From a Park Bench to the Broadway Stage

Back in the day, Terri White belted it out with the best them.

Holding her own with Liza Minelli, White starred in some of Broadway's biggest hits, including the Tony Award-nominated musical "Barnum." But over time, CBS News correspondent Michelle Miller reports, she got fewer roles -- and the woman who once made her home on The Great White Way found herself without one.

Pointing out what was once "her" bench in the park she called home, White says, "I don't know how, but it truly just happened."

Homeless by day, at night White tried to make ends meet as a regular on the New York nightclub scene. But that even dried up. She was desperate but had nowhere to go.

"Sometimes I would just sing in the park," she recalls, "just to get it out of my system."

Her lowest point? "Not being able to perform. To me that's life, is performing."

But then an old friend came back into her life.

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"The street can get pretty desolate at night, and I saw her walking down the street, and she noticed me in the car," New York City police officer David Taylor says.

Taylor knew White from her old nightclub days. And he knew something was wrong.

"She looked frightened and really, really down, depressed" he says. "I was concerned for her."

One phone call, and her life changed.

White says, "The next thing I know, he found someone who I could stay with and rest my head, and not be out here freezing."

Her world warmed up again... and now it's on fire.

In just one year, White was back on stage, opening to rave reviews in the Broadway musical "Finian's Rainbow".

She's also back at the St. James Theatre, where more than 30 years ago she made her Broadway debut. Her cast mates say, if that's not irony, think about the theme of "Finian's" a '40s revival.

Explains actor Cheyenne Jackson, "The show is about hope, is about finding your rainbow. She's lived and she's survived and it's really beautiful."

Onstage, White sings the song "Necessity, which includes the line: "The landlord says you can't pay the rent."

She believes this role and the song she sings were written just for her.

"I've always thought of being positive from the very beginning," White says. "It is my theme song. It really is, 'cause it's a necessity in life."

Who's to say life doesn't imitate art?
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  • Michelle Miller

    Michelle Miller is an award-winning CBS News correspondent based in New York, reporting for all CBS News broadcasts and platforms. Her work regularly appears on the "CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley", "CBS This Morning" and "CBS Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood". She joined CBS News in 2004.