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The Ensemblist is an inside look at the experience of being a Broadway performer- from the first rehearsal through performing eight shows a week and beyond. Whether you’re an experienced theatre professional or a passionate fan, The Ensemblist will give you the opportunity to get to know new performers and the great work they do onstage, while also shedding light on some of the hidden innerworkings of the Broadway experience. Created and hosted by Mo Brady (The Addams Family, SMASH) and Nikka Graff Lanzarone (Chicago, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown), The Ensemblist is the only podcast that shows you Broadway from the inside out. 

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Blog

A Day In the Life Of A Six-Foot-Tall Munchkin

Angela Tricarico

by Kaleb Van Rijswijck

Kaleb Van Rijswijck

Kaleb Van Rijswijck

A Theater for Young Audiences (or TYA) contract is a hoot and a half. It is such a joy to witness small minds being exposed to the theatrical arts for the first time. I love watching them make connections in real-time. It is not something you get to experience as an actor all the time. However, a TYA project can be taxing in many ways. You are essentially producing a full-scale musical with all of the elements to be performed in 75 minutes. It is straight cardio twice a day for 80 minutes.

For The Wizard of Oz at Chicago Shakespeare Theater specifically, I have about 11 costume quick changes, which doesn't seem like a lot, but when the show is a short one-act and you're also singing backstage it all adds up. We have a dresser backstage that helps us get in and out of our clothes as quickly and safely as possible. I think my fastest quick change is around 60 seconds, maybe less now that we have perfected it. If you do the math and include me changing from my street clothes into my costumes before and after every show, I change my clothes about 30 times a day on our two show days.

Kaleb Van Rijswijck

Kaleb Van Rijswijck

Performing nine shows a week is really tough on your body and injury or illness is inevitable. This last week we lost one of our lovely ensemble members due to an injury that would not heal properly if he kept dancing on it, so our external swing is filling in permanently for the rest of the run. For this show, we only have one external male-identifying swing that covers all three ensemble men. This morning, the cast received a notice that another male ensemble member would be out today due to a recurring injury that he has had. If you caught on, that means we have too many people out. Our dance captain came in with a contingency plan and we put together a modified “cut track" show. The show was going swimmingly until a costume malfunction caused us to lose our external swing right before the MunchkinLand sequence.

What happened next seemed like a fever dream but also some of the best ensemble "yes, and?" work I have ever witnessed.

I should start by saying that MunchkinLand is probably one of the most energetic moments of the show because it is the audience's introduction to the land of Oz. The director (Brian Hill) and choreographer (Kenny Ingram) pulled out all the stops with this one. Giant dance breaks, big prop handoffs, large scenic moves, and an entire Kazoo chorus. All and all, a giant production number.

We stepped out onto that stage knowing very well that we were already down a couple of bodies and now our contingency plan was no longer valid. We had no idea what would happen next. We smiled, re-spaced the dances as best we could, passed props around, changed blocking and picked up the slack wherever it was needed. It was like the most dramatic game of hot potato, you could ever experience. The pinnacle of the experience topped out when I realized I was now the lone standing Lollipop Guild member. I am normally joined by two other members, however, due to the circumstances, it was just me. I grabbed my lollipop and made eye contact with another ensemble member who mouthed, "Say 'I'."

I nodded my head and I proceeded to sing more confident than ever, "I represent the Lollipop Guild..." instead of "We."

The rest of the show flew by with other little blips here and there and we came out, in the end, a stronger ensemble than ever.

I crawled into my bed that evening still reeling from the day's events, and Dorothy's infamous line, "There's no place like home," truly rang loud and clear.

Members of  The Wizard of Oz  company

Members of The Wizard of Oz company

5 Debut Questions: Hamilton's Amanda Braun

Angela Tricarico

This week, we welcome Hamilton’s Amanda Braun to the Main Stem and learn about her journey toward making her Broadway debut.

Amanda Braun

Amanda Braun

1. What is your name and hometown?

My name is Amanda Braun and I’m from Warren, New Jersey

2. What is your role/track in your Broadway debut?

I am a Universal Swing.

3. How did you find out you had booked the part?

I originally booked the original company of the Angelica Tour in November 2016! I had gone in for my fifth callback and my agents told me the next day that I was on hold until I finally got the call the day before Thanksgiving that I was going to be launching the First National Tour. After almost two years of being with the Angelica Tour I went back to New York City. Seven months later I was offered this new and exciting position!

4. What's been the most surprising thing about preparing to perform the show?

There are many small details in Hamilton that make the show so captivating. It is truly incredible that I get to learn every female track and be able to discover those details.

Amanda Braun

Amanda Braun

5. What are you looking forward to most about your experience on Broadway?

I am hoping I get the chance to make a Broadway debut with this dream show! Being a Universal Swing means that my home base is the New York company but I can be sent to any of the productions in the country at any given time. This is such an awesome opportunity to get to know everyone who is a part of the HamFam and I am looking forward to telling this story with so many wonderful people around the world!

5 Debut Questions: Beetlejuice's Katie Lombardo

Angela Tricarico

Today we welcome Beetlejuice ensemblist Katie Lombardo to Broadway and learn about her journey to the Great White Way!

Katie Lombardo

Katie Lombardo

1. What is your name and hometown?

My name is Katie Lombardo and my hometown is Franklin Square, New York.

2. What is your role/track in your Broadway debut?

I am the female vacation swing!

3. How did you find out you had booked the part?

I had been involved with the show for a long time (a lot of pre production, lab, helping with auditions, etc.) and didn’t end up booking the out-of-town in D.C. or the Broadway production. The rest of the cast was already a month or so into rehearsal with one week left in the studio before heading to the theatre for tech. I went to a random audition one Monday morning, and when I came out of the room and checked my phone, I had a missed call from the choreographer, Connor Gallagher. I called him back and he said “Has anyone called you yet?” and I said, “No...” and he said “You’re joining the company as our vacation swing and you start tomorrow morning! You’re making your Broadway debut!” I started crying, and naturally, he started laughing at me. I will never ever forget it. Phone call in the hallway of Pearl Studios. Classic.

Katie Lombardo

Katie Lombardo

4. What's been the most surprising thing about preparing to perform the show?

I don’t know if “surprising” is the right word, but I would say one of the most wonderful parts of preparing to perform the show is how welcoming the cast and the team have been. They have this way of making me feel so special and so excited, without making me feel like I’m less than or below them. A lot of them are people I’ve looked up to for so long, and to think “I’m sharing a dressing room hallway with so and so” makes the 16-year-old Katie who drove to high school listening to Broadway soundtracks want to cry tears of joy.

5. What are you looking forward to most about your experience on Broadway?

First of all, Beetlejuice was one of my absolute favorite movies growing up, and if you know me even a tiny bit, you know that Halloween is my all time favorite holiday. There is truly nothing more exciting for me than being able to perform a spooky show on Broadway. Aside from that, I’m looking forward to having my family and friends come see the show. They’ve supported me from the very beginning, no matter what, good times and bad times, sometimes really bad or sad times. I’m so happy and grateful that I can finally get up there and make them proud. I really couldn’t have made it here without them.

In the words of Beetlejuice... “It’s Showtime.”

5 Debut Questions: King Kong's Lissa deGuzman

Angela Tricarico

Today we welcome King Kong ensemblist Lissa deGuzman to Broadway and learn about her journey to the Great White Way!

Lissa deGuzman as Ann Darrow

Lissa deGuzman as Ann Darrow

1. What is your name, hometown, and when did you make your broadway debut?

My name is Lissa deGuzman and I’m from Wauwatosa, Wisconsin.

2. What was your role/track in your Broadway debut?

I’m an ensemble/Ann understudy in King Kong. I made my official Broadway debut as Ann and then three days later, I debuted my ensemble track.

3. How did you find out you had booked the part?

I was in the shower and I missed a call from one of my agents. I realized he didn’t really have any reason to call me unless he had some sort of good or bad news. As I’m soaking wet and still in a towel, I called him back. He asked how my Memorial Day was and I just remember my heart beating so fast and the anticipation was killing me. Then he said, “How would you like to make your broadway debut in King Kong?”

I yelled “No way!” at him approximately 20 times while pacing around my room. Then I galavanted around my apartment in a towel in disbelief and utter happiness.

4. What's been the most surprising thing about preparing to perform the show?

Lissa deGuzman

Lissa deGuzman

The most surprising thing has been the challenges of working with a 2,000 pound puppet. I learned the Ann track first and many of her scenes are with him. A story is being told between the two of them, but the only actual words spoken are by Ann. Rehearsals with the puppet, KiKo, require the ten actors who move his body and the three VooDoo operators who move his face and shoulders. I felt it necessary to use these actors’ time very efficiently and wisely because more than 13 people were coming in to put me into the show. It was a unique but awesome experience learning to do scenes with KiKo so early in my process.

5. What are you looking forward to most about your experience on Broadway?

I’m looking forward to getting to know the people in this show. They are incredible performers and to be able to be with them eight times a week will be an honor. I’m also looking forward to finding some sort of routine in the city. I’m excited to go to work everyday and call this my job. 

From James Madison to North Shore

Angela Tricarico

by Abigail Charpentier

Susie Carroll

Susie Carroll

Since this spring, Susie Carroll has attended both James Madison High School and North Shore High.

On March 5, 2019, Carroll made her Broadway debut when she joined The Prom as a vacation swing, covering all female ensemble roles whenever cast members had vacations or personal days scheduled. By the end of her time at The Prom, she had performed in seven tracks: six female teen ensemble tracks and one adult female track.

She departed from The Prom in mid-July and opened in Mean Girls on July 23. In the other Casey Nicholaw-directed-and-choreographed musical, Carroll is also a vacation swing, covering the ensemble ladies and learning their tracks as their vacations come up. 

“Joining two Broadway shows in the course of a year has been both the most rewarding and most challenging thing that I have experienced in my life thus far,” Carroll said. “It has required an ample amount of dedication, determination and focus. It has come with just about every emotion imaginable, but I wouldn’t trade any of it for even a second.”

Carroll auditioned for The Prom lab in December 2017 and was hired a year later. Similarly, she auditioned for Mean Girls in May 2018 and joined the company in July of the following year.

The moral of the story: you may not get the job right away. 

Susie Carroll in  Mean Girls

Susie Carroll in Mean Girls

“Sometimes you might get so close to booking that ‘dream job’ and then you don’t. Sometimes they tell you, ‘We will keep you on file’ and you leave feeling discouraged because you never believe that to actually be true. However, sometimes, it is true,” Carroll explained. “Sometimes you must continue on with your head held high, continue to work hard and sometimes when that dream job is meant to be for you. It will be there for you. It is possible.”

While Carroll was playing high school students onstage at the Longacre Theatre, she was an actual student at Pace University earning her BFA in Musical Theatre. While her training has helped prepare her for the past few months, especially transitioning between jobs, she said that “there is only so much homework I can do until I need to just do it on stage.”

One of the most challenging parts of changing shows was departing The Prom because it was the where she experienced all of her firsts: first Broadway costume fitting, first Broadway cast, etc.  

“My departure at The Prom was made exceptionally difficult for me because of how special the company and the story we were telling was,” she said.

Since starting her career on the Great White Way, Carroll has experienced “really special moments” that she will treasure forever, such as sitting in Beth Leavel and Angie Schworer’s dressing room and getting life advice from them, leading a Broadway wedge and going to the Tony Awards for the first time.

Another aspect of her job that has been special to her is signing Playbills and meeting fans at the stage door.

“If I am onstage I try to never miss a night of going to the stage door to sign. Connecting with others and making them happy or inspired is truly one of the best gifts I can receive and makes it all worth it for me. Because I was once that kid.”


"There Is Always A Door Waiting To Be Opened."

Mo Brady

by Lance Wiener

Stephanie Klemons

Stephanie Klemons

The multi-talented Stephanie Klemons is a force of nature. She currently serves as Associate Choreographer/Global Dance Supervisor (as well as an Original Broadway Company member) for the Broadway production of Hamilton and a director/choreographer in Rock of Ages at Pittsburgh CLO.

Klemons explains that she had been involved in the choreography with Hamilton since the early  beginnings, working closely with Andy Blankenbuehler, who won the 2016 Tony Award for Hamilton’s choreography. Being the Global Dance Supervisor as well, she oversees the 6 productions of the show around the world in the choreography aspect. This has landed her on the casting side of the table, which is extremely fun yet also tedious. 

“It’s exciting to me when we find someone who’s either dance captain material or dance supervisor material and bring them into the world,” she explains. Being able to see another person perform a piece she created so beautifully is something that Klemons takes to heart.

Auditions for Hamilton occur often. The three types that Klemons explains are the open calls, the ECC (Equity Chorus Call, which includes a full portion of “My Shot”), and invited calls. Klemons further adds that should casting want to see a person later on at a callback, she along with the other casting directors and music supervisors will look for options for the specific actor or dancer.

As Hamilton is a very inclusive production, Stephanie adds that they work hard to maintain the looks of how the production has always been cast, and they strive to make sure that they do not cast a group of the same people on one audition day. 

Klemons finds it exciting to cast a newly mounted production, stating she looks for the person with the highest energy level and a large room for growth as a performer. With a fresh and new face, a full rehearsal process may just be the thing for them to grow, whereas a replacement performer is either one who has worked with the production already or one that casting feels comfortable with putting through a speedy put-in process.

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With a new company, there is also more freedom to switch around ensemble roles and choreography to make it fresh for new audiences and future companies as well. She states, “A new company allows us to shift things.” 

What Stephanie looks for in a dance audition is for the performer to be engaged. Yes, they can do a certain move, but they have to deliver with intention and purpose. As she continues, she states, “I’m zero percent interested in seeing you perform the choreography well if your intentions are fake.” Being able to stay true to oneself during the audition is vital to performing well. 

Now, the Hamilton bootcamp is a whole other story: it’s a paid bootcamp where one is taught a multitude of numbers from the show. This is used as either a way for the casting team to make sure they are ready to say yes to a person and cast them, or it is used as a means to have a better look at a performer. Bootcamps occur at least twice a year.

Being the associate choreographer for Hamilton has paved the way for Klemons’ choreography career. From working on a Super Bowl commercial to being a lead choreographer/director for regional productions, she has earned her way to the top of the dance world. 

“I wish people knew that it wasn’t about being good; it’s about being right for the job.” She continues to say that it’s alright. There are plenty of other productions that one may be right for. There’s always a door waiting to be opened.




"Together We Are One"

Angela Tricarico

 by Ryan Duncan

Ryan Duncan (right) with Max Chernin in  Passing Through  (Photo by Diane Sobolewski)

Ryan Duncan (right) with Max Chernin in Passing Through (Photo by Diane Sobolewski)

“We are many strands. But together we are one.”

These are some of the lyrics of the first song the cast sings in Passing Through, currently playing at Goodspeed’s Norma Terris Theatre in Chester, Connecticut. They’re fitting words since Passing Through is based on the book “Walking to Listen” by Andrew Forsthoefel, in which he walks a southern route across America from Pennsylvania to California. On his trek he ‘walks to listen’ and collects the stories of the tapestry of souls that makes up our national landscape. In doing this, he learns a great deal about himself and where he fits into our world. Our cast of eleven plays a couple of the people important to Andrew (played beautifully by Max Chernin), as well as many of the people he meets on his journey across the continent. In other words, ten actors play up to 30 distinct people. 

The show gives me the opportunity of playing at least nine of these people, which is a dreamy situation for this character actor.  I’ve noticed, especially in recent years, that I’ve been cast in shows that need someone to play multiple roles. I’m a linguist who speaks a few different languages and has an obsession with accents, dialects, and various cultures. I also have a varied ethnic background, so I understand why I often fit the bill. Creating characters using language, history, and physicality is something I feel honored to get the chance to do. Sometimes that representation is the only experience of its kind for an audience, so I take great responsibility in doing it with as much reverence and authenticity as I can. 

I begin the show as Paul, a Navajo man who grew up on the reservation in New Mexico and left for a period of time to go to college and work on the east coast, only to return home to take care of his father.  Paul’s heavy scene is in act two. There is a lot going on for him emotionally and historically, and what I have to do first is find the person he is, and not the ‘people’ he is.

Ryan Duncan

Ryan Duncan

Once I know who a character is as an individual, I can ‘dress them up’ in their legacy and speech. I can find how they fit in with their demographic (age, gender, language, ethnicity, etc.) and see how that also feeds their path within the context of the play. I feel that actors are so lucky that we get to research and explore various time-periods, backgrounds, and situations because we’re asked to portray them. Often we draw upon our own lives but we usually need more. For example, my Native American ancestry is a small branch of my family tree and is from a tribe east of the Mississippi. I didn’t grow up in that culture but I’ve studied it for a long time and I’m involved with another First Nations project called Distant Thunder. The Navajo are quite a different people and from a very different part of the country than my ancestors, so specific information and a chat with a Navajo friend were needed. Reading “Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee” was also a real eye-opener and frankly, should be a history book we all grow up reading. I find what I need to know that may be important to the show, and then serve the story. 

Another character I play is Ethan, who is based on a real guy with mental illness whom our leading player meets on the road in Texas. Since Ethan mentions his mental issues, I wanted to infuse him with sincerity and honesty and make sure he wasn’t going to come across as a joke, or a lost cause. The character strays from the book a bit but we’ve all met someone like him. My intention is to be a vessel for a moment of enlightenment for the Andrew character and present a real guy seeking to make a misguided yet inspiring change in his life. 

Ryan Duncan (left) with Max Chernin in  Passing Through  (Photo by Diane Sobolewski)

Ryan Duncan (left) with Max Chernin in Passing Through (Photo by Diane Sobolewski)

I also get to play Diego, who, with his wife Carmen (played by Linedy Genao), travels through the desert and across the border for a better life in the US. These characters mirror current events and racist legislative decisions and we feel it’s important to present a truthful account of their intentions and struggles to achieve success. The song they sing is called “De Nuevo,” which means ‘again’, and it’s sung in English and Spanish as Diego teaches Carmen English so they can both find work. As we play the roles, our own families’ immigration experiences, though different from how our characters arrive here, are mental shadows that guide our ambitions and hopes, and hopefully reach an acknowledging hand out to America’s Diegos and Carmens. 

The entire ensemble, alongside Linedy, Max, and myself, of Mary Jo Mecca, Charles Gray, Celeste Rose, Jim Stanek, Garrett Long, Reed Armstrong, Jennifer Leigh Warren, and Joan Almedilla, have together created real people from real stories that weave in and out of each others’ narratives. We’re rarely off stage for very long, and at different points of the musical, we each sit in on scenes, watching each others’ interactions. In act two, we also take turns moving and rotating a floating platform, further entrenching us into various moments along the road. The audience realizes that Andrew carries all of us with him as he walks, as the real Andrew did on his way to California.

We pass the baton of the story seamlessly through Igor Goldin’s direction and Marcos Santana’s movement. The music direction is by Matt Meckes,  who leads a five-person band playing over a dozen instruments among them. It’s been easy to do since Eric Ulloa and Brett Ryback wrote such a touching and gripping piece. Passing Through couldn’t be done without a dedicated and talented ensemble, who also cares very much about the people watching and receiving powerful and unique messages from the show. I feel so much gratitude and joy in being able to be a part of this special experience.


For Passing Through production photos: Scenic Design by Adam Koch, Costume Design by Tracy Christensen, Lighting Design by Cory Pattak

Ryan Duncan (right) with Linedy Genao in  Passing Through  (Photo by Diane Sobolewski)

Ryan Duncan (right) with Linedy Genao in Passing Through (Photo by Diane Sobolewski)

Inspiring Change

Angela Tricarico

(Graphic by Brittney Keim)

(Graphic by Brittney Keim)

In 2018, I was deeply charged by Women’s Day On Broadway and wrote about it for OnStage Blog. I learned that nearly 70% of Broadway audiences are made up of female-identifying patrons but only 17% of those productions have women at the helm. This statistic shocked and ignited me. The Women’s Day symposium and more recently, Rachel Chavkin’s speech following her Best Director Tony win, are among the driving forces behind Changemakers: A Celebration of Women and StateraArts. I admire those who seek change and do not accept the status quo. Women who take action and use their platform to advocate for greater representation both on and off the stage are among those to be featured in this event on August 22 at The Green Room 42.

There will be never-told-before tales of sisterhood, mentorship, challenges, and overcoming adversity. These personal stories will lead into songs crossing various musical genres. We’ve got pop, folk, some musical theater, original songs, and even a Celtic trio! I’m also very jazzed that actor, activist, and mother Rachel Spencer Hewitt will lead a panel talk on the Parent Artist Advocacy League, an organization she founded that creates family-friendly practices in the theater. Ms. Hewitt will engage in dialogue with some surprise guests!

Mara Jill Herman (Photo by Billy Bustamante)

Mara Jill Herman (Photo by Billy Bustamante)

Tony-nominated Lyricist/Composer and award-winning performer Amanda Green (Hands on a Hardbody) will appear and three-time SAG Award winner Dale Soules, widely-known as inmate Frieda Berlin on Orange Is The New Black, will host. The diverse cast also includes: Lianah Sta. Ana (Miss Saigon), Gina Naomi Baez (She's Gotta Have It), Alison Lea Bender (We So Hapa), Emily Borromeo (Broadway Bounty Hunter), Galway Girls (feat. Meredith Beck, Janice Landry and Caitlin McKechney), Carly Kincannon (America's Sweethearts), Liisi LaFontaine (Dreamgirls), Kara Lindsay (Newsies), Jennifer Lorae (Hard Times), Andrea Prestinario (Side Show, Jeff Award), Kristine Reese (Finding Neverland), Hannah Rose (Olay Live!), Talia Suskauer (Be More Chill), America's Sweethearts (feat. Amanda Lea LaVergne, Annemarie Rosano and Sarah Stevens), and Aurelia Williams (Once On This Island)

I selected Statera Mentorship as the beneficiary of Changemakers for two reasons: I first met Executive Director Melinda Pfundstein at the Utah Shakespeare Festival in 2005. She was a well-established leading lady, and I really looked up to her. Fast forward to 2016, when I joined Statera’s pilot mentorship program and found it so rewarding to mentor an early-career individual. The word Statera, stemming from balance, also resonates with me. There are so many women in the Statera community who thrive in their professional lives but also create and nurture families of their own. I aspire to be one of them.

"Here I Am Proving Myself Wrong."

Angela Tricarico

by Lance Wiener

Aaron Alcaraz

Aaron Alcaraz

Mean Girls on Broadway has been going through some exciting changes. As they entered their second year on the Main Stem, new ensemble members were also welcomed into the Mean Girls family.

Swings and ensemble members are incredible in their own rights. Being able to dance, sing, and possibly cover larger roles is a balance that must be held to the highest potential. In large productions, such as Wicked and Mean Girls, this is especially true. 

Aaron Alcaraz, one of the newest students at North Shore High School, is a swing as well as an understudy for Kevin Gnapoor in the Broadway production.

Alcaraz recalls watching the movie many times with friends, stating “It was a movie that my friends and I quoted all the time.” As for the musical, his first experience with it was at an audition before the production’s out-of-town tryout in Washington D.C. He remembers “screaming on the inside” when realizing he’d be auditioning in front of Casey Nicholaw and Tina Fey. It was extremely surreal.

The audition process for their out-of-town tryout seemed to have gone well, as he recalls that although he didn’t initially land the job for a swing, he was kept on file to be called for their upcoming national tour. Once he went in for the callbacks, in front of Nicholaw, Fey, and Jeff Richmond, he was eventually cast as a swing for the Broadway production. As a swing for Mean Girls, Alcaraz must be ready to go on for any of the 7 male ensemble roles in the show at any time. He admits that he is still grasping and learning some of his tracks, but it’s exhilarating to be able to watch and learn from the wings of the theater each and every night.

Alcaraz also covers Cheech Manohar’s character, Kevin Gnapoor. He finds the roles fun to play, explaining that he approaches learning both his swing and understudy roles the same way. “I just want to do the best job possible with each one.” 

If you’ve previously seen the National Tour of Rent, you may have seen Alcaraz take on the role of Angel. Being a dream role for him, it was one amazing experience. He thinks that tour helped prepare him for Broadway.

“I learned how disciplined I had to be in order to have the stamina to do the show every night,” he says.

As the show was a touring production, being able to adjust to a different climate/environment has helped Aaron in preparing for the different tracks he covers as a swing. Aaron hopes Mean Girls will help him grow his confidence. “Having to learn so many things quickly and retain all the information is such a challenge,” he admits.

Alcaraz adds, “I never thought that I would be a swing on Broadway and here I am proving myself wrong which is awesome.”

Being able to trust in oneself is also a big player in performing. “There will be times in the future where I won’t feel 100% ready to go on for a track but I’ll do it anyway and trust I know more than I think I do and trust that my other castmates are also looking out for me,” he adds.

Having a support system in a production is truly a gift to one’s body and mind. Everyone grows in a show, whether it be artistically or emotionally. Being able to share talents with not only the audience but with fellow performers give room for growth, room for inspiration, and room for relationships. It’s definitely a process, but every step is a step towards a final and worthy goal, a goal of giving one’s 110% on stage every night.

Aaron Alcaraz and the company of  Mean Girls

Aaron Alcaraz and the company of Mean Girls

Back to North Shore

Mo Brady

Mean Girls at the August Wilson Theatre

Review by Mo Brady

Erika Henningsen (Cady Heron), Krystina Alabado (Gretchen Wieners), Taylor Louderman (Regina George), Kate Rockwell (Karen Smith), Barrett Wilbert Weed (Janis Sarkisian), and the Company of Mean Girls. Credit: © 2019 Joan Marcus

Erika Henningsen (Cady Heron), Krystina Alabado (Gretchen Wieners), Taylor Louderman (Regina George), Kate Rockwell (Karen Smith), Barrett Wilbert Weed (Janis Sarkisian), and the Company of Mean Girls. Credit: © 2019 Joan Marcus

Attention North Shore High School students: There’s no “sophomore slump” happening at Mean Girls. On the contrary, the current cast is crushing the material nightly at Broadway’s August Wilson Theatre. One of the reasons I wanted to revisit Mean Girls was to see it out of the context of the rest of the Broadway season in which it opened. Whether you’re an industry professional or a Broadway superfan, it’s difficult to see shows out of the context of “Awards Season,” simply appreciating them on their own.

There’s always been much to appreciate in Mean Girls. Of course, Tina Fey’s winning book is filled with fun, following the well-loved plot of the film without being married to it. Having spent the last season and a half with songs like “Apex Predator” and “I’d Rather Be Me” in the theatrical ether, Nell Benjamin’s lyrics and Jeff Richmond’s music offers a pleasing pop score (even at moments when it doesn’t feel as contemporary or youthful as the actors performing it). 

Original cast members like Devon Hadsell and Curtis Holland are providing solid performances alongside new additions such as Morgan Harrison and Kevin Cosculluela. Major props to dance captain Brendon Stimson, who has kept the company looking just as clean and sharp as when I first saw the production in previews. 

Recent Pace University graduate Christine Shepard shines as ensemble character Rachel Hamilton. Picking up the mantle from original cast member Kamille Upshaw, Shepard applies an ease of movement even while executing sharp and specific choreography. In addition, she brings a grounded but effective humor to Rachel Hamilton’s standout moments (including the handing over of a vodka-filled inhaler).

The company I saw also included three swings: Maria Briggs, Susie Carroll and Daniel Switzer, who are remarkably confident performers in the show’s ensemble. As a member of four different Broadway companies last season, Briggs is integrated perfectly into the student body of North Shore. And Carroll, who I happened to see in The Prom less than five months ago, has brought her aptitude of Casey Nicholaw’s buoyant choreography four blocks north to 52nd Street.

Erika Henningsen is truly a national treasure. As Cady Heron, she strikes a perfect balance or heart and humor that keeps us on her side throughout the proceedings. Her voice sails through the score confidently. With this being only her second Main Stem outing (her first being a short stint as Fantine in Les Miserables), it’s exciting to think about what roles she will take on next. Alongside the remarkable Taylor Louderman, still captivating in her final weeks as Regina George, the two lead the plot along swiftly, with nuance and clarity.  

In its opening season, Mean Girls stood out as clever, sharp-witted fun. A year later, the show continues to land with audiences thanks to its superlative cast and their “fearless” performances.



Ezra Menas: Trans and Non-Binary Actors to Know

Angela Tricarico

Interview by Anna Altheide

Ezra Menas (Photo by THEGINGER3BEARDMEN for The Ensemblist)

Ezra Menas (Photo by THEGINGER3BEARDMEN for The Ensemblist)

What musical had the biggest impact on you growing up?

Rent. This was the first musical theatre show that talked about or even addressed AIDS at all. It was my first exposure to what AIDS was; and the musical talked about it at a time where it was mocked and actively ignored by the government. I saw gays, lesbians, bisexuals, trans folks, sexually fluid folks and relationships that fell outside of cisgender heteronormative monogamy. I finally felt like there was space for me, even before my identity was fully realized.

What’s your dream role and why?

I feel as though my dream role is one that doesn’t exist yet; the character I’d play uses they pronouns; they are trans and non binary, and the story doesn’t focus on that aspect necessarily—it more so accepts that as the reality. The new ‘norm’. A world in which trans folks are accepted and not killed for existing. But if I had to pick-my dream role in a pre-existing musical it would be Hedwig or trans Orpheus in Hadestown. I mean, come on.

How do you believe your identity has played a part in developing your current career?

As an actor part of your job is to bring yourself and your experiences to life in an audition room, on stage, and on screen. I believe you need to be grounded in who you are; not necessarily know definitively who or what you are (because we are fluid in so many ways) but at least have examined how you relate to/walk through the world. It’s obviously a privilege in itself to have this awareness where you can access emotions and self reflection—but if you do have it; I believe it’s important to examine your morals and your privileges. Get into your core. 

I’ve had the privilege to safely examine and actualize my identity, play with my gender presentation and (for the most part) be accepted and seen. This is humbly and gratefully owed to Black, Brown and Indigenous trans women and queer people of color who have paved the way for me, and others like me.

Ezra Menas (Photo by THEGINGER3BEARDMEN for The Ensemblist)

Ezra Menas (Photo by THEGINGER3BEARDMEN for The Ensemblist)

Stepping into my identity allowed and continues to allow me to bring my full self in the room. Into every room. It allows me to speak truths to myself and therefore translates to my relationships, my craft, my whole life. I think people in this career can sense the truth you bring to the room. Being unapologetically and authentically me always and all ways. Not bending to fit the mold that the cis-white-het patriarchy has created for this society and therefore this industry.

What advice or wisdom would you give your younger self, or a young person in a similar situation?

Keep. Being. You. (If you feel safe.)  Someone will see you. I mean, really see you. Even if you don’t see yourself in different forms of media in a positive way, someone along the way will. It’s difficult, but keep carving out the space for yourself. Keep fighting for yourself and keep uplifting other marginalized folks around you. Fight for them. Keep unlearning, and keep relearning. Oh, and listen. Listen to those who are marginalized. Always.

Donnie Cianciotto: Trans and Non-Binary Actors to Know

Angela Tricarico

Interview by Anna Altheide

Donnie Cianciotto (Photo by THEGINGER3BEARDMEN for The Ensemblist)

Donnie Cianciotto (Photo by THEGINGER3BEARDMEN for The Ensemblist)

What musical had the biggest impact on you growing up?

The musical that had the biggest impact on me growing up was Into the Woods. There are others before like Oliver! and after like Rent that were also influential to me, but Into the Woods is the one that made me sit back and think, "Yes, that. That is what I would like to do with my life." The first time I saw it I was nine years old and the original Broadway cast recording was playing on PBS. My father, who was an actor in community theater on Staten Island where I grew up, had strongly suggested that I watch it despite the fact that 90210 was on that night so I obviously already had plans. I turned to Into the Woods during a commercial break and never turned it back. It was so magical and beautiful to look at and laugh out loud funny, and I was really intrigued by the idea of taking well known stories and characters and tweaking them and intertwining them. I was also instantly smitten with Bernadette Peters who to this day is one of my idols and I might have a framed autographed picture of her hanging on my bedroom wall. It also began my love affair with Sondheim, and I know it may seem silly to say it had the biggest impact on me growing up because I can't point to one specific thing that deeply resonated with me on a personal level aside from the fact that it brought me so much joy, but this was the one that was life-changing for me. It made me decide I wanted to pursue theater and that's exactly what I did.

What’s your dream role and why?

I find this to be a difficult question to answer because I spent three decades living and working as a woman before beginning my transition, so I didn't give much thought to any male roles I wanted to play. My first instinct when asked this question is still to respond, "The Baker's Wife in Into The Woods" or "Mama Rose in Gypsy." Old habits die hard. But as I get more familiar with the changes my voice and body have gone through, I've started to see what kinds of roles I could realistically play. At this point I'm not sure there is one singular, all encompassing "dream role" that exists out there for me although I would certainly enjoy playing Mark in Rent or Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors. I think what I'm waiting for is someone to write a badaass transmasculine role in a new musical with me in mind and then that role will wind up being my dream role. In the meantime, I look forward to playing Thernardier and Basilius in my future.

How do you believe your identity has played a part in developing your current career?

My identity and my career are inextricably linked. I was living in Tucson, Arizona producing and directing musical revues and community theater and firmly believing that my transition would prevent me from working professionally ever again. In 2015, The Public Theater changed all of that by holding auditions for a new musical called Southern Comfort where they were specifically looking for transgender actors to play trans characters. When I got the role of Sam, I moved back to New York and found myself making my off-Broadway debut as a trans man playing a trans character. I never would have believed that my professional theater debut would have been due in part to my transition, but it was further proof of just how important it was to embrace my authentic self as fully as possible and to continue pursuing the dream I'd had since I was a child. After Southern Comfort closed in 2016, I've had a lot of opportunity to develop new works that tell trans stories, and find that activism and acting often go hand-in-hand which has led me to speak about trans issues on panels from BroadwayCon to VICE News and NowThis Media. It was also through meeting so many talented trans and nonbinary actors in New York City that I decided to start producing Trans Voices Cabaret, a musical revue featuring all trans, nonbinary, and gender non-conforming singers at The Duplex. We've been running almost 2 years now and have sibling branches in Chicago and London, which is indicative of just how needed this was. I still play cisgender roles and am always happy to do so, but the fabric of my identity is interwoven with my career and I will always be grateful to The Public Theater and Southern Comfort for giving me that gift.

Donnie Cianciotto (Photo by THEGINGER3BEARDMEN for The Ensemblist)

Donnie Cianciotto (Photo by THEGINGER3BEARDMEN for The Ensemblist)

What advice or wisdom would you give your younger self, or a young person in a similar situation?

I'd advise myself to not date the blonde girl from high school first and foremost. 

I think the earlier in life a person embraces their true self the healthier and happier they will be able to be all around. For Trans and Gender Non-conforming people who elect to pursue medical transition and hormone therapy, this can be daunting in our line of work because it means changes to our voice and appearance which leads to concerns like, "Will I still be able to sing after hormones?" and "Will producers see me as castable in roles of my correct gender?" and it's pressure that is specific to our industry. For many years, I put off transitioning in the way I knew was right for me because I was afraid of losing my singing voice, but I wasn't happy at all during those years. I needed to make the best choice for me and that choice was to medically transition. It was only after I started seeing and hearing the man I knew I was in the mirror that I began to feel a deeper peace within, and everything started to fall into place in all aspects of my life, not just my career. My advice to someone younger would be to remember that they need to take care of themselves emotionally and physically first because they are the most important part of their life, and being in a healthy place mentally, emotionally, and physically are tools that we as performers - and as humans - need to succeed. Transitioning is different for everyone - not all of us pursue a medical transition - and finding what is right and feels best for you as an individual is crucial to living your best life. My advice would be to embrace your authenticity fiercely and firmly and stay true to yourself.

Futaba Shioda: Trans and Non-Binary Actors to Know

Angela Tricarico

Interview by Anna Altheide

Futaba Shioda (Photo by THEGINGER3BEARDMEN for The Ensemblist)

Futaba Shioda (Photo by THEGINGER3BEARDMEN for The Ensemblist)

What musical had the biggest impact on you growing up?

Peter Pan.

What’s your dream role and why?

Moritz from Spring Awakening. I would love the opportunity to play the underdog, the kid who is trying his hardest to “get it” but can’t seem to and turns to singing some killer rock music to express it. 

How do you believe your identity has played a part in developing your current career?

Being a transgender person of color is still met with a lot of ignorance and unawareness in the entertainment industry, especially in the musical theatre world. Coming out as trans taught me how to truly stand up for myself, make boundaries, and break down expectations in a way that has freed me from accepting anything less than full respect, as a queer actor and as an Asian actor as well. I know I risked a lot coming out and was initially told there “wasn’t much for me” onstage but I have no regrets about choosing my authentic happiness over others’ close-mindedness. It has given me a kind of boldness and freedom I otherwise might not have known.

What advice or wisdom would you give your younger self, or a young person in a similar situation?

The times may not have caught up to you but give it your all to change it as best you can in your lifetime. You and future generations will benefit from this insistence. Love yourself first; the art and craft will come after and better than ever. 

Futaba Shioda (Photo by THEGINGER3BEARDMEN for The Ensemblist)

Futaba Shioda (Photo by THEGINGER3BEARDMEN for The Ensemblist)



Kat Griffin: Trans and Non-Binary Actors to Know

Angela Tricarico

Interview by Anna Altheide

Kat Griffin (Photo by THEGINGER3BEARDMEN for The Ensemblist)

Kat Griffin (Photo by THEGINGER3BEARDMEN for The Ensemblist)

What musical had the biggest impact on you growing up?

That’s a hard one, when I was little I wasn’t really listening to musicals. The first musical I was ever in was Seussical as a Wickersham Brother and my family took me to the see the touring Broadway shows when they would come through Pittsburgh. Wicked, Phantom, Billy Elliot, The Lion King, etc. My favorite show was always just whatever I was in at the time. Beauty and the Beast, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Oliver!, Camelot, and Jesus Christ Superstar were some the musicals I was a part of before I went to college but I don’t think I would say any of them had an impact on me outside of “oh, I like to sing and all my friends are doing this so I will too.” That’s not to say I wasn’t obsessed with theatre. I would let whatever I was doing at the time 100% take over my life, I would learn the entire show front to back every vocal part, every line that belonged to other characters, I remember 13-15 year old me telling the adult actors playing Horton in Seussical or Nancy in Oliver! their lines when they forgot or hadn’t learned them yet. I just loved it. It was all I did with my time; listen to the cast recordings of whatever I was in. I would stay at my high school theatre until late at night helping to build sets and costumes, I would get there as early as I could in the mornings before weekend rehearsals, It was the only place I ever wanted to be. As far as impact goes though, I didn’t see a musical that legitimately made me feel like I belonged in theatre until Fun Home.

What’s your dream role and why?

Another hard one! Being Nonbinary I have a lot of dream roles that are rarely cast with people like me. Toby in Sweeney Todd, Boq in Wicked, Orpheus in Hadestown. I am also a classically based actor. I love Shakespeare and Ibsen and Chekov. I want to play Hamlet, I want to play Lewis in King John and Hal/Henry V. This is not to say I don’t want to play female characters as well, I would love to be Guinevere in Camelot. I would love to play Joan of Arc, Mary In Jesus Christ Superstar, Alison or Joan in Fun Home. Medium Alison was my dream role for the past three years or so but I have kind of had to let it go after so many callbacks where it’s me and a hallway of femme girls in flannels. Feeling like an outsider while auditioning for a show that I once felt so validated by was something that really shaped my first two years in New York City and sent me down a long path of self-discovery. Once I was told I came across as too gay for Joan. So it’s been a struggle, there is such a ways to go with queer casting and with opening doors for actors outside of the cis/het mold. 

Right now I’m passionate about new work. I want to originate a role and help bring diversity and inclusion to the stage. Yes I would love to play Jack in Into The Woods or Mark in Rent or LeFou in Beauty and the Beast or *insert any role typically cast with cis men here* in a regional production (like really, call me) but I am even more passionate about crafting new and inclusive stories. Let’s go, workshops and new shows! 

How do you believe your identity has played a part in developing your current career?

t’s gone from hindering me and causing me serious anxiety and depression to elevating my career and making me very proud. I struggled in college and in my first year and a half in New York City. I did not know how to genuinely be myself and also be a “marketable” actor. After four years in a college program that made me feel like there was not a place for me on stage while also confusing me with affirmation that I was talented and that my work in class was good but then rarely giving me performance experience, I was very much fed the narrative that I was talented but people did not know what to do with me (a narrative that has continued to this day). Within an educational setting I learned that who I was was fundamentally not marketable or castable and that was baggage I had to unpack. My first professional New York City theatre gig was a nonbinary character in a AEA Workshop of a new musical where the team referred to the ensemble in genderless terms: “high voices/low voices/ok people singing on the tenor line, etc.” That experience was really healing and validating for me. From then on I realized that I needed to stop working against myself and I proudly began combing my identity with my career.

Kat Griffin (Photo by THEGINGER3BEARDMEN for The Ensemblist)

Kat Griffin (Photo by THEGINGER3BEARDMEN for The Ensemblist)

What advice or wisdom would you give your younger self, or a young person in a similar situation?

Stop feeding yourself the negative narrative. Find your people. Realize your worth. 

Its easy to only hear the negative voices, the audition monitor who returned my headshot to me and said “Sorry, men are at 2pm. We are only seeing women this morning.” The agents who affirm that I am talented but that they just don’t know what they would send me in for, my fellow actors who side eye me when I attend a male ECC. There will always be people who do not believe in you, so find the people who do. Finding queer/trans casting directors, theatre companies, writers, producers, and teachers who are passionate about what I do, about new work, diversity, and fresh faces and voices has changed my life. Realizing my worth and not being afraid to say that I am talented, and I am nonbianry, and I am castable has changed my life. 



Samy Nour Younes: Trans and Non-Binary Actors to Know

Angela Tricarico

Interview by Anna Altheide

Samy Nour Younes (Photo by THEGINGER3BEARDMEN for The Ensemblist)

Samy Nour Younes (Photo by THEGINGER3BEARDMEN for The Ensemblist)

What musical had the biggest impact on you growing up?

I feel like there were musicals that had an impact on me growing up because they gave me a passion for theatre, and musicals that had an impact on me because I finally saw myself in theatre. My mom and my grandparents had all these many golden age musicals on vinyl, and I used to know my grandma’s two-tape VHS copy of The Sound Of Music by heart. But the first live musical I saw wasn’t any of those—it was a touring production of Cats that came to DC (I think it was either at the Kennedy Center or the National Theatre). It’s so important to take children to see live theatre! It instilled in me an utter obsession with the arts that would not quit.

In terms of informing my life and imparting life lessons on me, I think the musical that did it best was Into The Woods, because it had something new for me at different stages of my life. As a teenager, I got the basic lesson of it: growing up, understanding that consequences have actions, and even wishes have a price. But as I went through other major life events, I’d come to understand and appreciate the relationship between parents and children, generational trauma, failure, and mistakes. Having done the show now, I still think a lot about concepts of morality and “goodness,” and about accountability. This show keeps unpacking itself for me and growing with me.

The first time I felt seen by a musical, though, was In The Heights. It was the first time I really thought, this is a Latin-American experience. At the risk of damning myself, I never thought West Side Story was for us. It’s about us, but it’s not for us. I’m reminded of that every time I see a new production of it. Not just the plot, but the music! I had never heard a musical before then that truly had a Latin style to it, and somewhere along the line I had internalized the idea that such a thing couldn’t be musical theatre… so to hear it in practice rocked my world. The first time I heard “Paciencia y fe,” I cried! I think it resonated with me in a way similar to Into The Woods, but deeper. I didn’t know how badly I needed a story of parents trying to make a better life for their children in America. The line “I spent my life inheriting dreams from you” still chokes me up. 

I think I’m rambling now.

What’s your dream role and why?

I used to have a few dream roles—Jack from Into The Woods was one, but now I can say I’ve crossed that off my bucket list! Pippin (from, well… Pippin) and Mark from Rent were others. In general, I’m really drawn to the role of the young man/person searching for adventure, or for purpose, or for something bigger than himself. I think that’s something every role I’ve longed to play has in common.

These days, though, I care less about playing a role that’s already been written. What I want more than anything is to originate a new role on Broadway. I want to be on that OBCR, and I want a young trans boy to hear me sing and think, “that’s me in there. I can do that, too.”

How do you believe your identity has played a part in developing your current career?

I used to think of my identity as an obstacle, because I was told it was an obstacle. I still remember a workshop I did back in 2013. An agent who attended invited me to do a screen test at her office, which I did. After the screen test, she sat me down and told me I did well. She said she thought I was talented, but that she couldn’t use me. She said, “You’re Lebanese. You’re Puerto Rican. You’re transgender. The problem is, you’re a very specific type. There’s not a whole lot of people who are going to relate to you.” I was gutted! She told me at best, I might be a “good character actor” someday. That’s not a dunk on character actors, but I came away feeling like, “I don’t understand why you invited me here to tell me I was good, but that I didn’t belong in entertainment.” Ironically, I haven’t heard of her or from her since then.

I often feel like my story is the story of someone who took the long way ‘round. So far, I’ve spent most of my life knowing what I wanted to do and who I wanted to be but denying myself these things because I just didn’t think they were possible. I was told that I’d never make a career in the arts, so I decided to study something else. I was told that identifying as gay, as queer, as trans, etc. were punishable offenses, so I hid them. I was told that being of Middle Eastern and Latinx descent made me aggressive, lazy, stupid, and ugly (or, for some, an exotic plaything), so I tried to assimilate into whiteness. I didn’t have institutional support. I didn’t have social support. I didn’t always have familial support. I can honestly say that for two thirds of my life, I didn’t try because I didn’t think there was any point. 

Coming out as transgender was an act of reclamation in so many ways. By the time I came out publicly, I had had enough: it was either transition or death. And not long after coming out, the world began to treat me and my newfound trans peers in such a way that “activated” me. I came out in 2010, started my medical transition in 2011, and was engaged in community activism by 2012. This kind of work taught me how to stand up for myself and assert myself in spaces where I wanted to belong. Not coincidentally, I started acting again in 2012, started taking acting classes, voice lessons, etc. Being transgender didn’t make my life easier, but it made me better equipped to face challenges. And it also gave me this relentless fire to gain everything I had denied myself or been denied for so long.

There’s a verse in Hamilton that always makes me cry. It’s in “My Shot,” when Hamilton says “I’m past patiently waiting/I’m passionately smashing every expectation/Every action’s an act of creation/I’m laughin’ in the face of casualties and sorrow/For the first time, I’m thinkin’ past tomorrow.” Like… that’s my line. And I’ve only known that feeling for eight or nine years or so.

I sometimes wish I could have gone back and done things different. I still think of going back and getting a degree in acting—because despite my experiences, I still meet people who see I don’t have a BFA and think I’m less legitimate as an actor. At the same time, I don’t regret doing it the way I did. All I want is to make sure other people in my community have things I didn’t. And if that means the moral of my story is that it’s “never too late,” or “you’re not alone,” or whatever, so be it. My experiences and my identity formed each other, and they made each other. And that’s how I got here. I don’t want to be anybody else.

Samy Nour Younes (Photo by THEGINGER3BEARDMEN for The Ensemblist)

Samy Nour Younes (Photo by THEGINGER3BEARDMEN for The Ensemblist)

What advice or wisdom would you give your younger self, or a young person in a similar situation?

You’re never not going to have to work for what you want, but don’t let people tell you it’s impossible just because it’s hard. People say, “if it’s not worth working for, it’s not worth having.” But people also like to tell aspiring actors about how hard the industry is, like there’s this undercurrent of “are you sure you want to do this?” Don’t listen to them. You want this, so get it. You’ll never be good at something if you’re even a little bit afraid of it.

Don’t fear all that’s possible for you. Don’t be scared because you walked into an audition room and didn’t see anyone else like you. Don’t be scared because you just wrapped up one production and you don’t know what’s next. You can’t always control stuff like that, but you can control you.

Being the best you that you can be is more than just showing everyone how talented you are. The business of acting is about so much more than whether you’re good or not. Be someone others like to work with. This community is tighter than you think. Be good to people: don’t treat people better or worse because you think one person’s going to open doors and the other one isn’t. That’s not the energy you want people to associate with your name.

This industry is competitive, and people are going to treat you like you’re replaceable, but you need to know you’re one of a kind. You’re going to face a lot of rejection, but you can rise above it. Also, learn to roll with the punches. The best way to survive in a feast-or-famine business like this one is to be adaptable, resourceful, and determined. There are so many ways an arts career can go. Don’t rule any of them out by being too single-minded. 

If you feel like this industry isn’t making room for you as fast as you think, you might be right. I don’t know what the solution is; I’m still figuring that out for myself. Sometimes, I think I’m not going to see the progress I want in my lifetime, or at least not in whatever the entertainment industry would call “my prime” (Whatever that is). But I think there’s going to be a whole generation of younger actors who need the theatre landscape to be ready for them, and that doesn’t happen without all of us. You need to be here now, taking up the space you occupy. For you and for the kid who wants to be just like you.





More Than An Ensemble, A Community

Mo Brady

by Mo Brady

The company of  Hadestown  (photo by Matthew Murphy)

The company of Hadestown (photo by Matthew Murphy)

There’s a certain willing suspension of disbelief that we as theatre fans love to undergo. We will eagerly believe that we are watching citizens of Oz, Anatevka or Nazi-occupied Berlin - as long as relationships feel real. Theatregoers know when something doesn’t ring true.

Ensembles are a big part of what can make those onstage relationships resonate with audiences. Yes, it is important that Tony and Maria’s love feels earth-shattering, or that Jean Valjean cares for Cosette like she were his own daughter, or that Morales, Cassie and Val really need this job. But without the communities behind these leading characters, those connections wouldn’t feel so essential.

2019 has been a great year for showcasing Broadway ensembles. From the students of James Madison High School in The Prom to the creative team of Juliet’s Nurse in Tootsie, theatre creators are tapping into their ensembles to create meaningful stage pictures and vocalize beautiful music.   

But what many of these shows have missed is an attention to making these ensembles as specific as their leading counterparts.

Moulin Rouge! The Musical features one of the most talented ensembles in recent memory. In production number after production number, this cast dazzles and delights audiences. The production knows they are talented - heck, it must be why the show begins with a much-lauded pre-show sequence featuring many of them staring down attendees at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre. And yet, when it comes to the plot of Moulin Rouge!, these ensemblists make little impact. We see them standing along the sidelines of rehearsals but nothing is done to make them feel like a diverse group of individuals invested in the club’s success or failure.

Contrast this with the ensemble of SpongeBob SquarePants, where the ensemble felt essential. It’s roster of ensemblists was no more talented or skilled than their counterparts in Moulin Rouge!, but what made SpongeBob feel special is how incredibly specific each denizen of Bikini Bottom was. From Larry the Lobster to Mrs. Puff, each ensemble actor showed an individual reason for joining Plankton’s escape plan (as well as a grieving process when they realized escape from Mount Humongous would not be possible.)

Beyond nostalgic Lakers jerseys and big hair, who can be sure who any of Vivian’s friends are in Pretty Woman The Musical? The physical feats of the King Kong ensemble are remarkable, but do any of them specifically affect Ann Darrow’s decision to journey to Skull Island? And who knows what the talented ensemble of The Cher Show is doing, other than parading Bob Mackie’s truly remarkable costumes?

One of the best uses of an ensemble this year is how Rachel Chavkin staged Orephus’ performance of “Epic III” in Hadestown. By including her five-member ensemble as part of the stage picture, audiences can take in their five different responses to Orephus’ song - and five different reasons why they follow him out of Hadestown. Their responses include no solo lines or featured staging. However, just by giving audiences a chance to watch the community of workers process the circumstances, our relationship to Orephus and Eurydice becomes deeper.  

Lord knows that making your ensemble a community does not ensure the artistic or financial success of a musical. If that were the case, we’d still have Groundhog Day at the August Wilson and Newsies at the Nederlander. But whether you’re staging a coronation in Arendelle or a press conference in the Emerald City, a lack of attention to the ensemble can make the circumstances of leading roles feel hollow.

One of the theatre’s great powers is its ability to make the specific feel universal. We are not bar workers in Saigon during the Vietnam War, but seeing Kim against the backdrop of Bangkok makes us understand why she gives her life for Tam. We are not struggling artists on the Lower East Side in the 90s, but Steve singing “Will I?” makes Roger’s search for purpose much more grounded.

Breathing life into a show’s ensemble is not difficult. It doesn’t take any more financial capitalization. It doesn’t involve making more costumes or even giving characters names. All it involves is a little time and willingness to do so.

The company of  SpongeBob SquarePants

The company of SpongeBob SquarePants

Super-Fly and Dynamite

Angela Tricarico

Broadway Bounty Hunter at Greenwich House Theater

by Anna Altheide

Annie Golden and Jared Joseph in  Broadway Bounty Hunter  (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

Annie Golden and Jared Joseph in Broadway Bounty Hunter (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

The cast and company of Broadway Bounty Hunter light up the black box stage at the Greenwich House Theater through August 18 in a cheeky wink-nudge to musical theatre and 1970s “Super Fly”-style film.

Written and composed by Be More Chill’s Joe Iconis, the book, music, and lyrics of Bounty Hunter spotlight on main character Annie Golden, portrayed by the adorable Annie Golden in a stellar, slightly-biographical performance. Once the “little red-headed fox” of Broadway, Annie is now in her golden years and in a career slump, facing degradation and belittlement by both casting directors and younger ingenue alike.

Through a quick turn of events following a lukewarm audition, Annie is recruited as an unlikely bounty hunter in an underground, anti-patriarchal, and “progressive as f*ck” crime syndicate ring, led by Shiro Jin (portrayed with confidence and great comic timing by Emily Borromeo). Once she passes her initial training, Annie is partnered with the smooth walkin’, jive talkin’ Larazus (Alan H. Green, effortlessly cool and hilarious) and put to the test to seize the notorious South American drug-pushing pimp, Mac Roundtree (Brad Oscar, hamming it up from start to finish).

A highlight of Broadway Bounty Hunter is its company of sensational ensemble actors: Badia Farha, Jasmine Forsberg, Omar Garibay, Jared Joseph and Christina Sajous. It’s no exaggeration to say that this production is an ensemblist dream, with its silly, over-the-top script and lyrics giving each actor ample time and opportunity to showcase their own unique energy and individual characters.

In fact, Broadway Bounty Hunter is one of the few shows I’ve seen as of late whose commitment and trust in its ensemble goes hand-in-hand with its inherent likability. Unlike many popular tentpole shows on the Great White Way, which may rely on its company for lush vocals and showstopping choreography (but little characterization), this production not only gives each minor character a name and a pulse, but a reason to exist within the show’s unabashedly goofy timeline. It's as unique as it is refreshing.

Iconis’ R&B and funk-infused score adds the right amount of texture and personality to keep the show moving along. Though sometimes forgettable, there still isn’t a bad or belabored song in the bunch, and like the show, itself, it never once takes itself too seriously. This is especially true as the show uproariously lampoons Iconis’ own Be More Chill in a second act twist so meta, I can’t bring myself to spoil it. Jennifer Werner’s direction and choreography also make good use of strobe lighting and projected imagery to set the stage.

In the end, despite a few corny missteps here and there, Broadway Bounty Hunter is a looney, laugh-out-loud, and often times delightful farce. And like Lazarus’ sweet ride, it’s also a terrific vehicle (you see what I did there?) for a handful of dynamite and fresh ensemble performances.

Brad Oscar and the company of  Broadway Bounty Hunter  (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

Brad Oscar and the company of Broadway Bounty Hunter (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

5 Debut Questions: Phantom's Tanner Myles Huseman

Mo Brady

This week, we welcome The Phantom of the Opera’s Tanner Myles Huseman to the Main Stem and learn about his journey toward making his Broadway debut.

Tanner Myles Huseman in  The Phantom of the Opera

Tanner Myles Huseman in The Phantom of the Opera

1. What is your name, hometown, and when did you make your broadway debut?

My name is Tanner Myles Huseman, I am from Amherst, NH, and I made my Broadway debut in Phantom of The Opera on July 29.

2. What was your role/track in your Broadway debut?

I am a vacation swing for both the Slave Master and Solo Dancer tracks. My broadway debut was as the Slave Master.

3. How did you find out you had booked the part?

I was at my cousin’s wedding and I had received an email expressing that I was being strongly considered. It didn’t feel real. The moment it felt real, and really hit, was a week later when I received a phone call from the company manager to talk though details. 

4. What's been the most surprising thing about preparing to perform the show?

I was surprised at how hard it was to learn how to crack a whip! It truly is all in the wrist. 

5. What are you looking forward to most about your experience on Broadway?

I didn’t have much time to look forward. I had nine days of rehearsal before I went on, so I was very focused on learning my tracks. This being said, I was looking forward to my Parents seeing the show. They have been by my side this entire journey and I knew this would be as big for them as it is for me.

5 Debut Questions - The Lion King's Joe Rivera

Angela Tricarico

Joe Rivera

Joe Rivera

This week, we welcome The Lion King’s Joe Rivera to the Main Stem and learn about his journey toward making his Broadway debut.

1. What is your name and hometown?

Joe Rivera. Born and raised in Puerto Rico.

2. What is your role/track in your Broadway debut?

Zebra Male Dancer in The Lion King.

3. How did you find out you had booked the part?

I received the news in an email from the show’s casting director.

4. What's been the most surprising thing about preparing to perform the show?

Joe Rivera

Joe Rivera

I had three days to prepare before hitting the stage. Being focus and keeping a good attitude was key for me to feel I could get it done. The Lion King has been a challenging yet rewarding gift in my life and I'm surprised to have been given this opportunity.

5. What are you looking forward to most about your experience on Broadway?

I'm looking forward to that first look into the audience when the curtain opens. I moved to New York City three months ago hoping to get a show on Broadway. Now that I'm here I want to feel the love from the audience on the Broadway stage.

Electrifying Pageantry

Mo Brady

Moulin Rouge! The Musical at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre

Review by Mo Brady

The company of  Moulin Rouge! The Musical  (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

The company of Moulin Rouge! The Musical (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

Make way, make way for the spectacle Broadway has been waiting for. Much has been made about the opulence of the Mainstem’s newest mounting, Moulin Rouge! The Musical. And while much of that is due to the lavish production design (arguably the best Broadway has seen this decade), that sense of spectacle comes in great part thanks to the show’s large and talented ensemble. 

From strictly a personnel perspective, Moulin Rouge! has a lot to boast. In a year where many new musicals have pared down the number of actors on stage, Moulin Rouge! features an onstage ensemble of 20. That’s four times as large as Hadestown, for those who are keeping track. What more than 20 actors onstage gives audiences is the chance to be truly enveloped in the show’s staging.

While choreographer Sonya Tayeh is best known for her work in the concert dance world, she’s brought A-grade musical theatre staging to the table. In sequences such as “Shut Up and Dance” and “Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend,” Tayeh’s expertise in creating visually arresting images marries with traditional musical theatre storytelling perfectly. She has featured many of her frequent collaborators such as Fred Odgaard and Khori Michelle Petinaud bringing their theatrical prowess to the table. The result is more than a few jaw-dropping moments, including the “Bad Romance” sequence at the top of Act II that literally stops the show.

The company of  Moulin Rouge! The Musical  (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

The company of Moulin Rouge! The Musical (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

In many ways, Moulin Rouge! picks up the torch from where Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 left off. Dave Malloy’s musical also immersed audiences is a world of deep reds and brazen bohemians that directly addressed the audience. In fact, the cast of Moulin Rouge! features three of The Great Comet’s star dancers among its ranks: Paloma Garcia-Lee, Reed Luplau and Brandt Martinez. But whereas these three dancers stood out in a show full of actor-musicians, in Moulin Rouge! they are matched by 17 of their ferocious dancing counterparts. 

Calling the ensemble of Moulin Rouge! “the best in the business” is not hyperbole. This company boasts storied veterans of the Broadway stage (which I wrote about last winter). If the Great White Way had an “All-Star Team,” the lineup would include most of the company onstage at the Hirschfeld. It’s impossible to imagine a more proficient ensemble than one that includes Max Clayton, Bahiyah Hibah and Ericka Hunter. 

Energetically, the ensemble rides the fine line of being unattainable without being aloof. From the show’s pre-opening-number parade, Morgan Marcell and Olutayo Bosede stare down the audience with a subdued but feral energy that makes you wonder whether they want to hurt you or fuck you (or both). Their sharp foci and snakelike movements are the perfect platform for the love story of Satine and Christian to be told . 

With the lush settings by Derek McLane and costumes by Catherine Zuber, it's hard to feel like the club they inhabit is in the middle of a financial crisis. And while the story calls for Christian (Aaron Tveit) to eventually be taken in among the club’s community of artists, that idea isn’t reflected in the staging until a brief (but beautiful) tableau near the show’s end. 

Jacqueline B. Arnold as La Chocolat, Robyn Hurder as Nini, Holly James as Arabia and Jeigh Madjus as Baby Doll in  Moulin Rouge! The Musical  (Photo by Matthew Murphy)


Jacqueline B. Arnold as La Chocolat, Robyn Hurder as Nini, Holly James as Arabia and Jeigh Madjus as Baby Doll in Moulin Rouge! The Musical (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

Another discordance between script and staging lies in the use of four featured club dancers informally known as the Lady M’s. Jacqueline B. Arnold, Robyn Hurder, Holly James and Jeigh Madjus (playing Nina, La Chocolat, Arabia and Baby Doll, respectively), start and end the show with an electrifying rendition of the movie’s signature take on the song “Lady Marmalade.” In addition to their untamed energy during the musical numbers, they are included in the staging of two book scenes about the viability of the club’s financial future. But while this quartet of women is supposed to act as proxies for the denizens of the club, the staging and direction of these scenes give them little agency.

For all of the remarkable pageantry, sections of Moulin Rouge! surprisingly fall flat. Even with actors Kyle Brown and Bahiyah Hibah flying high above a spinning Eiffel Tower, the Act I finale isn’t able to compete with the extravaganzas that graced the stage earlier, and while the musical mashups are in line with the film Moulin Rouge, bouncing between songs make it challenging to settle down and invest in what characters are actually feeling. Yet one feeling pervades the entire experience of attending the Moulin Rouge, that of being immensely entertained.