'Major' transition for country girl
Priceville resident has shot at
role in musical in Las Vegas

PRICEVILLE — Jeania Major of Priceville was only 2 years old when her parents stood her on a chair to sing in their band, Country Cream, in her tiny hometown of Willard, Mo., near Springfield.

She recalls "living in the sticks" and growing up on country music and bluegrass.

"Y'all are rednecks here, but we're hillbillies back in Missouri," she said.

Imagine Major transitioning to opera and standing in a room at the Stratosphere Hotel in Las Vegas, giving her best Sarah Brightman rendition of "O Mio Babbino Caro."

That was Aug. 14, 2005, as a small group of fans gathered for a dinner to honor Brightman on her 45th birthday.

The Brit, who made her theatrical debut in London's Piccadilly Theatre at 13, wasn't at the party but Major said her spirit was.

Other than at Westminster Presbyterian Church, Major had never performed publicly.

"When I started 'O Mio,' a woman gasped," she said. "I was taken aback. I think she was surprised I was going to sing classical."

Major, who had marked her 42nd birthday exactly one week earlier, regrouped and followed with "Nessun Dorma," a Brightman favorite. She concluded with "The Heart Is Slow To Learn," a song first sung at composer Andrew Lloyd
Webber's 50th birthday party March 22, 1998. Brightman was once married to the composer.

"Afterwards, I got a standing ovation and people were applauding and crying," she said. "They wanted pictures with me, and I felt so silly signing my autograph. I was a bit overwhelmed."

Major should get used to it. More parties and concerts are in her future.

And how did this all begin? First blame goes to her husband, Brett, a system engineer and contractor at Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant. Next on the fault line is Cheryl Emberton of Athens, a Brightman fan who shared a cubicle during the time Major had a one-year contract at Browns Ferry as a procurement agent.

Using karaoke music, Major did a demo CD in 2004 with David Vest of Decatur, "a fun thing" for her husband. She sang four songs, including "Think of Me," from "The Phantom of the Opera," in which Brightman starred. She gave a copy to Emberton.

"She threw a fit and thought it was great. I didn't think it was of any significance except to my husband," Major said. "Unfortunately, he told everybody and gave it to anybody who would listen. I was horrified."

That November, Emberton invited Major to go with her to Brightman's "Harem World Tour" concert at the Philips Arena in Atlanta.

"It was my first time to see her. I was like, 'Wow!' I couldn't believe her," Major said. "I was blown away. And it wasn't all classical. She did classical crossover and pop."

Emberton mailed the CD to Ash Alom in London, president of a Brightman fan club. He began corresponding with Major, then called and invited her to the Las Vegas gig.

She considered the songs she would do and "became really nervous. "This old country girl knows nothing about foreign languages. I knew I had to get in there and start vocalizing."

She began training with Rachel Mathes in Birmingham.

"Cheryl went with Brett and me to Las Vegas. We were there three days and had a blast," she said. "Since then, people have started asking for the CD, and now I have a little fan group going."

In November 2005, the Majors spent three days in New York, where she auditioned on Broadway for "Phantom of the Opera."

"They told me my voice was too pretty for the boisterous, hard core Carlotta and that I was too old for Christine, who is 16," Major said. "But it was a wonderful experience."

She may be making a return engagement to Las Vegas. About the time she made the New York trip, she sent her demo CD to Cirque Du Soleil. The French-Canadian production company is considering her for the musical, "Ka," at the MGM Theatre.

"I have to have all my material they're requesting in by May 5," she said. "I'm keeping my fingers crossed."

Meanwhile, she is working on a CD with Michael Dulin in Birmingham.

"We're trying to pick out material and may not get it completed right away," she said. "I'm not hard core opera, although I like a few of the arias. I'm interested in crossover music, taking a classical piece and putting a beat to it. That's the kind of stuff we're working on."

The Majors moved to Priceville in 1998 from Phoenix. They have a son and a daughter.

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Ronnie Thomas Ronnie Thomas
DAILY Staff Writer

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