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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

What's It Like To Have An Unruly Heart?

Angela Tricarico

by Angela Tricarico

An important piece of the rehearsal process for members of an ensemble is building a personality and backstory for the character that they’ll portray nightly once the show begins performances. 

Fernell Hogan

Fernell Hogan

Most commonly, the process begins by giving characters a name, backstory, and a relation to other people around them. In other words: who are they, and why are they here? 

Fernell Hogan, who is currently in The Prom, says that you have to use your imagination to fill in all of the details that aren’t given. 

“A lot of it comes from improvisation. Then you keep the moments that work and throw out the ones that don’t,” he said.

Hogan’s main character is Noah, a student at James Madison High. He says that he and some of the other Ensemblists in the show have created a family with their characters. 

Jerusha Cavazos, also in The Prom, says that her main focus is to find a way to have her characters “add to, compliment and move” the story. In developing her main character, she followed director Casey Nicholaw’s instruction to find props that their characters may find useful. 

“I saw a giant stack of books and it clicked!” Cavazos said. “During our lunch break that day I ran down to CVS and got a cheap pair of nerd glasses for fun and never turned back.”

Jerusha Cavazos

Jerusha Cavazos

For Cavazos, Hogan, and the rest of The Prom ensemblists, they’re more than just students at James Madison High; they’re also placed in scenes as Applebees workers, attendees at a Broadway opening night party, and members of the non-equity tour of Godspell. In Act Two, they each become another character: a teen somewhere in the world who is affected by “Unruly Heart,” the song Emma posts online to share her story with the world. As the music builds, more members of the ensemble fill the stage, until they’re all singing in unison. All of these characters have backstories too, that the actors created and shared with each other. 

Cavazos recalls that during a lab of the show, Nicholaw asked the company to think about what it’s like to have an unruly heart. 

“Long story short, we all had a beautiful cry and the number was never the same,” she said. 

Cavazos’ character now is a combination of different versions of the show; as her lines were changed and rewritten, she was able to keep things, but also change them to fit the current version of the lyrics. 

“I have personally taken all the versions we had and made them mean one thing for me,” she explained. “My character in “Unruly Heart” is a lot more ‘me’ than anything else. I am the most alive in that number. Sometimes, I end the number in a big smile and sometimes I end it with tears running down my face.”

During a previous version of the song, Hogan actually used to say his character’s name. 

“My line was ‘Hi Emma, Jake here in Evanston. Loved your video.’ In the rehearsal process, those lines changed a lot and sadly Jake was cut, but he lives on in my head,” Hogan said. 

He also explained that Jake is inspired by the reactions people had to seeing the first same-sex kiss on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, happy to see themselves represented on TV. 

The company of  The Prom .

The company of The Prom.

“There was something so sincere and simple about their responses that it only makes sense for Jake to have the same reaction,” he said. “He is a young guy who has struggled with his sexuality and the reaction that he knows his parents will have if they knew. Emma serves as his inspiration to accept himself and not let anyone else define him.”

Though Jake and the rest of the “Unruly Heart” ensemble are fictional, the response that the song, and the musical as a whole, have gotten, prove that if they were real, they’re certainly not alone. 

Back At The Bourbon Room

Mo Brady

by Anna Wehr

Katie Webber in  Rock of Ages

Katie Webber in Rock of Ages

Not many Broadway performers are given the opportunity to reprise a past role from their favorite Broadway show, but Katie Webber is an exception to the standard. After performing in Rock of Ages on Broadway and in Las Vegas, she returns to New World Stages to reprise her role as Waitress #1.

Rock of Ages is one of Webber’s many Broadway credits. Audiences may have seen her in Charlie in the Chocolate FactoryHoneymoon in Vegas, Jersey Boys and more. Not only is she a full-time performer, she is a wife and mom with a fantastic website where she shares plant-based recipes and a look into her life. 

The story of how Webber was cast is quite simple.

She shared, “Kelly Devine sent me a text that said ‘How would you feel about bringing Waitress #1 back to life at New World Stages?’ I texted her back within about two seconds and said, ‘I’m in, when do we start?’ Not even a second thought!”

Webber didn’t have to think twice about seizing this opportunity. She said Rock of Ages, “lights me up and makes me feel like a really good version of myself.” 

Katie Webber

Katie Webber

Everything came rushing back to Webber as she stepped into the show for the third time. It even felt fresh.

She said, “It feels better than ever to be back. I get to improve on things that maybe I wasn’t as strong at before, and I also get to work on some things that used to be easy for me that are more of a challenge now.” Not many people can say they’ve done that. 

Her role as Mom is helping her gain new insights too and breathe new energy into the production.

“Being a mom is so grounding and puts everything into perspective. I push less in my role now. I feel confident just being me, and it feels so good!”

She is continually working to stay present on stage and make new connections with her fellow cast members. Returning to the show gives her the chance to experience the show with a new set of actors. Her favorite memory of working on Rock of Ages on Broadway was the people, and her show family will only continue to grow with the current production at New World Stages. 

 

Judy Turner (x4)

Mo Brady

by Julia Freyer

Julia Freyer

Julia Freyer

A Chorus Line is a musical about twenty-four dancers auditioning for eight roles in the ensemble of an upcoming Broadway musical. One of those auditioning dancers is Judy Turner. Over the past nine years, I have had the joy of playing Judy in four different productions of A Chorus Line.

I was 22 years old and one week from college graduation the first time I was cast as Judy Turner. It was a National Tour directed by Baayork Lee. I was so excited and SO YOUNG. The character of Judy is relatively easy for me to “tap into.” I consider Judy to be an amplified version of myself...she shares her quirkiness a little more readily and her ankles are a little looser. Learning the show, the iconic choreography and the history from Baayork was an experience I will never forget. As an actor, A Chorus Line is a dream show. You say the words and the Pulitzer Prize winning book does the emotional work. But, being lucky enough to have landed this job even before graduation, I had yet to legitimately experience unemployment or my mortality as a dancer, in the great debate of “what to do when you can’t dance anymore.” Candidly, I found myself more aware of my nerves regarding (the dreaded) ‘turn, turn, out, in’ than anything else.

After tour, I moved to New York City. When I was 24 years old, I was cast as Judy Turner again, this time at Paper Mill Playhouse, directed by Mitzi Hamilton, another legend in the A Chorus Line family. I had not worked in theatre since the tour closed one year earlier. I was floored by the caliber of the company; I was so proud to be present and standing on the line with artists that I so admire and respect. When we faced out during “What I Did For Love,” I was overwhelmed with a feeling of ‘oh my god, I am working again AND I am working with THESE people.’ I rode the emotional wave of the show in a different way than I had previously.

Julia Freyer

Julia Freyer

Two years later, at 26 years old (Judy’s scripted age!), I played Judy at Sacramento Music Circus, directed by Stafford Arima with the original choreography reconfigured for the round by Randy Slovacek. We formed the traditional line only once, at the end of the Montage. Instead, we stood in a circle, alternating between facing out and facing in towards each other, while the stage slowly rotated on a turntable. As an artist, that experience was incredible. In its traditional staging, A Chorus Line can, at times, feel isolating. It is just you and the voice of Zach while standing in that line. Experiencing the show in a circle forced each actor to be present in a completely different, collaborative way. For example, as Judy, I typically never communicated with, or even saw, actors who stood on the end of the line because Judy stands near the center. In the round, we faced each other much of the show. I experienced the show in a completely different way: A Chorus Line somehow felt vulnerable and safe all at the same time.

Last month, I had the opportunity to play Judy at Transcendence Theatre Company, directed by Amy Miller with choreography by Jim Cooney. I am 31 years old and have been in New York City for almost ten years. I have now experienced unemployment in theatre for long periods of time. I have been in final callbacks for Broadway shows. I have injured myself and wondered if I would be able to dance again in the same way. I have seriously considered changing career paths—wondering just like Sheila, “Am I copping out? Am I growing up? I don’t know.” A Chorus Line is a gift to performers at any age, but I am so grateful to have experienced it again this summer. As artists, we are shaped by experiences and those experiences help create richer characters and the ability to trust our instincts as storytellers. While I proudly own my previous incarnations of Judy, I can say this was the first time I fully trusted myself in the role, owning the Julia inside of Judy. Life experience is an incredible gift and it allowed me to finally trust myself as a dancer and storyteller in A Chorus Line, which was WILDLY freeing. I hope I have not said goodbye yet to Judy Turner. I would love to see where she lands inside of me again in a few years.

A Chorus Line has always made me proud to be a dancer and even more so, proud to be an artist. It makes me so proud to reflect back upon what I do, and have done, for love!

Body-Mind-Spirit An Actor's Journey

Mo Brady

Joe Rosko

Joe Rosko

I grew up as a three-sport athlete in school. My dad made me a make-shift barbell and pretended to have me olympic lifting in his garage at the age of one. Theatre introduced itself to me when I was in the seventh grade. Faith was a big part of my family while growing up. Body, Mind, Spirit. I started Built For The Stage sometime around mid to late 2017. I can't quite put my finger on the exact date because truly, @builtforthestage started at birth. It is something that I feel like I truly was destined to create. Having these rare experiences as an all-state athlete, division-1 college football player (the only one in the nation majoring in Musical Theatre), personal trainer, CrossFit coach/competitor, triathlete, and all while being a professional actor and director gave me the deep knowledge and abilities to truly marry fitness and theatre together. The more gigs I did, the more actors that wanted to train with me. I stepped away from acting for a bit as I concentrated on competing in fitness. But, all the while I continued to work with actors and my passion to help them continued to grow. As the passion grew, the road leading to BFTS neared, and now, here we are.

Built For The Stage is a family of actors located across the globe, with the common goal of bettering their fitness so, that their desire to make art on stage can come to complete fruition. I work with actors in close to 20 Broadway shows, U.S. tours, international productions that transferred from Broadway, regional productions, musical theatre college students, and actors who are auditioning daily seeking the next booking. I am so fortunate to be entrusted with my actor-clients' fitness. I aid them in enhancing not only their aesthetics but, their abilities to do their jobs better on stage. Whether that's simply being durable enough to maneuver a giant gorilla puppet 8 times a week in King Kong without getting injured. Being in good enough condition for a client to sound good singing while performing the Genie's extremely physically demanding song, "Friend Like Me," in Aladdin. Or, helping program single-leg stability to increase turning abilities for dancers. The list goes on. As we say in the business, "Our body is our instrument." However, what we don't say or, give enough recognition to in this business is our minds.

Joe Rosko

Joe Rosko

I don't consider myself a trainer but, a coach. For me it gives greater depth to the meaning of my relationship with my clients. It's no secret that being an actor is an extremely tough life to pursue. Through my experiences as an actor myself, to the daily discussions I have with my clients and guests on Built For The Stage Podcast, mental health is a huge issue with actors. Actors are rejected constantly. Actors are closing shows (also known as losing jobs) constantly. I don't care how thick your skin is, this type of lifestyle will take a toll on anyone's psyche. It's my goal to equip my actors to love themselves, love others, all the while loving the pursuit of their goals and dreams. But, regardless of what the current status is with their goals and dreams, that they always love themselves and love others. We must love ourselves whether we are in a show, not in a show, booking a role, not booking a role, etc. The person on the stage with a gig or, the person waiting tables without a gig is the same person! We must truly love ourselves! Not love ourselves only when we are in a show, or when we get our Equity card, or when we are on Broadway. We must love who we are and not what we do. It's not, "I must perform greatly." It's, "I am a great performer." It's not, "I have to book this show." It's, "I am enough with or without this show."

Some of the most rewarding feedback I get from clients is what their new-found fitness has done for them outside of the gym. The gained confidence, the new peace of mind, the newly discovered energy, and the multitudes of other effects that a well built body does for your mind and spirit. My ultimate goal for Built For The Stage is to allow every one of my clients to know that they are enough through empowering them with physical abilities that they never believed they were capable of. And through this physical empowerment, it will in-turn better their mental and spiritual health so, that they can fully allow themselves to succeed in their pursuit of being performers. Whether you feel that your body, mind, or spirit is holding you back from your success, I believe I can help because they all are one in the same. One is nothing without the others. It's my desire to help any actor that I can.

Joe Rosko (with Blaine Krause of  The Cher Show )

Joe Rosko (with Blaine Krause of The Cher Show)

The Red Ponytail Pass

Mo Brady

by Courtney Iventosch

Courtney Iventosch (right, with Sterling Masters) backstage at  Wicked  in 2016

Courtney Iventosch (right, with Sterling Masters) backstage at Wicked in 2016

2010 was a very special year for both Sterling Masters and me. Each of us got an amazing gift that year... the opportunity to join the National Tour of Wicked. For Sterling, it was in April and she joined the First National Tour in the Witch’s Mother/Red Ponytail track. For me, it was August and I joined the Second National Tour as a swing. We didn’t know each other at the time, but we would soon find out that our paths would fortunately cross for many years.

In February of 2012, we had our first of eight replacements (so far). This first one was a sort of switch-aroo, when she became a swing and Dance Captain on the Second National Tour and I went into her track on the First National Tour. Funny enough, the first time I met Sterling was after our first replacement, when I flew from the First National Tour of Wicked (in Denver at the time) to Durham, where the Second National Tour was playing. I was on a quick trip to surprise our dear friend Haughtie (Lauren Haughton) for her 30th birthday party.

Courtney Iventosch

Courtney Iventosch

Everyone had helped me out, including Sterls, and I showed up at a restaurant downtown to join the birthday festivities. Before Haughtie came back from the bathroom, I quickly ran outside to where the cast and crew were hanging out and found a few folks I knew to sit with. As I walked toward them, I met Sterling! We had a quick exchange of hellos and introductions before I surprised Haughtie. From that moment, we were connected:) I knew that she was as awesome as everyone had said she was. A gorgeous, loving, darling, beauty. I am very humbled that I’ve gotten to replace her and be replaced by her time and time again.

When I left the First National Tour in 2013, she came in to replace me until my permanent replacement was ready to go into the show. And then in 2014, I was cast in a production of Sweet Charity, and for a moment I wasn’t able to do it, so Sterling took my place; then circumstances changed and I replaced her and ended up doing that show!

A few years later, I finally got to be in a show with Sterls for the first time ever! I joined the Broadway Company of Wicked to cover a maternity leave (our dear friend and Dance Captain Antonette Cohen), and in that transition, Sterling became the Dance Captain and I went into her track! I’ll never forget getting a text message from Sterls once she found out I would be coming into the company. We were both so excited to finally get to work together! Once Antoni was back in the show, Sterls replaced me to resume her track.

Sterling Masters backstage at  Wicked  in 2010

Sterling Masters backstage at Wicked in 2010

Now, several years later, she is getting ready to become a Mama and taking a maternity leave. I am honored to replace her this time, as she takes time away from the “Witch’s Mother” track to become a mother to sweet little baby boy Deeney!

It is truly a magical thing what we get to do, and Sterling and I both feel so lucky to get to do what we love for a living. The fact that we’ve been able to share so many incredible moments on stage and off, in our work and personal lives, is an extra special gift.

The Red Ponytail Pass Off of 2019 is probably the most fun one yet, though they have all been wonderful. I am so thrilled for Sterling and her husband Mike in this next chapter, and so grateful to get to cover her time away. I think of her during every performance, and I channel her as I “dance through life.” And although neither of us still quite understand why it is that we keep replacing each other (after all, we don’t look much alike), we are very grateful and happy about it, and it always brings a smile to our faces. And I take it as a huge compliment!

Next up: projected replacement #9 for us as I hand the Red Ponytail back after Sterling has become a Mom! We are all so excited to meet baby boy Deeney, and we are thrilled for Sterling and Mike as they embark on this next chapter in their lives together.

Courtney Iventosch backstage at  Wicked  in 2012

Courtney Iventosch backstage at Wicked in 2012

Making Magic

Mo Brady

by Craig Donnelly

Craig Donnelly

Craig Donnelly

“Kim needs to see you right now.” 

The ASM rushed me to our stage manager, who was still calling the show. 

“You’re going on for Misto for Act Two. Go get ready.” 

My mind stayed with her as my body rushed to the dressing room. We hadn’t been in the theater for long, so I relied on the brightly colored signs in the hallways to get me there. Including Grizabella’s moment at the end of Act One plus a standard intermission, I had about twenty minutes to put on my unitard, makeup and wig as well as practice a “press lift,” where I’m pressed up high above two people’s heads. The other swings gathered around, offering words of encouragement and trying to figure out how to help me prepare. As I sat down in my dressing room chair, my brain finally found me and I did a mental run through of Act Two. Before I knew it, I was crawling onto the stage and placing myself on that giant tire. Old Deuteronomy was about to sing “The Moment Of Happiness.” 

The is the national tour of CATS and I am now playing the magical Mister Mistoffelees.

I looked out into the audience and thought to myself; “How the hell did this happen?”

The show continued, with Gus and then Skimbleshanks, and then right as the cat-built-train-car got destroyed, I made my exit to start changing for my number. In the chaos of everything, I forgot to stretch so I quickly jumped into the splits as the Rum Tum Tugger is convincing everyone that I should help steal back Old Deuteronomy. I take one more deep breath and make my entrance.

Magically, of course.

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This summer, I will be presenting two new plays. The Pointe is about four young dancers in a summer intensive, who learn about this legendary ballerina through the work she is choreographing for them. It’s being presented in the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival at Theatre Row in the Lion Theatre. 

Doppelgänger is about a social media star that dies in a prank gone wrong, so now his "team" must convince his doppelgänger to take his place. It’s being presented in the Rave Theatre Festival at The Clemente Center in the Teatro La Tea.

I am often brought back to shows that I have performed in when I’m writing new material. While both of these plays couldn’t be further apart in context, as well as from that of the Jellicle celebration, they were built on similar principles. They are ensemble pieces, created around a group of people who are sharing a fixed space for a specific amount of time. What makes an audience truly encapsulated by works like this, is not only the fact that there are more opportunities for the audience to see themselves in a character on stage, but the show can feel more grounded in the world being presented. An audience understands the stakes better because they see how multiple people are reacting to them. Building a reality through your ensemble is a great theatrical device and one I would never have grasped, had I not performed in an ensemble first. 

This is especially prevalent when it comes to festivals, where you don’t have much of a set or endless costume changes to give the audience a structure for where everything is taking place. You have to rely on your ensemble to elevate the audience’s imagination. If a festival audience can believe that the characters are fully experiencing the plot of the show, then your script has a solid foundation.

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Towards the end of Misto’s big number, the choreography has him dancing half circles around the junkyard, saluting the cats that have been watching him conjure up magic. I will never forget the intense energy that every performer on that stage was sending my way. As the show came to an end, I could see the first few rows of the audience completed transfixed on the experience they just witnessed. People’s eyes kept wandering as they looked for their favorite cat(s)! 

And as we start rehearsals for my shows, I’m watching the actors commit to that same level of energy. Creating harmonious environments so that every character gets their moments to bring their individuality to the forefront, while also bringing significant contributions to the collective. It is in this beautiful balance that I believe true theater can really make its intend impact. And I can’t wait for New York audiences to take in these characters and watch as their stories unfold.

Magically, of course.

5 Debut Questions: My Fair Lady's Kaitlyn Frank

Mo Brady

This week, we welcome My Fair Lady ensemblist Kaitlyn Frank to the Main Stem and learn about her journey to making her Broadway debut.

Kaitlyn Frank in  My Fair Lady

Kaitlyn Frank in My Fair Lady

1. What is your name and hometown?

Kaitlyn Frank from Poughkeepsie, NY.

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

Ensemble in My Fair Lady!

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

I got an appointment to come in for My Fair Lady. It was my first time going in for the show. The next day I got a call from my agent Eddie Rabon while I sitting at Dig Inn and thought, that’s weird. I wonder what he’s calling about? It hadn’t even crossed my mind that it could be news that I would be making my Broadway debut. I screamed “What!” I was totally shocked and overjoyed!

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

One of the most surprising and delightful things about rehearsing as a replacement was how the company truly accepted and welcomed me into the fabric of the show- both on stage and off! The cast and crew went out of their way to make something new and wonderful with me on stage and were so welcoming of the change I could bring as a new piece of the puzzle. I felt very empowered to bring myself to the show and make it my own. I am truly so grateful for the support and love from everyone at the Vivian Beaumont!

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

Soaking in every second! It will be a short run for me at LCT because the show will close July 7. My goal is to truly be present through the entire experience and enjoy every minute of standing on that glorious stage. I am so grateful!

Kaitlyn Frank

Kaitlyn Frank

Nothin' But A Great Time

Mo Brady

Rock of Ages at New World Stages

Review by Mo Brady

The off-Broadway company of  Rock of Ages  (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

The off-Broadway company of Rock of Ages (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

Welcome home, denizens of the Bourbon Room. It’s hard to believe that only a decade ago, Rock of Ages first came on the scene. Since making its debut in 2009, its become a surprise theatre darling spawning a multi-year run on Broadway, multiple tours and regional sit-down productions and a… decent movie version helmed by Tom Cruise.

The small stage was always where Rock of Ages thrived, so bringing the show back to its original home at New World Stages for a summer season is a fantastic homecoming.

In its raucous opening, Kelly Devine’s choreography gives a masterclass on how to make a stage seem brimming with energy with only five ensemble performers. Revisiting her work, we see glimpses of the efficient, but ecstatic movement that she later created for Escape to Margaritaville and Come From Away

This off-Broadway remounting features multiple alumni from the original Broadway production. Channeling “Emcee in Cabaret” vibes, Mitchell Jarvis continues to bring remarkable energy to the role of Lonny. He is perfectly matched by Matt Ban as Dennis, who brings the perfect measure of knowing glee to his performance after playing the role on Broadway and on tour. 

Katie Webber in  Rock of Ages  (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

Katie Webber in Rock of Ages (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

Also returning to it is ensemblist extraordinare Katie Webber. While the name of her character (Waitress #1) has always been an inside joke of sorts, the track is arguably one of the most demanding and featured ensemble roles of the 21st Century. While Ms. Webber’s talents exceed the requirements of the role, Waitress #1 also feel like the character she was born to play. Her consistent full-out energy and searing vocals still feel perfectly suited for Rock of Ages, even nine years after she first played the role on Broadway.

Joining Webber in the female ensemble are Ashley E. Matthews and Leah Read. A veteran of the show’s Las Vegas sit down, Matthews also brings the perfect alchemy to her performance, shining in particular as reporter Constance Sack. And Read puts whirling dervishes to shame in her Act I feature as Dream Sherrie.

The role of (non-Dream) Sherrie has always been a conduit for New York audiences to meet future leading ladies of the musical theatre. During its Broadway tenure, we were introduced (or re-introduced) to talents like Kate Rockwell, Rebecca Faukenberry and Carrie St. Louis. Kirsten Scott contributes this trend, combining a winning energy and powerhouse vocals in her portrayal of the “small town girl.”

When I saw the production in previews, some actors still needed to figure out how to ride the wave of energy required to mass production. However, they seem capable in their roles and I’m sure in later weeks will find their groove.

This was not my first time taking in “good time “at Rock of Ages. (In fact, it probably wasn’t my fifth time either.) But hopefully it won’t be my last as it's a show that ripens with age - like a good bourbon.

 

Anatomy of a Wall Flip

Mo Brady

by Richard Riaz Yoder

Richard Riaz Yoder

Richard Riaz Yoder

It’s a normal Friday at Lincoln Center during put in rehearsals for My Fair Lady and I’m well into my final two weeks before I jet off to Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma to play one of my favorite roles of all time: Cosmo Brown in Singin’ In the Rain. I have also been going to Chelsea Piers twice a week for two months working on getting a back flip and a wall flip to get ready for this particular role. I’m standing off stage right at the Vivian Beaumont theatre looking onstage to make sure I have the blocking right incase I have to swing on for someone before I leave. I try to get a better look at a scene but didn’t realize that I stepped back onto an uneven part of the stage next to the bathroom.

I lost my footing and when I landed on my right foot I felt a sharp pain.

At the time I didn’t think anything of it and was just like “ugh a dancer can dance anywhere but never ask them to walk” and finished the rehearsal. As I was leaving to get dinner I notices my foot still hurting so I took off my shoe and sock to see if anything was poking me and saw that my ankle was purple. I filled out a report and went to the doctor right away and I was told that I sprained my ankle and aggravated a tendon on the bottom of my foot. I’m like “no biggie! Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. I will be good to go later.”

The next day it was purpler (did I make up that word?), started to swell, and it hurt to walk so much that I started limping. My first thought was what the hell am I going to do. I still have one week in this show and I leave for my next job right after that… I’m screwed.

Once I started to get physical therapy the next Monday it was clear that a wall flip and a backflip were out of the question for “Make ‘Em Laugh” (one of the most fantastic musical numbers in golden age movie history in my opinion) and maybe even some dancing throughout the show. It meant that all the money and extra time I spent working and getting those skills were for nothing and they wouldn’t make it to the stage. It meant that I wouldn’t be able to dance full out the way that I normally like to. I felt like a failure and was embarrassed. I thought that maybe I should just pull out of the show and stay in New York City.

I also felt like I let people down and that maybe I wasn’t good enough to do this role anyway. People want to see that amazing flip and that how could I be good enough for this without having some fantastic trick? I would have to go there and just use everything that I already have to make this part special and mine. I started to go down this terrible downward spiral and I had to leave for the show in one week! I didn’t know what to do so I just sat in silence for a while and just let whatever emotions or thoughts come to me.

Richard Riaz Yoder

Richard Riaz Yoder

What came to me was the sassiest voice saying, “Bitch! You gonna let one hurt ankle and flip define your life? You think that you have nothing to give by yourself? You think that you aren’t worth anything? Stop being stupid, stop complaining, and get to work! You are fierce as you are!” With that I realized I put all of that pressure on myself. There was no outside influence coming at me. I had set up so many things myself to get in my own way.

I didn’t think I was good enough so I wanted to add a trick to make sure people would like what I did rather than just use my own skills and personality to create a role. I know it sounds strange but it was a blessing that it happened. Taking the trick out of the equation forced me to rely on what I already had or could research before I left. After I had this realization I started looking up famous clowns, comedians, and vaudeville acts during that time period. I tried to learn as much as I could about that style of comedy and physical movement so that I could incorporate it into my character but also find a way to use my humor mixed in with it so it could feel natural to me.

When I started rehearsal for the show and “Make ‘Em Laugh” was one of the first rehearsals I was so nervous about what would happen and it ended up being wonderful. I used everything I learned from studying that it ended up being better than if I had just littered the number with tricks. I used comedy and my own personality to fill the number, which is what the number and Cosmo should be about. If anything I think that sprained ankle forced me to be more confident in my own skin and trust that I am a good actor and am funny… because I’m funny as hell! This experience helped me believe in myself as a person more which is something a flip will never do. When the show opened and people said how great the number was no one ever said, “Well it’s too bad you didn’t do the flip.”  

Richard Riaz Yoder

Richard Riaz Yoder






Both Sides of the Casting Table

Mo Brady

by Lance Wiener

Spencer Liff

Spencer Liff

Success is something that we all yearn for. Whether it be financially or a working opportunity, being successful is an important milestone in everyone’s lives. It’s something that choreographer Spencer Liff can say. He is the definition of successful. With multiple productions (Falsettos, Head Over Heels, Big, Spring Awakening) and films under his belt, and with a small award called an Emmy, he exhibits what true success is like. What he strives to do, however, is to help auditionees in the casting room be the very best that they can be.

Liff started out in small ensemble roles in the musical Big, yet he wanted more out of his Broadway career. When the opportunity to be choreographer for Head Over Heels came about, Liff knew what we wanted out of the choreography for the musical. Working with the creative team, which consisted of people such as the music director and many important people, they would collaborate on how to bring the queer-strong story to life on the Broadway stage.

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During the audition process, Liff describes the tremendous talent of more than 600 people in the room, and then slowly cutting down to a mere eight for the Broadway cast. A story he recalls is one that ensues hilarity. Ensemble member Amber Ardolino would never be able to come in to audition when asked. However, when fellow ensemble member Samantha Pollino taught her the choreography, Ardolino was able to send in a video submission and eventually was offered the job.

Liff goes into detail about how casting directors and the creative team may look for certain qualities for ensemble members, which varies by show. “Confidence” is a trait that draws Liff’s attention, and no doubt is something that almost every creative will look for in that moment. Being able to be confident and trustworthy will go a long way, and that audition will go ever so smoothly. On looks, Liff says to always look good. Wear show shoes. If you portray a vibe that the productions you are auditioning for has, then that is a bonus during an audition. Knowing what the creatives may be looking for is extremely beneficial to landing that dream job.

Being able to be at the casting table has shown Liff what it’s like to look for Broadway’s next ensemble member or lead role.

"We Have History Now."

Mo Brady

by Angela Tricarico

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In the four years since Come From Away made its world premiere in La Jolla, California, this small musical with a big heart has captured hearts worldwide. However, before any audience got the chance to witness the story of Gander its original cast members were among the first to be taken by its story. 

In the time since the premiere, many of the original company members from the La Jolla production are still in the show. Four years, five productions, and countless revisions later, these Broadway company members have grown into a family. 

“It’s not just family. It’s like old family” says Joel Hatch, who originated the role of Claude and others in La Jolla and is still a member of the Broadway company. “We have history now.”

Caesar Samayoa, who originated the role of Kevin J./Ali and others in La Jolla, and like Hatch, is still a part of the Broadway company, likened the Come From Away experience to the college experience. 

“College is four years and now we're longer than four years.” Samayoa said. “We've gone through weddings, babies, anniversaries, and every kind of major life milestone you could have. We've experienced so much outside of the show itself.”

What’s keeping both of them with the show over four years later? 

There’s no one answer, an amalgamation of things, but for both Samayoa and Hatch, it started with a moment. 

Hatch is always looking for something different in musicals: something that breaks from the traditional “boy-meets-girl” set-up. The documentary nature of Come From Away was enticing from the first time he read the script. 

Joel Hatch

Joel Hatch

“I found myself going through such a gamut of emotions just reading it for the first time,” Hatch recalled. “Generally when I read a script for a musical, it’s not such an emotional rollercoaster. When you read lyrics without music or dialogue as if it’s prose, it just doesn’t read quite as interestingly. This certainly did.”

Hatch felt very strongly from the get-go that he had to be a part of this show. 

Samayoa was also hooked from the moment he read the script, though at first the description he was given wasn’t exactly the most appealing. 

“My agent called me and said he had an audition for me, and he actually said the exact wrong thing. ‘I have an audition for a 9/11 musical.’ I was like, absolutely not. I'm a New Yorker, I was here when everything happened. I lost friends in this tragedy. I was like, there's no way. There's no way I'm interested in doing anything like that. He was like, ‘Okay!’ And then I get a call a couple of hours later which is a little bit unusual. ‘Just read the script.’ he said. ‘ I don't think I'm describing this correctly.’ I remember I was sitting down on my couch and I read it cover to cover. I was just blown away by this story that I had never heard.”

In the four years since, both recall major changes being made at every stop between major character work following La Jolla, to a brand new song for Q. Smith’s Hannah added during a Broadway preview on the day they recorded the Original Broadway Cast Recording. With changes happening across the board, the company got an opportunity to be in a room where everyone had a voice alongside the creatives. 

“We started with a great book,” Hatch says. “But then we started honing in on these characters and making them clearer and clearer and sharper. Each city we went to there would be a character that had lots of changes.” 

Caesar Samayoa (photo by Walter McBride)

Caesar Samayoa (photo by Walter McBride)

Samayoa saw major changes happen with both of his main roles. 

“Initially, Kevin J. had maybe three or four lines, and Ali had like two lines in the whole script,” Samayoa says. “It was really about ensemble work.”

Meeting and working with the sources from Gander was a huge part of developing the show, but it wasn’t until after La Jolla that the production team could get in touch with Kevin J. Samayoa remembers when it finally happened. 

“This email pops up and it says "Hi, my name's Kevin, and I think you play me in a musical." I opened it up and it was this huge email telling me his whole story of being in Gander. I was able to introduce him to our team,” he says. 

Hatch says that the real Kevin J. assisting the creative team was an opportunity to bring out the comedic elements of the character, because “he’s a funny guy.”

Since opening on Broadway, the only changes the cast sees are tweaks made during brush-up rehearsals as new companies rehearse to open worldwide. Still, Samayoa says that there are new things to learn every night due to the intense focus to be present that the show requires. 

That focus is partly what is keeping Samayoa with the show still, but the reactions of others are also a large part of it. 

“It feels like you're telling this story for the first time. To hear that audience reaction at the end - it's still surprising. It's still kind of shocking to hear an entire auditorium, that kind of reaction where everybody jumps up at the same time and screams,” Samayoa says. 

As for Hatch, the thing that initially drew him into the show is the same thing keeping him with it. 

“Every once in a while you get a story that’s so unique, so interesting, that you’re like, ‘Oh boy, I still love it.’ I haven’t found anything else that’s grabbing me yet, that’s pulling me away and saying ‘Won’t this be better?’ Until I find that, I’m going to stay with the story I really love to tell as opposed to jumping to a story I might not love as much.”

Caesar Samayoa and the company of  Come From Away  (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

Caesar Samayoa and the company of Come From Away (Photo by Matthew Murphy)








"Never Give Up On Your Hopes And Your Dreams"

Mo Brady

by Christopher Faison

Christopher Faison (right) and Laura Benanti in  My Fair Lady  (Photo by Eric Liebowitz/NBC)

Christopher Faison (right) and Laura Benanti in My Fair Lady (Photo by Eric Liebowitz/NBC)

In 1989, I was obsessed with a song called “Tomorrow” by Tevin Campell. Tevin sang in his sweet tenor:

I hope tomorrow will bring better you, better me

I know that we'll show this world we got more we could me

So you should never give up on your hopes and your dreams

You gotta get up, get out, get into it, get it on to be strong

What I didn’t know then but soon came to learn, was that those lyrics would become a mantra for my life: Never give up on your hopes and your dreams. 

That was 1989. Fast forward to 2017. I was no longer the 11-year-old boy singing along to Tevin Campbell. In fact, I was a full-grown man about to turn 40 with just enough money in his bank account to live day by day and facing eviction due to non-payment of rent. 

I had lost an incredible amount of money due to poor investments, poor budgeting, and poor spending. Having never been one with the greatest financial mind, my finances were nowhere near where they should have been, especially after just completing a 3-year production contract tour. I was in an unspeakably and embarrassingly large amount of debt. It was no one's fault by my own. I was living the life of a starving actor, going to auditions and getting nowhere, working two jobs­: one as a restaurant host, the other selling candy at Groundhog Day on Broadway. To make ends meet, I was dog sitting for friends, shopping at Discounts and Deals, participating in paid surveys, receiving donations from the food pantry at Episcopal Actors Guild, and accepting support from Actors Equity. I was at my wits’ end. I’d had it. Officially.

Christopher Faison

Christopher Faison

An opportunity arose for me to direct a local community theater production of Songs For A New World in my hometown, where I first started doing theater. The show proved to be a success, and I felt as though the universe was telling me to come home, to press reset, to get myself out of the financial rut and leave the city behind. I resigned myself to the idea that Broadway wasn’t going to happen for me, at least not now, and I very much wanted off the ride. I was, in short, ready to do precisely what Tevin told me NOT to do.

Before my planned November move, my agent Rikky Fishbein emailed me with one more audition. It was for the Broadway revival of My Fair Lady, at Lincoln Center Theater. I wasn’t immediately thrilled but figured, “why not?” I had already made up my mind about moving home, and there were no stakes in it for me. To be honest, I didn’t expect to land it anyway. In preparation for the audition, I started doing my research (I hadn’t ever seen the film or stage versions) and learned a song my friend Paul suggested. When I went into the room, immediately energy washed over me. It was as if I had already auditioned and I was there to chat with old friends, reminisce about the good ol’ times, and catch up. I left thinking I might actually book this job.

After my audition, I tried to do what most of us do and push the anxiety out of my mind. I focused on leaving, packing up my apartment, and saying goodbye to New York City. A week or two later, an email from my agent popped up in my inbox. My Fair Lady wanted me in for a callback. I took the subway back to Lincoln Center, walked into the same room, and saw the same faces. Their smiles and jovial nature made me feel as if the callback was all a formality. I sang, smiled, and left. Again, I prepared to leave the city and Broadway behind. 

As I stood in line at Discounts and Deals waiting to return a pair of $11.99 jeans, my phone rang. It was Rikky.

“This is the Broadway phone call.”

Inside, I ran laps and did jumping jacks. Outwardly, I returned my jeans, (thank you very much) bought a bottle of Champagne, and the rest, as they say, is history. Suddenly I’m in rehearsal at Lincoln Center Theater, working alongside Tony Award Winners. I celebrate my 40th birthday just 4 days before our opening night.  I’m in the recording studio, laying down vocals as part of an OBC recording. I’m featured on Broadway World in the “Day in the Life.” I make my Broadway principal debut . I’m flying to Baltimore and Louisville to represent the show at conferences. And then I’m in the opening number of the Tony’s and am featured in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

We’ll close our beloved show soon, and I cannot begin to express how immensely grateful I am for this show and this experience. To say this show saved my life would be a gross understatement. I’m finally at age 41, living my hopes and dreams.

And it’s all because I listened to Tevin Campbell and didn’t give up.

Christopher Faison (right) and the cast of  My Fair Lady

Christopher Faison (right) and the cast of My Fair Lady

5 Debut Questions: Frozen's Cajai Fellows Johnson

Mo Brady

This week, we welcome Frozen ensemblist Cajai Fellows Johnson to the Main Stem and learn about her journey to making her Broadway debut.

Cajai Fellows Johnson

Cajai Fellows Johnson

1. What is your name and hometown?

Cajai Fellows Johnson and I am from Bloomfield, CT.

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

Ensemble in Frozen

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

I was actually on vacation in Cuba where I had very spotty wifi, if any at all. I found out I was up for an immediate replacement from my agent but they wanted to see me in two days to sing. They said they didn’t need to see me dance. (I had been in auditions for the tour and also just finished working with the associate choreographer Sarah O’Gleby in High Button Shoes with Encores at City Center) Since I was out of the country, I thought oh well, better luck next time but then realized I could offer to send a video. I learned the music, sent in a video of the song they sent me and a few hours later my agent called me via Facebook messenger to tell me I had been cast. We always joke in the community , if you want to book broadway, go on vacation. It worked!

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

The backstage traffic was a little overwhelming at first. I had rehearsed the on stage material for two weeks and felt secure in it but I only had one rehearsal the day of my debut, that involved all the speedy wig and costume changes backstage. It’s starting to feel good now though after a week and a half.

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

I love performing and being on stage eight times a week, I believe it is what I was made to do and I’m having a blast! I hope that I can inspire kids in the audience who are passionate about theater to pursue it, the same way I was inspired starting at such a young age at my first broadway show. (I was three and I saw Beauty and the Beast!)

Cajai Fellows Johnson

Cajai Fellows Johnson

“Art Changes Lives. It Saved Mine.”

Mo Brady

by Jelani Remy

Jelani Remy

Jelani Remy

I owe so much to the theater. From one gentle push from a music teacher, I was thrown into a world that eventually helped me discover my passion and myself.

I had a hard time at home exploring the arts. It was a sports-heavy household. I was ridiculed and questioned constantly for liking “girl” stuff. All I could do was hide it from them so I could fit in.

Then, I got an opportunity that opened my eyes to bright future. Theater camp!

Jelani Remy

Jelani Remy

Theater people accept everyone for who they are with open arms. When I went to my first theater summer program, I was amazed with how friendly, diverse and eccentric everyone was! There were kids who looked like me and had the same interest of singing, dancing and acting, making bonds and working hard at our craft. I felt so at home.

I also realized about my sexuality from the individuals that recognized themselves early on. They knew who they were and weren’t afraid to show it. I remember asking questions and hearing stories about how they came out to their parents, and it gave me an armor of strength and hope. I gained confidence and confirmation that I was going to be okay.

I am dedicating this Pride to the theater. Thank you for letting me be and discover who I am with a loving eye. Giving me a chosen family show by show and an opportunity to affect people with every production. Art changes lives. It saved mine.

Happy Pride!

5 Debut Questions: Aladdin's Charles South

Mo Brady

This week, we welcome Aladdin ensemblist Charles South to the Main Stem and learn about his journey to making his Broadway debut.

Charles South

Charles South

1. What is your name and hometown?

Charles South from Hollywood, Florida.

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

I play the Shop Owner and dance my butt of in the ensemble of Aladdin every night. I also understudy Babkak and Razoul.

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

I was on my way to grab hand pulled noodle and my agent called me while I was walking to the 2 train. Eddie Rabon, my agent told me to “Keep the Beard!”

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

The most surprising thing was that I physically prepared for the show using specific training programs based in basketball and crossfit, which gave me plenty of stamina for the show.

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

Looking forward to finding a routine and contributing to a thriving broadway vessel!

Dear Ryan Murphy, It's Time To Do Better.

Mo Brady

by Jackson Cline

Dear Ryan Murphy,

When I heard The Prom would be adapted to film, I was thrilled that this important story would live on and continue to change lives long after the Broadway production closed. I assumed that you would likely cast Hollywood stars in lieu of musical theatre talent. Sure, many of the lead roles are Broadway stars and it would have been nice to showcase our community, especially the artists the creative team spent years crafting the roles on. But I understand casting Hollywood stars from a business standpoint.

James Corden

James Corden

That said, when principal casting for the film was announced this morning, I was incredibly disappointed to see the lack of openly queer actors cast in the film adaptation of a queer story. 

Casting straight actors in queer roles is nothing new. It’s always disappointing to me, but it feels like a slap in the face this time. Especially after you made a point to cast only openly gay actors in The Boys in the Band.

When you hosted a special performance of The Prom for LGBTQ youth and announced that you were adapting The Prom to film, you said that part of the purpose was “to celebrate kids and tell you that we love you, we see you and you have support." The casting announcement today showed me the opposite.

As an adult, watching openly gay actor Brooks Ashmanskas play Barry Glickman on Broadway and triumphantly sing “Barry’s Going to Prom” meant a lot to me. I can only imagine how impactful this would have been for the LGBT youth who will see it on film. Yet, they’ll instead have to see a straight man take this on. So much for feeling seen.

Brooks Ashmanskas

Brooks Ashmanskas

Would you cast a white actor in an African-American role? Of course not. So why are straight actors being cast in queer roles? For too long, we’ve been underrepresented in popular culture. Now that we are becoming more visible, we deserve and demand to tell our own stories.

I have no interest in seeing straight actors tell queer stories. Yes, I understand that a famous actor like James Corden might sell tickets. But there are plenty of queer performers who sell tickets, too. And there would be even more if you’d give them a chance.

It’s time to do better. Please.

Sincerely,

Jackson Cline




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5 Debut Questions: The Cher Show's Michal Kolaczkowski

Mo Brady

This week, we welcome The Cher Show ensemblist Michal Kolaczkowski to the Main Stem and learn about his journey to making his Broadway debut.

Michal Kolaczkowski

Michal Kolaczkowski

1. What is your name and hometown?

Michal Kolaczkowski (pronounced Mee-haw. As in, “Yeehaw” but with an “M”). I grew up in Detroit but my family is from Warsaw, Poland.

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

I’m a swing on The Cher Show!

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

Months had passed since my last callback for The Cher Show. I had an audition for another show that morning, but I got cut. I was working late at my survival job (doing my best to stay positive) and I got a call from my agents. “Hi Michal, just wanted to call and let you know you’re gonna be on Broadway.” My response, “...in what?” I ran behind the copy machine and cried on the floor.

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

I was surprised to learn that we don’t have a number line. That’s right, our deck doesn’t have numbers downstage! Instead, we have a teeny tiny, LED light, color line. So, I had to memorize the order of the colors instead, and the code words that go along with it. So, you can dance on “stage right blue.” Or, if you’re halfway between green and white, you’re on “stage left mint.” Mind. Blown.

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

I’m excited to have more free time during the day to finally start creating some of my own projects and grow my new business!

Michal Kolaczkowski in  The Cher Show

Michal Kolaczkowski in The Cher Show

“You’ll Be Swell, You’ll Be Great”

Mo Brady

by Eric Ulloa

Eric Ulloa

Eric Ulloa

“So, Mr. Goldstone is married to Uncle Jocko?”

My fellow farm boy, older and wiser by five years, turned to me laughing and said, “Gays can’t get married. They’re partners.”

You see, the actors playing these two roles were the first homosexuals I had really ever encountered, and so the beginning of my crash course in homosexuality via the community theatre production of Gypsy I was performing in, had begun.  

Prior to this, I had never been in a show in my entire life, never really even knew much about theatre. My only exposure was hiding out in my high school auditorium after skipping class and watching the second act of Lil’ Abner pretty stoned. That, and going to a small theatre in Hialeah, Miami with my grandparents where they had these odd Cuban sketch shows, entirely in Spanish, where a big breasted wife and her high tempered husband would quarrel like some absurdist Honeymooners influenced novella. 

So, I don’t think my parents thought much of my wanting to audition for this production of Gypsy but once it became a reality, I could think of nothing more that I wanted to do with my self other than have a life in the theatre, and they saw that too. 

Along with processing an entire shift in what I wanted to do with my life, I was also processing something that had made itself apparent in the last year or so. I didn’t know Mr. Goldstone or Uncle Jocko, but I knew we had a lot more in common than before I ever even said hello to either one of them. 

I was gay. 

Well, let’s be honest, I didn’t have the courage to say that word even to myself at first. I was using a set of training wheels and was merely “Bi.” An affront to actual bisexuals, but a label that I wasn’t as terrified to acknowledge. 

You see, “gay” wasn’t something I could locate within my family. Gay wasn’t something that was taught to me in schools, so I sadly didn’t meet my heroes until much later in life. Gay was my mom’s hairdresser Mike, but we moved before I even knew I was and could perhaps grill him with questions. Gay was outer members of my family equating it with dying from AIDS, so coming out (within their limited and sheltered knowledge) meant a death sentence. Gay was the word they would use when they bullied a kid at school and I sat quietly in the back for fear of being lumped in with them. 

All I knew was this, I had very strong feelings for John F. Kennedy Jr. and Brian Austin Green from 90210 and I had recently had sex with a girl and didn’t know why I wasn’t feeling what other guys felt when they talked about it. 

So, I decided I needed to do what any teenager on the brink of sexual discovery would do, I would stalk Uncle Jocko and Mr. G at any opportunity that presented itself…but how?

“Eric, you’re tall. Why don’t you jump in so you can lift Mr. Goldstone at the end of the song?”

I don’t think anyone in the history of the theatre was more excited to lift a grown man in a chair than I was at that moment, as I had found my way into some sort of interaction. 

In time, I got to know them both, and they were kind and would help me as I found my footing as an actor. I would watch them interact and saw exactly what I needed to see at that moment in my life, they were just like any other couple. They would sit and eat their meals together, they would remind one another about an item to add to the grocery list and they would get in the same car at the end of the night where I knew they would fall asleep under the same roof and in the same bed. And this was normal and just a different shade of love than I had seen around me. A shade that also lived in me and that I was slowly becoming comfortable with. 

One day, out of nowhere, I told them both that I was gay, but that no one else knew. They understood exactly the place I was in and offered me the perfect sage advice I so desperately needed. 

They also knew I needed to see myself and become okay with who I was, and so they pointed me towards a small independent movie theatre that would show queer cinema on one of their screens. 

I would then look in every weekend section of our local newspaper for the movie times and sneak off to catch the latest movie. Edge of Seventeen, The Broken Hearts Club and so many other films began to show me a life outside the limited constraints of what I knew gay to be. They loaned me their copy of Torch Song Trilogy which I carried with me like the nuclear football, in fear of ever allowing it out of my sight, but watched over and over again until I knew the story by heart. 

Gay people had relationships. Gay people had children. Gay people were entitled to the same happiness snd self respect and rights as anyone else.

Soon, the production ended and it was the last time I ever saw Mr. Goldstone and Uncle Jocko again. In fact, Mr G passed away a few years later.

In my final two years of high school, I joined the theatre program and met a whole lot more “me’s” all in different phases of their evolution. I went on a secret date with a guy in my theatre program who all the girls were swooning over and who brought me to my first gay club. I had my first sexual encounter with a man (everything finally making sense). I had found my footing to finally take the last step and stop whispering the word gay, and as I entered college, I came out to my family.

Theatre and my homosexuality have always been entwined.

God, or whatever power of the universe you believe in, put those discoveries in my life at the exact same moment for a reason. 

I was given a haven in the place where people were naturally empathetic, loving, open and where you could see all their hearts pinned to their sleeves. 

No, theatre did not make me gay, as nothing makes anyone, anything.

Theatre gave me something that would define the way I would be gay. 

Theatre gave me two men who I watched live a happy existence together. 

Theatre taught me that I had a strong voice and could use it to fight for not only what I believed in, but for those who perhaps weren’t as strong as me. 

For the one thing I’ve never felt in the 19 years that I’ve been out of the closet is shame, because theatre taught me the very meaning of Pride.

Happy Pride Everyone. 

You are beautifully perfect just the way you are. 

Making Your Broadway Debut

Mo Brady

by Anna Altheide

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The Ensemblist spoke with five  actors (Nikhil  Saboo, Kimberly Dodson, Khadija Tariyan, Jack Sippel, Tiana Okoye) who each made their Broadway debuts in 2018 in smash Broadway hits. In front of a live audience at BroadwayCon 2019, each gave their take on the audition process, transitioning from out-of-town engagements to Broadway, and their best takeaway moments thus far.

“I Hope I Get It”

Nikhil Saboo (Mean Girls): “I auditioned in January, February of 2017 for the lab, and there was this thing called No Right of First Refusal, meaning you’re in the lab, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to continue on to the next process. Obviously you want to put your best foot forward, and everyone’s having fun. But I went through six to eight rounds of auditions for it, both for Kevin G. and the ensemble. So they had to make sure both of them were the right fit for the person doing the job. Coming up in April, I’ll have been doing Mean Girls for two years.”

Kimberly Dodson (Summer: The Donna Summer Musical): “My experience with Summer, I knew the people on the other side of the table. I did a regional production of The Bronx Tale, and it’s the same production company that did Summer, and mine was much shorter I think because of that. They invited me in to dance, so I did a dance audition and sang after, but they played us all. And it was like a month until we heard anything after that, so it was like, okay, Summer’s off the table, I’m going to go and live my life.

Then when you’re busy, they call you in, so it was really like four intense days of them bringing me in for Summer, and for other things they were working on. So it was like, I had an audition, a lab, another workshop, and it was all like they were all flooding in the people they could at the same time. They said, ‘Kim, can you sing your disco song that you sang two days ago?’ So maybe two days later, they were like, ‘Kim, you’re going to La Jolla for Donna Summer.’”

Khadija Tariyan (King Kong): “Mine’s a bit of a blur, but I think it was two or three times that I auditioned. First I heard about this audition through a friend in a group text, and I thought: ‘well, why not me?’ So I just went in and walked into this audition and I auditioned as a puppeteer first for Kong because that’s part of my background, I was in a show called FuerzaBruta before.

First we took a yoga class, we ran around, we gave a lot of high fives. They wanted to see how we would react to things thrown at us. Then we did a lot of strength testing, carrying people, tumbling, I did somersaults off the mat. I went in with this ‘why not me?’ attitude and sense of play and ‘let’s try it and just put your best foot forward.’ And that’s ultimately what they were looking for. They were looking for someone who didn’t necessarily have that skillset yet, but how do they continue to stay in the game and play? Because working with Kong is unlike anything anybody has ever done before, there’s no way to prepare for that.”

Jack Sippel (The Prom): “Mine was very quick. So with The Prom, I auditioned over a year ago, and they had already had a company because they already had an out of town trial in Atlanta and previous labs. So they were looking for very specificand very limited people. So we walked in one day, we danced the combination, we sang our song, I think I was in the room for maybe 30 minutes that day. Left, got the callback for the following week, and I think we were in the room for maybe 10 minutes. We reviewed [the choreography] once and they were like, okay, let’s do it. There was no, let’s refresh and learn it again. You just do it, I sang my song, and left. And I got the job that night.”

Tiana Okoye (The Cher Show): “I’m from Los Angelesoriginally, and the team came out to LA to audition. I think I had two days of auditions and that was it. First was a dance call, and the only person I knew was Bernie Telseywho was in the room. I didn’t know what to expect, so I went in with zero expectations and to have fun and cheer my friends on.

So we danced, I got asked to stay and sing, and they had the day of callbacks where we danced again and sang again. And the following week, I booked the job, and that was just for the out of town tryout.  But I think that was guaranteed the Broadway spot as well. They already had the lab so they already had a secure cast, there were just a few tracks they were looking for, so I happened to fit one of those tracks.”

“Pinch Me Now to Make Sure”

Saboo: “There are so many moments. The Tony Awards, performing on SNL, the Today Show, the Thanksgiving parade. Sitting at a bar and having wine with Tina [Fey], and talking to her, and she’s like mom. We’d just hug her and hold her. It’s stupid cool. It never stops, it’s just one highlight and the next. And I’m stupid grateful for all of it.”

Dodson: “When I saw I Aida and The Lion King when I was six, I thought Heather Headley was the only black woman on Broadway, I thought that was it. And I thought, maybe she will age out one day and I will maybe be her. And then I saw the one black girl in the ensemble, and I thought, I could do that. I could be the one black girl in the ensemble. So for me to have my first role in this show where it’s all of us together, talking about hairand life right now, was so meaningful.”

Tariyan: “We had 900 children [in the audience] that are homeless and they provided lunch for them. They were so excited for this show, and when Kong came out, if you’ve seen the King Kong entrance, they were screaming their little faces off. It was incredible. We were all so energized because of them. They were with us every step of the way, and just to have children in the audience that are so excited to be with you, we were so thankful to have them. I’ve never been more moved or thankful to have certain people in the audience.”

Sippel: “When we were in the rehearsal of one of our final runs– and this is coming from the standpoint of being someone on the younger end of being on Broadway – walking into the room where all the chairs were set up because you’re doing your little presentation before you move to tech. And seeing all the smaller chairs and five taller chairs in the back that said: Casey Nicholaw (Director), Casey Hushion (Assoc. Director), John MacInnis (Assoc. Choreographer), Jack Sippel, Mary-Mitchell Campbell (Vocal Arrangements). And then just sitting there watching, looking side to side and feeling like – wow, these are the people who make it happen.”

Okoye: “Cher! Oh my god, opening night you guys! So we had a rehearsal the day of opening that we were all so mad about. We dida singthrough of ‘Turn Back Time.’ Cher wasn’t there yet, but we were like, hopefully this is going to happen. Hopefully Cher is going to come on stage at the end of the show as Stephanie (J. Block) is thanking all these people who have made this happen. And it happened and she walked right past me—and she’s been to rehearsal several times, seen the show, came to Chicago for out of town, and came a few times during tech and things like that. But to perform with her on stage was just incredible.”

“Proud of Your Boy” (And Girl!)

Saboo: “I didn’t do theatre at all growing up. I started my junior of high school and my parents were so not about it. It was just because of lack of knowledge. And then I went to college for it, and they were iffy. A mushy, cool moment for me was when my mom—we would go to Broadway shows when I was here at NYU, and my mom said to me, it’s crazy to see you on the other side of the fence, and she was talking about the stage door fence. And I remember I gave her a hug and I went backstage and I remember I just started crying. For me, that’s my mushiest, coolest moment of this whole thing, my mom being ‘you’re on the other side.’”

Dodson: “I feel like if any of you are parents to a child that wants to do this, just know that whatever energy you give to that child to be able to do this work is meaningful. I’ve had two busloads of family come to see Donna Summer, and just the fact that my family was able to come and see something they really enjoyed and really had fun seeing. My grandparents are in their 80s and they were the ones that drove me to dance class every day, so for them to be able to see me on Broadway means way more than I anticipated, just because it’s a win for them; way more than me. When people give time and energy and money into a child, and you hope that kid gets to the place they want to go, seeing that experience through other peoples’ eyes has made it so meaningful.”

Okoye: “One big highlight was having my parents there opening night. I wouldn’t have anyone else there with me. There was no question of who would get the ticket; it was my parents. Like Kim said, they’re the ones that made it happen, and without them I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

For more unique tidbits and mementos from our conversation with the fresh faced quintet, listen to our recent podcast #139 Broadway Debuts (feat.  Kimberly Dodson, Tiana Okoye, Nikhil Saboo, Jack Sippel and Khadija Tariyan).