WHEN JUDY WALSTRUM was 5 years old, she sat on th swing set in the back yard of her Towson home and regularly serenaded her family and the neighborhood.
Now, 22 years later, that early promise of a vocal career hacome full circle. The young Baltimorean is currently lighting up the Mechanic Theatre stage as Mitzi, one of the three singing and dancing stars of the lavish musical extravaganza "Ziegfeld: A Night at the Follies."
While attending Towson Catholic High School, Walstrum performed in all the spring musicals. "I studied under the music teacher, Edward M. Shipley," says Walstrum. "He got me hooked."
But singing was only a sideline until, at 19, "I got my first job witColony 7 Dinner Theatre," she says. "I found out my hobby could pay. I'm a late bloomer."
At age 20, Walstrum suspended her liberal arts program at Towson State University to appear in Harlequin Dinner Theatre's national tours of "Oliver" and "Brigadoon."
After returning to earn her liberal arts degree at Towson, the aspiring actress went to New York to audition for a tour of "No, No, Nanette" starring Mimi Hines and Phil Ford.
Returning from that tour to her New York apartment, Walstrum soon received a phone call from Harlequin to play the role of Mitzi, a giddy Brooklyn telephone operator longing to be a Ziegfeld girl.
"I was there long enough for the phone to ring," she laughs. "I had to give up the apartment to do this job. It is a full year's contract."
Although of petite stature, the vivacious blond actress, a natural comedian, has a voice that can fill the theater. "I think of my voice as a character voice," she says. "I am a strong belter with a lyric soprano range. I like it loud."
Her range is well demonstrated in the nostalgic solo number, "My Old Flame," one of the highlights of "Ziegfeld."
A broad Brooklyn accent and high vocal delivery flavor Walstrum's comical interpretation of Mitzi, who is torn between the lure of the Great White Way and her love for an old boyfriend.
"Since the play was an original, we could develop our own characterizations," she says. "Mitzi came a lot out of me. They told me she was a telephone operator and I took it from there."
This national tour (running here through April 28) was created and is being staged by the Troika Organization, which also produces the Harlequin Dinner Theatre in Rockville.
Walstrum has also played the choice role of the manipulative witch in a production of Sondheim's "Into the Woods" for the Arlington Players in Virginia. "The company brought down the original Broadway set and costumes," she says. "I was so excited. I thought, I'm wearing Bernadette Peters' costumes in this show! Oh, yeah!" Peters had the role on Broadway.
As for the future, Walstrum smiles and says she will return to New York or go to Washington. "I hope to keep on working . . . to be able to support myself with what abilities I have and lead a normal life in a profession no one considers normal."
Gazing out the window wall of the Mechanic Theatre lounge, Walstrum wonders at the renaissance Baltimore has undergone. "It is fun to be back visiting my family," she says. "Growing up here I never gave the town much thought. It took coming back to realize what a nice city it really is."