La Jolla Playhouse-bred musicals were a springboard to Oscars appearance for singer-actress Keala Settle

Keala Settle (right) performs with David Larsen at a rehearsal showcase for La Jolla Playhouse’s “Hands on a Hardbody” in 2012.
(John Gastaldo / Union-Tribune file photo)

One of the more compelling stories heading into tonight’s Academy Awards ceremony is that of Keala Settle, the roof-raising singer behind the nominated song “This Is Me” from the movie musical “The Greatest Showman.”

And it’s a story that has connections to San Diego.

Settle has appeared in two world-premiere musicals at La Jolla Playhouse that went on to Broadway. In 2012, she played a prime role in “Hands on a Hardbody,” the unconventional show based on a film documentary about a Texas endurance contest to win a new hardbody truck.

Settle earned a Tony nomination for her turn in the subsequent Broadway production of that show, which included a knockout performance on the number “Joy of the Lord.” (The score was by Phish leader Trey Anastasio and the veteran Broadway/pop singer-songwriter Amanda Green.)


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While she didn’t win the Tony (which went to Andrea Martin of “Pippin”), Settle was back at the Playhouse the following year in the ensemble of the musical revival “Side Show,” directed by Oscar-winner Bill Condon (“Dreamgirls”).

That show hit Broadway in 2014.

One of the most amazing aspects of the Hawaii-born Settle’s story is that for a time before those shows happened (along with her 2011 Broadway debut in “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”), she actually had given up acting in favor of behind-the-scenes theater work.

Among her experiences in that realm: Working in the sound departments at both the Playhouse and the Old Globe.

Since appearing in the two-Playhouse-bred shows, Settle has also hit Broadway in “Les Misérables” and “Waitress.”

And now, with “This Is Me” (by Oscar-winners Benj Pasek and Justin Paul of “La La Land” and Broadway’s “Dear Evan Hansen”) becoming a major hit, Settle has reached a whole new level of well-deserved stardom.

Look — and listen — for her to perform the tune at the Oscars on ABC tonight.

Twitter: @jimhebert