Started at Akron, starred on Broadway

Karen Ziemba

HER DREAM of becoming a professional dancer drew Karen Ziemba to The University of Akron.

She left her home in Michigan for the promise of professional training by UA dance professors and a chance to perform with the Ohio Ballet.

She credits her professor Jerry Burr with teaching technique, discipline and life lessons that helped students “become world dancers who were versatile” and prepared for the stage.

In a letter to Burr 20 years after graduating, she wrote: “Without your wonderful training in technique, I would probably not be dancing as well as I am today…Once the seeds are planted, the base is strong, one can cut loose and ‘be free to fly.’  That’s what I got from you, Jerry.”

Ziemba credits the UA campus and academic offerings with providing a diversity of studies, students and faculty that would help her create the characters she would portray later in life in theater, movies and television. 

Karen Ziemba in Chicago

Ziemba in "Chicago."

After graduation, Ziemba took her talent for dance, singing and acting to New York City where her first major job was on the stage of Radio City Music Hall. Her first Broadway role was in A Chorus Line. Her NYC theater credits include 42nd Street, The Pajama Game, The Most Happy Fella, Crazy for You, Steel Pier, Chicago and Bullets Over Broadway.  On television, she has appeared in Law & Order and Scrubs, and on film in The Producers.

Ziemba won the Tony Award, along with the Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Award in 2000 for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her performance in Contact at Lincoln Center Theatre. She received Tony Award nominations for Curtains, Never Gonna Dance, and Steel Pier, and has been honored with multiple Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards for her work on and off Broadway.

She is widely regarded as one of Broadway’s most versatile and beloved performers. In a 2002 New York Times review of her performance in the concert production of The Pajama Game at City Center, theatre critic Ben Brantley said, Ziemba makes “song sound as easy as conversation and dance look as natural as walking.”

Karen Ziemba in Contact

Ziemba received a Tony Award for her performance in "Contact."

When she recalls her Akron experience, Ziemba remembers stepping out of the dance studio and onto the volleyball courts.

“Living on campus and having reality in my life was great,” says this triple-threat performer who can act, sing and dance with equal authority. One of Broadway’s most recognizable stars—an Akron Zip who truly has achieved the American dream. 


Karen Ziemba