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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

Falling Backwards Onto Broadway

Mo Brady

by Zachary Daniel Jones

Zachary Daniel Jones

Zachary Daniel Jones

I never in a million years thought I could swing a Broadway show. I can barely remember what I ate for dinner last night, let alone know and perform multiple tracks in a musical. So, when I found out I was joining Beetlejuice on Broadway as a vacation swing, you can only imagine the shock, thrill, and terror I felt.  

I had just finished a contract in Houston and had been back in New York City for less than a day when I received an appointment for an immediate vacation swing at Beetlejuice. The email came on Tuesday, the audition was for Wednesday, and by Thursday someone would be joining a new Broadway show. After swapping shifts with a coworker, printing off a last minute headshot and resume, and slapping on my favorite pair of socks, I was ready to roll.

Every time I enter an audition room, I wear at least one article of clothing to remember to just have fun. Beetlejuice was no exception. My “go to” for this audition was a pair of pink socks, but my good luck repertoire ranges from a backwards ball cap to cheetah pants (seriously). More often than not, I look ridiculous. But it reminds me to have as much fun as I can while I am working my ass off. If I fully trust my abilities and allow any judgement or doubt to fade away, then what I have to share in an audition room will be more than enough.

After a few rounds of dance cuts for Beetlejuice, casting wanted us to come in one at a time to sing. At some auditions, monitors come out to let the next person know to come in. But, on that particular day, the team wanted us to head in as soon as the person before us had finished. We were slated to sing in alphabetical order.

Either I don’t know the alphabet very well, or I just wasn’t paying attention. No one had entered the room for a while, but I was next in line. Before I knew it, the casting director, Rachel Hoffman, was opening the door asking, “Zachary? Do you want a job or not?” We shared a laugh. Or perhaps I might’ve done most of the laughing. My anxiety abuzz, I shuffled into the room to sing.

Zachary Daniel Jones

Zachary Daniel Jones

When I finished, as I was answering their questions, I walked over to the piano to grab my rep book. Scratch that, I thought I walked over to the piano. In reality, I had walked directly up to the casting table and gathered all of Rachel’s papers and headshots. Who knows where my head was? Before I could catch myself, she joked that I was trying to read her notes to which I replied, “I don’t know what I’m doing... I think I need to leave before this gets any worse!” It was equally confusing as it was hysterical. Having made an even bigger fool of myself than usual, we all laughed, I thanked them for their time and went on my merry way. I got the call at work later that night that the job was mine.

When I first joined Beetlejuice, I felt as if I had fallen backward into my second Broadway show (the Cats revival being my first). I made a fool of myself at my audition, the entire process happened so fast, we were three days from starting tech, and I had never swung a show before. Every day I showed up to rehearsal more nervous than the day before. Due to the jam-packed, fast-paced, ever changing nature of tech, I learned fairly quickly swings get very little time to rehearse.  But I wasn’t going to let that prevent me from doing the work I needed to do.  I spent the majority of tech taking videos of everything, tracking out as much of the ensemble as I could, and then getting up on my feet in the upper lobby of the Winter Garden to get as much of the show in my body as possible.  Which really paid off when I had my first scheduled rehearsal and midshow swing on within hours of each other. 

Yes, you read that right.  I had my first rehearsal and onstage ensemble debut in the very same day.

For all you swings out there: woah, I get it now. I may have initially fallen backward into this company, but I was now leaping forward into one of the most special experiences of my life. Every single person in the building rallied to help me succeed. Costume and wardrobe helped get me into costumes and makeup I’d never tried on. Stage managers guided me through all of the backstage traffic I had yet to shadow.  And after a quick spacing rehearsal and lift call during intermission it was time to step out on that stage and soar. 

As I prepared to enter from the side window of the Deetz’s now-possessed home, I tapped into the same energy I carried into my audition. I closed my eyes and said, “You got this. Now go have fun.” And that’s exactly what I did. With the utmost support and love from my cast, creative team, and entire crew I was having too much fun to ever even question how terrified I was. A whirlwind of emotions and a dazzling sensation I will never forget.

Typically a vacation swing covers medical leaves, injuries or vacations after a show has been up and running, but that wasn’t my experience. This was out of the ordinary, but why shouldn’t the job be just as strange, challenging, and comical as the audition that lead me there.

Zachary Daniel Jones

Zachary Daniel Jones

“I Love These Women.”

Mo Brady

by Eliza Ohman

Eliza Ohman (bottom, second from left) and the cast of  King Kong

Eliza Ohman (bottom, second from left) and the cast of King Kong

The women of King Kong on Broadway spend a lot of time together. Our show is spent either onstage or squeezed into a backstage dressing gondola that makes a cramped East Village studio seem palatial. There’s no escaping each other. Fortunately, we’re a silly bunch and we’ve really embraced the absurdity of our setup. On any given day you can expect to find one or more of us participating in very involved interpretative dances, incorporating lifts, props, and feedback from our audience (any girls not participating in that day’s events). We’re a bit of a mess, but it’s one of the happiest messes I’ve ever experienced. I’m continually grateful to our casting and creative team who brought this group of misfits together.

Now, almost six months into our run, our dynamic is old news. However, although we’ve always been silly, it took more than a second for us to really trust and know each other. Relationships like this don’t happen overnight and our rehearsal process didn’t naturally lend itself to cute, casual bonding.

Tech was an experience. Only five weeks into our rehearsal process, tech was the first time we were all together ten hours a day, six days a week. Up until that point, four women had spent most of the rehearsal week at the theatre learning to puppeteer a 2,400 pound gorilla while the other six were at New 42 learning the ensemble material. Those who learned ensemble material would then incorporate the puppeteers into the numbers during the one day a week our whole company was together. Rather than socializing, breaks were spent reviewing material with someone or rolling out our tired bodies. Suddenly we’re in tech spending four hours stuck backstage in the gondola while the boys worked on a section of the boat … again. Talk about forced bonding.

Eliza Ohman

Eliza Ohman

Generally, I equate those “bonding” situations with uncomfortably different personalities, awkward small talk, and stress. And all of those things happened. Theatre forces you into strange scenarios with people you might not necessarily get along with because you come from different backgrounds, perspectives, experiences. Yet that’s the coolest thing about these women. We’re all super different, but we communicated with each other. We asked questions. We laughed a lot. Then one day, we didn’t have to try to build a community because it had become our established dynamic.

These women are extraordinary, unapologetic, and inspiring to be around eight shows a week. Do we have individual insecurities? Of course. But each of us lives and leads from a place rooted in love. We freely celebrate others’ successes because we know better than to equate them with a personal loss. In a society and industry that pits people against each other, we can’t help but be forced into a game of comparison. If you don’t actively fight it, you passively participate in it; walking through life seeing other people for what they have and what you’re missing. That mindset is destructive and can break even the strongest person.

So how do we combat that? We speak truly. We celebrate instead of comparing; ask questions instead of making assumptions; find inspiration instead of getting overwhelmed with discouragement. I think we got really lucky at King Kong. We ended up with a group of women who naturally gravitate toward this kind of mindset. We also actively combat any energy in opposition to that. We’ve each acted out and then made ourselves vulnerable by taking the time to apologize and explain from where that action stemmed. We’ve accepted that we all have days when we’re not the best version of our self and forgiven each other (and ourselves) for those moments. We’re not perfect. Living in community is messy. Having honest conversations can suck, but it’s a lot easier to love people when you understand them. We’ve taken the time to make sense of and appreciate each of those beautiful, quirky, messy individualities.

I love these women. Simply put, they’re the best.

Eliza Ohman and the cast of  King Kong

Eliza Ohman and the cast of King Kong

Synchronistic Stagecraft

Mo Brady

Hadestown at the Walter Kerr Theatre

Review by Mo Brady

NTGDS_LR_April_A55.jpg

There’s much to be swept away by in the new Broadway musical Hadestown, which opened at the Walter Kerr Theatre earlier this spring. Perhaps the most prominent is how histrionic the show feels. From its lush design to consistent breaking of the fourth wall, Hadestown is the kind of story we go to the theatre for.

One of the most successful elements of the show is its use of ensemble. This is the kind of ensemble that you wish all shows could achieve. While it is a small chorus of just five actors, each of the players in is a distinct person. Yet they work succinctly as a group to both comment on and move the plot forward. More than any other Broadway ensemble this season, they are channeling an energy that feels truly synchronized.

This team of actors playing the Workers Chorus includes five of Broadway’s most in-demand performers. The production is Legacy Robe recipient Afra Hines’ eighth Broadway Show, after shining in last season’s Summer: The Donna Summer Musical. Timothy Hughes joins the company straight from his memorable turn as Pabbie in the original cast of Broadway’s Frozen.

Hadestown marks John Krause’s first Broadway ensemble after touring with the companies of Wicked and American Idiot. Kimberly Marable joins the company after five years in the ensemble of The Lion King, and Ahmad Simmons is also giving a striking performance this spring playing Ben Vereen in the F/X miniseries Fosse/Verdon.

In Hadestown, the actors in the chorus play two roles. First, they take on the responsibilities of a traditional Greek chorus, representing the voice of the people and commenting on the action. Midway through Act I, they shift to play workers in Hadestown. This troupe of mindless and emotionless plebeians are virtual opposites of their first roles, blending into show’s textured set.

With only a small number of solo lines or specialty features, it’s difficult to call out any one of the five as more notable than the others. However, that is what makes this team so remarkable. You could easily imagine a world where these five characters could be the leads of their own musical.

There’s a long stretch in the show’s second act where the five-member ensemble stands watching the action. They don’t speak and rarely sing, and yet their presence is key. In their faces, we see five distinct people with five distinct takes on the proceedings.

One of the show’s most striking moments is at the very beginning of the performance, where the entire ensemble of 13 players comes on stage and looks directly at the audience. This is not a new theatre trope, but it is nevertheless effective in reminding us that the next 2 1/2 hours will be a shared experience among all people at the Walter Kerr.

As far as critique is concerned, I wish that I cared about the characters more. Yet what’s strange is that I still felt emotionally involved, because I cared about the storytelling. It’s so nice to be at the theatre and be watching something truly theatrical. This is the reason that we put away our phones, stop watching a second screen and sit in a room with 1,000 other people to watch the story that we already know the end of.

Hadestown  Ensemble (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

Hadestown Ensemble (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

Seeing Myself on Broadway

Mo Brady

by Lance Wiener

Nico DeJesus, Minami Yusuf, Eddy Lee, Kristen Faith Oei, Karla Puno Garcia and Angelo Soriano (Photo by Billy Bustamante for The Ensemblist)

Nico DeJesus, Minami Yusuf, Eddy Lee, Kristen Faith Oei, Karla Puno Garcia and Angelo Soriano (Photo by Billy Bustamante for The Ensemblist)

I rarely see someone who looks like me on a Broadway stage. Being an Asian-American soon-to-be-college student hungry for a performing career, I wish there was more representation of the Asian community in theater.

Lance Wiener

Lance Wiener

While most roles are written without regard to race or ethnicity, they are generally given to Caucasian actors. Asian, Latino, black and other minority actors need to be better represented in theatrical productions. Outside of shows like Miss Saigon, Motown, or Hamilton, actors of color aren’t often having characters written for them that get to lead a company. When it comes to opportunities to be “color-blind” in casting rooms dominated by people of Caucasian descent, opportunities for some minorities seem to be all too often overlooked.

Sure, stunt-casting occurs; however, when it comes to filling diversity quotients, Asian actors are frequently under-utilized. I dream of seeing an Asian Elphaba or an Asian Elsa. I hope to see boundaries broken and see people I can relate to in strong, formidable, lead characters.

I’ve found that the theater community is practically a family. Everyone has your back. You go through tech (or “hell”) week together, you open a show, and you get the thrill of seeing your peers up on that school auditorium stage, smiles and all. But even at the high school level, so few, if any, of those smiling faces are of Asian, or any minority, descent. I can’t help asking, why not? That trend seems to be present at all levels of this industry. Why can we sometimes be in the ensembles of large productions, but rarely as leads that audiences are able to see eight times a week?

Nico DeJesus (Photo by Billy Bustamante for The Ensemblist)

Nico DeJesus (Photo by Billy Bustamante for The Ensemblist)

Nico DeJesus, an ensemble member and swing in Pretty Woman The Musical, paints the Asian community in theater as close-knit and “supportive of everyone.” For Nico, being on Broadway is something he is extremely grateful for. It’s rewarding for him that theater “provides a space for people to escape and allows them to have feelings of joy, sadness, hope.” Nico finds inspiration among his Asian peers, like Karla Garcia (Hamilton) and Angelo Soriano (Aladdin), admitting that “I don’t put myself up there with them.”

However, as a Filipino myself, I look up to him not only as a dancer and actor, but as a genuine human. For awhile, Newsies was one of my favorite musicals to have ever graced the stage. Being able to see an actor on stage who looked like me, like Nico, made me think that I could be there one day. If Nico DeJesus can do that dance move, I can too! And that, for someone who looks up to people constantly, is what theater has provided me. I’ve dreamt of being the first Asian actor to play Ogie in Broadway’s Waitress, and having representation in Filipino actors like Nico DeJesus, Julian DeGuzman, and Aaron Albano pushes me to believe that I can.

Similarly, King Kong’s Kristen Faith Oei states that a “kind of support from within our community shows that there is huge respect for other Asian actors and their work.” Oei recently had the privilege of performing in the almost entirely Asian cast of the show Soft Power. She was completely blown away by the support that the Asian acting community gives to one another, as casts from “Fresh Off the Boat” and “Crazy Rich Asians” came out to show their support.

In response to her understudy role of Mary Jane in Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, Oei feels that, through portraying characters that aren’t normally played by Asian actresses, she has added to the breaking of stereotype. I, for one, am here for it! She’s encouraged by the gratitude audience members show her for representing the Asian community on Broadway. “Asian audience members would always seem to note when there was an Asian cast member.” I have definitely done that while watching a show! Oei’s advice to young Asian actors is simple: “Be diligent, be prepared, and be perseverant.”

Nico DeJesus and Kristen Faith Oei are extremely talented performers, and I dream to achieve what they’ve been able to as Asians in the theater community. As they overcome boundaries, it gives me hope that racial stereotypes within theatrical roles will be broken as new waves of performers grace stages throughout the country. This Asian-American/Pacific Islander Month, I strive to not let my talents go to waste and let myself be proud of my cultural and ethnic background as an actor.

The theater industry has a growing number of opportunities for people of color, and I know that, just like the amazing people before me, I can go in and be the best I can be. The performers currently gracing the numerous Broadway stages in New York City and all around the country are beacons of inspiration for myself and for fellow Asian thespians. We are strong. We are resilient. We are proud to be Asian and Pacific Islander.

Kristen Faith Oei (Photo by Billy Bustamante for The Ensemblist)

Kristen Faith Oei (Photo by Billy Bustamante for The Ensemblist)

“I’m So Freaking Grateful.”

Mo Brady

Eric Anthony Lopez

Eric Anthony Lopez

I had been going to almost every Equity Chorus Call and Principal Appointment available for The Phantom of the Opera since moving to New York four years ago; sixteen rounds of sixteen bars. I prayed I was making an impression and was hopefully on a list to be called in down the line.

Then, in March 2018, it happened. Tara Rubin was seeing people to replace a long-time ensemble tenor in the Broadway company of The Phantom of the Opera, a track which included a Piangi cover, and she wanted to see me. I was so grateful for the opportunity to be considered for this track. And although I looked a bit young for the role, the chance to be seen by the team was a huge win.

Little did I know that three months later I would get the call to open up the new Hal Prince-directed World Tour in that very track. My dream really came true. Getting that call from my agent is a moment I’ll never forget. That and calling my mom and screaming on the phone.

I went college for a year before moving to New York. I ultimately decided to forgo continuing on for an opportunity and entered this career at 19. The only thing you can do is continue to bring in a positive, professional attitude and to show up on time. I’m a firm believer that on time is late. I pride myself on my work ethic, being a team player, being genuinely nice to people and being prepared for a day’s work. 

Eric Anthony Lopez (left, with Robyn Brotha)

Eric Anthony Lopez (left, with Robyn Brotha)

When I booked The Phantom of the Opera, I was prepping to open the Chicago production of Terrence McNally’s Master Class opposite Janet Ulrich Brooks. It would mark my first straight play, and it was thrilling to portray Tony Candolino, a Juilliard opera student who sings an aria from Tosca during the show. It helped me strengthen my acting and operatic chops, ultimately gearing me up for my understudy role in Phantom, the star of the Paris Opera House, Ubaldo Piangi.

I am honored to be a member of the Phantom ensemble eight times a week. I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be in this company, and the cover position allows me the opportunity to continue to grow into the role and the show. It’s really exciting.

One of the unique things about the World Tour is getting to see Broadway’s still longest-running show being built from the ground up in each new city. Our company is filled with veterans of the franchise: stage manager Sandie Bekavac, Maestro David Andrews Rogers, William Waldrop, Masha Barskaya, Jonathan Roxmouth, Ian Jon Bourg, Michael Gillis, Jen West, and Robyn Brotha. It’s such an opportunity for me, at the beginning of my journey with the show, to work with these people every day. I’m always seeking them out for advice or just to chat. I adore this company.

Eric Anthony Lopez (right, with Kristen Blodgette)

Eric Anthony Lopez (right, with Kristen Blodgette)

Our principal Piangi, Thabiso Masemene, and our other cover, Luke Grooms, both have a long history with the role. They’re amazing men and colleagues. I’m obsessed with their voices. It’s such a gift working alongside them. If I ever have any questions, I know I have people to turn to.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s longtime collaborator Kristen Blodgette and Hal Prince’s right hand, Daniel Kutner, informed me I was the youngest Piangi Phantom has had in its more than thirty year history. It didn’t dawn on me that my casting would be a departure from their usual choices, I am just happy for the work. I get to make a living doing what I love.

“Making history” is not something I think about. My only obligation every night, whether I’m covering Piangi or in my ensemble track, is to serve and honor the Andrew Lloyd Webber score, the original Hal Prince direction, and the late Gillian Lynne’s choreography.

Eric Anthony Lopez

Eric Anthony Lopez

“It Made Me Feel Like I’d Arrived.”

Mo Brady

by Kenny Francoeur

Justin Prescott (Photo by Jacob Smith Studios)

Justin Prescott (Photo by Jacob Smith Studios)

On Thursday, May 2, theatre goers shuffled into Studio 54 for the evening performance of Kiss Me, Kate. They found their seats, ventured to the restroom or (more importantly) bar, and opened their Playbills to see if they were correct about the number of Tony nominations Kelli O’Hara has received or how many iterations of Law & Order Will Chase has appeared in (the answer is three). Making their way to that night’s paper insert, they were informed that the role of Paul, normally portrayed by James T. Lane, would be performed by Justin Prescott. The lights dimmed, the orchestra played, and they sat back to enjoy a night of classic musical comedy unfold before them. While the audience got to experience the electricity emanating from the stage, Justin Prescott got to experience what many young hopefuls can only dream of.

On any given night, the SUNY Purchase grad and Broadway veteran enters the stage door and prepares for yet another day at work performing his ensemble track, including his favorite angry cab driver feature. Although certainly not “old hat” for him, Justin Prescott is definitely used to crossing the stage door thresholds of New York City’s theatre district, this being his eighth Broadway show since debuting in Fela! in 2010. He has also enjoyed being the recipient of not one, but two Legacy Robes for both Paramour and Head Over Heels. Kiss Me, Kate marks his third Broadway Cast Album that he has recorded. He seems to collect successes like bottle caps. But with all his accomplishments, the one on Thursday, May 2 was still new: Prescott had never performed a principal role on Broadway.

He has always enjoyed success as an ensemble member and swing in his past Broadway contracts, but this show marks his first understudy of a principal role (although he technically understudied two featured dancers in After Midnight). Having now worked in both a swing and understudy capacity, Prescott says it’s not for the faint of heart. “Preparation is key and staying abreast on the information is what will keep you from feeling like a crazy person whenever you go on.”

Speaking of “going on,” Prescott feels grateful that his experience came with ample warning. “I found out the day before that I’d be on, so that gave me plenty of time to post on social media and personally invite my close friends; two were able to come. Also, the day I went on, there was already a put-in scheduled which made performing that night even easier.” But all the preparation in the world still couldn’t take away the thrill of this experience. “It made me feel like I’d arrived. I’m not only working with some of the largest names in the business, but I’m on stage performing with them as a fellow principal!”

Favorite part of the evening? Getting to lead the show’s most iconic production number, of course! “Too Darn Hot” is generally always a show-stopper, but Warren Carlyle’s choreography paired with an absolutely fierce ensemble of dancers not only stops the show but does turndown service. But as far as Prescott’s memory of the experience, “all I remember is seeing Adrienne Walker, Hattie, because she’s who I’m singing to most of the number.” An experience to which all swings and understudies can relate.

For the rest of the show, Prescott proudly admits that no one had to “shove with love.” But that didn’t stop those little moments of panic that occur when you are playing a different role than the one you inhabit every other night. “My regular track and my understudy track never have a real interaction throughout the show. But I will say, I would hear the musical [and] line cues for my normal track and would have a mini heart attack for half a second because I thought I was missing my entrance!”

Justin Prescott

Justin Prescott

In a moment Prescott will never forget, tears filled his eyes at the very end of the show as the little boy from Houston, TX, whose teachers urged his parents to enroll him in dance classes because he couldn’t stop moving, got to take a solo principal bow on a Broadway stage.

But, as most beautiful moments in life do, the moment ended, and Prescott returned to his ensemble track the following night. “Not gonna lie, for me it was bit clunky as I did get a little spoiled by the spotlight. I had a bit of the principal withdrawals, but after the second show back, I was sort of back to normal.”

It is the reality check that comes with being a Broadway swing or understudy. One night you are onstage in a principal role/swinging into an ensemble track/making a debut and witnessing all your hard work and sacrifices and training paying off and your dreams coming to fruition. The next day, that paper insert that meant so much and validated your career choices now lies as litter outside of the stage door, where all the loose scraps of paper fell from playbills as each theatre goer clambered for signatures the previous night before piling themselves in taxis and escaping Times Square.

But with a true heart and burning passion, this reality check does little to deter Ensemblists like Justin Prescott from pushing forward in pursuit of their dreams and their art. In fact, it serves as inspiration. That young first grader from Houston, with teachers and a family guiding him toward dance and thespianism, has grown into a Broadway performer with a luminous smile who has trained his body to be a vessel for storytelling. Any future success that Prescott achieves should come as no surprise, to his family or to us.

Human Beings First

Jackson Cline

By Jackson Cline

Leslie Becker

Leslie Becker

On a Tuesday afternoon 25 years ago, Leslie Becker called up Samuel French Bookshop and asked if they’d like to purchase any copies of her new organizational workbook and planner for actors. They ordered 25 copies. Little did they know she had not written a page. For the next three days, Leslie toiled away at her keyboard, and The Organized Actor was born.

Over the years, Leslie continued updating her bestselling book as she pursued her career as an actress. It’s now in its 7th Edition. She started taking on private coaching clients and slowly began building a web presence. In 2018, Leslie decided to take a huge leap to expand her business even further, offering online courses, webinars, and The Actor’s Roadmap — a weekly email subscription that guides its members forward in their careers with weekly focuses, expansion exercises, and action steps without the high price of hiring a private coach.

It’s no surprise that private coaching has become a major part of Leslie’s business. “If someone were to ask me what my natural gift is... the one I came into the world with, it would be coaching,” says Leslie. “I always had a natural ability of supporting people and showing them how to open their minds to bigger possibilities.”

In Leslie’s private coaching sessions, she not only focuses on her clients’ careers, but makes sure to spend time on their lives, as well. “An actor is a human being first. My coaching addresses all areas of their lives, because it is all connected,” says Leslie. “Quite honestly, if all you are living through is your acting career… you’re not really paying attention to all of the other things that matter, too.”

Coaching can be helpful for artists at any stage of their careers. “It doesn’t matter what level you’re at,” says Leslie. “ You always need somebody there who is another set of eyes for you… You want somebody who is going to support you, but call you out on your crap.” However, it’s important to remember that the coach is not there to do the work for you. “If you don’t do the work, it won’t happen,” says Leslie.

How is coaching with Leslie helpful for an ensemblist? Leslie knows first-hand what it’s like to work in that sector of show business. Along with several principal roles, she has also performed on Broadway in the ensembles of Nine, Anything Goes, and Amazing Grace. Whether working with a client who plans to be a career ensemblist or one who would like to transition to principal roles, Leslie believes “finding the joy in what you do have and not taking it for granted is essential.”

From Broadway to TV and film, Leslie’s artistic clients have found great success working with her. But her client list goes far beyond actors. She’s even helped a scientist build his own lab! “As a coach, I’m providing a space of possibility for people and ultimately giving them permission to create a life they love,” says Leslie.

After nearly two decades of coaching, Leslie is continually inspired by seeing what her clients can achieve. Plus, it keeps her own acting career moving forward powerfully. “If you are coaching others, you have to make sure you walk your own talk,” says Leslie. “All the systems I use for my clients are ones that have worked for me and others.”

Visit The Organized Actor website to learn more about Leslie Becker, her book, and her coaching business.

Leslie Becker

Leslie Becker

“Only the Most Demanding Challenges Give You the Greatest Rewards.”

Mo Brady

by Kenny Francoeur

Rick Faugno

Rick Faugno

The Chita Rivera Awards, formerly The Fred and Adele Astaire Awards, are an annual tradition honoring excellence in dance and choreography. This year’s ceremony, like the rest, will celebrate some of the most illustrious performers in our business. The five nominees for Outstanding Male dancer this year are all on principal contracts, except one: Kiss Me, Kate ensemble member Rick Faugno.

Some quick research of Faugno reveals his Broadway career started with Will Rogers Jr. at the age of 12 in The Will Rogers Follies, but his journey began long before. As a four-year-old Garden State-er, Faugno’s parents enrolled him in tap classes at a local dance studio. His father, a tap dancer and drummer in a jazz band, was able to share a passion for dance (and percussion through tap shoes) with his son. As is the case with many budding Gene Kelly’s, Faugno was the only boy at a studio where he would eventually be taught by Voigt Kempson, an ensemblist from the original production of Hello, Dolly!.

By the time he “fell into” his first Broadway show, he was studying with all the teachers he could get access to in both New York and New Jersey. The gruff and bravado-ful Phil Black; the fluid and elegant Bob Audy; ballet with the legendary Catherine Kingsley (“what she gave to me still inhabits my body in everything I do”); jazz with icon Gregg Burge. Chet Walker, Bob Tucker, Madame Darvash, Germaine Goodson, Van Porter, Ted Levy. His list of teachers reads like a veritable who’s who of the dance world. Faugno’s impeccable abilities are the culmination, not only of his own experience, but of the years of experience of his master teachers, whom he reveres and emulates.

Growing up, Faugno also learned by observing performers in film and TV, from Baryshnikov (“explosive, passionate, beautiful”) to Sammy Davis Jr. “I wanted to be able to do everything like he did. He was limitless.” But in observing him dance, Jack Cole is an obvious influence as well. Watching Faugno’s carriage while performing is a masterclass in the Jack Cole school of jazz technique.

He credits and praises other ensemblists he’s worked with for keeping him on his toes and inspiring him to always stay at the top of his game. Tyler Hanes (Faugno’s replacement in the Fosse National Tour) for his undeniable talent and work ethic; Matt Loehr for his versatility and persistence over the years they’ve known one another; current colleague Will Burton for his skill, style, and work ethic. Unsurprisingly, for a performer who has proven himself an eternal student, Faugno values a tenacious approach to work and growth, both in his colleagues and himself.

Rick Faugno (bottom, with Will Burton, Stephanie Styles and Corbin Bleu)

Rick Faugno (bottom, with Will Burton, Stephanie Styles and Corbin Bleu)

Having worked with innumerable prolific choreographers, he singles out the late Gillian Lynne, with whom he worked on Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, as a personal favorite. Her unique and passionate approach allowed her to truly push boundaries. “Her style of dancing really fit my body. It was really grounded. She came from that old school, and so do I.”

But he’d be remiss not to mention the profound impact Warren Carlyle has had on him, Kiss Me, Kate being their second Broadway show together (the first being On the 20th Century). As Faugno ages in the dance world, he credits Carlyle for pushing him in new directions. “[Carlyle] honors old Broadway but puts his own stamp on it and forces you to bring yourself to the material.”

In Kiss Me, Kate, Faugno’s favorite Carlyle choreography is in“Tom, Dick, or Harry” (a number which features Faugno heavily and is the catalyst for his Chita Rivera nomination). “That’s what I was made to do, these types of numbers.” It is demanding but fulfilling. Although he suffers the physical consequences of the number’s demands, the satisfaction and release of performing “Tom, Dick, or Harry” make it all worth it. “It’s like being able to let go. There’s a great sense of freedom, there’s a great sense of joy that comes with the inevitable aches and pains that you get from doing it. Only the most demanding of challenges gives you the greatest of rewards.”

And Faugno works for those rewards. Describing his two-hour physical and vocal warm-up routine to me while simultaneously picking his daughter up from school, it is clear that this man never stops or settles; he is equally there for his family and his art. “It requires that much of me to be able to be prepared to walk on that stage and deliver the goods and deliver Warren’s choreography as he intended it.” Clearly, Faugno demonstrates time and again that he is prepared to deliver.

Rick Faugno

Rick Faugno

In regard to his nomination: “It feels great to be nominated. The fact that I’m nominated with two of my colleagues from the show is fantastic…[Sharing] this nomination with people I get to perform with on stage every night is something that happens very, very rarely. We don’t take it for granted.”

When asked about ensembles, he makes it clear they are the glue that holds a show together. “These performers are the catalyst of the show, the synergy. We are always there moving the show forward and making it exciting. [We] make it go to another dimension.”

Listening to Faugno discuss his career with vigor and excitement, it is difficult to imagine him as anyone but his elementary-aged self tap dancing with his dad in the garage or on the kitchen tile, trading steps with each other back and forth. Those of us lucky to hear the passion with which he describes his idols get a glimpse of the spark of inspiration that has grown within him since he saw his first Broadway show at the age of eight: Jim Dale in My and My Girl. “That moment crystallized something for me. I can still remember walking out of the Marriott Marquis theatre that night with my mom and dad and dancing down the street. Dancing down Broadway…”

 

Back on Broadway (with 30 Hours Notice)

Mo Brady

by Jane Bunting

Jane Bunting in  Come From Away

Jane Bunting in Come From Away

After leaving thestage at the Schoenfeld Theatre last Friday night, I went into the wings to find my stage manager, Arturo, with a bottle of whiskey and a stack of paper shot glasses.

“Is that for me?” I asked.

“Well, not the whole bottle, but yes.”

As the company toasted my performance and tossed their shots back, I thought to myself, “I think I’m in the right show.”

I originally auditioned for Come From Away in February 2016 down in Washington DC for their pre-Broadway run at Ford’s Theatre. I was staying with a friend there while doing a show at the Kennedy Center, going back and forth with the idea of moving there full time. I got an appointment and was delighted to find out Ricky Hinds was the associate choreographer, as I’d worked with him three years prior at Flat Rock Playhouse.

I booked it as a standby and worked harder than I ever had in my life to memorize multiple roles within the mind-bogglingly detailed staging of the show. Although I never performed during that run, the show and its message nuzzled its way into the corner of my heart.

A year and a half later, I got offered the North American tour of the show as a standby and Dance Captain. That same week, while doing a press event for the show, I got a call from Arturo asking if I could get to the Schoenfeld in two hours for music rehearsal. Due to a combination of injuries and personal days within the company, I’d be making my Broadway debut in six days.

With no time for a put-in, I dove (nay, slammed) into rehearsals, spending every waking moment reviewing spike marks, numbers, traffic, accents, prop and costume pass-offs, lines, and anything else I could glean from watching the show until I went on as Bonnie, all eight times. After spending sporadic weeks with the Broadway company last summer, re-learning my tracks in preparation for the tour, I finally met my sweet “road family”in September, and I’ve been happily adventuring around North America ever since.

That is, until last Thursday.

Halfway through our week in Hartford, I got a call from our Associate Director Danny Goldstein saying they might need me to go on as Janice the following evening back in New York and stick around for the weekend, just in case. That night, I sat down with the Broadway archival video, wrote down all of the differences I could find between our show and theirs, and hopped on the phone with the Associate conductor, Chris Ranney, to review the differences in the vocal part. I had friends that were supposed to come to Hartford and visit the next day, but when asked if they’d be willing to see me on Broadway instead, they heartily agreed to shift their plans.

The next day after a brush-up rehearsal with our newly Olivier-winning choreographer Kelly Devine and Ricky (where I was told I was definitely going onstage that evening), I hopped on a train to New York with my wig and costumes in one suitcase and everything I’d need for the weekend in another. At 7 pm, Arturo opened my cab door, grabbed my bags, and shoved me into the stage door. Josh Breckenridge, the Broadway company’s fabulous dance captain, took me straight to the stage to quickly talk through every question I had. An hour later, the bodhran beat sounded and I entered from stage left.

In retrospect, I’m grateful I wasn’t afforded the time to worry; I had to swallow my panic and go. I had a list in my head of all the differences between the show I’d been doing for nearly a year and the show I was currently doing and I hoped to all that is holy I wouldn’t forget them. On the road, we’ve played some pretty massive houses, and the Schoenfeld is much smaller than what I’m used to, so the sound difference and audience proximity were incredibly jarring at the outset. All of this on top of being onstage with humans I hadn’t played with since last June.

Jane Bunting

Jane Bunting

I’d like to thank nearly 10 years of cognitive behavioral therapy for helping me maintain my sanity, because doing this job as a human with high-functioning anxiety would be impossible without the tools I have to manage stress. Thankfully, the panic faded away as I allowed myself to settle into a more intimate experience of this show that lives deep in my bones. To do all this with kind, compassionate people who trusted me was a gift.

The character of Janice lives in her own world onstage quite a bit. It was such a lovely experience to walk into a light special and directly address an audience that was so engaged and present and quite literally in my face. Having them so physically close was intense, in all the best ways: the energy in the Schoenfeld house is always so palpable and fuels what is already an emotionally charged piece of art.

Although it must have been slightly terrifying for everyone to have me step in so abruptly, they encouraged me, shoved with love when necessary, and welcomed me back into their show with open arms. I had a blast, and was even given a chance to do it all again at the matinee the next day.

I felt loved and supported on all sides: my tour family, the Broadway company, and my brilliant circle of humans and friends who were able to attend. I’m unsure if I’ll ever have more of an out-of-body performance experience, but I couldn’t be more grateful for the unexpected gift of spending the weekend back on Broadway in the best piece of theatre I’ve ever had the pleasure of performing. I’m flying back to join the tour in Milwaukee with a happy heart.

And needless to say, I’m looking forward to my vacation next week.

The National Tour of  Come From Away

The National Tour of Come From Away

5 Debut Questions: Frozen's Brian Steven Shaw

Mo Brady

Today on the blog, we welcome Frozen ensemblist Brian Steven Shaw to Broadway and learn about his journey to the Main Stem.

Brian Steven Shaw

Brian Steven Shaw

1. What is your name and hometown?

Brian Steven Shaw. Los Angeles.

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

Vacation Swing for the Male Ensemble.

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

My agent made it very special. He had me on speakerphone and everyone in his office cheered “You’re going to Broadway!” I happened to be surrounded by friends when I found out. We all jumped up and down and laughed and screamed a lot.

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

The most surprising thing has been the speed at which I learned the show. I surprised myself with how much I was able to retain in such a short amount of time. 

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

I’m most looking forward to the idea of experiencing the show from multiple points of view. As a swing, I get the opportunity to connect and perform with different people every night. I think that’s a fun way to keep my Broadway experience fresh and almost never ending because there’s always something new to discover. 

Brian Steven Shaw

Brian Steven Shaw

Staying Healthy on the Road

Mo Brady

by Sam Leicht

We're traveling all the time. Airports are full of germs. We're not eating or sleeping as well as we should be. Trying to ward off illness on the road is no joke. And even with the most diligent practices, getting sick is unavoidable. So while we try our best to ward off sickness altogether, it's important to have a contingency plan for when we do get sick. How can we shorten the lifespan of our illnesses and limit damage to our bodies when we still have shows to do?

As an understudy, I'm lucky. When I get sick, I usually have the luxury of doing the number one thing to preserve the voice: shut up. But I figure the information that might be the most helpful might come from my cast mates, so I decided to ask them their secrets!

From the Cast


Chris McCarrell

Chris McCarrell

Chris McCarrell (Percy)

I sing differently. The best voice teacher I ever had never let me cancel lessons on days I didn't feel well. He told me that training is for the days you're not at full capacity. Everyone can sing well on good days. So I retrained how I think of my voice. It's not black and white or sick/healthy. It's a sliding scale. Every day, I sing differently based on how it feels. Microphones are a game changer as well on down days if you know how to use them efficiently.


Kristin Stokes

Kristin Stokes

Kristin Stokes (Annabeth)

Swears by hydration, oregano oil capsules, light food (nothing within 1.5 hours of the show), vocal warmup and REST.


Jorrel Javier

Jorrel Javier

Jorrel Javier (Grover/Mr. D)

WATER! When you think you've had enough, drink 12 more ounces. Sleep and rest - both physically and vocally. Hot showers and baths (but don't forget to hydrate again!).


James Hayden Rodriguez

James Hayden Rodriguez

James Hayden Rodriguez (Luke)

Personal steamer/humidifier for the throat. Neti-pot (with filtered water) for sinus clearing. Mucinex for phlegm. Oregano oil for anti-inflammation. And Pedialyte for hydration.


Sarah Beth Pfeifer

Sarah Beth Pfeifer

Sarah Beth Pfeifer (Clarisse)

Neti Pot, wellness formula, sleep, hydrate. Also, I think all of these things don't actually do much and the placebo effect is the best we can do. But using these tools to feel more in control of the situation works for me!


Jalynn Steele

Jalynn Steele

Jalynn Steele (Sally)

1. Rest 2. Rest. 3. Rest. 4. Rest 5. Water.


Ryan Knowles

Ryan Knowles

Ryan Knowles (Chiron)

Vocal rest. Avoid talking but use voice occasionally in gentle way. Drink plenty of fluids - water, Pedialyte, tea with honey and lemon. Steam! Sit in a steam room or hot shower for 20 minutes, breathing deeply and very softly vocalizing. Lymphatic massage (this is vital!) And SLEEP.


Find Your Routine

In our own ways, we really do a lot of the same things to bounce back from sickness. And there's really no getting around the most important tip: rest. One thing I'd add to the list is possible exercise. There's a general rule of thumb for exercising when sick. If you've got a head cold, light to medium intensity exercise can actually kick start your immune system into action. If your sickness feels like it has moved its way to your lungs or you have body aches and fever, it's best to avoid the gym and take that extra time to rest. My routine definitely includes baths, Neti-Pot, and sleeping, but as Sarah Beth said, it's all about finding the routine that works for you. If you believe in your routine, that's really your best bet for shortening the duration of your illness.

Last thing I'll mention - what you eat, how much you sleep, and exercise are all factors in immune system support. So if you're really interested in bolstering your ability to ward off sickness, eat more vegetables and less fried foods, sleep 7-9 hours, and make sure you're exercising 4-5 times a week. These habits won't make you invincible, but they've been proven to decrease your chances of getting sick. 

Check back next month for a special post about Demigod Bootcamp where our cast will be taking on a CrossFit workout together! 










Four Tony Award Nominees with Ensemblist Cred

Mo Brady

by Mo Brady

Alex Brightman in  Beetlejuice  (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

Alex Brightman in Beetlejuice (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

Alex Brightman

Brightman has scored two for two Tony nominations for playing lovable schlups at the Winter Garden Theatre, first as Dewey in School of Rock - The Musical and now as the title role in Beetlejuice, but in 2014, Brightman took over for Taylor Trensch in Matilda The Musical in a featured ensemble role. In addition to portraying the leading lady’s luddite brother, Michael Wormwood, Brightman also played one of the “revolting children” banishing the evil Miss Trunchbull.

Kelli O’Hara in  Kiss Me, Kate  (Photo by Joan Marcus)

Kelli O’Hara in Kiss Me, Kate (Photo by Joan Marcus)

Kelli O’Hara

A Tony Award winner for her portrayal of Anna Leonowens in The King and I, O’Hara has a remarkable 11 Broadway shows to her credit. One of the first of those was the 2001 revival of Follies where she played Young Hattie and then replaced Erin Dilly in the role of Young Phyllis. She also understudied Young Sally and Young Heidi in the production’s opening company.

Ephraim Sykes in  Ain’t Too Proud  (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

Ephraim Sykes in Ain’t Too Proud (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

Ephraim M. Sykes

Sykes has more than just ensemble cred, he’s a thoroughbred ensemblist. After making his Broadway debut as a replacement in The Little Mermaid, he went on to originate ensemble tracks in Memphis, Newsies and Motown The Musical (where he played, among other roles, a Temptation!). Prior to his dynamic performance as David Ruffin in Ain’t Too Proud - The Life and Times of The Temptations, he was best well-known on the Main Stem for originating the ensemble role of George Eacker in Hamilton.

Mary Testa (right, with Damon Daunno) in  Oklahoma!  (Photo by Little Fang Photo)

Mary Testa (right, with Damon Daunno) in Oklahoma! (Photo by Little Fang Photo)

Mary Testa

An unequivocal Broadway powerhouse, Mary Testa has played many of Broadway’s musical indelible leading women, including Madame Morrible in Wicked and Matron “Mama” Morton in Chicago. However, almost thirty years before earning a Tony nomination for playing Aunt Eller in Oklahoma!, Testa made her debut in Barnum, covering Terri White before moving into the show’s ensemble.



Turned Up to 11

Mo Brady

Beetlejuice at the Winter Garden Theatre

Review by Mo Brady

Hurdling into the Broadway season just before its closing day, the new Broadway musical Beetlejuice had me experiencing an extreme case of deja vu. Not because of the well-known feature film that the musical is based on, but from a much more recent experience. You see, the show Beetlejuice reminded me of most is one that opened just two days earlier: Tootsie.

Both musicals are headlined by lovable, if unempathetic leading men. Both are beloved film properties that have been turned into joke-dense musical comedy librettos. Both shows feature standout performances by a featured actress (for Tootsie, Sarah Stiles and for Beetlejuice, Leslie Kritzer). However, where Beetlejuice outshines its counterpart five blocks south is its dizzying use of an ensemble.

The ensemble of Beetlejuice features 14 actors portraying various demons and denizens of the Netherworld. At various moments, they appear as deceased marching band members, oversized skeletons and even various of Beetlejuice himself. They seem to literally bounce off the walls of David Korins’ fun-house set, bounding on and off of the stage through hidden doorways. Or, in the case of the gravity-defying Mateo Melendez, flying on and off of the furniture.

What’s most notable about this ensemble is how much frenetic energy is required of them. While the amount of time they appear onstage is not a lot, every song they perform in is a fully-staged production number. It’s no surprise that the company features veterans of Rock of Ages (Tessa Alves) and Newsies (Ryan Breslin), as the energy level required by choreographer Connor Gallagher starts high and only climbs higher.

Dana Steingold

Dana Steingold

The production design is a feast for the eyes, one that is imbued with a healthy dose of humor. The ensemble’s Netherworld costumes, created by Broadway legend William Ivey Long, give an Easter egg hunt for the audience time and again. From Elliott Mattox as a skydiver with a fried parachute to Presley Ryan as a horse jockey, it’s fun to identify how each character passed away.

Nestled within the ensemble are standout performances by two featured actors. Dana Steingold makes a pitch-perfect Broadway debut as a cookie-hocking girl scout who unsuspectingly descends on the home of Lydia (played by Sophia Anne Caruso). In the dual roles of Maxine Dean and Juno, Natalie Charle Ellis (on for an ailing Jill Abramovitz) provided steady laughs thanks to a copious amount of scenery chewing.

While often front and center, the show’s ensemble is given little to do in terms of character development. With only four women and ten men among their numbers, they are certainly easy to spot and appreciate. Perhaps that would have further developed the show’s plot by deepening its circumstances, but that’s not the show that’s been constructed here.

Beetlejuice is a carnival ride full of fun. Lead by the winsomely mischievous Alex Brightman and achingly sincere Sophia Anne Caruso, the company takes audiences on a wild, somewhat silly but always hilarious ride. It’s not subtle, it’s not quiet, but it’s a whole lot of fun.

Rob McClure (Adam), Kerry Butler (Barbara), Sophia Anne Caruso (Lydia) and Alex Brightman (Beetlejuice) in  Beetlejuice.  Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Rob McClure (Adam), Kerry Butler (Barbara), Sophia Anne Caruso (Lydia) and Alex Brightman (Beetlejuice) in Beetlejuice. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Bringing an Artistic Sense to Wardrobe

Mo Brady

by Mo Brady

Frank New

Frank New

Musical theatre performers love portraying fabulous characters. From the English upper-crust at My Fair Lady’s Ascot Gavrotte to the royalty of Arendelle’s coronation day in Frozen, the characters these actors play are often chic with a keen sense of personal style. However, that comfort in fashion doesn’t always translate to the actors who are playing them.

That’s where a personal stylist comes into the picture. The role of a stylist in an artist’s life is to take their creative soul and expand it into clothing. It’s not about placing a look onto an artist, but rather drawing the artistic sensibilities out of one and into a look that expresses them more fully.

Personal stylist Frank New is the brainchild behind Man.Your.Style. A self-proclaimed “multi-hyphenate,” he is known in the fashion industry for his behind-the-scenes work at Bergdorf Goodman and New York Fashion Week. However, one of his greatest passions is bringing the imaginative energy into the wardrobes of individual artists.

“Personal styling is exactly that, it’s personal, and tailored to your personal style,” remarks New. “It is putting trust into another artist’s skills to allow them to elevate your look.”

Many artists have the desire to wear bold and memorable outfits, but don’t have confidence in their ability to pull together a look. Other artists are simply just too busy; between put-in rehearsals and running errands, they don’t have the time to explore out of their comfort zones. For either, working with a stylist like New can be the first step into expressing their creative energy through clothing.

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New never tries to put a look onto another artist. Rather, he works to bring out their unique creativity sensibilities. “Knowing who you are is the key to this process,” he states. By exploring their social media presence and through one-on-one conversations, New gathers a sense of the individual and their aesthetic.

The relationship between a client and their stylist is a personal one at its core. One of the most sensitive discussions can be about a client’s comfort zone with clothing.

“Working together,” says New. “We work to explore what a client’s barriers are and what barriers we may be able to break down - together.”  

Many of New’s clients come to him for help with fashion at a large public event. Some of his proudest moments as a stylist have been when he helps artists shine at events like the Tony Awards.

“I am particularly proud of dressing a dear friend about a year ago for the Tony’s, it was his first big event in the theater world and he wanted to look his best. Working together, he was beyond thrilled with his look and he rocked the red carpet confidently.”

Working with a stylist is not only for red carpet events - New helps artists present confidently at a business meeting or walk into auditions ready to book the job.

“The most important aspect of style is confidence,” states New. “You have to have own you are and be comfortable in your own skin.”

Regardless of an artist’s comfort with wardrobe, employing the talents of a stylist is an instant confidence booster. Just like working with a personal trainer or a therapist can help build a person’s self-assuredness, employing a personal stylist can help build faith in their own conviction.

“I strive for the artists I work with to feel really happy and confident in what they wear.”

Frank New

Frank New

“I Get to Marry My Favorite Artist.”

Mo Brady

by Angelo Soriano  

Angelo Soriano (right, with Angelica Stiskin)

Angelo Soriano (right, with Angelica Stiskin)

I get to marry my favorite artist and we’re doing things a little differently for our big day.

Today, I stand less than a month away from marrying a woman that has far exceeded any dream of mine, and we’ve chosen to enjoy this memory in a unique way (since we don’t have a magic carpet.)

I am so proud to call myself a Broadway performer, swinging eight shows a week in Aladdin. Born all the way in Manila, Philippines, I found someone across the globe, that inspires me to dig deeper, to dive into who I am and what role I play outside the one in the script. She believes in the content of my character(s), both on stage and off. Birthed with the name Lucky (Lucky Angelo F. Soriano), it conveniently blends together who I am and how I feel. I really am Lucky.

My lady is an artist. An expert in directing bodies and hearts. Her name is Angelica Stiskin, and happens to also lead programs at the world-renowned Joffrey Ballet School in New York City. She is not this quintessential bride, having already downloaded Pinterest-ing ideas into a cloud of money, flowers, and tradition. The connection we have embraces passion, skill, and above all, art. The creation of art is not bound by any rules or traditions, so why should love be any different?

We made the choice to get in line at City Hall on a Friday in May to exchange vows, with our closest family and friends. Thirty-five dollars felt right. The display of infinite love doesn’t have to be bought to prove it exists, and if we are going to throw thousands of dollars into one night, we want to glorify the city that teaches us that it’s worth it to stand in line to fill yourself with art and culture.

So, here we are! Instead of having a wedding reception, we are putting all of our wedding funds together, and hosting an evening for New York City, open to the public. We have curated an art exhibition, honoring a diverse selection of artists in our industry. The entire night is supported by talent and creative expression, even the bottomless cocktails!

This scene, symbolic of the dynamic New York City culture, is exactly the way we want to remember this time of love. This is a platform for our community to share their passions with the world. No invitations. No exclusivity. Everyone is welcome! This is not a wedding. This is a ticketed event that celebrates you. A gala of art, and we are simply the hosts (with the help from our Creative Team: Lauren Cox, Michael Waldrop, and Thomas Ford). Our goal is to bring our networks together. From Broadway to ballet, a festival of artistic spirits discovering how lucky we are in the heart of the West Village, with stunning views of the Hudson River.

Celebrating Women

Jackson Cline

Project Broadway: Forget About the Boys

BY JACKSON CLINE

Screen Shot 2019-04-28 at 3.44.38 PM.png

What’s better than celebrating female musical theatre composers? Combining that celebration with an education on the history of their contributions to the art form. And that’s just what Symphony Space did with Forget About the Boys, the latest installment in the Project Broadway concert series. 

Whether examining the work of Kay Swift, the first woman to compose the music for a Broadway score on her own, the extensive range of Jeanine Tesori’s voice, or the poetry set to music by Carmel Dean, each chapter of the evening was accompanied by performances from some of Broadway’s finest, along with a number of current Yale students. 

Jason Gotay was a delightful vessel for Jeanine Tesori’s “What Do I Need with Love?” (Thoroughly Modern Millie) with his easygoing, boyish charm, and his hopeful rendition of Amanda Green’s “The Tryers” (cut from Hands on a Hardbody) was a highlight of the evening. Sally Wilfert showed off her wide range with a touching performance of “Lay Down Your Head” (Violet) before wringing every ounce of comedy out of Shaina Taub’s “Lighten Up” (Old Hats).

Darlesia Cearcy

Darlesia Cearcy

I can’t recall many artists with a presence quite like that of Darlesia Cearcy, last seen on Broadway in Once on this Island, in which she was a standout ensemblist and later replaced Lea Salonga as Erzulie. Whether Cearcy was dueting with Wilfert on bluegrass earworm “Out Here” (by Georgia Stitt) or simply watching another performer sing a solo, her magnetic energy consistently drew my eyes to her.

The evening ended with Cearcy’s electric performance of “I’m Still Here” from The Color Purple. Cearcy’s deeply layered performance not only celebrated Celie’s journey, but also the talented women we had spent the past 90 minutes honoring.

5 Debut Questions: Hamilton's Justice Moore

Mo Brady

Today on the blog, we welcome Hamilton ensemblist Justice Moore to Broadway and learn about her journey to the Main Stem.

Justice Moore

Justice Moore

1. What is your name and hometown?
Justice Moore from Dallas, Texas.

2. What is your role/track in your Broadway debut?
“The Bullet” track in the ensemble of Hamilton on Broadway.

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

I was in Ft. Lauderdale on my dinner break between shows with the Philip Tour of Hamilton when I got the call! I felt so many things in an instant.. joy and gratitude for this dream to soon come true. I felt a sense of accomplishment because of all the hard work it took the get there, and I felt EXTREMELY SCARED because of the huge change about to happen. But I was so ready for it all. 

4. What's been the most surprising thing about preparing to perform the show?
Having been in two other companies of Hamilton (Chicago and Philip Tour) I thought rehearsals would be a breeze! However, learning the show with completely different people was such a challenge. I was questioning everything I knew from spacing to choreography. But it’s just because it’s a different space with different bodies. Each company has a unique way they execute the show, a common flow and breath, but all have the same goal. Eventually I found my flow this company, and (hopefully) I’m doing the right steps again. 

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

This is my first time living in the big city! I’m already so in love. New York is the perfect place to develop every part of yourself. While here, I’ll continue to take any dance/vocal/acting lesson I can by day, and continue to learn more and discover things about the show by night. 

Justice Moore

Justice Moore

“The Most Important Night Of My Life”

Mo Brady

Tootsie at the Marriott Marquis Theatre

Review by Mo Brady

TOOTSIE Logo.jpg

As the final sequence of Tootsie begins, members of the show’s ensemble proudly step forward to address the audience. Giddy with anticipation, their characters are preparing for the opening of Juliet’s Nurse, the show-within-a-show in the new Broadway musical Tootsie. Carrying bouquets of flowers and performing vocal warm ups, they happily present the evening as “The Most Important Night Of My Life.” While it’s difficult to describe Tootsie as an “important” night at the theatre, it certainly is a whole lot of fun.

In Tootsie, the 12-person ensemble mostly portray foils for leading man Santino Fontana. Cast members of Fontana’s Michael Dorsey (and then Dorothy Michaels), the company represent his journey from unlikeable to empathetic. However, beyond some athletic and enjoyable choreography from Denis Jones (Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn), there’s not much else for them to do. While the show as a whole is a lark, thanks to a joke-dense libretto by Robert Horn and impressive leading performances by Fontana, Andy Grotelueschen, Sarah Stiles and more, Tootsie is best viewed from the surface.

James Moye

James Moye

From the audience at the Marriott Marquis, it’s not easy to see where the cast of Tootsie ends and the cast of Juliet’s Nurse begins. While they are performing familiar and often humorous tropes of the theatre, none of these performers, dressers and stage managers in Tootsie’s ensemble play are distinguishable personalities. When your cast is stacked with such estimable Broadway veterans as Paula Leggett Chase and James Moye, it’s a shame that they aren’t given more to do.

Tootsie’s ensemble are certainly proficient at their roles. As the writing team for Juliet’s Nurse, Britney Coleman and Nick Spangler provide some memorable laughs. Leslie Donna Flesner and Katerina Papacostas also bring humor as two failed auditors for the show-within-a-show. Together, the ensemble cast sings Angela Brody’s vocal arrangements crisply and execute Jones’ choreography with bravado. But beyond the occasional solo line or bit part, they are hardly an intrinsic part of the show’s energy.

In musical theatre, there are essentially two kinds of ensemble characters. Either they are distinct personalities (such as in SpongeBob SquarePants, Mean Girls or Newsies) or work together to alternatively challenge or support the protagonist (like in Frozen, Aladdin or King Kong). Tootsie lands squarely in the second camp.

For the audience, this results in a fun but ultimately light evening at the theatre. For a show about a man who multiple men and women fall in love with, I found myself notably unattached to the proceedings. However, I did laugh a whole hell of a lot. And sometimes, that’s just what you need from a night at the theatre.

Santino Fontana, Drew King, Leslie Donna Flesner, Sissy Bell, John Arthur Greene in  Tootsie  (Photo by Julieta Cervantes)

Santino Fontana, Drew King, Leslie Donna Flesner, Sissy Bell, John Arthur Greene in Tootsie (Photo by Julieta Cervantes)

The One Sure Thing We Learned From the Drama League Noms

Mo Brady

by Mo Brady

It’s happening, friends. Welcome to Awards Season. With yesterday’s announcement of the Drama League nominations, we have started the eight-week sprint of nominations and ceremonies that will lead us to the Tony Awards on June 9. Buckle up.

A note that I made yesterday morning because I am a hyper-organized idiot who loves lists.

A note that I made yesterday morning because I am a hyper-organized idiot who loves lists.

Over the next 11 days, we will see nominations from the Drama Desk Awards, the Outer Critics Circle Awards and more, ending with the Tony nominations of April 30. But the ones to start them all off are the Drama Leagues, the oldest theatrical honors in America. Membership is open to anyone (industry professionals, producers, audiences, critics) as long as they are a member of the Drama League. Their awards recognize achievement in five categories, with only one going to performance.

Traditionally, this nomination for the Distinguished Performance Award celebrates dozens of performers of both genders who have worked in both plays and musicals and both on and off-Broadway. It’s a wildly mixed bunch that truly celebrates the diversity of fantastic performances on New York stages. However, it’s hard to correlate the nominations to other awards, where actors are separated by gender, style of production, etc.

But there is something to be gleaned within these 60 nominations. With only 13 of them going to performers in Broadway musicals, we have our first official look at who could be celebrated with nominations (or most likely wins) in the four performance categories at the 2019 Tony Awards.

Those 13 actors include three eligible for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in Musical (Brooks Ashmanskas, Alex Brightman and Santino Fontana). With there being fewer leading roles in musicals than featured ones, the competition for the last two slots will be tight but not usually so.

For Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in Musical, André DeShields, Jeremy Pope and Ephraim M. Skyes all seem like reliable nominees for other award ceremonies. Beloved septuagenarian DeShields seems due for honors, Pope’s acclaimed performances in two different shows this season and Sykes’ tour de force in Ain’t Too Proud make them each likely to be celebrated. Often the most competitive performance race of the season, Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in Musical looks to be wide open with only Leslie Kritzer and Ali Stroker nominated for the Drama League Performance Award.

What’s most striking is how locked up the nominees for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in Musical are. Of those 13 actors in Broadway musicals nominated for the Drama League Award, five of them are eligible for the Leading Actress Tony: Stephanie J. Block, Amber Gray, Beth Leavel, Bonnie Milligan and Kelli O’Hara. That doesn’t even include acclaimed performances by this season’s Caitlin Kinnunen or Rebecca Naomi Jones.

While there is nothing sure in life but death and taxes, looks like the competition for the Best Leading Actress this season will be steep.

5 Debut Questions: Mean Girls' Kevin Cosculluela

Mo Brady

Today on the blog, we welcome Mean Girls ensemblist Kevin Cosculluela to Broadway and learn about his journey to the Mainstem.

Kevin Cosculluela

Kevin Cosculluela

1. What is your name and hometown?

Kevin Cosculluela from Miami, Florida. 305 BABY

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

I play Shane Omen in Mean Girls on Broadway.

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

Mine was an interesting experience. On the day of my final callback, the music director and casting director pulled me aside. The MD briefly asked me, if I were to get this, would I work hard on the music? My answer was an immediate, “YES!” but I was not sure that was the answer to the big question of “Did I book this?”

It wasn’t until later that my team, Lakey Wolff, called me, while I was on my way to teach dance at a studio in Jersey. I got that call on the bus (which was very awkward to start crying on a bus full of people), but I was just in shock it was happening.

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

This is a very funny question for me to answer. For starters, this cast is amazing! Everyone is super helpful every step of the way and it made going into the show very easy. By the third show, I felt I had been there for quite some time already. All this being said, I’m not the best tapper, really not. I’m going give a shout out to Brendon Stimson, our dance captain. He was so helpful and nice about taking whatever time I needed to learn and grow in a genre I’m not familiar with, even if it was at the most inconvenient time to ask him to help me. He would drop everything he was doing to help me.

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

Growing, growing, growing! I absolutely do not want to settle ever. We are blessed to be able to wake up every day, for starters. The fact that I get to wake up and do what I love to do, every day, with people around me that are at such an insane caliber, in every aspect, is something I aspire to grow toward!