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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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Lisa Gajda: Broadway's Greatest Ensemblists

The Ensemblist

Since 2015, The Ensemblist has collaborated with Justin "Squigs" Robertson to feature ensemblists on his series of trading cards, The Lights of Broadway Showcards. This fall, Squigs immortalizes four of Broadway's greatest enesmblists with their own Showcards.

But who exactly are these notable performers? Here are some fun facts about Lisa Gajda, one the greatest Broadway ensemblists of all time.

Lisa Gajda

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  • Broadway Debut: How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying  (as a replacement)
  • Number of Broadway Shows: 16
  • Number of Original Broadway Companies: 13
  • Number of Broadway Shows in 2008: 2 (Cry-Baby and Pal Joey)
  • Number of Gypsy Robes Won: 7 (Taboo, The Times, They Are A-Changin', Cry-Baby, Finian's Rainbow, Elf, Chaplin, Tuck Everlasting)
  • Years Her Broadway Career Spans: 19
  • Number of Movie Musicals: 1 (The Last Five Years)

Mary Ann Lamb: Broadway's Greatest Ensemblists

The Ensemblist

Since 2015, The Ensemblist has collaborated with Justin "Squigs" Robertson to feature ensemblists on his series of trading cards, The Lights of Broadway Showcards. This fall, Squigs immortalizes four of Broadway's greatest enesmblists with their own Showcards.

But who exactly are these notable performers? Here are some fun facts about Mary Ann Lamb, one the greatest Broadway ensemblists of all time.

Mary Ann Lamb

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  • Broadway Debut: Song and Dance (as an understudy)
  • Number of Broadway Shows: 11
  • Number of Original Broadway Companies: 11
  • Number of Bob Fosse Shows on Broadway: 2 (Chicago and Fosse - both original company)
  • Number of Broadway Shows on Roller Skates: 1 (Starlight Express, of course)
  • Number of Gypsy Robes Won: 1 (A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum)
  • Years Her Broadway Career Spans: 22
  • Number of Movie Musicals: 2 (Rock of Ages and Chicago)

T. Oliver Reid: Broadway's Greatest Ensemblists

The Ensemblist

Since 2015, The Ensemblist has collaborated with Justin "Squigs" Robertson to feature ensemblists on his series of trading cards, The Lights of Broadway Showcards. This fall, Squigs immortalizes four of Broadway's greatest enesmblists with their own Showcards.

But who exactly are these notable performers? Here are some fun facts about T. Oliver Reid, one the greatest Broadway ensemblists of all time.

T. Oliver Reid

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  • Broadway Debut: Kiss Me, Kate (as a swing)
  • Number of Broadway Shows: 11
  • Number of Original Broadway Companies: 9
  • Number of Broadway Shows in 2017: 2 (Sunset Boulevard and Once On This Island)
  • Number of Gypsy Robes Won: 1 (The Wedding Singer)
  • Years Her Broadway Career Spans: 18
  • Number of TV Musicals: 1 (Peter Pan Live!)

Scott Wise: Broadway's Greatest Ensemblists

The Ensemblist

Since 2015, The Ensemblist has collaborated with Justin "Squigs" Robertson to feature ensemblists on his series of trading cards, The Lights of Broadway Showcards. This fall, Squigs immortalizes four of Broadway's greatest enesmblists with their own Showcards.

But who exactly are these notable performers? Here are some fun facts about Scott Wise, one the greatest Broadway ensemblists of all time.

Scott Wise

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  • Broadway Debut: A Chorus Line (as Mike)
  • Number of Broadway Shows: 13
  • Number of Original Broadway Companies: 10
  • Number of Tony Awards Won: 1 (Jerome Robbins' Broadway)
  • Number of Tony Award Nominations: 3 (Fosse, State Fair and Jerome Robbins' Broadway)
  • Number of Gypsy Robes Won: 2 (Carrie and Fosse)
  • Years Her Broadway Career Spans: 25
  • Number of Movie Musicals: 1 (Chicago)
  • Number of Whitney Houston Music Videos: 1 ("I Wanna Dance With Somebody")

Three Ensembles In Need of Broadway Revivals

The Ensemblist

by Mo Brady

The Wiz (1974)

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The groundbreaking musical The Wiz has been seen multiple times in New York City since its original production, from its Broadway revival in 1983, to a sit-down at the Beacon Theatre in 1993 to a City Center Encores! staging in 2009. But it’s been almost a quarter of a century since The Wiz has been on Broadway.

While NBC’s live production gave us a glimpse of how fierce a contemporary ensemble of this show, we know that the cast of a new Broadway production of this monumental show would be epic. Imagine the smooth vocals of the Crows, the statuesque studliness of the Yellow Brick Road and the scintillating style of the Poppies. Of course we would want Emerald City voguing like we saw on television two years ago, but what other creative elements could be brought to the stage?


Jerome Robbins’ Broadway (1989)

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This Broadway revue featured many of the legendary choreographer’s most groundbreaking musical stagings. The original cast of included 13 principal actors and 38 ensemblists performing iconic numbers, from “The Small House of Uncle Thomas” from The King and I to “New York, New York” from On The Town. Imagine seeing a cast of 50 actors performing dances from West Side Story!

One of the coolest parts of the casting of Jerome Robbins’ Broadway was the versatility of the performers. Ensemblists got to showcase their skills at playing everything from sailors to “Anatevka” villagers. Not only would a revival showcase these genre-defining dances to a new generation, they would also give today’s ensemblists a chance to strut their stuff front and center.

 

Legally Blonde (2007)

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Yes, I’m aware that the original Broadway production closed less than a decade ago. Yes, I’m aware that most of its cast is still working on Broadway. But talk about an underappreciated musical with a killer ensemble! The original production included a cast of Broadway stalwarts lining its ensemble, from Andy Karl to Gaelen Gilliland.

From the opening chorus of “Omigod You Guys” to the roof-raising strains of “Legally Blonde Remix,” the musical reverberates thanks to its jump-roping, high-belting ensemble. Is this just a plea to the theatre gods to revive Legally Blonde? Perhaps. But the show is also a showcase for a bevy of hilarious, heartfelt women - Something Broadway audiences deserve to see now more than ever.

 

 

 

 

What is a "Themed Put-In?"

The Ensemblist

Hello, Dolly! ensemblist Justin Bowen tells us about one his favorite Broadway traditions, the themed put-in rehearsal.

Justin Bowen (right, with Hayley Podschun at a High School Musical themed put-in)

Justin Bowen (right, with Hayley Podschun at a High School Musical themed put-in)

One of my absolute favorite things about being a member of the ensemble, as well as an understudy, on Broadway are the weekly understudy rehearsals. More specifically, I love understudy rehearsals where we get to have a PUT-IN!

Over here at Hello, Dolly!, we have nine principal roles. Each of those nine principal roles has two understudies who also appear in the ensemble. Preparing those eighteen understudy tracks- in addition to six male swings and three female swings- to safely step in at a moment's notice makes for a lot of rehearsal. You can usually find us at the theater working away on Thursday and sometimes even Friday afternoons every week. When it’s decided that someone has had enough rehearsal and is ready to take their understudy/swing assignment for a test drive, we have a PUT-IN! 

On put-in day, the entire ensemble and crew are called in to run the show onstage with the full set, props, and various technical elements. The ensemble performs their regular nightly tracks in rehearsal clothes while whoever is being put-in gets the added pressure of donning full costume, hair, and makeup for the first time. 

Justin Bowen

Justin Bowen

At Hello, Dolly!, we have a tradition of picking a theme for each put-in. Everyone then comes in wearing (sometimes very elaborate and very hilarious) costumes that correlate to that theme. So far this year we have had ‘Super Hero Day,’ ‘Back to School,’ ‘80s,’ ‘Prom,’ and 'Characters from Broadway Veteran Michael McCormick’s Resume.'

When you are the one being put-in, it can feel a bit overwhelming, especially when it’s often the first chance you’ve had to work with certain technical elements or perform the show with actual people around you. Having a themed rehearsal is a great way to add a level of fun, lightheartedness, and camaraderie to what can otherwise be a high-pressure situation. It also gives everyone else something to look forward to as you can’t wait to see what wacky costumes everyone is going to pull out.

Of course we’re ultimately all there to focus and do the work, but there is nothing quite like seeing a waiter dressed as Wonder Woman barrel-turning through the set of the Harmonia Gardens all the while watching your insanely talented ensemblist friends step into the spotlight and knock it out of the park.

“Yo, Who The Eff Is This?”

The Ensemblist

Free thoughts on the proceedings of swings, standbys, covers, understudies, and the ensemble… through a Hamil-centric lens

by Hamilcast: A Hamilton Podcast creator Gillian Pensavalle

Gillian Pensavalle (left, with Lin-Manuel Miranda)

Gillian Pensavalle (left, with Lin-Manuel Miranda)

Hamilton is a phenomenon. That is not hyperbole. What Hamilton has done for Broadway, music, history, casting, design - you name it - is truly phenomenal. The original Broadway cast will go down in history as one of the most iconic casts of all time. Hamilton is such a big hit that the principle cast members in the non-Broadway companies have become celebrities; with people traveling all over the country to see Miguel Cervantes as Hamilton in Chicago or Solea Pfeiffer as Eliza on tour. In fact, it’s such a thing that someone like me can make a podcast about it from my living room (Werk!). 

And while Hamilton is one of the biggest things in the world right now, it’s still not very accessible; It’s still in a very limited number of cities, tickets are expensive, and you have to buy them an actual YEAR in advance. So when you finally get in the room where it happens, I can understand why you’d feel disappointed when your Playbill’s insert tells you that the person you’ve waited months to see isn’t on that night. Or maybe it’s not that dramatic. Maybe you’re just bummed you’re seeing a standby play Angelica instead of the usual cast member because of some preconceived notion. Either way, you’re feeling let down. While understandable, I can state unequivocally (and with apologies for my characteristic bluntness) that you are wrong. I maintain that you should be AMPED. 

Not unlike when Hamilton went to confer with Burr in the middle of the night, hear me out!

Gillian Pensavalle

Gillian Pensavalle

This is going to be specific to Hamilton on Broadway because that’s where my knowledge lies. Granted, I am an actor and lifelong Broadway nerd. But I am also the creator, host, producer, and everything-er of The Hamilcast: A Hamilton Podcast. I have spoken to, interviewed, hung out with, hosted, and worked with dozens of cast members - principles, standbys, replacements, swings - you name it...and I have been fortunate enough to see many of them in various roles and there are three fundamental truths that I realized at the exact same time. Okay, maybe not at the exact same time but I really wanted to use that quote. 

Number One: You are the one thing in life you can control. 

The point of going to see a show is to experience a living, breathing piece of art and sometimes that means that—somewhere on that stage— you’re seeing a standby. That’s the nature of theatre and whether you realize it or not, the unpredictability of it all is one of the many reasons seeing a live show is so exhilarating. And guess what? These are professional Broadway actors, not inexperienced people the stage manager pulled off the street at the last minute. Every single person on that stage is excellent at their job and worked really hard to get there. 

Number Two: History has its eyes on them. 

Chances are, especially if this is a new cast member and/or a last minute put in, you are looking at someone who is nervous. Someone who has more to prove. THIS PERFORMANCE means more to them, because they are being watched. Not just by you—creative higher-ups are evaluating their performance to see if they need more work, if they’re being utilized properly, and maybe if they are ready for a more permanent situation in the future. This is just a shade or two removed from “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” Except they’re actually singing (and dancing and acting) for their lives, instead of lip-syncing. 

Number Three: They’re willing to wait for it (so you don’t have to).

There is only one cast of the show you’re seeing that night. It may never exist in this form again. And your standby or swing or understudy is there, trying to make everyone around them better, and discovering chemistry with the rest of the cast that is (and should always remain) a work in progress. It’s jazz, it’s improv, it’s singular and never to be replicated. It’s the big time! Give them your attention, give them your energy, and yes—even sing along when specifically ordered to do so (like when a certain J.Laurens wants you to “SHOUT IT TO THE ROOFTOPS!”). You just may lend them some of your energy, too. Just don’t start off with pre-conceived notions that may give them an uphill battle before the very first “Dun du du du dun dun dun (do do doooo doooo)…” even starts.

Enjoy every second. I’m excited for you. And…

I have the honor to be your obedient servant,

G.Pen

 

"And Suddenly My Eyes Were Opened!"

Mo Brady

The Ensemblist is celebrating the 20th Anniversary of The Lion King on Broadway by asking some of our favorite ensemblists to share their stories of performing in the iconic Broadway musical. Today, we hear from ensemblist and podcast guest Arbender Robinson.

Arbender Robinson

Arbender Robinson

When asked to comment on my The Lion King experience as a cast member, I found myself thinking of all the different ways to respond. Finally I said to myself “GO TO THE BEGINNING”

It was November 13, 1997 when The Lion King opened on Broadway and now here we are talking about a show that has been seen by over 70 million. I was in my last year of study at Viterbo University in LaCrosse, Wisconsin and had the amazing opportunity to see the show a month earlier when it premiered in Minneapolis, Minnesota (The Big City, as we called it). This show later would win six Tony Awards out of its 11 nominations.  It is still one of the most breathtaking shows and the iconic CIRCLE OF LIFE opening number still causes the audience to gasp. As I write this statistics say the show has grossed over $1 billion and still fills 97% of its available seats weekly.  

At the time I had this overwhelming urge to be a part of this show. Why? It looked fun, it was magical, it spoke to me on a spiritual level and it seemed like something to fight for.  I set out on that journey and failed so many times along the way.  I tried the front door, the back door, air, land and sea to get into this amazing cast of stellar performers and often times it seemed the “Impossible Dream.” I want to clarify something here and remind you the “Impossible Dream” was not to get on Broadway.   The “Unreachable Star” was not to make a career as a professional actor.  It was my “Quest to follow that star” that would one day lead me to perform on stage in Disney's The Lion King.

For the sake of time and space I will move to another part of this story.  By now, I had been in the Broadway Cast of Hairspray, Disney's The Little Mermaid, Hair, Ragtime, and The Book Of Mormon.  At this point I had lost track of the number of The Lion King auditions I attended. I had lost track of the number of cities I had traveled in order to audition for the show.  For some reason I was still determined to be a part of this show and I could no longer explain this insane adventure.

“No matter how hopeless, no matter how far.  To fight for the right, without question or pause, to be willing to march into Hell, for a Heavenly cause.”
— The Impossible Dream, "Man of La Mancha"

AND SUDDENLY MY EYES WERE OPENED!

The year is now 2012 and I have an email from Ronald Vodicka that reads, “WELCOME TO THE PRIDELANDS” in the subject line. I still have this email message because there is still a part of me that thinks it was all a dream  A wonderful and delectable dream, but still a dream.  Here I was, headed to that magical place.  Here I was joining the cast of Disney’s The Lion King.  Finally, I had accomplished "The Impossible Dream”.  I was going to be a swing in this show.  I was terrified as the Management Team brought me around the building to meet everyone. EVERYONE. You will not believe how many people are in this building.  It is truly a small village and this village made me feel so welcomed. This immediately felt like home with over 100 people living and working in this small village. This massive ensemble of cast and crew would become my FAMILY.

This next moment answered all the questions I had in my mind.  Why did I need this so badly? What is it about this show and ensemble that pulled me in this direction for so many years? Why do I immediately feel at peace in this small village known as the Minskoff Theatre? Over the loudspeaker the entire company was immediately sent to the Women's Ensemble Dressing Room. I was led across the massive stage and down to the Ladies Dressing Room with a sense of urgency. I heard others rushing and in hushed tones I heard a few phrases. “Yes, it’s the cubs.”  “Because we love them.” “Hurry up, we cannot miss it.” Once inside I felt like a sardine in a can. How did all of these people fit into this space?  Why were we all in this space?  Suddenly the ladies all dressed in black began to lead a funeral service. A FUNERAL SERVICE? How did I know it was a funeral?  Well they were all dressed in black with hats and veils, organ music playing, and tears flowing. Apparently the young cubs in the show, Simba and Nala, had a goldfish. Milky Bones had come to the end of his life and it only makes sense that we celebrate life and death in the building.  “It’s The Circle Of Life” and the village had to support the young cubs as they said goodbye to their little friend.  We cried, prayed, shared stories and then all sang WHEN THE SAINTS GO MARCHING IN as we celebrated the life of Milky Bones. After the celebration the cast ran to places and shared that same giving spirit with their sold out house. Just one of many magical backstage moment being a part of this glorious ensemble.

Over the next two years, this village would have amazing Halloween gatherings complete with making our very own haunted house. holiday door decorating contests. Raising awareness of social causes and supporting Broadway Cares Events. This village would have a chili cook-off on Superbowl Sunday.  This special village would celebrate the largest and smallest accomplishments of its citizens and lift you up when you were feeling low. Birthdays, Anniversaries, Engagements, graduations, births, Sunday brunch  and Winning Gypsy of the Year, fighting Cancer and celebrating life were all HUGE CELEBRATIONS in this village. So many moments and stories I could share with you.  So many tears of joy, afternoons of laughter, personal journeys and discoveries happened during my time in this village.

Can you tell that I just LOVE THIS PLACE?  When I was asked to share a few thoughts on being a part of this Ensemble I immediately jumped at the opportunity.  Since The Lion King I have been lucky to work on Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Les Miserables, Shuffle Along, and In Transit and years later, and I still call this place home. The Pridelands is home. There is a “wall of fame” with headshots of the long legacy of performers that have graced this amazing show and I am proud to be part of that legacy.  Everyone is still considered family and I cannot express how much security and safety that gives me and we navigate the entertainment industry.  The universe has a way of taking care of us and the universe allowed me to fight to join this family and for that I am eternally grateful.  

20 years and counting. 70 million audience members and counting.  





 

 

 

The Audience Energy Was the Best Welcome to Broadway!"

Mo Brady

Spongebob Squarepants ensemblist Kelvin Moon Loh takes us inside last night's invited dress rehearsal of the new Broadway musical.

Kelvin Moon Loh

Kelvin Moon Loh

While many in New York City were focused on the marathon this past weekend, the newest citizens of Bikini Bottom were focused on a different kind of run.

SpongeBob Squarepants, the Broadway musical, starts previews this week at the legendary Palace Theatre. A tradition in the theater community is to share our final dress rehearsal with our supportive friends and family- known as “the Gypsy Run”.  Everyone who works for the production were allowed to invite guests before we presented our shows to the public.  

My personal criteria for who I was going to invite-  

1. Someone who understands that this is indeed a rehearsal and many elements of the show are still being worked on.

2. Someone who I was sure would return to see the show once we had a “final” product.  (I say “final” because I believe theatre is a living breathing art form that never really finishes developing ever.... but that’s a longer conversation)  

3. Someone who is really supportive and just sends great vibes to the stage.  

I invited my boyfriend, Anthony Fett, and dear friend, EJ Zimmerman.  They are theater gypsies themselves.  In fact, on a night of a Gypsy Run, everyone in the audience is a gypsy- beautiful, creative, celebratory, loving gypsies. 

During the rehearsal process and putting together a show, we are assembling all the important elements to make a successful musical- the words, the music, the dance, the costumes, the set, the props, the lights, the sound, etc.  But not until the Gypsy Run do we add the final, and arguably, the most important element to any theatrical production- THE AUDIENCE.  

“Theater Magic” has different meaning for everyone.  For me, I believe that the magic is when the actors, musicians, crew, and audience all breathe together to create one perfect musical experience.  The laughter and applause are just as much a part of the score as every note sung and played. 

Having been part of an audience during other Broadway show’s Gypsy runs- I know how important this first impression is. The generosity of a truly supportive and positive spirit filled the Palace this Saturday night to capacity.  The audience energy was the best “Welcome to Broadway!” gift we could have ever received.  The lovable SpongeBob has always been a purveyor of optimism and sunshine- something that I could feel radiating throughout the entire building.  

I didn’t think the lights of Broadway could shine any brighter.  Apparently, a loving community can summon the sun as well.      

The cast of Spongebob Squarepants on Broadway

The cast of Spongebob Squarepants on Broadway

"There Is So Much More To Learn Outside My Comfort Zone."

The Ensemblist

Inspired by our Broadway at Every Stage season, we asked Miss Saigon ensemblist Julian DeGuzman to share how he defines success in his 30s.

Julian De Guzman

Julian De Guzman

I was 14 years old when I saw my first Broadway show, Fosse, starring Ben Vereen. My dad and I were in town visiting from California for one of the many dance competitions and conventions I frequented throughout my youth. We had front row mezzanine seats — unexpected since my dad had just gone to TKTS two hours before and gotten whatever was available for the show. I remember thinking, “this theater is tiiiiiiny!” I was expecting to be sitting way far back with horrible sight lines, for the people to look like little shapes of washed out light rather than people, and instead, there we were, practically on top of the stage. I don’t remember everything that happened in that show, but I remember how I felt. Seeing Ben Vereen with a single male dancer encompassing the gamut of that drama mask symbol in a five minute number, I thought to myself, “I want to do that.” From there on I wanted to take my experience of dancing on convention center floors, high school auditoriums, gym floors, onto where I felt it REALLY mattered: Broadway. 

My experience in Miss Saigon so far has given me the opportunity to be a part of an opening night cast of a Broadway show, to meet some incredibly talented fellow actors of color, to perform at press events at some cool places, to tell a story that seems to really resonate and affect people. I feel a sense of accomplishment and gratitude every time I walk through the stage door, thinking “damn, bro, this is really your workplace." All the success has also taught me the importance of maintaining mental health and the holistic care of your mind, body, and spirit despite the rigors of an 8-show week schedule. Your conscience will always have that chatter and bits of anxiousness with the question, “What happens next?” The business can swallow people into a stew of uncertainty and worry, which I oftentimes found myself in. 

Practicing mindfulness has had a profound effect on my emotional and mental well-being that has protected and guarded me against some of my most anxious thoughts and worries that come with being an actor, regardless of success. It has helped me cope with the reality that despite the Broadway credits on my resume, I will still be cut from auditions, sometimes very early on and immediately. Being mindful has taught me that rejection from an audition is protecting me from a situation that was not meant to be, or is setting me up for success elsewhere. It has also taught me that regardless of how you are feeling, action is the only builder of self esteem. For example, I may feel pretty crappy from being cut for the third time from an audition for a show I really wanted. The feeling sucks. However, do I regret going? Absolutely not. I showed up, did my best, and, hey — that’s an accomplishment.

Julian De Guzman and the Broadway cast of Miss Saigon

Julian De Guzman and the Broadway cast of Miss Saigon

The metrics by which we measure success are typically in the context of future uncertainty. We have goals. We want growth. We want more success. The thing is, everything in the past already happened. Everything in the future only exists in theory. Being on an 8-show per week schedule can produce a mental monotony if you are not engaged with the work or reminded of how grateful you are to be where you are. Being present and mindful of each action, offstage and on, has heightened my experience with a gratitude that translates to a stage presence that I can be proud of. It isn’t easy. Some days are better than others when it comes to alertness, sharpness, spark. However, the collective experience of sharing a wardrobe village with my male ensemble produces a shared energy. Some days my energy may dip, but is picked up by my cast mates spirit, and vice versa. It is a collective consciousness that you share and build with your time together, a feeling that is familiar all the way back to my dance studio days, and what keeps the fulfillment of being an ensemble dancer burning.

My idea of success at the age of 30 is not something I just woke up and realized. The idea is built, brick by brick, through experiences and, just as importantly, who you know and meet. The idea of success that I achieved in my 20s was primarily as a dancer, and has now evolved into a curiosity of the other facets of being a renaissance musical theater actor. I will continue to dance and be open to opportunities to dance in Broadway shows and for choreographic projects led by my friends and colleagues in the industry. But growth in musical theater seems infinite. There is so much more to learn which all lie outside of my comfort zone. Being a musical theater artist is in my opinion the greatest and most fulfilling artistry there is, because there are different avenues you must master, block by block, and within those foundational avenues you eventually come to the more challenging and nuanced alleys and subtlety of the streets, which can seem boundless, but are teeming with ideas and discoveries that are waiting for you to learn, to struggle with, to grow, to be challenged by. 

Being an artist also designates a responsibility to create. Regardless of how your art or your craft end up, action is the only true sense of fulfillment, of building self-esteem. An artist creates and lives within that moment of creating and is mindful of only of the task at hand. My goals for my 30s have evolved into much more profound personal goals. While in my twenties I chased after external labels of success I placed upon myself, I now see much of what happens in the industry and in my life to be out of my control. The only things within my control in this business are my actions, my art, my craft. I want to learn and create and develop myself and my art and collaborate with like-minded people to write plays, write music, choreograph. I have career goals that are much more fluid now, compared to my rigid aspirations in the past where success or failure was “booked” or “didn’t book it." This may all sound very vague and general, but I am finding enjoyment and true fulfillment in figuring out the “what-ifs” in a sea of uncertainty for myself. I still want it. I still have a hunger and the burning desire to continue to work as a Broadway actor, and I've been lucky to have that work ethic and some fortunate timing with the reward of upcoming projects. But I have embraced the motto: "Don't work harder; work smarter."

The future is bright. It is also dark. It’s scary. It’s exciting. It is all those things… but none of it has actually happened yet. For now, I’m on Broadway and this time in my life, the present, will eventually be "the good ol' days."

Julian De Guzman (far right) and the national tour cast of Newsies

Julian De Guzman (far right) and the national tour cast of Newsies

"The Lion King Ensemble Has Been a Gift and a Life Changer."

Mo Brady

The Ensemblist is celebrating the 20th Anniversary of The Lion King on Broadway by asking some of our favorite ensemblists to share their stories of performing in the iconic Broadway musical. Today, we hear from current cast member Kimberly Marable.

Kimberly Marable (second from right) with the cast of The Lion King

Kimberly Marable (second from right) with the cast of The Lion King

I first graced the stage as a Bird Lady in The Lion King on February 11, 2014, which makes me, after 3 3/4 years, one of the newest ensemble members of the Broadway company. As crazy as that sounds, particularly as someone who's spent much of her career going from one job to the next, the time has literally flown by. It truly doesn't feel like almost four years has passed... so much has happened!

I have to admit, when I booked the show, I put my nose up at the idea of having a "government gig." In spite of the financial stability, I didn't want to become creatively stagnant (like I ignorantly assumed the people here were), or forget the "hustle & grind" and skills that got me to the Pridelands in the first place; I didn't want for The Lion King to be my final resting place. But the Pridelands are SO MUCH MORE than the paycheck. To be plain, being in The Lion King ensemble has been a gift and a life changer.

The Lion King came at a time in my life when I wanted to be in a show that allowed me to uphold my social conscience, and that brought joy to both me and to audience members. The show is all of those things in spades. Though for the most part we play animals and plants as opposed to people, I am beside myself with how much beauty, reverence, and respect are shown in the theatrical representation of African languages and African (and other global) cultures, particularly South African; from the make up we wear, to the songs (in multiple languages) that we sing, to some of the movements we do.

It's no secret that the puppetry is the star of the show, and is in large part what has made the show last for 20 years so far. It is inspiring to actually be the elements that are so visually stunning about the show... to be the grass that's growing out of the ground, to be the giraffe walking across the savanna, or the birds that soar above audience members' heads as they whisper (or yell) with tears in their eyes, "So beautiful!" Coming down the aisle 16 times per week allows me to see firsthand just how much joy and awe The Lion King brings to people, and it fills me up. 

Kimberly Marable

Kimberly Marable

Our ensemble has a bit more of an operatic set up, with a singing chorus and a dancing chorus (obviously on a much smaller scale numbers-wise, our full ensemble is 25, or 34 including our super-talented swings). Out of our 13 person on-stage choir, 8 are from South Africa (affectionately called by me "Zulu Nation"), which initially made for a bit of culture shock upon my joining the company. Prior to being in The Lion King, I'd never experienced the theater in the United States as a bilingual environment (with the other language being Zulu no less). Almost four years later I still find myself having to adjust when conversations that began in English continue in Zulu, but I welcome the cultural immersion. I've learned and continue to learn about South African life, languages, traditions and culture, and I believe we can all afford to be as proud of who we are.

To a degree unlike other shows that I've been a part of, I am literally surrounded by seasoned artists with a wealth of experience. As an ensemble we are nationally renowned choreographers, Drama Desk Award Nominees, film-makers, song-writers, producers, recording artist backup dancers/singers, graduate students (and grad school grads), dance studio (and other business) owners, international ambassadors, dance/gyrotonic/yoga instructors... not to mention TV and voiceover actors. And while our outside projects do help keep our minds agile, the creative juices keep flowing while in the building.

If the annual Haunted House we do for the kids of Broadway or the Holiday Door Decorating Contest aren't indications of that, I don't know what is. In the 7, 10, 15, even 20 years that people have been with this show, there is no shortage of creative stimulus both in and outside of the building.

I think what has been the most valuable takeaway for me are the MANY life lessons I've learned. Pardon the example, but with the degree of learning and growth I've had, it almost feels like being back in college. I'm a proud student of PRIDELANDS-U! Seriously though, I've been reminded daily that I am very much an artist, but that is secondary to being human. Practically speaking I've gained apartments, doctor/surgeons, physical trainers, and a shared love for running.

On a grander yet more personal scale, being a member of The Lion King ensemble has taught me how to be a better romantic partner, philanthropist, business collaborator, and future-mother. I am surrounded by some of the most outspoken, funny, caring and intelligent women, who show me just by living, that I can have it all... that I can achieve a work-life balance and not lose my sense of self. I often joke that everything I know about pregnancy, babies, and small children, I learned from being in The Lion King but it's true.

II am humbled by this whacky, spirited and spirit-filled, generous, and wildly talented bunch. But more than that, I am greatful to have (had) such wonderful teachers, and companions along this life journey. In my time here, our ensemble has had marriages, births, crises, deaths - a true circle of life that continues to “...move us all, through despair and hope. Through faith and love." We continue to laugh through it all. The Lion King ensemble has changed my life for the better, and has been the true embodiment of ubuntu: I am, because you are.

The Broadway cast of The Lion King

The Broadway cast of The Lion King

"They Are The Strongest People I Know."

Mo Brady

The Ensemblist is celebrating the 20th Anniversary of The Lion King on Broadway by asking some of our favorite ensemblists to share their stories of performing in the iconic Broadway musical. Today, we hear from current cast member Rosie Lani Fiedelman.

Rosie Lani Fiedelman in The Lion King

Rosie Lani Fiedelman in The Lion King

I joined The Lion King Company in June of 2014.

I remember seeing posters and sides of buses and taxi cab ads everywhere for a year, and I just kept saying to myself, “I’m going to be in that show.” 

When I got the call that they were offering me a job, my grandfather had been in the hospital for a month. We spoke every day and when I told him, he could not have been happier. I wanted to go home when he went into hospice care, but he did not want me to go home at all. When he finally passed, I knew that his spirit would be with me as I continued on my journey through the show. When my father came to see me in the show that October, I could only think of him during “Endless Night,” the song Simba sings when he is missing his father.

It’s exciting right now because we are celebrating the 20th Anniversary on November 5, and there are some changes in two of the numbers choreographically, percussion, staging, lighting and sound. The process has really brought us, the ensemble, closer together. It feels like we are going into an Opening Night. We’ve shared and supported each other in this experience and it has made us stronger.

Rosie Lani Fiedelman in The Lion King

Rosie Lani Fiedelman in The Lion King

As a member of the ensemble, we are truly part of the story and the storytelling. As animals and plants we come together as a community. Through movement and voice. But we also thread that continuity because we are human, and we get to feel those emotions of love, for Mother and Son, Father and Son, for each other. We get to feel loss, of a father and a leader. We feel fear of losing everything, going hungry, being ruled by someone who is determined to destroy us and everything we’ve built and hold dear. It’s sort of a parallel to some of the things that are currently going on in our world and country.

There are times when you are tired, sick or injured, but it takes one person in the audience who is moved to tears. One person who stops you on the street and says how much you have changed their life. 

I have to say that this ensemble is filled with some of the most beautiful voices, Strong dancers and extremely multitalented human beings. The physicality of the dancers is incredible, and you have all of the puppets on top of that. They are the strongest people I know.

 

"It Never Failed To Give Me The Chills."

Mo Brady

The Ensemblist is celebrating the 20th Anniversary of The Lion King on Broadway by asking some of our favorite ensemblists to share their stories of performing in the iconic Broadway musical. Today, we hear from Blake Hammond, who is currently playing Nostradamus on the national tour of Something Rotten!

Blake Hammond (left with Danny Rutigliano for the Broadway 10th Anniversary Company

Blake Hammond (left with Danny Rutigliano for the Broadway 10th Anniversary Company

I'm back in Denver right now where my journey with The Lion King all started. I was the first Pumbaa on the Gazelle Company of The Lion King. Crazy!

I can remember sneaking out front every night with Josh Tower (my adult Simba) to watch the opening.  It never failed to give me the chills. Still, to this day, one of the most stunning opening numbers of any musical! Then Josh and John Plumpis (my Timon) and myself would head to makeup for what we called "Family Time". It was some of the best times of my career hanging out with those men. We would spend 20 minutes laughing, being painted and preparing to go tell our part of the magical story. Getting to bring that beautiful show to those cities for the very first time was a joyful experience. Can't believe I got that chance. Hakuna Matata!

Blake Hammond

Blake Hammond

A few years later, I got to revisit the Prideland on Broadway as the 10th Anniversary Pumbaa along side Danny Rutigliano as my Timon. And now it's ten years later.

So HAPPY 20TH to The Lion King! It's the circle, the circle of LIFE!

"The Ensemble is the Heartbeat of Any Show."

Mo Brady

The Ensemblist is celebrating the 20th Anniversary of The Lion King on Broadway by asking some of our favorite ensemblists to share their stories of performing in the iconic Broadway musical. First up, we hear from L. Steven Taylor, who has spent over a decade in the production and currently plays Mufasa on Broadway.

L. Steven Taylor as Mufasa in The Lion King

L. Steven Taylor as Mufasa in The Lion King

I stood there atop the hill made of brown skin and earth tones. The bright lights seemed to accentuate a flicker at the tips of grass that was worn atop their heads. A smile registered in my heart as I swayed in unison and sang in harmony with my new family during my Broadway debut in the ensemble of The Lion King.

That was 2005. I joined the company as a temporary replacement in the ensemble and Mufasa understudy. I had only a shortened amount of time to learn the show and most of that was spent away from my fellow ensemble members, but the welcome reception that I received when I joined the company immediately felt like I was returning home.

The ensemble of any show is usually the heartbeat. That is particularly true with this show - literally some of the rhythms that we sing are meant to give the feel of a heart beating. Aside from that, though, is how we became each other's lifelines offstage - supporting one another through deaths and births and illness and success.

L. Steven Taylor

L. Steven Taylor

I left to play Mufasa on the tour for a couple of years and recently rejoined the Broadway company to play the role here. There is no way that transition would've happened without the support of my cast - especially the ensemble, giving me words of encouragement, Blunt truths and keeping it real with me along the way.

The great thing about The Lion King is that it is an ensemble-driven show. So even as a principal, you feel part of that heartbeat that starts with Wildebeest #2 or Gazelle #4. (Wildebeest #2 was meeee!)

I have made it a point to continue my offstage social cues from my ensemble track from back in 2005. It was a way we kept each other grounded then and that still holds true for the now. I'll never forget where I came from or that this show does not exist without its heartbeat: The Ensemble.

L. Steven Taylor (Wildebeest #2, Grasshead #5)

5 Debut Questions - Meet April Holloway

Mo Brady

Today on our blog, we welcome Aladdin ensemblist April Holloway to Broadway and learn about her journey to the Great White Way:

April Holloway in Aladdin

April Holloway in Aladdin

1. What's your name and hometown?

April Holloway, Bowie, MD

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

Attendant / Ensemble in Aladdin

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

I was at home and my agent called to tell me that a recent job that I’d booked had fallen through and wasn’t going to work out. I was like...”What the heck happened?” She then proceeded to tell me that I was going to be in Aladdin on Broadway instead. She really got me good. After I got off the phone with her, I did a praise lap around my entire apartment! I’d auditioned for this show so many times within the last year.

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

Preparing for the show was a whole new experience as a replacement. I had to really be responsible with my knowledge of the show since my rehearsals consisted of only myself and the dance captain. Also, there are tons of props and costume changes in Aladdin. I figured being as prepared as possible, while coming into a cast that had already been established, would make my transition a bit smoother. Like most replacements, I had one put in, so I’m learning something new every night as I make my way through my first week!

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

My favorite part about theater is the people I meet. Of course I’m happy to be doing what I love on stage every night, but I’m really looking forward to the relationships I will build as a part of this company. That really seals the deal for me!

Listen to our podcast episode on Broadway Debuts here.

April Holloway

April Holloway

5 Debut Questions - Meet Meryn Beckett

The Ensemblist

Today on our blog, we welcome Kinky Boots ensemblist Meryn Beckett to Broadway and learn about her journey to the Great White Way:

Meryn Beckett in Kinky Boots

Meryn Beckett in Kinky Boots

1. What's your name and hometown?

Meryn Beckett, San Diego, CA

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

I am the new Vacation Swing for Kinky Boots on Broadway!

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

It was closing week of the Kinky Boots National Tour, and the creative team had come out for our closing night party that Thursday night. That evening I was talking with two of the creatives, expressing my gratitude, etc., and they promptly began expressing that “it wouldn’t be long” until I work again, and that “we’ll be working together again soon.” I was so caught off guard and ecstatic to be hearing them say this to me, but I went to bed that night telling myself to let it go and not get my hopes up. 


The next day I woke up, grabbed some coffee, and headed to my friend Ryan’s.  Before I could even sit down, my phone started to ring. I saw the (617) area code and  said “ugh I hate these telemarketers!” But I always answer, so I did so with a somewhat annoyed “hello?” And boy, oh boy, was I wrong. It was Ashley Berman, the company manager of Kinky Boots on Broadway, calling to offer me a 6-week contract and to become their new vacation swing starting in the fall!

Moral of the story? Answer the phone. 

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

Honestly, the most surprising thing about my preparation was how welcoming and warm everyone was. I guess I assumed that with a show like Kinky that’s been open for 5 years and has a lot of it’s original company members still going strong, that I would be just another replacement or just another swing that they’ll hardly interact with. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I’m already a part of this new wonderful family, and I’m overwhelmed with gratitude.

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

I’m looking forward to growing with this new family that I’ve gained. But most of all, I’m looking forward to stepping into all these different women again, and this time ON BROADWAY. 

Listen to our podcast episode on Broadway Debuts here.

Meryn Beckett

Meryn Beckett

"I Was Meant to be a Piece of the Puzzle."

Mo Brady

Learning to be a successful ensemblist is not only something you can do as a professional. Across the country, thousands of student actors learn the skills necessary to perform in ensembles in their school and youth theatre productions. We asked the ensemble of Orange County School of the Arts' production of The Drowsy Chaperone what they are learning from working on the show. Below are excerpts from some of their responses.

Sarah Tweed

Sarah Tweed

"The atmosphere an ensemble establishes in a show makes it less about “performing” and more about creating. This fall, I have been given the opportunity to take part in bringing The Drowsy Chaperone to life. It is in these rehearsals that I have learned the most about the teamwork that goes into becoming a strong ensemble. The ensemble has taught me to work as part of a team, to be others focused, and to be versatile.

"I was reminded of this fairly recently when I saw the national tour of Newsies. It was the ensemble that shaped the story and transported audiences to the year of 1899. It was the beautiful shapes that the ensemble created by simply moving sets that I was raving about as I walked out of An American In Paris. It is nearly impossible to think of 42nd Street without “We’re In The Money” or West Side Story without the Sharks and Jets."

- Sarah Tweed

Sheindl Spitzer-Tilchin

Sheindl Spitzer-Tilchin

"When I found out I was accepted into the ensemble of the The Drowsy Chaperone I was super excited.  For most of my high school career at the Orange County School of the Arts, I have participated in the ensemble in most of my productions.  Every time I participate, it is such a joy and pleasure.  By being in the ensemble, I have gotten to explore many different characters.  Sometimes numerous characters in one show.  In elementary school, I was cast in the production of Grease where I went on stage as a Rydell High student, then a teacher, and then an angel in the song, “Beauty School Drop Out”.  Each time I went on stage, something new happened and I remember feeling very put to work, and in different places, because I was playing 3 different characters in one show.  When I was cast in the production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat as part of the ensemble, I wasn’t quite sure what was going to happen. This turned out to be one of my favorite shows, because I was almost always on stage.  I was a Canaan dancer, an Egyptian, a maid of Potiphar, a horse, and even a pharaoh fan club member.  Being in Joseph really showed me just how wonderful being in an ensemble is. 

"Since then, I have tried to make the most out of being cast in the ensemble.  I have also met so many new friends and created so many bonds.  Acting, Singing, and dancing on stage in the ensemble is really fun and amazing.  It keeps the ensemble members extremely busy.  Sometimes, we are busier than principal roles on stage.  I have never found, that being in the ensemble is a disappointment or drag.  It has always been meaningful and worthwhile to me.  Being an ensemble member in The Drowsy Chaperone has been so much fun, and Mr. Barnhardt has really helped us ensemble members feel special and put to work.  I cannot wait to do future shows with him!"

- Sheindl Spitzer-Tilchin

Shanna Brajevix

Shanna Brajevix

"Similarly to a blog, an ensemble is a place where people in the theatre community, like myself, can go and share bits and pieces of who they are and what they have to offer towards the overall goal to eventually assemble the distinct segments, or actors', into one work of art. A key player in deciphering the importance of an ensemble is to look at it's base foundation. Me and my friends being viewed as a whole rather than individually. A body. An ensemble.  It really is about the group; the product that the cast makes and how that product can benefit other individuals as well as other groups who get to step in and speculate upon the many puzzle pieces that are being wormed together through a tedious process of rehearsing and complex research.

"This leads to the next key aspect of an ensemble, the team building. The message that's being portrayed by the work held together by my peers and I truly becoming one unit, tying into each other and locking in on what we have in common and allowing those aspects to come into collaboration to create a piece which not only represents the artwork itself, but also representing who we are. The embodiment of one entity formed by my cast makes every work not only unique to our version, but also unique to me as a performer.

"Therefore, when people sit in and watch that end result of the last piece fitting into our laborious puzzle, the ensemble is to thank, for we are the corpse. The building block. The base that allows for the show to progress until a fully functioning body is built and ready to perform tasks with the love and passion that first ensued when I as an actor, ensemble or not, decided to walk into that audition room, and show that I was meant to be a piece in the puzzle that a musical is."

- Shanna Brajevic

Five Tips from a Broadway Standby

The Ensemblist

The Band's Visit standby Pomme Koch shares what he's learned so far as a standby on the new Broadway musical.

The Broadway company of The Band's Visit

The Broadway company of The Band's Visit

Understudying distinguishes an actor’s best qualities from their pettiest ones, like a Brita filter for the ego. 

Joining the company of The Band’s Visit has been a dream come true—I’ve wanted to be on Broadway since I was five years old, and the fact that I’m making my debut in the best piece I’ve ever been a part of fills me with joy. As someone of both Jewish and Middle Eastern descent, it’s exciting to be able to switch between Israeli and Egyptian characters, depending on which track I’m in for. I love that this notably non-political piece ends up speaking so directly to the core of humanity, and there is no other production in the world I’d rather be a part of (short of, maybe, Springsteen on Broadway, but I don’t think they’re hiring). 

Understudying seven roles in a Broadway musical is also… challenging. When you’re watching new blocking on stage right, you’re inevitably missing new blocking on stage left. There’s a pile of eraser shavings the size of a miniature Matterhorn at my station, I’ve drank enough coffee to power a small Gulf state, and with almost 60 hours a week spent in the theatre during tech and previews, I believe my spine has been permanently contorted to reflect the arch of the Barrymore’s velvet seats. You long to be called to the stage at any moment; you dread being called to the stage at any moment. None of the notes are for you; all of the notes are for you. 

Pomme Koch

Pomme Koch


But I’m embarrassed to admit that perhaps the hardest part has been maintaining my drive without the ego-boosters many of us unwittingly rely on for sustenance. I know a few individuals who could care less about affirmation — they see praise as a hindrance, they’ll opt for a black box theatre over a decent paycheck every time, and they’d probably prefer to skip the curtain call altogether. I am not one of those people.


When you’re an understudy, the applause is not for you, and it is not your autograph they’re waiting for at the stage door (though I have grown fond of the you-look-like-you-could-have-been-in-the-show-but-I’m-not-sure face). 

And yet what I’ve found is that when superficial incentives are withheld, what remains is a distilled appreciation for the work itself. As actors, we’re often reminded that our worst habits and flattest performances usually stem from a failure to watch and listen. So when you’re an understudy straddling the line between cast and audience member, a tremendous opportunity arises to develop your observational skills. 


I’ve learned a lot by sitting in the dark during tech and previews over the last month, and there are a few things I hope to keep in mind when I’m back on stage:

1. Turns out maybe directors know what they’re talking about. Since we began previews on October 7th our director, David Cromer, has made a series of precise adjustments. These are often minor changes, like shaving off a couple seconds from a transition or calibrating a pause. Every few days, he reminds us that while the notes may seem insignificant, they have a cumulative effect on the piece as a whole. Now, if I was a cast member in one role, I would probably write that statement off as just “one of those things directors say;" it makes theoretical sense, but it’s not really playable, right? And yet watching the show from night to night, I’ve noticed that the audience is starting to respond to everything, including the stuff they previously seemed to miss. They’re laughing, murmuring, mumbling, and not just in response to the parts the creative team is tweaking, but moments that have remained unchanged since dress rehearsal. Little by little the micro-adjustments are buoying the entire ship. 

2. There’s (usually) more than one character in a play. Sounds obvious, but as an actor I’ve often forgotten that the play is about more than just my track. I’m sure even Spear Carrier #3 in Julius Caesar occasionally slips into thinking Shakespeare wrote a play about playing cell phone games in the green room between crowd scenes. But watching rehearsals from the audience has reminded me just how much work a director does to tie all these conflicting, individual storylines into a cohesive whole.

3. Stay on the good side of stage management. It doesn’t take being an understudy to figure this one out, but it bears reminding. They see everything, and even when they’re quiet, they know everything. They are your last line of defense against the abyss of catastrophe, and if you are called on to take over a role at a moment’s notice, your trust in them will make or break you. 

4. The backstage crew ALWAYS deserves more recognition. The Band’s Visit features a handful of turntables and moving walls that rotate scene changes in and out in seamless transitions. Having seen the show upwards of 50 times already, I never considered how it would look from another angle. But when I watched from the wings the other night I found the backstage choreography to be brilliantly calibrated. Oftentimes the crew has to walk backwards while holding heavy furniture on a moving surface to keep from being seen while the costume department throws the last layer of an actor’s clothing on just moments before they’re wheeled into the light. It’s these champions who prevent a couch from rolling into a park or a telephone booth from appearing in the middle of a roller rink. The actors may never get to see the show, and the audience will never know the controlled chaos backstage, but the opposite faces of The Band’s Visit’s rotating walls work in magical simpatico. 

Bonus point: The Band’s Visit really is that goodHave you ever been in a show that you think is awesome, but you can’t really tell because you’re too close to the center of things? Your friends tell you it’s great, but they avoid eye contact in such a way that gets you wondering, “Is this not as good as I think it is?” This isn’t that. 


As an understudy I am close to the center but just removed enough to say to my fellow company members, yes, the electricity you feel onstage is extending all the way to the back of the house where I’m often peeking through the curtain. And not to overhype it or anything, but to anyone reading this: yes, The Band’s Visit is as good as you’ve heard. At the core of my ambition as an actor is simply a desire to be in plays that I would want to see. From the hilarity of Itamar Moses’ script to the exuberant heartbreak of David Yazbek’s music, from Patrick McCollum’s understated and fully integrated choreography to each and every actor’s pitch-perfect performance, this is the show I want to watch from the audience. This is the show I want to be in.

"I Never Thought I'd Do It Again."

Mo Brady

Podcast guest Lauren Elder shares her experience performing in the recent 50th Anniversary concert of HAIR produced by The Public Theatre.

Lauren Elder (right, with HAIR director Diane Paulus)

Lauren Elder (right, with HAIR director Diane Paulus)

This week I got to relive my Broadway debut. The show that started my professional career. The show that changed my life. I got to perform in the 50th Anniversary Concert of Hair. 

Ten years ago, I was waiting tables at Jazz at Lincoln Center 5-6 nights a week and getting up early 4-5 days a week to crash EPAs. I was non-Equity and had no agent, but I was determined.

Early in the morning on August 15, 2007, I woke up to head to an open call for the 40th Anniversary Concert of Hair. I didn’t know the show well, but really loved The Public, so I drug myself out of bed, and onto the sidewalk of Lafayette Street. I remember seeing Jo Lampert, Theo Stockman (neither of whom I had met yet), and Allison Guinn (who I'd done a children’s show with previously). We were all in the first group to go into the building to audition. Then I met Anthony Hollock at the callback and told him I knew we were going to be in it! 

And we were. What was billed as a three night concert became a fully staged and choreographed show - in nine days! Our tribe bonded fast and strong. We met for our own be-ins and were then told that we would be doing a full run in the park the following summer. But before that we got to pose for a spread in Vogue and perform at the Vogue Met Gala. Can you imagine? The scrappy hippies performing for A-list celebrities?! 

Megan Lawrence and Andrew Kober

Megan Lawrence and Andrew Kober

At the end of the summer, they announced that the show would be transferring to Broadway. So many of us made our Broadway debuts. We won the Tony for Best Revival, performed in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and on almost every talk show - they flew us on a private jet to LA to sing on The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien (we were the only Broadway show to perform during his run as host)! We marched on Washington, fighting for equal marriage rights! And then they took us to the West End in London. 

I had the most amazing time of my life in Hair. I also broke three bones and have multiple chronic issues in my body from it, but hey, that’s Broadway, right?

I never thought I’d do it again. Especially not my track, in my Broadway costume, and with all of those magical people. But last week, ten years after we started our journey, that happened. 

We started on Sunday morning with a music “remembering” rehearsal. The first half hour was spent hugging, crying, and cheering anytime anyone walked in the door. On e we all settled down, our music director, Nadia DiGiallonardo, started playing the piano, and the lyrics and harmonies cane flooding back. 

The next day we started recreating our original staging with our director, Diane Paulus. Sometimes we had to be told where to go and stand, but like the music, it all came back quickly. Little moments we shared with people at different parts care rushing back. We also tried on costumes that day, and many of us ended up in our old threads. 

Tommar Wilson and Will Swenson

Tommar Wilson and Will Swenson

The sitzprobe (rehearsal with the band) was the next day. So many of them did the 40th Anniversary Concert and Broadway with us, and a couple were even playing Hair in the 60s! Our tribe was finally complete. 

On Wednesday, the day of the show, I walked to the Time Warner Center, and in the same door I used to enter to work at Jazz at Lincoln Center. Once upstairs, I put on my costume, and walked through the hall where I was the night before I auditioned ten years earlier. To say it was surreal would be an understatement. I ran into my old assistant manager, who is now the manager. He asked me to come have a drink at Dizzy’s Jazz Club after (where I worked the majority of my 3 years there). 

We did a quick run/tech of the show and then ate dinner and got ready for the main event. Diane called us all together for a circle before we took the stage. She had us breathe together and told us to do it for us, and focus on us and our love. We yipped together, and went to places. 

The show was an emotional blur. At times it felt like no time had passed, or that I had somehow traveled back in time and was visiting my past self. It was truly magic.

I don’t know if we’ll get to do it again, but I’m so glad we got this reunion. 

The cast of the 50th Anniversary concert of HAIR.

The cast of the 50th Anniversary concert of HAIR.

"The Dreaded Question is 'What's Next?'"

The Ensemblist

Inspired by our Broadway at Every Stage season, we asked Wicked ensemblist Jeff Heimbrock to share how he defines success in his mid-20s.

Jeff Heimbrock

Jeff Heimbrock

I hate feeling young. I hate telling my co-workers my age and getting eye rolls. I hate getting chastised for totally missing a key ‘90s reference. Most of all, good GOD, I resent being referred to as “buddy,” particularly if we are assumed equals on a career or social level and even worse if they’re someone I was interested in romantically.

But I am so young. I am a spry young chicky in a world of self-assured roosters. I look like I just passed my driver’s test, which is helpful if I want to keep playing teenagers my entire career and not so helpful when you want people to take you seriously.

Perhaps this youthful insecurity is because I found success at an unusually young age. When others hustle restaurant jobs, temping, suffering through 10am open calls for decades to be on Broadway, there I was, barely 20, making my big debut. Of course, like all success, this was a magic combination of being in the right place at the right time. I wish there was a more egalitarian answer. I wish there was something more soothing to say to frustrated friends post-audition, dying for that one chance to breathe in the fabled dusty air of a Broadway stage. But that’s the cold hard truth of the matter. I was simply lucky. 

Jeff Heimbrock in The Book of Mormon

Jeff Heimbrock in The Book of Mormon

For me, the timing of my job at The Book of Mormon was essential. I was in my second year of college, barely affording life in New York City, not sure where my rent was going to come from and living off $50 of Trader Joe’s groceries a week. Am I grateful? You bet your ass I am. But there were things I missed. College. Dating in college. A college diploma. Opportunities to work on my skills that weren’t on this major stage. A small price to pay, for sure, but also time and experiences I won’t get back.

What’s it like reaching it so early, and so suddenly? Being a Broadway performer was the only job that I ever wanted to do. Since I was probably nine years old, my mind was completely made up. I was doe-eyed and naive. Excited and terrified. I felt like an imposter, thrust into an opportunity I wasn’t sure I was ready for, but absolutely could not mess up. My standards for myself were high, not just to please the producers or the director but also to all the years I spent idolizing this art form.

I was (am) so in love with Broadway, that my fandom practically became synonymous with my name. So many people either stumble into the industry, or quickly become coldly bitter. I’ve heard it all: complaints about the day-to-day banality of a Broadway show, or bitterness that they aren’t in the “hot show,” or sometimes actually IN the “hot show” and bitter anyway. I pity that jaded perspective. There are 1,000,000 people who would kill to be where I am. I should know, I was one of them. For all the people who won’t see this success, I refuse to write it off, abuse it, or take it for granted.

Jeff Heimbrock

Jeff Heimbrock

All of that being said, there is an artistic momentum that if not sustained, can turn you to the bitter dark side. The dreaded question for every artist is “what’s next?” For the true artists work is never done; there is always a next, there is always a desire for something new, exciting and juicy. Something that will challenge you, make you again feel either relevant or alive (and for many artists, those two are one and the same). 

For me it’s never “been there, done that.” It's been “what else!” All of a sudden, this dream of mine that always felt so far away from me came true. There was a section of my soul that felt closure and that same pie slice began aching for new dreams. Things and passions I hadn’t even considered as career options started unveiling themselves to me. People talk a lot about “true callings." If that’s the case, I have about 17 callings. And I want them all, because I’m ambitious and a scorpio.

So what is next, you ask? Well, I just opened in a dream show of mine, and having the time of my life, so hopefully that will continue for quite a while. Other than that, I am thrusting my arms out to the universe and trying to let things come to me. Inversely, I am also working on 7,000 projects, ranging from acting workshops, writing a TV pilot, collaborating on an avant-garde Christmas spectacular and taking online literature classes. I guess I’m sort of shooting a bunch of grappling hook guns and will follow whichever ones stick. I like to think of myself as a gay Lara Croft.

I have some definite dreams. I’d love to see something I wrote be produced. Whether that is a novel, a play, a screenplay or a pilot, I’d be thrilled. I’d love to originate a role in a Broadway show. I’d love to be in more plays. I’d love to make a film. I’d love to collaborate. I’d love to help my friends foster their own dreams and see those realized.

I don’t expect any of those other dreams to come true as swiftly or miraculously as my Broadway dream did. But I will work my hiney off until they do. Oh, and I will love every second of it. 

Open up your channel. Don’t think about this as your career. Make your life the context of your work. Let it be that who you are as a human being is what shines through. Let it be that you work hard, that you are kind to other people, that you live in gratitude for what you are given and take it and make it as majestic as you can possibly do. And all of a sudden, your life will be wonderful and it won’t matter whether you are a star on the next thing or whether you get a feature film or whether you get a starring role in a Broadway show or you win the Tony, or the Emmy, or the Oscar...none of that will matter because the satisfaction you get from being the kind of human being you want to be will be your gift multifold.
— Judith Light