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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

“Give the Gift of Health.”

Mo Brady

by Bridie Carroll

 Bridie Carroll

Bridie Carroll

As theater people, we are pretty creative and love spending our outside time on hobbies and other things we are passionate about. 

Various health issues I've encountered and been forced to deal with has evolved into a passion for heath and wellness as well as safer skincare and make up. I suffer from three autoimmune diseases and for four years on the road in Wicked I carried an entire kitchen in my car to keep myself as healthy as possible.

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I also spent my Mondays off in either a Sephora (my former love) shopping for make up or Whole Foods prepping my meals for the week. I learned after I got off the road, that what is in our skincare and make up is actually pretty terrifying. In fact, I learned that 1938 was the last time any regulation was passed for skincare or make up. Currently two pages of legislation regulate a $62 billion dollar industry, and sadly companies can advertise to us however they want, and many of them are advertising false information. In fact, the European Union has banned 1,400 known harmful chemicals while the United States has only banned 30. Yep 30.

For me, with my own health, and the concern of the health of my family, this was really shocking and scary! Cancer, infertility, birth defects, neurotoxicity and hormone/endocrine disruptors are in most of the products we use everyday - even the ones we think are safe! THAT IS SO NOT OKAY.

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From shampoo to mascara, it's time we are advised and become aware of what is being put in our products and demand stricter regulations to keep us safe and healthy.  That's where Beautycounter comes in!  The company's products are free of over 1500 harmful chemicals and toxins and prides itself on education and advocacy.  And beyond that, their incredible products have improved my skin in a dramatic way and I've now thrown away all my old scary stuff.

We had our first event this past summer and it was so much fun we decided we needed to do another one and let everyone know about it. I'm passionate about bringing awareness to safer skincare and I will have some amazing products with me on Sunday at Broadway Brands by Broadway Hands. 

Broadway Brands by Broadway Hands

Mo Brady

by Jenny Florkowski

 Jenny Florkowski

Jenny Florkowski

Along with my passion for performing I've always found great joy in creating my own jewelry but never thought of it as more than a hobby. It was two years ago while out on tour that I began to feel the urge to turn this hobby into something more serious and that's when Found Minerals Jewelry was born. I opened my Etsy shop and quickly began putting all of my extra time and energy into my company. Starting my own business is one of the most difficult things I've ever done (only second to making it to Broadway) and also one of the most rewarding.

I create men's and women's jewelry using an array of natural materials such as copper, leather and gemstones. One of my favorite pieces to make is called a mala. Malas are meditation beads made up of 108 stones, hand-knotted cord and finished with a tassel at the bottom. Traditionally these were used in eastern meditation practices. Today they are still used for this purpose but can also be worn as necklaces or wrapped bracelets. I love making these because the process feels like my own form of mediation.

 Jenny Florkowski In  Wicked

Jenny Florkowski In Wicked

I've been performing in Wicked for the past six years. My journey with the show began in 2012 when I was cast as a swing and Nessarose understudy in the Broadway company. Since then I've had the opportunity to perform in the role of Nessa, as well as a swing on both national tours. I'm currently a vacation swing, performing in the Broadway company and the national tour when, coverage is needed.

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I recently created a custom mala for Wicked's own Jessica Vosk using healing gemstones that promote throat and singing health. It was a blast working with Jessica to make a unique piece just for her! I'm also excited to announce that I'm working on a Broadway inspired collectible bracelet line that will feature Broadway shows from the past and present. 

My goal is that my jewelry inspires my customers - guys and ladies alike - to like themselves. My intention behind every piece I make is to create a reminder of how fabulous, brilliant, beautiful, handsome and awesome each one of you are. I'll be selling my handmade pieces alongside other fantastic artists from the cast and crew of Wicked at the Broadway Marketplace this Sunday, November 18. I hope you'll stop by, do some shopping and see what we're creating behind the scenes.

26 Singular Sensations

Mo Brady

New York City Center’s Gala Presentation of A Chorus Line

by Mo Brady

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Watching the City Center Gala Presentation of A Chorus Line is like watching two shows simultaneously. The first is the classic masterpiece about dancers auditioning for Broadway in 1975. The second is a chance to watch some of the best Broadway performers of today tell a story that mirrors their own. Each is highly satisfying on their own, but the combination of the two is truly sublime.

For example, during the song “I Can Do That,” we watch the character Mike prove his agility to perform for his fellow auditioners. At the same time, we are watching actor Tommy Bracco possess the same remarkable ability to entertain the audience at City Center. We know that this role wasn’t created for him. In many cases, the roles in A Chorus Line were based on the actors that originated them, but the characters are so truthful and specific that they seem to fit this company perfectly.

Any production of A Chorus Line carries a significant amount of baggage, thanks to the mystique and lore surrounding the show’s original production. Yet, what allows productions to live up to this hype is that it’s a truly well-written musical that embraces universal messages by making its characters hyperspecific.

The show’s celebrated staging and story make the musical a “bucket list” show for many Broadway dancers. City Center was able to snag many of Broadway’s most prolific dancers to join its cast. (When you have Ahmad Simmons, who was seen in last season’s incredible ensemble of Carousel, playing cut dancer Tom, the company is sure to be full of ringers.)

 Tony Yazbeck and Ryan Steele in  A Chorus Line  (Photo by Joan Marcus)

Tony Yazbeck and Ryan Steele in A Chorus Line (Photo by Joan Marcus)

Playing roles that so seemingly mirror their own careers allows the company to bring ease and naturalism to their performances. Jay Armstrong Johnson uses his own sly humor to shine as Bobby, and J. Elaine Marcos’ brazen humor makes the role of Val sparkle.

Robyn Hurder plays the role of Cassie with such simplicity, it’s as if she isn’t acting at all. When she performs “The Music and the Mirror,” her love for dancing is palpable. And when she sings the lyric “I’ll do you proud,” her voice transmits a truth that seems to make the theatre walls vibrate.

The Gala Presentation gives New York audience the chance to enjoy fantastic interpretations of roles by actors who have played them elsewhere. Leigh Silverman is truly staggering as Sheila, reprising the role she won an Olivier Award for with both icy humor and honest hunger. Denis Lambert draws comedy from every possible line (and then some) as Greg, having playing the role on Broadway at the Hollywood Bowl. And David Grindrod reprises Mark, a role he’s played on national and international tours, with a simplistic winning energy.

While A Chorus Line is undoubtedly a period piece, much of the dialogue feels as contemporary as ever. In the scene before “What I Did For Love,” the director, Zach, asks the auditioners what they would do if they couldn’t dance anymore. Their responses - Sheila’s desire to start a dance studio, Val’s pursuit of legitimate acting roles - are the same answers that many actors would give to that question today. When Al laments about his contemporaries leaving the business because they can’t afford to live as a performer, the statement - and the show as a whole - feel strikingly pertinent.

  A Chorus Line  (Photo by Joan Marcus)

A Chorus Line (Photo by Joan Marcus)

Give It Some Zazz

Mo Brady

The Prom at the Longacre Theatre

by Mo Brady

 Christopher Sieber and the cast of  The Prom  (Photo by Deen van Meer)

Christopher Sieber and the cast of The Prom (Photo by Deen van Meer)

What is “zazz”? According to the character Angie in the new Broadway musical The Prom, zazz is guts, spunk and star quality. All attributes that this new show has in spades.

The Prom is a lark, but one with a lot of heart - a somewhat silly, but ultimately life-affirming triumph of entertainment. The spitfire dialogue and catchy music are written by Bob Martin, Chad Beguelin and Matthew Sklar. Responsible for the clever and toe-tapping stories of The Drowsy Chaperone and The Wedding Singer, they bring similar wit and wisdom to this story of four self-obsessed actors descending on small town Indiana.

One of those actors is Angie, a leggy, showbiz veteran played by Angie Schworer (a leggy showbiz veteran). Schworer’s impressive ensemble resume spans from opening The Will Rogers Rogers on Broadway in 1991 to closing Something Rotten! on Broadway in 2017. Here in The Prom, she shines with equal panache. Whether she’s delivering a stinging one-liner or sliding her remarkably long legs into the splits, she does it all with wit and confidence. In other words, with zazz.

Similarly, the show’s young ensemble performs with noteable zeal and gusto. Playing students and teachers of James Madison High School, the cast commits to the material with dedication and energy. In particular, the execution of Wayne “Juice” Marlins, Drew Redington and Kalyn West stood out - infusing the quick paced choreography with impressive specificity.

While The Prom is fast paced and fun, the ensemble keeps the stakes high without making their characterizations too broad. Specifically, the engaged but realistic presences of Mary Antonini and Fernell Hogan helped ground the story in reality, even when the circumstances border on ridiculous.

 The company of  The Prom  (Photo by Deen van Meer)

The company of The Prom (Photo by Deen van Meer)

For all the high-energy choreography and comedic silliness, The Prom shines in its moments of emotional simplicity. Late in Act II, Emma (played by Caitlin Kinnunen) swiftly and clearly invites an audience of internet viewers into her “Unruly Heart.” When she is joined by the ensemble as community of others both in voice and spirit, her song soars into a memorable showstopper.

Casual observers may find similarities between The Prom and Mean Girls, also helmed by prolific director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw. But whereas Mean Girls entertains with biting humor, The Prom wears its heart proudly on its sleeve. The ensemble brings life and vitality to the production, one that both tugs on the audience’s heartstrings and delights delights them with zazz.

 

Step, Kick, Kick, Leap, Kick, Touch.... Again

Mo Brady

by Wesley Ian Cappiello

 Wesley Ian Cappiello

Wesley Ian Cappiello

My entire life I’ve always known one thing to be true: I want to dance on Broadway. My mother likes to remind me of our VHS tape of Annie that I destroyed from rewinding it hundreds of times so I I could learn the dances. She says I obsessed over mimicking every detail, then rehearsing endlessly to perform “full-out.” I remember my kindergarten classmates looking at me cockeyed when I asked if they wanted to dance to “Easy Street” (and of course, not understanding how they couldn't possibly know what I was talking about).

I remember listening to Original Broadway Cast recordings of iconic musicals on long road trips. I used to belt out “Dance: Ten; Looks: Three” in my living room when I was eight years old. (I have since learned Robyn Hurder and I have this in common.) Anytime in college when I would have doubts about pursing this career, I would watch Every Little Step, the riveting A Chorus Line documentary; It was a therapeutic reminder of why we endure the physical and emotional pain to do what we love. For as long as I can remember, A Chorus Line was the reason I wanted to be in theater. It is the only show I could happily do over and over again. This show has always held a very special place in my heart. However, it wasn’t until my senior year of college that A Chorus Line would change my life.

It was a September morning right at the beginning of my final year of college. I had only been home for a week after doing a summer stock production of A Chorus Line where I had my first opportunity to play Paul, my ultimate dream role. Still on a high from the summer, I took a day off from class, got on a Trailways Bus and headed to the Big, Bad Apple. I went to an open call for the Non-Equity tour of A Chorus Line directed by Baayork Lee and Peter Pileski that was set to start in January of 2018. I knew I had to be on this tour. I needed to be on this tour. I had read every book written on the show, I was basically a walking A Chorus Line encyclopedia.

 Wesley Ian Cappiello

Wesley Ian Cappiello

It was also my first opportunity to be in front of the legendary Baayork Lee. Ever since watching Every Little Step, I dreamed of learning the show under her direction. I remember every detail of the audition. I danced the opening jazz combination for the first three hours. They made their first cut, narrowing us down to twelve from the original 80 boys. Somehow, I made it through. I could barely contain my excitement. We then learned the ballet combination and just as my confidence was at an all time high, I tripped, fell on to the floor, and slid under the casting table. It was absolutely humiliating. I quickly thought, “I know, just say something witty and maybe they’ll laugh.” And laugh they did!

I had to skip class the rest of the week to come in for callbacks to read for the various characters. I loved exploring and learning about the vast and unique men on the line. At the end of the week, I got a call asking if I would be “Wrong Arms” Roy Rogers and one of the male swings. I was able to graduate early and even walk with my class at graduation. I couldn't believe it, I was on the national tour of my dream show.

Swinging is no simple task, especially in an ensemble dance heavy show like A Chorus Line. The national tour was my first time swinging ever, and saying I was terrified would be an understatement. I was covering four roles and learning a role of my own. Initially, I was convinced my brain would explode, but with the help of Baayork and Francine Espiritu, our wonderful dance captain/mother hen, I made it through. Now I’d love the opportunity to swing more giant ensemble shows, something I never thought I’d say.

Our company on the road was different than most previous companies of this show. We were all very young, with the average age being around 23 years old. Most of us were recent college graduates or were taking time off of school to do the tour. It was quite comforting to be with such a spritely, fun cast all at the start of our young careers.

As far as the show was concerned, there were many abysmal failures on my part. Tripping people, forgetting entire paragraphs of lines, not knowing where to stand and (the most embarrassing) looking down to see what costume I was in when I forgot what role I was on for. Stepping into completely different tracks that all faced their own individual challenges, sometimes at a moment’s notice, was complete mental gymnastics.

Being forced to learn quickly from my mistakes made me a more well-rounded performer. It allowed me an opportunity to get to know the show in the most intimate way possible. It has been the most rewarding challenge I’ve faced as a performer so far.

After about five months in the United States, our tour shipped out to various cities in Japan. I assumed the role of Don Kerr for the rest of the run, while still understudying Paul and Al. I also got to wear the best jeans I’ve ever worn eight times a week.

When we returned home from Japan, a private dance call was arranged for the cast of our tour to audition for this gala presentation of the show at New York City Center. I was even more terrified for this audition than the first time. Everyone I had looked up to and admired from Every Little Step was sitting right in front of me watching my every move. This was a moment I had literally dreamed about, but never expected to happen. We did the opening jazz combination one at a time, and everyone stayed to sing and read. My nerves got the best of me in the room, and I left that day feeling defeated. I was very hard on myself, immediately believing I had lost the job. I assumed they would be looking at seasoned Broadway dancers who I had no chance competing with.

Three days later, I got a call that put to rest all of the demons in my mind. The creative team who I admired so much, wanted me to be a part of this acclaimed production. I was offered Roy Rogers and would cover Al, Mark, and Greg. My heart stopped. The New York City Center? Me? On that stage?! I was in utter disbelief.

 Wesley Ian Cappiello

Wesley Ian Cappiello

Sure, you never know where you’ll be when you get a call making your dreams come true, but let's just say the people at the Shop Rite in my hometown of Hamilton, New Jersey were very confused when they saw me sobbing over the cold cuts. Tears of joy, of course! I cried all the way home thinking about how thrilling it was going to be to perform my favorite show with Broadway stars that I’ve idolized my entire life.

When I tell you this cast is jaw-dropping, I mean it. Every single day when I come into work, I am astounded by the performances from these incredible actors. There are so many standouts, I could go on forever. The level professionalism from the cast and crew onstage and off has made a huge impression on me, I feel lucky to have such wonderful cast mates to look up to.

This entire experience has been surreal. I pinch myself every day and keep asking myself how I got to be so lucky. I have made a promise to myself not to take any of it for granted. I am beyond grateful for this incredible opportunity.

I have many fond memories from this rehearsal process from becoming friends with my favorite Broadway performers to watching Bob Avian direct this brilliant cast. I even made it the closest I’ll get to my dream of being a Radio City Rockette, they rehearse next door. However, there is one singular memory I will cherish the most. On the first day of rehearsal, I joined the Actors’ Equity Association while the rest of my cast cheered me on. I wish someone got it on film. This moment will be engrained in my mind forever.

I don’t know what happens for me next, that’s the beauty of this crazy business. One day, you’re working your ass off and sharing a crucial story with the world, then in the blink of an eye you are trying to find a 9-to-5 job to support yourself while auditioning. That’s where I’ll be next week, and I’m okay with that. I’ve spent a year and a half of my life with this show. I can’t wait to take everything I’ve learned and put it into every show I work on in the future.

If I told that five year old dancing to Annie that he’d be performing at the New York City Center, he’d just about die. And look, I may not have achieved my dream of being a dancer on Broadway yet but I know some day I will. And I especially can’t wait for the day I get the call saying I can revisit this show that has been with me through the most important stages of my life. Until then, I’ll just keep dancing.

The Difference Between Bad Reviews and Mean Reviews

Mo Brady

by Mo Brady

It’s a story as old as Broadway itself. With each new musical opening comes scores of opinions from theatre devotees. Yet, some of those reviews have typically been held in high esteem: those of theatre critics.

  King Kong  on Broadway (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

King Kong on Broadway (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

For decades, theatre reviews from the legitimate press were the industry standard of quality. Both business insiders and loving fans looked to The New York Times and other publications for opinionated, but honest views of productions.

However, there has been a tonal shift in reviews by The Times and others in recent years. Whereas in the past, readers could count on encountering a handful of negative reviews each season, those have been replaced by reviews that are downright mean.

Scanning this season’s reviews, there’s no shortage of pithy takes on Broadway shows.

For King Kong, The New York Times took an surprisingly lazy approach. Instead of asking a single reviewer to create a thoughtful essay with constructive criticism, they used two reviewers to beat up the production. The back-and-forth dialogue feels reminiscent of the tag-teaming in a professional wrestling match.

Ben Brantley: Hello, Jesse. Though I’m not in a playful mood this morning — having just seen the spirit-crushing “King Kong” — what if we begin this dialogue with a game? Imagine you are on the street, having just left the theater, and are asked by a television interviewer to describe your response in one word. Well?

Jesse Green: It can’t be printed here, and I’m not even sure it’s one word. (It starts with “ape.”) So I guess I’ll go with “ugh.”

Ben Brantley: I understand what you’re saying. Since screaming is such a big part of the show, mine would be ‘aaaaaaaaargh.’

The New York Times is not solely to blame for this phenomena of lazy reviewing. In his review of the quickly-departed Broadway musical Gettin’ The Band Back Together, David Cote of The Observer wrote:

“Having sat through the sweaty, janky garbage fire Gettin' the Band Back Together, I strongly suspect that producer and book writer Ken Davenport has a chest tattoo that reads (in Gothic script), ‘No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.’”

What’s the difference between a bad review and a mean review? A few things. Intelligence. Grace. Most notably, a bad review aspires to educate readers while a mean review aspires to entertain them.

There are legions of thoughtful and passionate theatre reviewers working in the press and online today. Chris Jones of the Chicago Tribune and Gordon Cox of Variety stand out as two who champion and advocate of shows’ success, even when they dislike aspects of a production. What reviewers like Brantley, Green and Cote lack in their printed opinions is any sense that they like contemporary theatre at all. And if you don’t like most of what’s happening in the theatre today, maybe you shouldn’t be subjecting yourself to review it.

I don’t mean to imply that any of the new Broadway musicals this season are without fault. These musicals have (or had) flaws which should certainly be pointed out by the journalists employed to review the shows. These reviewers are allowed to express their negative opinions, even when they can’t recommend attending a production to readers. But all of this is possible without hitting a production below the belt.




Dueling Dances

Mo Brady

King Kong at the Broadway Theatre

by Mo Brady

 The company of  King Kong  (Photo by Joan Marcus)

The company of King Kong (Photo by Joan Marcus)

The first stage picture in the new Broadway musical King Kong is an empty stage with three ensemble actors dangling from ropes above. From that wonder-inspiring tableau, the beautiful and surprising visuals just keep coming, thanks to the production’s skilled and agile ensemble.

It would be hard not to have heard that this production features a 20-foot puppet as it’s titular gorilla, manipulated by onstage actors. Yet, seeing the puppet love in the flesh is a moment of true theatricality. Even as the audience watches wires control him and hears carabiners click, the puppet seems to move of its own accord.

Known as the King’s Company, these performers manipulate the immense puppet with remarkable skill and agility. Dangling from ropes and crouching in shadows, they move under, around and on top of the puppet to manipulate its movement. When Kong moves, it’s like watching two dances at the same time: the larger dance of the ten actors controlling Kong’s body and the smaller dance of three actors simultaneously creating a subtle dance across the puppet’s face.

Based on the production’s press, it’d be easy think that the only ensemble moments involve the Kong puppet. However, the show’s additional 10-member ensemble works just as athletically to create the world around Kong. Both the puppetry and more traditional choreography are credited to both Director/Choreographer Drew McOnie and Movement Director Gavin Robins. 

Executing physical manifestations of a city under construction, their movement language is just as specific and grand as Kong himself. It’s no wonder that so many of these ensemble members are veterans of Hamilton, like Chloë S. Campbell and Eliza Ohman. The show’s choreographic language is pedestrian, yet stylized - reminiscent of Andy Blankenbuehler’s choreographic body of work. 

While the production could have made the King’s Company and the ensemble into two separate casts, a number of impressive performers bounce from ensemble roles to puppetry throughout the show. A veteran of Ailey II, Gabriel Hyman moves majestically as both a puppeteer and a dancer. Peter Chursin’s sharp and exacting movements also make him stand out. And Casey Garvin makes a memorable turn as Fake Carl, bringing laughs to the show second act, even while lithely bounding across the stage.

For all of its jaw-dropping spectacle, the show does have problems. At two hours and 15 minutes, it’s still feels a little shaggy in parts. And while Christiani Pitts is working insanely hard as leading lady Ann Darrow, the emotional trajectory of her character doesn’t seem to add up to the sum of its parts. However, the visual spectacle of King Kong is undeniably remarkable. The way in which he scales the Empire State Building completely blew my mind. And every time he completes another jaw-dropping feat, the audience bursts into applause.

 The company of  King Kong  (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

The company of King Kong (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

"That Story is Ours."

Mo Brady

by Mo Brady

For many actors, the upcoming gala presentation of A Chorus Line at New York’s City Center is a homecoming. The cast is filled with Broadway stalwarts reprising roles they’ve played in the show at theatres across the country. But for two of Broadway’s most prolific ensemblists, Max Clayton and Ryan Steele, the production is a chance to tackle this seminal piece of theatre for the first time.

 Ryan Steele

Ryan Steele

Since making his Broadway debut as Baby John in West Side Story, Ryan Steele has been featured in many of the most acclaimed Broadway ensembles of the last decade, including Carousel, Matilda The Musical and Newsies. However, playing the role of Larry in this City Center presentation is his first time performing this iconic story about his craft and livelihood.

A Chorus Line has always been a bucket list show for me,” reveals Steele. “I’ve always had a tremendous amount of respect for it. It’s impossible to live this crazy life we, as dancers, live and not get moved by this story.”

Max Clayton has performed in five different Broadway musicals in the last four years, including a memorable turn as Tom in the original company of Bandstand. However, he credits A Chorus Line to encouraging him to make his dream of performing on Broadway a reality. “I have always been the biggest fan of A Chorus Line,” he says. “But when I saw the Broadway revival in 2006, which was a moment I saw myself pursuing acting.”

Both Clayton and Steele wanted to be a part of this City Center production, in part, to learn the material from Baayork Lee and Bob Avian. “I wanted it as soon as I saw that Baayork Lee and Bob Avian were setting it,” says Steele. Clayton agrees, “There is something extremely special about getting to learn this particular show from its originators.”

While it is each of their first forays into A Chorus Line, the production features many of the actors’ former co-stars. A Chorus Line reunites Clayton with previous cast mates, from Melanie Moore of the recently-closed Hello, Dolly! to Robyn Hurder of the world premiere of Moulin Rouge. For Steele, the production is a chance to reunite with Ahmad Simmons from Carousel, Tommy Bracco from Newsies and Sara Esty, with whom he danced for a year on the first national tour of An American In Paris.

 Max Clayton

Max Clayton

“Aside from those I’ve worked with before, there are so many people in this cast that I have admired from afar for so long,” says Clayton. “I’m completely honored to share the stage with them today.” The company includes many ACL veterans, including Tony Yazbeck and J. Elaine Marcos from the show’s most recent Broadway revival. “A lot of the cast has done the show before, so it’s really comforting to have that assurance when trying to put up a show this quickly. Especially one as chaotic as A Chorus Line,” says Steele.

Adding to the frenetic energy of the production is that the company will be presenting the show as a full production. “You’re going to see all of the original staging, costumes, lights, and the glorious and massive orchestra,” reveals Clayton. “Nothing is scaled down or modified.”

Even though the show is a massive undertaking, both Clayton and Steele are excited to become a part of its legacy. “This show is brilliantly constructed,” notes Clayton.” It gives me goosebumps every single day. Every single person in the show is the backbone and glue of this musical. I love that each cast member gets their own bow without any order of significance. How special is that?”

“‘The star of the show is the line’ is something we were told at the beginning of rehearsal,” admits Steele. “That team vibe of this show brings such a refreshing energy to a rehearsal room. There are no egos. One moment, a performer could be downstage center singing a three-minute solo, and the next they’re upstage left dancing in the back of a group number. And it’s okay because we’re all supporting one another to tell this story - a story that is ours.”

"The Body and Mind Need Rest and Challenge."

Mo Brady

by Erin Clemons

 Erin Clemons as Peggy/Maria, Eliza, and Angelica in  Hamilton

Erin Clemons as Peggy/Maria, Eliza, and Angelica in Hamilton

In my last week at Hamilton, I got to play all three of the sisters: Peggy/Maria, Eliza, and then Angelica, which was the exact opposite way I had learned them. It was the perfect way to wrap up my swift and thrilling year at Hamilton.

I only auditioned for Hamilton three times in the course of a year and a half. It was a very brief audition process. I was on tour with Beautiful when I found out I had booked the show. I would be covering the three sisters and be in the ensemble every night. I had to put in my notice right away, and I joined Hamilton four weeks later.

Going into the show, I mostly knew the material from seeing the show and working on the audition. However, learning the show in its entirety was equal parts terrifying and exhilarating. You finally get to work on this material that you’ve been fangirling over for over a year. It takes a while to absorb it all. The words (and the stairs for Woman 5) are a brilliant and overwhelming feat. I learned and went on for my ensemble track, Angelica, and Eliza within three months of joining the show, saving Peggy/Maria for last a few months later. It was an exciting moment to finally finishing learning all of the show.

The team at Hamilton are so lovely and accommodating, and I absolutely love my cast mates. Nevertheless, sometimes you feel it in your bones when it’s time to leave and that was quite literally what happened to me. Throughout my time at the show, I started to have a lot of problems with my ribs and shoulder from the corsets that we wear. Although the show took great care of us, I think your body manifests what your mind already knows. For me, that was that I was ready to move on.

 Erin Clemons (Photo by Miguel Herrera)

Erin Clemons (Photo by Miguel Herrera)

I have been understudying in shows for about six years now. Although I have learned so much from all those processes and it has been rewarding to learn all of that material, it started to weigh on me. Understudies and ensemble members have to spend a lot of time in rehearsals outside of the show, not leaving a lot of time for leisure or other artistic endeavors. And when you are at the show or getting ready for the day, you’re always wondering who will be out, especially if you cover more than one role. When you add that to an 8-show week, it becomes, at least for me, a pace that is unmaintainable for years at a time.

The body and the mind need rest, but they also need challenge. When you’re understudying, there isn’t ample rehearsal time. Especially when you’re covering more than one character, you’re often more concerned with remembering where you stand, what you say or sing and who to rather than being able to really craft a character.

I think as we grow older our dreams and goals morph. You start to really take hold of what you want out of life and your career. There is value in paying your dues and learning from great actors and teachers, but there is also value in knowing when it’s time to own what you bring to the table as well. For me, my new dream is to be able to work on roles of my own, getting the chance to know and rehearse material well enough to bring nuance and depth to the character I play.

It goes without saying that Hamilton is a brilliant show. Anyone who gets the chance to work on it should consider him or herself lucky to be a part of the genius that is that creative team. It’s a rare and beautiful phenomenon I will always be proud to have been a part of. When Eliza took her last breath at the end of my last show, I couldn’t help but cry for the hours of work and sweat and love and sacrifice that I, and everyone on that stage and backstage has given to make the show what it is and continues to be. A true blessing.

Not Limited, but Limitless

Mo Brady

by Mo Brady

 Jolina Javier

Jolina Javier

The upcoming gala presentation of A Chorus Line at New York’s City Center is one steeped in tradition. Not only is it a celebration of the 75th anniversary of City Center, but this production is helmed by original cast member and frequent stager of A Chorus Line Baayork Lee. As the first new production of the show in New York City in over a decade, the entire company has the opportunity to showcase the musical’s legacy to the city’s theatrical community. None so much as actress Jolina Javier, who plays the role of Connie Wong.

Javier has been a cast member of Broadway’s The Phantom of the Opera for more than three years. In her varied dance career, her work has spanned the worlds of opera, classical dance and musical theatre. However, she credits A Chorus Line for helping her find her love of theatrical storytelling.

“My relationship with this show started in my living room as a kid,” remembers Javier. “When the movie version played on television, it resonated with me as a young ballet dancer. It also helped me discover my love for musical theatre.”

The City Center company features numerous ACL alums, Javier notwithstanding. She has performed the show twice regionally, at Theatre Under the Stars directed by Mitzi Hamilton and then at The MUNY directed by Denis Jones. However, the City Center production marks Javier’s first opportunity to learn the role of Connie Wong from the woman who originated it.

Director Baayork Lee is unofficially the world’s leading expert on A Chorus Line. She originated the character of Connie Wong, a role that is, in part, based on her life as performer.

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Like Connie, Lee began performing on Broadway at a young age and continued to find success onstage as an adult. Just as Connie Wong has an established working relationship with the show-within-a-show’s director Zach, Lee had worked for ACL’s director, choreographer and conceiver Michael Bennett on Broadway’s Seesaw and Promises, Promises. And just like Connie Wong, Lee is 4’10”.

“Although she is 4 foot 10 inches tall, Connie has a big personality,” says Javier. “She’s witty, energetic, and ambitious; she knows who she is and what she has to offer and isn’t apologetic about her size because it hasn’t stopped her from working.”

In the decades since A Chorus Line debuted, Lee has gone on to direct and choreograph more than 35 productions of the musical, including a non-equity tour that launched earlier this year.

“I wanted to be a part of this production for many reasons, but number one was because I wanted to work with Baayork Lee,” reveals Javier. “She and co-choreographer Bob Avian were a part of the inception of A Chorus Line. I wanted to absorb every detail I could about this iconic show.”

In tackling the role of Connie, Javier hasn’t let the legacy of the show stop her from bringing her own experience to the character. “I tell Connie’s story from a very honest and truthful place because her story is exactly my story,” she says. “Baayork has given me full reign of the part and has allowed me to find my own within the songs and dialogue because she knows I have my own experiences to share within her story.”

However, in working with Lee for the first time, Javier has learned things about the role of Connie she didn’t know before. “I learned that since Connie has been in the business a long time and worked with Zach, she believes that her chances of booking this one are good. At the end of the show, she realizes that although she has a working relationship with Zach, it does not guarantee her a job. The nature of this business is that loyalty, reliability, and stability are for the most part absent. Nevertheless, Connie still shows up.”

The serendipitous relationship between Javier and this production goes beyond her love for A Chorus Line itself. “When I first moved to New York,” she remembers, “I would go watch as many dance performances at City Center as I could afford, and I always dreamed of performing on that stage. To be given the opportunity to perform my favorite musical and tell a story about dancers in a theatre that celebrates dance is a dream come true.”

“I feel, now more than ever, connected to the show at this point in my career. A Chorus Line’s story is every dancer’s story of all the sacrifice, heartache, and hope that we endure to keep doing what we love.”

 

 Jolina Javier and the cast of The Muny’s production of  A Chorus Line

Jolina Javier and the cast of The Muny’s production of A Chorus Line

"I Need Both a Career and a Family."

Mo Brady

 Kim Taylor Cox (with daughter, Matilda)

Kim Taylor Cox (with daughter, Matilda)

Life throws you some amazing curveballs. I feel very grateful to be able to continue to live my dream as a dancer on Broadway as well as be a mum to a gorgeous little girl, Matilda. It is not often that family can blossom with a performing career, but I’m happy I get to experience it all.

I am an Australian who had been living in Los Angeles for four years with my lovely husband. I had submerged myself in the non-union regional theatre world out there, and I loved the experiences and shows I got to be involved in, mostly. I did meet some of the most supportive people in these shows, who helped me further my career in many ways, but it was almost impossible to survive on non-union wages. Performers are a resilient and hardworking breed; we do whatever jobs we can to continue working for our dream. The day I got the phone call from my agent about Hamilton, I was just about to walk into my waitressing job at Islands, a very unglamorous burger joint.

Life has changed quite a lot since then.

I had auditioned for the first national tour for Hamilton in Los Angeles. After being on hold for three months, my agent finally called and told me, “You didn’t get the tour.” Well crap, I thought to myself, all that waiting and hoping for nothing. “No,” my agent said. “They want you to be a replacement on Broadway.” I was dumbfounded, that option was nowhere on my radar. Tears streamed down my face. I was going to get to live my dream.

The next couple of months were crazy - we moved our lives to New York. Well, my husband was bicoastal, but packing your life into two and a half suitcases for an unknown time frame can be daunting. Over the next few weeks, life came pretty fast as I dove into rehearsals for this mammoth show. Hamilton pushed me both physically and mentally. I second-guessed myself each day, but I had to get on that stage to prove to myself I was meant to be there. Finally, the day arrived. This Aussie made her Broadway debut as the Woman 2 ensemble track in Hamilton. It was the most exhilarating, nerve-racking, exhausting and fulfilling experience of my life so far.

 Kim Taylor Cox

Kim Taylor Cox

Little did I know what lay ahead.

I had been living my life in the show for about seven months. Just to throw a spanner in the works, my husband and I found out that we were unexpectedly expecting. My initial reaction was probably not the most endearing, I mean, I was shocked and upset. I wasn’t prepared for this part of life to open up to me just yet. I had just reached my dream job and I still wanted to live it. I hated the thought that this may be it for me, that I may not be given an opportunity to come back to the show after giving birth, and I didn’t know if I would physically be able to.

I left the show at five months pregnant. I couldn’t have pushed my body any further. I felt like Superwoman to have made it that long in such a physically demanding show. Crazy to think that my little girl was growing in my belly and getting her own Broadway debut listening to the songs of Hamilton. Our baby Matilda was born three and a half weeks early, healthy, happy, and beautiful. We became parents: the actual most exhilarating, nerve-racking, exhausting and fulfilling experience of our lives.

The Hamilton company and cast were more supportive then I could have ever hoped for. They showered us with love throughout the pregnancy and birth of Matilda. In addition, they ensured me that my track in the show was waiting for me when I was ready to return.   

I found the transition to motherhood very difficult. It is a whole other foreign world that you really don’t understand until you become a parent. It has definitely made me appreciate all the parents out there and so admire parents in this crazy industry. The lifestyle of a performer usually involves many late nights. We are expected to be free at the drop of a hat for an audition or rehearsal or class or gig. It’s a forever changing, busy, selfish lifestyle and the introduction of a baby completely turns it upside down. You now have someone who completely and utterly depends on you. Someone that you want to be able to give your all to in every moment you get to spend together.

 Kim Taylor Cox (backstage with Brian D’Arcy James)

Kim Taylor Cox (backstage with Brian D’Arcy James)

I’m just newly back in the show, and I can already tell there are going to be many ups and downs in the coming months and years. Whether it’s juggling schedules, babysitters, and feeling that mother’s guilt from not always being there. But as a performer, I feel like I need both a career and family to be the best mum I can be.

It feels exhilarating to be back as a cast member of Hamilton. I was nervous for the few brush-up rehearsals I had, but being back on that stage feels like I am where I am meant to be, like I never left, and that I have an old piece of me back again. However, with parenthood and a Broadway schedule comes a whole new level of exhaustion; the lack of sleep, breastfeeding and getting my body back into show shape is definitely waning on me. But being able to continue working on Broadway and raising our gorgeous girl is more then I could ever have hoped for. I could not be doing this without the support of my husband, who is the best dad Matilda could ask for.

As a performer, you have that one goal you always hope to reach. It’s a little ambitious and a distant possibility, but we always like to think that it may happen “one day.”  For me, that goal was Broadway. I still thank my lucky stars. Somehow they all aligned and I get to perform in one of the most influential musicals of all time, with the added miracle of a gorgeous girl and family to share it with.





“Getting Out of the Ensemble.”

Mo Brady

by Mo Brady

 Telly Leung

Telly Leung

It’s a phrase heard time and again in the theatre industry. Successful ensemble actors say that while they love performing, they want to “get out of the ensemble.”

But what does that phrase mean? What about being in the ensemble is so difficult that so many actors would want to escape it?

Each musical’s ensemble has a different set of responsibilities, from singing lyrical soprano lines in The Phantom of the Opera or lifting chairs across the stage in Hamilton. However, what unites these kinds of roles is their tracks often come with immense physical toll.

Telly Leung, Broadway’s current Aladdin, made his Main Stem debut as an ensemble member in the 2002 production of Flower Drum Song. He went on to play ensemble roles in Pacific Overtures and Rent before taking on the principal role of Angel Schunard full-time. This firsthand experience as both an ensemble member and leading man gives him a unique perspective on the challenges - and rewards - of each kind of work.

“Often times, the ensemble behind the star is doing backflips and triple turns while singing high-Cs,” notes Leung. “Those physically difficult feats every night are extremely stressful.”

Adam Kaplan’s most recent Broadway credit was leading the company of A Bronx Tale. However, just like Leung, Adam Kaplan made his Broadway debut singing and dancing in the ensemble of Newsies: “Everything I did in that show felt strenuous to me,” admits Kaplan.” I’m constantly in awe of dancers and their ability to know what looks good on their own bodies, or how they make something so difficult look effortless.”

All this is not to imply that playing a principal part is a metaphorical walk in the park; leading roles come with their own set of challenges. “There's no dropping focus or any goofing off on stage when there's 1,700 eyes on you as Aladdin,” asserts Leung. “The audience is following your every note and intention. It’s my responsibility to move the audience through the story every night - and that requires a different kind of focus, clarity of intention, and ability to deliver under pressure night after night.”

In addition to their performances in the theatre, principal actors, leads also become ambassadors to the show. There is a certain pressure to know how to handle themselves with press outlets, publicists and interviews. “In many ways, the principals are also ambassadors for the show as a whole: more press responsibilities, often more social media attention, and the responsibility to set the tone and the standard for the production,” reveals Broadway’s current Christine Daae, Ali Ewoldt, who has played both leading and ensemble roles on the Great White Way.

 Adam Kaplan

Adam Kaplan

For many ensemble actors, part of their vocational toll come from having not one job, but two. For ensemble actors who cover leading roles, it can feel like they have two jobs simultaneously: their chorus track and their principal role: “There is a ton of work and stress affiliated with understudying,” says Leung. “You have to be constantly ready at a moment's notice. There is also a huge time commitment, as understudies are often called to rehearsals during the week. It's a grueling schedule as an understudy.”

“In Newsies, I went on quite a bit for both Jack and Davey very sporadically,” remembers Kaplan. “As a result, I wasn’t ever really able to settle in and find the rhythm of my show in those roles. There's also the mental game of never knowing when you have to go on, the time constraints of understudy rehearsals, and jumping around from track to track. There were three shows in a row where I did a different track each night.”

However, for many actors the stresses of principal roles outweigh the challenges of ensemble work. Their dreams of acting come not simply from a love of performing, but from a love of telling stories with their voices. And while ensemble actors are unequivocally storytellers, much of the specific characters they play comes from their own imaginations. Principal actors have their characters, intentions and motivations given to them in the show’s script and songs.

Pursuing a career as a performing artist involves taking a leap of faith into a career of uncertainty in hopes of emotional and spiritual fulfillment. Getting out of the ensemble requires taking a second leap towards a riskier, but potentially more fulfilling career.

 Ali Ewoldt

Ali Ewoldt

For some, that decision to only pursue leading roles is a conscious choice. Jay Armstrong Johnson, who currently plays Raoul in The Phantom of the Opera, began his professional career dancing in A Chorus Line, swinging the Broadway revival of Hair and being a standby on Catch Me If You Can. “Afterwards, I made a very conscious decision to no longer audition for ensemble or understudy positions,” he says. “In many cases, the ensemble is doing strenuous work for not as much of a pay off.”

For others, transition from ensemble work to principal roles is a series of many, small decisions. Ali Ewoldt made her Broadway debut as Cosette in the first Broadway revival of Les Miserables. However, when she returned to Broadway a decade later, it was in the ensemble of The King and I at Lincoln Center.

“If you had asked me when I was making my Broadway debut, I may have staunchly told you that I would no longer be taking ensemble roles,” remembers Ewoldt. “But having been in the business for many years, I think there are a lot of factors that play into auditioning for jobs and taking them if we book them.”

One of those decisions is the choice to be pursue work away from Broadway. “I feel like I’ve lost out on work by making decisions to not take ensemble roles,” remembers Johnson. “I took a large step away from Broadway to do more regional and Off-Broadway work as a means to build my resume as a leading player.”

Whether or not you “decide” to stop taking ensemble roles, the transition involves redefining yourself to a community who knows you. Industry perception is something to confront if you are an actor looking to not be seen for ensemble work anymore. If you've done many shows in the ensemble, casting directors will have you at the top of the list for consideration of other ensemble positions.

“It's only natural. Your experience and your reputation precede you, and your qualifications make you a viable candidate,” remarks Leung.

While it’s easy to think of the transition from ensemble to principal roles as black and white, it is important to remember that an actor’s career goals are always shifting. An artist’s career is not a ladder to climb; rather, it is a mountain with multiple trails to pursue.

 Jay Armstrong Johnson

Jay Armstrong Johnson

“Often once you reach a milestone, you look for what’s next,” believes Kaplan. “I never thought I would make my achieve my dream of performing on Broadway so quickly after moving to New York. But after the first time I went on for Jack Kelly in Newsies, I knew I had to chase that feeling.”

“I will never fault nor judge someone for having different goals than me, or if their goals change,” continues Kaplan. “What’s important is that you have them.”

“If I'm being honest, there is always a component of ego involved,” admits Ewoldt. “It is very satisfying to receive praise for the work I am doing and that most often comes when I am playing leading roles. However, having been on both sides, I know how integral the entire company is in successful storytelling. And I have felt incredibly fulfilled knowing that I am contributing to a wonderful show in the ensemble.”

In the end, those that pursue a career in the theatre have a common goal: to tell stories with and for community of others. The modes of how we tell those stories are more complicated than the divide between ensemble and leading parts. Each job is a unique artistic challenge, regardless of the actor’s name is above the title.

“I like the sense of community and family in the theatre,” says Leung. “We all gather under one roof to inspire and spread joy, and that's our common mission for the night. It requires collaboration and teamwork. You're a part of something bigger than you - and that feels good, whether you're in the ensemble or starring in the show. One can't co-exist without the other - and that's what's beautiful about it.”

7 Actors Who Made Their Broadway Debuts in the Ensemble of WICKED

Jackson Cline

Today on the blog, we celebrate Wicked’s 15th anniversary and learn about the Ozian experiences of 7 actors who made their Broadway debuts in the ensemble.

Betsy Struxness

 Betsy Struxness

Betsy Struxness

1. When did you make your Broadway debut in Wicked? 2010

2. What was your role/track in Wicked? Before joining the Broadway company, I was a swing in the Chicago company starting in 2007 and also out in San Francisco for someone's medical leave in 2009. On Broadway, I was in the ensemble as the girl who faints upon seeing Elphaba for the first time at Shiz. Usually a Glinda cover, I was there for someone's medical leave, but I didn't cover Glinda.  

3. What was your favorite thing about being in the ensemble of Wicked? I love all the fun and outlandish costumes and wigs. Every costume in Wicked immediately puts you into the world of these bright yet dark weird people. It's strange and wonderful. I took a lot of pictures... a lot.   

Gaelen Gilliland

 Gaelen Gilliland

Gaelen Gilliland

1. When did you make your Broadway debut in Wicked? I made my Broadway debut in August of 2005 after an instant replacement audition for the part the month before. It had all happened very fast, and since Wicked was my favorite show on Broadway, it was very surreal. 

2. What was your role/track in Wicked? I was the first replacement for the ensemble part named Shen Shen, and then about 6 months after joining the company, I was made an understudy for Mdm. Morrible.

3. What was your favorite thing about being in the ensemble of Wicked? I’m sure it’s still this way now, but what was most exciting to me was the curtain call of the show. It was like being at a rock concert the way people reacted. While people leapt to their feet, the cheers were so loud that it just made me laugh out loud and my eyes fill with tears of joy. Feeling that much joy and love from an audience doesn’t happen that often. In fact, I can only think of one other time (recently at our closing of Spongebob) where I could feel that kind of reaction from a crowd. 

Katie Webber

 Katie Webber & Reed Kelly

Katie Webber & Reed Kelly

1. When did you make your Broadway debut in Wicked? December 2005, after 1 week of rehearsal!

2. What was your role/track in Wicked? Witch’s Mother track

3. What was your favorite thing about being in the ensemble of Wicked? My favorite thing about being in the ensemble of Wicked (for over three years) was the lifelong friendships that I made. I met my besties there!

Reed Kelly

1. When did you make your Broadway debut in Wicked? August 2004

2. What was your role/track in Wicked? Chistery understudy/Flying Monkey/Tumbling Track/Also Ribbon Boy

3. What was your favorite thing about being in the ensemble of Wicked? I entered the show while it was almost entirely the original cast, so it was such a cool way to make my Broadway debut — in a supernova hit musical phenomenon — and over the next four years there, I got to work with so many incredible, talented, and wonderful people. 

 Reed Kelly

Reed Kelly

Travis Waldschmidt

 Travis Waldschmidt

Travis Waldschmidt

1. When did you make your Broadway debut in Wicked? July 23, 2013

2. What was your role/track in Wicked? I was the “tumble track” in the ensemble.

3. What was your favorite thing about being in the ensemble of Wicked? My favorite thing about being in the ensemble of Wicked was portraying a flying monkey. I mean, come on! I get to dance around in a body-enhanced unitard as a primate with wings. SIGN ME UP!!! 

Kristy Cates

1. When did you make your Broadway debut in Wicked? Original Broadway Cast, baby!

2. What was your role/track in Wicked? Horn-Wig Lady (“No one cries, ‘they won’t return!’”), Umbrella lady in The Emerald City (“I hear some rebel animals are giving her food and shelter!”) and Elphaba Understudy. 

3. What was your favorite thing about being in the ensemble of Wicked? My favorite thing about being in the ensemble was knowing we were all part of something really special. Being in a show that feels like a rock concert every night... where the audience jumps to their feet at the curtain call... where so many fans wait at the stage door and send amazing letters... a show that changes lives and relationships. It’s just all so magical.

 Kristy Cates

Kristy Cates

Afra Hines

 Afra Hines (left) backstage at  Wicked

Afra Hines (left) backstage at Wicked

1. When did you make your Broadway debut in Wicked? I made my Broadway debut in Wicked in 2006

2. What was your role/track in Wicked? I was originally hired as a universal swing, and later moved into the Corinne McFadden track.

3. What was your favorite thing about being in the ensemble of Wicked? My favorite thing about being in the ensemble of Wicked is that I got to play so many different characters! From  students to flying monkeys to fabulous Ozians or angry townspeople - it was so much fun. 

"A Real Family Affair."

Mo Brady

by Garen Scrbiner

 Garen Scribner (📸: Cait McNane/Broadway.com)

Garen Scribner (📸: Cait McNane/Broadway.com)

When I was playing Jerry in An American in Paris on Broadway, my friend since high school, Rebecca Soldinger, would come see the show and hang out with me between performances. One day, relaxing together in my room at the Palace Theatre – which happens to be Judy Garland’s old dressing room – she asked me what the other actors did between shows. I responded that it really varies, and that people get up to all kinds of things. Some people sleep, some go to the gym, some pick their kids up from school. It’s a real mix.

These conversations developed into an idea to make a television show about what Broadway actors do with the time sandwiched between their matinee and evening performances. And Broadway Sandwich was born! Rebecca served as Executive Producer, bringing in her colleague from The Rachael Ray Show, director Jesse Green, who teamed up with us to create the show. It turned out to be a real family affair – his brother Sam Green became our Director of Photography and his girlfriend Marisa DiPaolo was our Associate Producer.

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After making a pilot, we pitched the idea to the wonderful Joe Harell at WNET, and suddenly our series had a home. The show will live on ALL ARTS, their new TV network. We endeavored to make an eight-episode first season and quickly got to work booking actors who we thought would have interesting stories. We filmed Kate Rockwell at Mean Girls, Jessica Vosk at Wicked, Tanairi Sade Vasquez at Hamilton, Arielle Jacobs at Aladdin, Caesar Samayoa at Come From Away, Kyle Post at Kinky Boots, Etai Benson at The Band’s Visit, and Isaac Cole Powell at Once On This Island.

I loved making this show. It was fulfilling to feature both stars and ensemble members of these shows and make visible what is usually unseen. The lives of performers are extremely interesting! It takes so much grit, hard work, sacrifice and determination to make it at such a high level. I wanted to delve into what drives these performers and fuels their fire. I love hearing peoples’ stories. This show illuminates so many of the things that usually happen in the dark. We’re thrilled with what we created and look forward to making more. The short-form episodes are currently being released weekly on our Facebook Watch channel and the longer versions will air on television this January.

"Something Truly Beautiful in My World."

Mo Brady

by Mackenzie Perpich

 Mackenzie Perpich in  Bright Star

Mackenzie Perpich in Bright Star

So let’s start with this: “Way back in the day” (a show pun for those Bright Star fans out there) — and by “way back”, I mean spring of 2016 — I was living in New York City and was very up to date on all the shows that season. I had pretty much seen everything, which I always feel is a feat in and of itself. Bright Star had gotten some attention and people were saying how much they enjoyed this simple, yet truly elegant show. That it was different and you just had to see it for yourself. 

I knew nothing about the show when I sat down to watch it. I went by myself, as a strong independent woman does. I also did something I never do, I went back. I saw the show for a second time about a week later. I wanted more. The beautiful story and the gorgeous score were in my head and in my heart. Bright Star was — and still is — something truly beautiful in my world. I would be lying if I said I hadn’t been listening to the soundtrack ever since (which made it only slightly difficult to learn actual show harmonies… too many car jam sessions). Though, most of all, as I sat there watching the show in New York, in all its simplistic beauty, I remember saying to myself, “I have to be in this one day.” 

That small little statement became a reality, essentially right down to the ensemble track I had picked out for myself.

I am currently in the midst of performances for Bright Star at Musical Theatre West, in Long Beach, CA. Of course, this feels like some wonderful full circle moment, having fallen in love with this show over two years ago. But on top of all that goodness, we are so lucky to be using the original Broadway sets and costumes, even down to the wigs. It feels as though, in some small way, I get to be part of the Bright Star legacy. 

 Mackenzie Perpich in  Bright Star

Mackenzie Perpich in Bright Star

You may ask yourself what pulled on my heartstrings so to speak. Why did this show speak to me so much. This show, I believe, has the power to use the everyday, the simple, and make it extraordinary. I will say, being from the South definitely pushed my love into overdrive on this one. I grew up in Georgia and most of my family is in North Carolina (where the story takes place). There was something about sitting down to watch this show in NYC, a place where I had moved to make my dreams come true, and being dropped right in the middle of all these images that I had left behind. These were real places and, in some ways, real people to me. I remember sitting and thinking this might be the only musical my late Grandpa aka Papa would have loved… because it had a fiddle player walking around the stage. As a man born and raised in South Carolina, later retiring to North Carolina. The landscapes in this story were the ones he grew up with, and the man loved some banjo and fiddle playing. He even got me to a bluegrass concert or two when I was little. This obviously brought a giant smile to my face and made me fall in love with this beautiful show even more. 

The production itself speaks to another part of my life that I love very much as well: being part of an ensemble. I’ve always had a deep desire to be part of an ensemble; it’s truly where I am the happiest and most fulfilled. I love being a deep-rooted, integral part of a show, and having the opportunity to create your own stories along the way. Bright Star is a truly ensemble-driven piece. To be honest, I didn’t even realize to what extent the ensemble works in this show just by seeing it. A few statistics from my track, for example: nine costume changes, five wig changes, 17 on-stage songs, and pretty much constant set moves. This is like no ensemble I’ve ever been a part of. I am rarely off stage, I have one real break where I am not changing costumes or wigs, and… I love it! This ensemble never stops, and even when we do, we’re still on stage, watching and listening to each scene. 

The staging and choreography, originally by Josh Rhodes and recreated for us by our wonderful Director/Choreographer Richard Gatta, effortlessly incorporate the ensemble throughout the show, and we really feel as though we’re helping drive the story. It’s a great exercise in stamina and focus. There is no just hanging out before the next big ensemble number, you are always doing something, whether it’s pushing the house around, moving a bookcase, or like maybe singing or dancing or whatever.

This show has been a little dream come true for me. Maybe the occasional affirmative statement like “I have to be in this one day!” isn’t a bad idea… Cause you just might get to… in the same dresses, too!  

 Mackenzie Perpich

Mackenzie Perpich

"Everybody Involved is Disgustingly Talented."

Mo Brady

Singer Jennifer Reed reveals the tips and secrets of performing with Jay Armstrong Johnson, ahead of the return of I Put A Spell On You: The Return of the Sanderson Sisters at (le) poisson rouge on Sunday, October 28.

  I Put A Spell On You: The Return of the Sanderson Sisters at  (le) poisson rouge

I Put A Spell On You: The Return of the Sanderson Sisters at (le) poisson rouge

 Jennifer Reed

Jennifer Reed

Back up singing is quite a silly little gig, but in the most excellent way. Most of the time, I’m picking whatever harmony the other person isn’t singing. You can be flying blind for most of it, but it’s so much fun. The strangest thing to ever happen was when I needed to sing lead on a song that was totally the wrong key for me because my colleague lost their voice.

I met Jay Armstrong Johnson during an Actor Therapy Class. He was teaching my scene study class and I just lived for his directions and guidance. I had just recently moved from Australia and was jumping in the deep end of classes to meet and work with as many people as possible, so when I knew Jay would be one of my teachers, I signed up immediately. I have been bestowed the role of a dead skeleton. This dead skeleton just happens to know how to sing tight harmonies.

I’m so excited about the show and being in it, because Jay has created an event for the NY Musical Theatre calendar. It’s a legacy and such an honour to be involved. Everybody involved is disgustingly talented. Jay picks well.

5 Debut Questions - School of Rock's Kara Haller

Mo Brady

Today on the blog, we meet School of Rock’s newest ensemblist, Kara Haller, and learn about her journey to joining the show’s Broadway company. 

 Kara Haller

Kara Haller

1. What is your name and hometown?

My name is Kara Haller, and I am from Olney, MD.

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

I am the Female Swing and Asst. Dance captain for School of Rock on Broadway.

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

I was on the first national tour at the time, and I got a phone call one morning from our choreographer, JoAnn Hunter, asking if I would be interested in moving to the Broadway company. The fabulous Lulu Lloyd was my same role in the Broadway company, but she left to go out on the road with Bat Out of Hell. So as luck would have it, the track opened up and JoAnn offered it to me!

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

The most surprising part of joining the Broadway company is how different this version of the show is compared to the touring production! The set is different, the track breakdowns for the ensemble are different, the musical styling is slightly different, there are cut scenes or added scenes - who knew! It was also surprising how little they rehearsed me since I was coming straight from the tour. I was given two weeks to trail/watch/rehearse, but I had no put-in rehearsal. No chance to do any of the show on stage or with any other actors before going on!

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

First, I am looking forward to being in one place for awhile. After being on the road for over a year, I am so thankful to have one home and one theatre to go back and forth to. Secondly,  I am looking forward to walking into the Winter Garden stage door every night and thinking, “This is it. This is Broadway. I am finally here.” It hasn’t sunk in quite yet - but I look forward to the day when I am at the curtain call looking out into the audience, and it hits me that I am in a Broadway show. This is my job. I couldn’t be more fortunate. What a gift!!

5 Debut Questions - Meet Frozen's Ben Bogen

Mo Brady

This week on The Ensemblist, we meet Frozen’s newest ensemblist, Ben Bogen, and learn about his journey making his Broadway debut.

1. What is your name and hometown?
Ben Bogen and originally from Walnut Creek, CA. 

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

I am in the ensemble of Frozen and understudying Duke Weselton and Olaf. 

 Ben Bogen in  Frozen

Ben Bogen in Frozen

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

I had just finished training for two different survival jobs and decided to go cook something at my apartment when my agent called me. My final callback was just me and one other person, so waiting for that call was the longest weekend of my life haha. 

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

The crazy thing about being a replacement is you don’t really get to perform with the cast until your opening night. You’re sort of stepping onto an already moving train. You get about three weeks of rehearsal in a studio with just the dance captains/swings and one “put-in” rehearsal where you’re the only one in costume and everyone else is in street clothes while you figure out spacing onstage. It is the most bizarre feeling ever, but luckily my cast is incredibly supportive. My opening was the first time I was seeing the principals onstage with all the elements. Then the cast surprised me during our first Broadway Cares speech by having me take a final bow in honor of my debut. The best surprise EVER and I couldn’t feel my limbs. 

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

I’m looking forward to building up the stamina of doing the show in the same track eight times a week. It gets very hot and sweaty onstage in those winter coats, so my first few shows I thought I was gonna pass out! (Haha) Also to have family and friends come is very very special.

 Ben Bogen

Ben Bogen

Back to Broadway - 18 Years Later

Mo Brady

by James Delisco Beeks

 James Delisco Beeks

James Delisco Beeks

I recently joined the cast of Kinky Boots in New York. This is my first Broadway show in almost twenty years. Is that true? Yes. It’s been 18 years since my last Broadway show. I was very, very, very young.

Many people had suggested over the years that I audition for Kinky Boots. When I did in 2016, I booked the award-winning Australian tour of the production. When we closed in 2017, I decided to move back to New York to see if there were any opportunities for me. Looks like I made a good decision.

There were many reasons I wanted to return to Broadway after almost two decades. One of the most compelling was that when I was younger I was not as grateful of being on Broadway; now, I am living in gratitude every day for being able to step on the Broadway stage.

Even though I’m back on Broadway, my artistic and career goals and inspirations changed drastically over time. I like being on the other side of the table as well: writing, composing, directing, casting, and producing; it’s fascinating to me. In my travels, I have experienced many facets of the business and am ready to utilize my knowledge with more maturity.

5 Debut Questions - Meet The Lion King’s Alia Kache

Mo Brady

Today on the blog, we meet The Lion King’s newest ensemblist, Alia Kache, and learn about her journey to joining the show’s Broadway company. 

 Alia Kache

Alia Kache

1. What is your name and hometown?

Alia Kache from Chattanooga, TN.

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

I am covering the cheetah in Disney's The Lion King.

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

I was in the middle of creating a new dance for Ballet Memphis when I got an email from Thomas Schlenk at Disney Theatricals asking about my availability. After going back and forth a bit, he offered me the cheetah track (which is my absolute favorite).

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

This is not my first time doing The Lion King. I was a swing on the Gazelle tour about seven years ago. What surprised me the most is how much the choreography is still in my body after all these years. A few things have been updated since the 20th anniversary so there were some new things to learn, but overall it was a fairly short and painless rehearsal process. The weirdest thing by far has been only doing one track. I keep looking around to make sure I know the other ladies' traffic and trying to catch bits of their choreography. Totally unnecessary! That swing brain is hard to turn off.

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

I am enjoying having a schedule. Freelancing is fun, but being able to dedicate myself to one thing really frees up a lot of brain power. I can focus on diving head first into the story without the worry of "what's next?"