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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

5 Debut Questions - Meet Michael Stiggers

Mo Brady

Today on our blog, we welcome Beautiful: the Carole King Musical ensemblist Michael Stiggers to Broadway and his journey to the Great White Way:

Michael Stiggers

Michael Stiggers

1. What's your name and hometown?

Michael Stiggers; West Point, Georgia 

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

I am playing one of The Drifters.

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

I auditioned on a Friday and got the call from my agent early Monday morning with the good news!

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

It was a quick and tedious rehearsal process, but I felt so supported by everyone that I met from the company management to the actors. 

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

I'm just looking forward to growing more as a performer. If anything, I want to use this platform to inspire others to put the work into their dreams. It's bigger than me.

Michael Stiggers backstage at Beautiful; the Carole King Musical

Michael Stiggers backstage at Beautiful; the Carole King Musical

Listen to our podcast episode on Broadway Debuts here.

Notes On A Lab

Mo Brady

Podcast guest and frequent blogger Christopher Gurr (Cats, Tuck Everlasting) takes us inside the rehearsal room during the creation of the new musical adaptation of The Sting.

Christopher Gurr

Christopher Gurr

First day of school at New 42nd Street Studios

New 42. It’s where it all happens now. If your producers can afford it. Heart of Times Square, windows floor to triple-height ceiling, nice locker rooms, clean bathrooms, friendly-but-firm door staff (“You really do need your ID tag, sir. Every day.”) and working elevators in which you bump into everybody else working on their new Broadway show. It’s very nice. Inside. Outside you have to wade through a lot of tourists—bless them and their money—and a lot a folks trying part them from their money, but one of the fastest and friendliest Starbucks in Manhattan is just a few doors west and right next door at Pax the $6 plastic clamshell container of pre-cut watermelon (my grandfather would have a fit) is really pretty good, and once you’re inside you’re sealed off from the general public. Which is why those ID tags are so important.

This time around I was walking into New 42 for three weeks of lab work on The Sting. A new musical based on the 1974 Best Picture Oscar winner of the same name. And the timing could not have been better. The previous week had ended with a psychic whiplash of an audition for very big, very commercial, probably very long-running upcoming Broadway show where, in the space of a ten-minute call back, I went from king of the world to crippled by kryptonite with the uttering of two sentences from the very important, and very friendly director. “That was great!” she said, “Now, show us some hip-hop moves.”

Yep. Did. Not. Book. That. 

But, thankfully, for the next three weeks, my calendar and brain would be too full to mull over that disaster too many times. I had three weeks of that magical state of Double Duty in front of me, a thing I’d never even heard of until only a few years ago and something that is still hard for me to really believe could be true. I’m already in a show and I get to work on another show at the same time! It’s nuts. It wonderful. And it’s nuts.

Old Guy/New Guy

The biggest difference between the first time I walked into New 42 eleven years ago and walking in four weeks ago is not that I know all that much more now. The biggest difference is that I’m a lot more comfortable with the state of not knowing. That first time here was for the national tour of Spamalot, which I booked while living in Harlan County, Kentucky. I spent a lot of energy during that process desperately trying not to be as green as I was. I was forty-forty at the time and very unused to being the new kid in any room. But I really was in that one. Flash forward eleven years and I’ve got six years of touring and five years of living and working in New York under my belt but still, I feel very “new kid” in a lot of rooms. I’m fifty now. Usually, the folks my age I work with have been living and working here for twenty-five years or more. The ones younger than me often have twice as many credits as I have, Broadway and otherwise. I’ve gotten to sort of enjoy this old guy/new guy combo and The Sting lab was a great example of that.

John & Jen (and Lara and David)

Even though this room was packed with Broadway vets (some Tony winners, some personal idols, some legends) nearly the entire group was new to me personally. Out of forty or so people I knew and had worked with four: Our director, John Rando, cast me in Getting The Band Back Together out at George Street Playhouse back in 2013. In the cast, Jen Rias (double duty with War Paint) and I had spent time together on the Spamalotnational tour and Lara Siebert Young (double duty with a teething baby at home—girl, the struggle is real) and I met for the first time just a few floors below earlier this year in another lab. For Susan Stroman. Who I now call Stro. Eeeeeeeeeee!!!!! David Chase in the music department and I had met on Tuck Everlasting, two floors up, February of 2016.

Let me give you a rundown of who else I was getting to work and play with:

“If you’re the smartest guy in the room, you’re in the wrong room.”

The writing team of The Sting pretty much guarantees that I’m nowhere near being the smartest guy in the room. This is a very smart roomAnd it’s more than just three random smart guys, but three smart guys for whom who I’ve a particular fondness. 

Confession: my twenties, thirties, and early-forties were spent in a sort of love/hate/fear/loathing relationship with Broadway. Could have been sour grapes. Or scared grapes, really, since I never really tried to be on Broadway. Or maybe sorrowful grapes, but grapes were definitely involved and I managed to avoid the whole thing, as a participant that is, until my forty-fifth year on the planet. As an observer, though, I would make the dutiful pilgrimages to Manhattan from whatever far-flung outpost I was hiding in to “go see a Broadway show!” Up until I graduated from conservatory (at 23 years old), that would bring me joy. After, it more often than not just pissed me off. But, like I said, pretty sure grapes of some sort were on the menu. Eventually, I stopped spending all that money to come to NYC and started going to London instead. Much better situation. Of course, I wasn’t seeing a lot of musicals there, but I was seeing large format theatre and it was inspiring me so I let Broadway drift off my radar. Two shows shifted my thoughts and feelings about all this: Urinetown and The Drowsy Chaperone. I saw them because, in both cases, fellow theatre folk whom I trusted recommended them to me as “something better and smarter than what you think is going on here.” They were right. And how. I’m so glad.

Hollmann, Kotis, and Martin

This is all to say that the guys at the writer's table for The Sting were Mark Hollmann, Greg Kotis, and Bob Martin. I couldn’t believe it when they were behind the table in the audition room, I never got used to it when they were behind the table in the rehearsal studio, and looking back now I can hardly accept that not only were we in the same room, but we actually worked on things together. And I got to thank them for Urinetown and Drowsy in person. Just nuts.

John Rando

Then there’s Rando. He’s no slouch. Here’s my short take not on why he’s great at this gig but why I genuinely like working with and for him: he’s a sentimental smart guy. His brain is no nonsense and his heart is all nonsense, or strike that and reverse it. He got a surgeon’s eye but he often talks in Warner Brothers cartoon sound effects. I don’t think I really know John at all, but man do I enjoy him. And trust him.

Warren Carlyle

I loved him and he loved me and that was easy because I did not dance a lick in this show. I walked in time for two counts of eight. Really. That’s it. But, watching him build numbers was a pleasure, made all the more enjoyable by being able to watch safely from the sidelines with a cup of coffee in my hand. There was one dodgy moment: Tara Rubin (to whom I owe this entire chapter of my life) was at one of the two presentations since she’s the one got us all in the room. In the break between acts I went looking for her to hug her neck and thank her for the gig. I found her in the hall next to the elevators talking with Warren. I hugged her, thanked her, and was just making my exit when she turns to Warren and says, “You know, he’s in Cats. He can dance.”

Now, let me be clear with you here: I am a poster child for the actor-who-moves-well category that Broadway has all but abandoned. If placed in the back and in the shadows, as I am in Cats (That Andy Blankenbuehler, he’s another smart one), one could with great generosity of spirit perhaps say that, in the most literal and limited sense, I can dance. But this unconditional statement that I “can dance” from one of the most trusted casting directors on Broadway to one of the most prolific choreographers on Broadway?!?! I could not abide it. I can report, with no exaggeration, that I jumped up and down as I shouted, “Noooooo!!! Tara! No, no, no, no, no! Why did you say that?!?! Warren! No! Let’s all just forget this ever happened! Tara!” And away I slinked.

Tara. Oh, Tara. How could you?

Dominick Amendum

My entree into theatre was through music and I have always gravitated toward that corner of the rehearsal room where the music staff is camped out. This process was no exception. Dominick was a new MD for me, but was just the best. Let me define “the best.” He valued me. Out loud. Multiple times. To me and to others. I know it makes me a bit of a cheap date, but I’m his. Sold. I also dig his voice-leading and harmonic sense. Music nerd. Me. Yep.

Steve Kazee

Kazee and I had actually met once before when in the spring of 2006 he was put on a train to Boston to have a callback for Mike Nichols to replace in the Broadway company of Spamalot. Mike was busy with us opening up the tour and so Kazee had his audition on the stage of the Colonial just off the Boston Common one afternoon between our rehearsal and that night’s preview and I was asked to stay over the dinner break to be the reader. So, of course, I did. I mean, Mike asked. Kazee booked it, by the way.

Flash forward and here we are doing scenes and a song together. Here’s what I’m still pondering about my recent time with him: he is so fucking relaxed. On stage, I mean. It’s a place that allows his mind do comic things that mine simply can’t. Or won’t. At least not at that level. Not yet. He fascinated me. I watched him like a hawk for three weeks. Always something to learn. You just have to pay attention.

J. Harrison Ghee

J. was doing double duty with this and Kinky Boots in which he is playing Lola. Tallest Lola on record, I’d imagine. Since I’ve spent some time in at the factory over at the Hirschfeld we’re sort of extended family. He brings me love from the gang, I send my love back. I’m instantly at ease with this young man. And I’m impressed with his ability to carry starring roles in both this and that at the same time. That is the heaviest version of double duty and he bears it lightly. Grace and charm. Style and substance. And a damn fine flirt.

Hinton Battle

If you’re too young to know who this man is, take a sec to Google him. I’ll wait.

Ok, so he’s a national treasure of the American Musical Theatre. Sweet man, too. Here’s my Hinton moment of love: On break, after a big tap number that the ensemble delivers with thundering gusto, Hinton is sitting over in the corner near the writer's table. Standing next to him is Britton Smith, one of the young men of the ensemble. Standing next to Britton is Peter Benson, great character guy, probably near my age, more on him later. They’re talking flaps. As in the tap step “fuh-lap”. I’m eavesdropping mid-conversation, but I gather Britton’s not happy with his and Hinton and Peter are giving pointers. Hinton, mostly. Peter is serving as Hinton’s amen corner. I’m tearing up just remembering this and typing it out. It was so beautiful. Britton is standing and flapping. Hinton is watching. Peter is watching. Finally, Hinton says, “Sit down,” in that matter of fact, mechanic-to-mechanic way that dancers can talk to each other (which actors rarely do). “Sit down?” “Yeah, sit down and do it. You need to be doing it with your ankle and you’re doing it with your leg. Sit down.” Britton sat and started flapping. “Yeah, “says Hinton. “Yeah,” says Peter. “Yeah?” says Britton. At that point, I walked away feeling that I was trespassing on something holy. Not exaggerating. 

Cady Huffman

That’s right. Cady Huffman. Now, I’d actually been in a room with Cady before, too. One of the first readings I was in when I moved here (thanks, Tara!) was a musical based on the Iron Chef TV game show. Go ahead. Take a moment with that. I was the French chef (feature ensemble) and Cady was the baddie (third lead). We were eight music stands apart and we never spoke. That was on me. I was very, very shy. I mean, come on. She’s Cady Huffman. Thankfully, I’m over that. We got on great this time. Two things about Cady on this one: yeah, yeah, she’s funny (and she really is, one and off stage). We got that. But, there’s this lovely act two bedroom scene she has with Kazee where the (smart!) writers reprise her earlier, hell’s-a-poppin comic number as a sweet, simple statement of love and concern and it is so clear, and true, and heartfelt. And beautiful. Just beautiful. The comedians, man. Given the chance they can just kill you. That’s one thing. The other thing is that that comedy number she had? The one that’s the reason you hire Cady Huffman? I never saw it. I only heard it. I wasn’t there when they built it because, originally, my character wasn’t in the scene. Later they put me in, but I’m in the adjoining room when Caddy does her stuff, listening at the wall. So I’m hearing it, I’m seeing and hearing the folks out front react, but I’ve no freaking idea what she’s doing. I guess it’s funny. Whatever.

Patrick Page

Ok, ok, I’ve actually been in a room with Patrick, too. An early reading of The Heart of Robin Hood not long after the Iron Chef reading. I was a horse (not-so-featured ensemble) and he was the baddie (third lead). We were never in a scene together and we spoke only once. Again, totally on me. Well…also…he’s Patrick Page. He’s scary. Lovely when you’re speaking with him but pretty damn forbidding when you’re not. The one time we spoke in that process was just me telling him we had someone in common. A colleague of mine from my days writing curriculum and teaching for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival was, back in the day, Patrick’s “girl assistant” when Patrick was a—wait for it—professional magician. Isn’t that great? He was a magician! Of course he was! Patrick’s another one I watch like a hawk. I can’t do what he does, naturally. Totally different type, instrument, etc. But I play villains often and he plays villains often…so, you know…steal from the best. Right? In The Sting his character is, among other things, a card player of a very high skill level. And, wouldn’t you know it, those years as a magician sure do come in handy when you want to just stand still, rumble out your lines in subsonic tones, and expertly manipulate a deck of cards in each hand without looking. Sweet. Just…so…freaking…sweet.

Jon Jon Briones

The sweetest man I’ve worked with in a long time is the meanest son-of-a-bitch on stage at the Broadway Theatre. He’s The Engineer in Miss Saigon. That’s also a pretty heavy lift as double duties go. I walk past his theatre a lot as my theatre, the Neil Simon, is just around the corner. I used to look at the big poster of him out front and think, “Damn. Bet he’s a piece of work.” Now I look at it and go, “Awwwwww, Jon Jon’s pretending to be all mean. What a sweetie.” Also, he’s just my kind of guy. Watching him craft some very specific hat puppetry for his verse of our patter song won me over completely. 

Peter Benson

Peter and I think we were in the same dance call for Promises, Promises late in 2009. They called it a “movement call.” They lied. I will never forget and certainly never forgive. Peter, on the other hand, booked it and ended up going on for the lead. So, you know…whatever. Peter is a Broadway mainstay and was one of my favorite things in this lab. He is what I think of as a microbial actor. Watching him, he just is the guy. Every breath, every tick, every glance, every inch, even the microbes on his body shift into being the microbes of the character. It’s poetry watching his moment to moment existence in the piece. Truly.

Wayne Duvall

Now here’s a double duty: new musical comedy by day, making audiences queasy in 1984 by night. Duvall is a great dude and a man’s man smack dab in the Charles Durning type/category and, as you’d guess, it’s Durning’s role he’s playing in The Sting. I didn’t think of Durning once after day one.

Price Waldman

I’ve never worked with Price and it’s the rare piece that would hold both of us as we’re kinda the same type of guy: a straight up character utility man in the small-to-medium model, a basic Mr. Potato Head of the American Theatre. Gentle soul, tapping for the first time in his life like he was born to it, nailing his variety pack of roles, the minute I met him I thought, “Ah, my people.”

Drew McVety

Broadway credits for days and still counting. Double duty: Bandstand. Now, I knew I knew Drew’s name, and I recognized him, but I didn’t put together that he’d been one of the universal standby’s at Spamalot on Broadway. Which I love! Because, in this room at least, his three rolls were so tightly drawn, one the mark of a con, one a high stakes poker player, one the hard-assed FBI agent, they were such nice, concise, pen-and-ink portraits that to think of him in Spamalot…? Well, it means he’s a transformer. And he doesn’t tell you he is. Now that’s a bit of a character man Holy Grail.

Jim Borstelmann

You say you need a guy who can play a casino heavy and a train conductor and, gee, it’d be swell if he could really, really dance? Yeah, you need Jimmy Borstelmann. New to me, but then, I’m new to him and to this whole world so, I’m playing catch up here. But, now I’m not so worried about seeming like I know everything, I’m happy to ask when I don’t know. I’m sitting over by the side of the room with Cady watching a dance number and I point to Jim and say, “So…. What’s the deal there?” Cady say, incredulously, “Jimmy? Jimmy Borstelmann?” then matter of fact, “He’s a legend.” And she gives me the 411 on Jimmy Borstelmann. He comes over and joins in. Charming as fuck and, again—no exaggeration—if there was dancing going on, I had a hard time looking at anyone else besides Jimmy.

Tommy Bracco

If Tommy Bracco had not been born, Musical Theatre would have invented him—out of sheer necessity and joy. I’m a fan.

Britton Smith

…of “fuh-lap” fame. Yeah, yeah, he can dance and sing, but where I was digging his action was in a short little exchange where he plays the guy renting out the set-up for the fake bookie hall. In the movie this is a tasty little turn by Avon Long (there’s a fun bio to look up). Beside Ray Walston (who played the part I played in the lab) Long is who stuck in my 10-year-old-character-man-in-waiting mind the most when I first say the film. Britton shook Long from my mind on his second pass at the scene. Plus, those eyes. I mean… “Hey there, America…”

Preston Truman Boyd

Every show needs a “well I certainly didn’t expect that man to be able to do that!” guy. Watching the galumphing, full-length-and-then-some drink of water that Boyd is suddenly launch into a floor-punishing tap explosion… Well, I certainly didn’t see that coming. But I sure did like it. Plus, he can sho holler.

Darius Wright

Y’all watch out for this one. Baby of the room (I think), had just made his Broadway debut in A Bronx Tale when we started the lab. When he wasn’t out there dancing so very prettily, he was seated, quietly, with his nose in a book. Now, you know I’ve got a soft spot for that. But, seriously. Watch him. I think he’s a long-gamer.

Lara Siebert Young

Anyone who greets me with an inside joke from our last job (did I mention we were working with Stro a few months ago?) is aces in my book. And a comfort when you’re fighting that new kid feeling on the first day of school. The second thing Lara said to me on day one right after a withering “Oh, you,” was “snip, snip.” You wouldn’t understand. She and I are gonna be in another room together real soon. I can feel it. I hope the baby will have stopped teething by then. For both their sakes.

Carrie Compere

Still trying to figure out if/when I’ve been in close proximity with her before, but so glad I was for these three weeks. My specific moment of love with Carrie was the first and the all following times I saw her gorgeous and genuinely funny exit out of the casino scene, providing perfect cover for a transition, getting a laugh, and telling the story. All character. All behavior. No lines. Solid.

Jen Rias

I love me some Jen Rias. And it’s so nice to have that beautiful face smiling back at you at work every day. It’d been too long. I’ve a soft spot for all the folks who were part of my nearly four years with the Spamalot tour, but Jen’s on the list of, “She’s in it? Then I want to be in it, too!” A light in the world, that one. Even when she’s going that double duty.

Adrianna Hicks

And then there’s when you meet a new light. This young lady is her own PRG lighting package. Love and light made manifest. And I’m so jealous of her. She and Carrie are headed out on tour with Color Purple soon. I loved being on tour and if she wants to know where to get the best pint of Guinness or the best huevos rancheros or the best museum or the best… whatever in pretty much any major- or mid-market town in North America, I hope she’ll call me.

Angie Schworer

I’ve been waiting to get in a room with her. There are these certain women of Broadway ensembles that are just legendary. Sometimes they’re Stro girls, or Casey girls, or Jerry girls, or… everybody wants them and hires them. They’re the names you hear other dancers mention. A lot. I’m always a little scared of them. Because they’re fierce. And I think they can steal your soul my looking at you hard. I’m fairly certain Angie could do that if she wanted. She didn’t. But she could.

Sherisse Springer

Describing qualities of dance is tricky, but I enjoy trying. This piece and Warren’s work require several different tones of dance. For me it’s tones that add up to style and styles that add up to the vocabulary and thence to the world of a the play. But, that’s just me. I sit and watch the various dancers work in relationship to those tones, embodying them, expressing them, working within them, working around them. But they, of course, maintain themselves as they do so. They don’t change bodies as they go. I was fascinated watching Sherisse move from number to number. How to describe her signature, her stamp that was evident in every number while being wholly appropriate to each one? It took me to the last day to see it, and I don’t know if I can really nail it in words but I’ll try. She is flexible steel. A band of metal that can be coiled into a spring, that can whip the air like a blade, that be stiff in its straightness or soft in its curvature. There’s a tensile strength there that is truly compelling in every number. Fascinating dancer.

Ariana DeBose

I got the least amount of time with Ariana as she joined us late in the process. As a bit of a rescue mission, in fact, which she pulled off, smooth as silk. I only saw her work from the back as, by the time she was put in we were running the piece. But I heard her. I heard this weird, wonderful Billie Holiday coo of a voice spin out of her. Now, of course, we did this lab under the normal florescent lights of the studio. Nothing atmospheric or focused or even dimmed, but when Ariana sang—the plywood counter and cabaret stools of our makeshift diner set-up we all of a sudden framed in the deepest, darkest, loneliest Edward Hopper-esque lighting. Very, very cool.

Leaving New 42… For now.

On the last day, on my walk up 8th Avenue back to my night job in Cats, I could already feel myself missing this group. There’s a lovely moment at the end of the play where the gang has done what they came together to do and it’s over and they all pack it up and part ways and when Rando was talking to us about it he ended with, “You know. It’s like at the end of a production. You feel great, you did it, but you’re sad that magic is done.” And, yeah, we all did know. I know I did. I’m still feeling it four days later.

Christopher Gurr

Washington Heights

August 16, 2017

5 Debut Questions - Meet Kris Roberts

Mo Brady

Today on our blog, we welcome Beautiful: the Carole King Musical ensemblist Kris Roberts to Broadway. Learn about her journey to the Great White Way:

Kris Roberts

Kris Roberts

1. What's your name and hometown?

Kris Roberts, Richmond, Va. 

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

Female Swing. I cover all six female ensemble tracks in the show. 

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

I had been on the Beautiful National Tour for only 9 weeks when my agent told me they were considering me for a Broadway replacement and asked that I make an audition video. After 2 and a half more months, waiting on pins and needles the whole time!, my agent sent a sly email on a Saturday morning that said "Let me know when you wake up. I want to have a quick call before you get to the theatre". When I picked up, I could hear his smile through the phone when he said "You're going to Broadway, baby!"

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

Going into the Tour, the most surprising thing was that, as a replacement, I had most of my rehearsals by myself with either the Stage Manager or Dance Captain. Learning choreography and blocking while trying to imagine where everyone else is was tough! 

But this time around, my six months as Swing on Tour better prepared me for Broadway as I already knew the tracks, music, choreo, etc. What I didn't realize was how many differences there are between the Broadway production and the one on the road. The set is much more expansive, some of the numbers have switched choreography between the character tracks, entrances and exits are different, and there is additional blocking. It's almost as if I have to learn an entirely new 6 tracks while trying to forget about the 6 I already know! Luckily, I've honed my swing brain on Tour (my first time being a swing) so I hope I can pick up all the changes pretty easily. 

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

I'm looking forward to being a part of this small yet wonderful Broadway community! Supporting other shows, competing in Broadway Leagues, performing in concerts like Broadway in Bryant Park. It's always seemed like the coolest club and I'm excited to be a part of such an awesome institution and getting to do it at home in my favorite city where I can spend time with friends and loved ones. 

Kris Roberts

Kris Roberts

Listen to our podcast episode on Broadway Debuts here.

"I Would Have Asked Him To Do Better."

Mo Brady

Last night, Vice President Mike Pence attending the national tour of The King and I in Washington, DC. Cast member Jose Llana shared his thoughts on his attendance on his Instagram, which he has graciously allowed us to reprint here.

Jose Llana

Jose Llana

Tonight Vice President came to our show. Had he come backstage I would've thanked him for watching our story. A story, told by a predominately brown cast, about a world leader offering a hand of friendship rather than building a wall. A story about 3 strong women, each one challenging that world leader and his misogyny. A story told by a company that includes homosexuals like myself, none of which need conversion therapy. I would've ask him if he wants his children and grandchildren to know that he supports a man who defended Nazis and white supremacists. I would've asked him to do better. Do better.

Jose Llana in The King and I

Jose Llana in The King and I

The Beat Goes On

Mo Brady

Podcast guest Eric Ulloa shares how the impact of the Broadway production On Your Feet! will last long after its closing performance today. 

Eric Ulloa

Eric Ulloa

When I first moved to NYC, I remember something that caught my eye and shed new light onto this business of show I had come from Florida to pursue. I was walking by a theatre that still had all it’s decor up outside, yet the lobby lay dormant. Affixed to the glass on all four doors were8.5 by 11 sheets of paper notifying me that the production that once played this house came to a close about a month earlier. Broadway, a place of magic and Rosie O’Donnell Show guest appearances, had an expiration date. 

The show didn’t always go on. 

Eric Ulloa

Eric Ulloa

This Monday, there will be signs on the box office doors of the Marriott Marquis Theatre alerting patrons that “On Your Feet! played its final performance on August 20, 2017.”

My friend’s faces will come off of the breezeway as the Marquis begins the transition from Mojitos to Margaritas and the sounds of Jimmy Buffett.

The sets will be torn down and packaged, as the show begins a touring and international life. 

Soon the theatre will be a blank canvas, as if nothing ever occurred within its walls. 

Do you hear that though? Listen closely…

There’s a deep, rich sound pounding out through the doors of the theatre. The sound of a Conga being banged out in the direct mimic of a heartbeat. A pulse. The magic of Broadway.

For you see, the memories of what we experienced in these almost two years are forever drummed into every inch of the Marquis. 

From the moment you walk through the stage door it will overwhelm you. 

Eric Ulloa and the company of On Your Feet!

Eric Ulloa and the company of On Your Feet!

You’ll feel the joy so many of us felt as we made our Broadway debuts, some of them 20 years in the making. A cast (the largest in fact) of proud Latinos telling an authentic latino story with no apologies. 

You’ll smile from the engagements, marriages and new babies born, expanding our already giant family. You’ll feel the pain as we comforted each other through injuries and breakups and deaths within our own families. Deaths that even took one of our shows characters, Gloria Fajardo, from this mortal world into the immortal legacy of this musical and the celebration of her life and struggles. 

Cross the threshold, hop onto that stage and you’ll feel the passion of our dancers, as they threw their bodies into every move with abandon and everything they physically had within them. Their authenticity transporting you from Broadway stage to Cuba and the fall of Batista on that infamous night in history. 

Eric Ulloa (right, with Genny Lis Padilla)

Eric Ulloa (right, with Genny Lis Padilla)

You’ll hear the rally cry of “Cuba Libre” still echoing in the rafters mixed alongside the cheers of an audience celebrating Emilio as he declared nightly that he “is what an American looks like.” 

During a tumultuous period in our country’s history, we served as a reminder that the American Dream exists and belongs to anyone who seeks it out. Not just through the story of Gloria and Emilio, but through the performers that told their story nightly. 

For buried deep in the fabric of the chairs of the Marquis, you’ll find hope. 

Hope that one day you’ll walk to an open call from your job at a bank and be cast in your Broadway debut. Hope that you’ll come from a different country and be able to inspire a younger generation to do the same eight times a week. Hope that one day you’ll get to hear your father tell you, as mine told me, “Who was gonna tell this refugee from Hialeah that his son was going to be on Broadway?” 

The beat goes on…the rhythm continues…and our legacy is now a part of history. 

Eric Ulloa

Eric Ulloa

Listen to Eric Ulloa on our Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, Opening Night & Activism episodes.

Becoming Bobby Darin

Mo Brady

Friend of the podcast Rick Faugno (On the 20th Century, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) shares how he channeled his love for Bobby Darin into the creation of a new show Bobby Darin: The Musical.

Rick Faugno

Rick Faugno

I've always studied to be a triple threat, in the truest sense of the term. Growing up, I went back and forth between dance and singing lessons, adding acting lessons into the mix, as I progressed into my teens. I always wanted to try my hand at everything, out of simple curiosity and the desire to succeed in different disciplines. In other words, I wanted to be able to hang with the singing, acting or dancing crowd, without them knowing that I was also something else.

My life, from a young boy on, has been one long learning process of the craft of performing. From my first great dance teacher, Voigt Kempson, in my hometown of Sparta, New Jersey, to all the dance teachers I studied with thereafter. There have been no shortage of voice teachers, either.; and I can remember acting in plays that my mother would direct (I was her student in grade school, for a couple of years) and getting my first taste of how it felt to act.

I had the rare and good fortune of starting my professional life at the young age of 12, when I was cast as Will Rogers, Jr., in the original Broadway company of The Will Rogers Follies. It was the first time I had done a professional job and it opened my eyes to the all the things I wanted to do in this livelihood. I discovered the joys of singing, dancing and acting in a big, Broadway musical; and I wanted more.

Rick Faugno

Rick Faugno

Since then, I've done everything as a performer that one could hope to do: I acted in the straight Broadway play, Conversations With My Father, when I was a teenager; I've had small roles on TV shows, both as a kid and as an adult; I've played the leading role in a film; I was a straight-ahead dancer in the First National Tour of Fosse, and on Broadway; I've performed in multiple Broadway and regional shows, as a singer, a dancer, or an actor, either all together or separately. I've received a Best Singer award (Jersey Boys), a Fred Astaire Award (On The 20th Century) and a Best Actor award (the film Virgin Alexander). I tell people that I've had a very schizophrenic career, because I'm always going from one end of the spectrum to the other.

When I played Frankie Valli, in the original production of Jersey Boys, in Las Vegas, I partially got to realize the dream of embodying the performer who does it all. That role encompassed so many satisfying singing and acting moments and it made me want to keep working toward the ultimate goal: playing the lead in a show that covers all three disciplines...and possibly even more.

Bobby Darin is a dream role for me. It sums up my entire life in show business. I can't imagine a more complete role, both dramatically and musically, that encompasses the entire performer. Perhaps Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire would be more challenging dance-wise, but they didn't possess the singing or acting chops of Bobby Darin, nor his myriad capabilities. He could also write songs, play multiple musical instruments, do impressions, tell jokes, do comedy sketches, or be a straight actor. I hope to be able to showcase all these abilities to the same level that he did.

Rick Faugno

Rick Faugno

Bobby Darin: The Musical (working title only!) tells the incredible story of a man who lived a very brief 37 years and achieved more in his lifetime than most people would be able do in 4 or 5. He could do it all and he was the only performer whom Sammy Davis, Jr. (one of my biggest idols) wouldn't follow on stage. He was that good.

He also went through life not knowing the identity of his father and later learning that the woman whom he thought was his sister was really his mother, and the woman whom he thought was his mother, was actually his grandmother. I know, it's a lot to take in at once! The chance to be able to try my hand at interpreting this amazing performer's life, truly happens only once in a lifetime.

On August 31, at the American Airlines Theatre, upstairs, myself and my fabulous cast will be doing the very first reading presentation of this new musical. I'm very lucky to have the extraordinary Patrick Vaccariello music directing, the fantastic Logan Medland on piano and assistant music directing, a story by the prodigious Australian writers, David Mitchell and Melvyn Morrow and the brilliant Denis Jones directing. Having just worked with Denis on A Chorus Line, at the MUNY, I had a front-row seat to his remarkable vision and creativity, both as a director and a choreographer.

I'm very grateful that I get the chance to tell this fascinating story and to embody the life of this astounding man and performer. Hopefully, in the not too distant future, I will get the chance to share this new musical with all of you!

Listen to our episode about readings and workshops of new musicals here.

"Some Dreams Live On In Time Forever..."

Mo Brady

Friend of the podcast Linedy Genao shares the unlikely story of making her Broadway debut in the company of On Your Feet!

Linedy Genao

Linedy Genao

I booked a Broadway show, my first professional theater job ever, from an open call while working at a bank and pursuing a career in business. My journey to the Broadway stage began almost three years ago, and I still pinch myself to make sure it’s real. On Your Feet! literally changed the trajectory of my life. My cast calls me the “Dominican princess,” or the “crybaby” since I cried just about every single day out of disbelief that this life-long dream of mine came true. 

With a CVS-printed headshot taken on an iPhone 5, and a resume of my high school performances, I walked into the open call of, On Your Feet! feeling everything possible. I was embarrassed, nervous, and a bit out of place yet, at the same time, filled with a sense of confidence because I felt that my passion would shine through. No other show I've been a part of has allowed me to be so authentic. To be, ME! The show was looking for Triple Threat Latina/os who could sing/dance/act and I immediately thought, “Me! Me! Me! They’re looking for someone just like me!” All I had to do was be myself, dance/sing the songs I grew up with, and speak the language I first learned, Spanish. The audition was indescribable. I was walking on air. 

I’ve loved to sing since I was little. I sang at my church in Brooklyn, NY, and took any and every opportunity to sing when my family and I moved to Connecticut. When college applications rolled around, I told myself, “If I don’t get into the best schools for musical theater, then I’m not good enough to be on Broadway.” And guess what? I didn’t get into NYU and Ithaca, the “top two schools for musical theater” that I had heard of at the time. Instead, I went to UCONN and completed a degree in business administration, putting theater on the back burner. I thought that maybe it was just meant to be a hobby.

After college, I started working at a private bank in NYC. On my lunch break one day, I decided to go on Broadwayworld.com to look for auditions and there it was, On Your Feet! This was the 4th professional audition that I had ever been to. I figured, hey I have "some" experience with auditioning, so why not give it a shot? They were again, looking for people like me. 

Linedy Genao as Gloria Estefan in On Your Feet!

Linedy Genao as Gloria Estefan in On Your Feet!

I never in a million years imagined that I would get called back to not only be in the original Broadway cast ensemble creating my original track, but to also understudy the lead role of “Gloria Estefan.” Yes, A PRINCIPLE ROLE ON BROADWAY! I still can't believe that sometimes. I was shot out of a cannon, leaving the world of banking, without a clue of what lay ahead on this new and incredible journey. This experience has allowed me to be a firm believer of pursuing what may seem like impossible dreams. My dream of being on Broadway turned into being a part of an original Broadway cast performing eight times a week, performing at incredible things like the Tony's, being the first understudy to go on as Gloria, and performing that role over 70 times. I couldn't be more grateful for it ALL.

Given my own crazy experience, I know that you will face challenges and obstacles that you never imagined, but in no way should they discourage you from developing your talents and pursuing your passions. Obstacles and challenges are temporary; they are simply there for you to learn and make you stronger!

Don’t EVER let ANYONE tell you that you cannot achieve your dreams. YOU CAN! Continue to dream, continue to learn, continue to find any and every opportunity to showcase your talents, and most importantly, continue to have faith that it will happen when the time is right. If you love something enough, never stop fighting for it. Now, more than ever, I am convinced that the secret to success is perseverance. You don’t necessarily need professional training or a degree from a fancy school to be successful. As long as you love what you want with all of your heart, your dream will become a reality. My dream came true and I have no doubt that yours will too!

Linedy Genao after a performance of On Your Feet!

Linedy Genao after a performance of On Your Feet!

Listen to our podcast episodes on Broadway Debuts and Understudies.

Broadway’s Response To Charlottesville; #DiversityOfBroadway

Mo Brady

Performer and friend of the podcast Michael Mahany allows us to the recent piece he wrote for Dance Network here on our blog.

In the wake of the terrible events that unfolded this weekend in Charlottesville, the voices of Broadway’s strong and diverse community came out with a powerful and poignant message, Saturday evening. Led by Hamilton’s Javier Munoz, a series of photographs featuring the vast array of cultural and racial differences on Broadway’s stages began to light up Instagram under the hashtag #DiversityOfBroadway. 

Javier Munoz’s #DiversityOfBroadway post

Javier Munoz’s #DiversityOfBroadway post

A Saturday evening photograph from the cast of Hamilton backstage at the Richard Rodgers Theatre on Broadway quickly circulated, and by late Saturday night, cast members from shows like Broadway’s Groundhog Day, On Your Feet, Aladdin, Waitress, Miss Saigon, and Charlie And The Chocolate Factory had posted photos of company members to the hashtag as well.

Munoz posted the photo of an ethnically and culturally diverse cast of Hamilton with the quote, “Stand united in strength, power, & diversity. #DiversityOfBroadway”. Following Munoz’s initial post, stars from around the Great White Way began to post and re-post photos of their companies to the hashtag.

“Diversity makes us stronger as a nation,” Aladdin and Glee star Telly Leung posted along with a picture of his cast. 

TONY® winner James Monroe Iglehart posted a black and white video of himself speaking the words, “Love. Peace. Tolerance. Diversity. Pass It On.”

“We are the cast of @misssaigonus and we stand for diversity #DiversityOfBroadway #StrongTogether,” TONY® nominee Jon Jon Briones posted with a photo of the cast of Miss Saigon.

A compilation of Saturday night’s #DiversityOfBroadway photos; assembled by Groundhog Day’s Raymond J. Lee

Broadway’s response to the bigotry and hatred has always been filled with a powerful message of community support and a unity in accepting difference.

Dance Network spoke with Hamilton performer and dancer Lauren Boyd who works with Munoz in the Broadway production.

“I'm very grateful for this small but hopefully very impactful movement. I'm sad at the cost... This is a wonderful reminder that EVERYONE is precious, EVERYONE is relevant and EVERYONE is a beautiful workmanship created for a purpose,” said Boyd. “We as a community are praying for those who have been wronged, for peace and comfort and for continued understanding of each other in these trying times.”

Broadway performer and dancer— and current swing at Cats On Broadway— Aaron Albano told DN, “I'd say the more people spreading the values of love, joy, acceptance, respect, and honor, no matter who they are, the better. We have found ourselves in a world that has lifted up hate and bigotry and intolerance, and the only way to combat those is with their opposite. Dr. MLK Jr said, ‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.’ And that should not be confused with weakness or passiveness. We will have strength in calling out the injustice in our world, but equal strength in promoting truth, love, and wholeness in our broken world. And I am proud to be a part of a community that it committed to doing just that.”

With movements like The Ghostlight Project which is dedicated to protecting inclusion and acceptance, or BroadwayStrong, the group that organized performers around the Women’s March, Broadway continues to stand for acceptance and love. Simple and profound statements from the theatre community at large, like the momentum created from Saturday’s posts, provide a unified voice. In a time where minority groups are living in fear, the harmony created by this union of diverse artists is essential to their audience—and the act of true community leadership standing against hate.

 

It’s the Circle of (Broadway) Life.

Mo Brady

by Mo Brady

The cycle of Broadway openings and closings ebb and flow differently each season. Some years, every single Broadway house will be full of audiences. Other seasons, the glow of Midtown’s marquees will be considerably darker.

In the next month, three new musicals will shutter on Broadway: Bandstand, Groundhog Day and Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812. Each of these shows launched onto the Great White Way with hopes of being the next theatrical juggernaut.

But for each of these shows, something didn’t click and the audiences didn’t come. Or they came, but they didn’t tell their friends to come. Or they came, but not enough came to make the show financially solvent. It is called “show BUSINESS” after all.

As a theatre lover, it’s hard not to mourn the closing of a Broadway musical. Each show’s story will never be told in quite the same way once the production shutters. Yes, there are sure to be regional, student and community theatre productions of each of these shows. Yes, each show will reach generations of new fans through their cast recordings and YouTube clips (and podcast interviews!) But the show’s quintessential Broadway production will live only in the memories of those who saw it.

For the company of a show, closing is even sadder. No longer do you have the steady paycheck of a production salary hitting your bank account (or, half a production salary after federal taxes, state taxes, city taxes, agent fees and 401k contributions.) No longer do you have a convenient, private Midtown restroom to use whenever you’re running between auditions.  

No longer do you have the glamour of being on Broadway, even if it only seems glamorous to your family back home, the occasional waiter and the 8-year-old version of yourself still living inside you. No longer do you have the tight-knit community of people you sit next to backstage in folding chairs to talk to while you put on wig prep or play on your phone between scenes.

And that’s sad. But it’s also life.  

One of the beautiful, tragic things about Broadway is that shows have to close for new shows to open. Broadway is a vibrant artistic community not because every show stays open for years, but because there’s always new show coming just around the corner. A new show that will push our artform just a little bit further and that will affect audiences in new ways.

Bandstand’s inventive staging shook how audiences remember PTSD. Groundhog Day introduced new technical feats in storytelling to Broadway. The Great Comet took what we thought a Broadway show looked like and turned it on its head. But the next shows to fill the Jacobs, August Wilson and Imperial Theatres will push our artform forward a little further. In ways we can’t even imagine now.

New groups of artists will come together as family to sit on folding chairs playing on their phones. New groups of audiences will see themselves in new stories (or in new interpretations of old stories in revivals). New fans will listen to new cast albums and obsess over new Broadway stars, who were once 8-year-old Broadway fans themselves.

It’s the circle of (Broadway) life. And that’s not sad, that’s magnificent.

Mo Brady is co-creator and host of The Ensemblist podcast.

 

 

 

 

"It is Never Too Late to Explore."

Mo Brady

Performer and director Kristoffer Cusick shares how we went from performing in Broadway musicals (WickedIf/Then, First Date and more) to becoming the Resident Director of Broadway's School of Rock.

Kristoffer Cusick

Kristoffer Cusick

I've been performing professionally since I was 12 years old. It started with a career in dance that quickly expanded into singing and acting on the West Coast, Japan and Europe. When I got my Equity card doing the 1st National Tour of Rent, I took over as the dance captain on the production and immediately found myself straddling the performing and creative worlds. That experience left me curious about working on the "other side" of the table, directing, and being a part of the creative team. 

It took many more years performing on Broadway and in film and television before a successful producer friend suggested that I explore directing and see about assisting on a show. At that same time my friend, Laurence Connor, had just finished directing School of Rock on Broadway and was preparing to start putting up the UK production in the West End. He asked if I'd be interested in coming to watch him direct the show in London and shadow him and his Associate Director. I jumped at the opportunity and spent several weeks in the fall of 2016 absorbing and learning as much as I could while they mounted another awesome and successful production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's new hit musical. 

In the early part of this year I split my time watching Laurence direct the revival of Miss Saigon on Broadway and Michael Greif direct War Paint with Pati Lupone and Christine Ebersole. These directors generosity and the past year spent observing them and learning on these diverse and amazing shows was invaluable to my preparation to take on this role as the new Resident Director of School of Rock. I feel very fortunate and excited to have this show be my first Resident Directing job and to be working with the current Associate Director, David Ruttura, and the rest of the brilliant creative team. 

image1-2.jpeg

While I am not ready to hang up my hat when it comes to performing or continuing to act, I think my background as an ensemble and principle actor in numerous Broadway productions will serve me well in my ability to guide other actors in a way that only directors who have been on stage as performers could possibly understand. There are several directors ...Jerry Mitchell, Joe Mantello, Casey Nicholaw, Andy Blankenbuehler, and Laurence Connor, just to name a few.....whose performing start has lent to their brilliance as directors. They serve as inspiration to me and to my belief that it is never to late to explore or learn new things and that you never have to choose only one path as an artist. There are no rules when it comes to this business. I have been around long enough to taste and enjoy some sweet success and to feel the sting and disappointment of rejection and dry spells. Most of all, I have learned that the journey is the most special part of it all and I am enjoying the ride. 

Listen to our episode on Resident Directors here.

 

"Closing a tour is like breaking up"

Jackson Cline

Kendal Hartse (CinderellaOn a Clear Day You Can See Forever) shares what it's like to adjust back to life in New York after touring for seven months in the final installment of her Cabaret blog series.


Kendal Hartse

Kendal Hartse

I very nearly didn't go on the national tour of Cabaret. The only other touring experience I'd had previously was the 26th year of the non-union bus and truck tour of Cats. And while we put on a damn good production of Cats, dancing our faces throughout those split weeks and one-nighters, it was also one of the hardest experiences of my life professionally, physically, and emotionally. I didn't know if I wanted to go on the road again and open myself up to the possibility of having a similar experience. I wasn't sure I wanted to leave my apartment, my husband, or New York City from January to August.

Before I left, the usual fears were playing on a loop. “What if no one likes me, what if I get hurt, what if the hotels are terrible, what if I'm lonely all the time, what if I can't learn my track fast enough...” and on and on. I had a weird replacement experiment since myself and three other cast members learned the show and had a put-in right before an 8-week layoff. I rehearsed in Charlotte, NC in November, had 8 weeks off when I frantically practiced my violin every day and reviewed the choreography in my kitchen, and then started performances in Ft. Lauderdale, FL in January. I was so nervous.

Kendal Hartse as Texas: Fort Lauderdale (L) & Washington, DC (R)

Kendal Hartse as Texas: Fort Lauderdale (L) & Washington, DC (R)

I got to the Airbnb I was sharing with two of the other newbies. We rehearsed our choreography together in the living room, drove to the theatre, joined the company for brush-up rehearsals, then we were in the show and off to the races! We were welcomed into one of the most wonderful show families I have ever been a part of. People liked me, I made deep, meaningful friendships. I didn't get hurt. The hotels were mostly wonderful (with a couple glaring and slightly hilarious exceptions). I was lonely sometimes, but could always knock on a door or send a text and have a friend there in 5 minutes. I learned my track and thrived in the production. Touring with Cabaret for the better part of 7 months was a transformative experience for me. I had auditioned for the Broadway production of Cabaret in 2013, then again for the first year of the tour and was upset not to get them at the time. But if I had been a part of this show at any other time, in any other track, I would not have made the deep and lasting friendships I made on this tour. That, to me is the biggest gift of all. And I got to perform Cabaret. And performing Cabaret at this time in America was truly a gift. It is rare to be in a show that feels so of the moment and so necessary. It felt important to be telling that story every night, and I acutely feel the loss of it. I've always felt that closing a show is like breaking up with 20 people at the same time. There's the painful fact that you won't see each other every day anymore, that the thing you all loved is over, and that, while you'll still be in each other's lives, it won't really ever be the same. Closing a tour is like breaking up with 20 people that you'd moved in with.

Because touring is weird. It intensifies every experience from friendships to struggles to just day-to-day errands. It's hard to explain in a way, but it doesn't really feel like “real life.” You don't set down roots. It was initially disorienting to be away from my home, husband, and friends for such a long period of time, but eventually it becomes normal. Of course I pack up at the end of the week, of course I have to figure out a new theatre every week and meet new local crew. Of course these people are the people I eat and drink and live with. Of course this is my family. Then the show ends. And “real life” doesn't feel like normal anymore.

Coming home, while wonderful, has also been slightly disorienting. I gave myself a week to be a lazy slob when I closed this show. I don't have a new show on the horizon, my acting class isn't in session until the fall, and audition season won't pick up again for a few weeks. I'm forced into self care and introspection. Which is probably a good thing. It's given me the chance to slow down and really spend quality time with my husband, who I missed dearly. I've reconnected with my NYC friends and slowly started the ball rolling with getting new head shots, talking to my agents about upcoming auditions, and seeing my physical therapist, massage therapist, and acupuncturist. Letting go of some shows is harder than others. This one is hard, and I'm letting it be hard. I'm not rushing the process of missing the show and missing the people. Easing out of the missing can be hard. It's an acute feeling. I've made sure to be in communication with people I love from the show and have spent a lot of time with my closest friend from tour, Chris, during the post-closing week. In this sort of gypsy lifestyle we lead as actors, it can be easy to flit from one show to the next, form intense new relationships as we go, and then leave them behind. Being on the road can sometimes feel like it isn't “real life” since you aren't at home, but it's important to me hold onto the close and important friendships I've made on the road and make sure those people stay in my “real” life.

So to help ease back, this past weekend, I went away to visit a close friend who was house sitting in New Jersey with my husband Austin, and Chris. We cooked an incredible feast, drank all the wine in the house, and swam in the ocean the next day. I was able to bring my two worlds together, and it made me confident that I will be able to take the experiences of tour and everything I learned to continue to thrive in my “real life” so that when the next thing comes along, I will be excited and ready to jump back in.

The Kit Kat Girls (l-r): Laura Sheehy, Lori Eure, Kendal Hartse, Alison Ewing, Sarah Bishop. Jenna Zito Clark, Kelsey Beckert & Chelsey Clark

The Kit Kat Girls (l-r): Laura Sheehy, Lori Eure, Kendal Hartse, Alison Ewing, Sarah Bishop. Jenna Zito Clark, Kelsey Beckert & Chelsey Clark

What I (Do) For Love

Mo Brady

Friend of the podcast Sharrod Williams (CATSTuck Everlasting) shares his A Chorus Line journey, including his wonderful experience playing Richie at The Muny this summer.


Sharrod Williams

Sharrod Williams

The musical A Chorus Line has a very special place in my heart. I was first introduced to the show in 2011 as a senior at Montclair State University. I was a dance major and decided that Fall semester I wanted to get my feet wet in Musical Theatre. I auditioned for the show with hopes of simply being a dancer in the background and was cast as the role of Richie. I never saw it coming and actually tried to decline the role. Clay James, the Musical Theatre Dept. Chair at the time, personally sought me out with the support of the Dance Dept. Chair Lori to convince me to do the show. I ironically ended up being my own agent and negotiated to have a double in the role because I was afraid of being overwhelmed with Dance program rehearsals, RA duties, and teaching at a local dance studio on the weekends. In the end, I accepted the role and doing the show completely changed my life. As I always say, I got bit by the Musical Theatre bug. It was the first time I realized I may be meant to do more than just dance.

During the Spring of 2012, I booked professional jobs in both concert dance and theatre that would keep me busy all summer long after graduation. I wasn’t sure exactly where my heart was most but I was along for the ride. I was away working at Park Playhouse in Albany, New York when I found out there was a national tour of A Chorus Line being set by the legendary Baayork Lee heading out in the Fall. I ended up skipping the audition overwhelmed by the idea of driving to NYC and back, potentially being late or missing the show that evening. I was upset at the timing but I prayed every day for a second chance. In September, I headed home to New Jersey and checked playbill.com every day for audition notices. One day my chance finally came and Wojick/Seay Casting put out a breakdown still seeking specific characters for the tour including Richie. I went to the audition, completed both the jazz and ballet rounds, and sang “Gimme the Ball” all in one day. As I got off the train to New Jersey that afternoon, my phone rang and the General Manager said to me, “Congratulations, you are being offered the role of Richie! You must be an incredible performer because never have I had to reach out to a person immediately after an audition with an offer.” I cried as I walked to my car to drive home. It was my first BIG BREAK so to speak.

Sharrod Williams in A Chorus Line

Sharrod Williams in A Chorus Line

Baayork Lee passed down the gift of the show and we received the full A Chorus Line experience. She had worked so closely with the original creatives, Michael Bennett and Marvin Hamlisch, that it almost felt like we were working with them as well as her. We learned the show in 2 weeks flat. We started each day with the “Baayork warm up” for about an hour to get into shape. She took time to have one-on-one sessions with each of us to share the background history of our characters. We learned about the tape sessions that started it all, how the dancers sold their stories for very little money, and how the show grew to be a historical phenomenon. I had some of the best times of my career and life on the road with that cast and crew. Baayork Lee’s version of the show was all I knew and I was indeed married to the idea of doing the original choreography.

When I heard the announcement that the MUNY was doing A Chorus Line in its 99th Season, I immediately assumed Baayork Lee would be setting it. The MUNY Casting Director, Megan Larche worked on casting the 2006 Revival with Baayork and the team so it just made sense in my brain. I soon found out it would be an entirely new production being set by Denis Jones. I was nervous and intrigued all at the same time. I didn’t know that you could successfully get the rights to the show without doing the original version in its entirety. I had previously worked at the MUNY in the 2015 season and it is one of my favorite places in every way. So, I reached out to casting and got an audition. I ended up booking the role of Richie Walters amongst an incredible cast of triple threats. I was even more excited because I hadn’t done the role in 4 years, I was a completely different performer, and I had literally aged into the role.   

Sharrod Williams in A Chorus Line  

Sharrod Williams in A Chorus Line

 

The MUNY takes such pride in maintaining the historical excellence of a show while giving it a layer of outdoor theatre magic. Denis Jones is the real deal. Day 1 of rehearsal, he made it very clear that our goal was to “honor the show using what’s on the page.” Performing at the MUNY is a unlike any other theatre. Mounting a show in about 11 days takes a high level of discipline and willingness to dive into the work with no fear. The familiarity with the show amongst the cast ranged from first timers having never done it to veterans who have done it two or more times previously.  This show specifically is built on the stories of real people. Each role has something we all can relate to. The message is always relevant because its based on the true ins and outs of living life as an artist. It’s about being honest and using exactly what’s written. It’s shocking how similar my life is to Richie’s. I went to college undeclared in any major and on scholarship. I also found what I was meant to do later in life. So, in a way, I am sharing a part of my own journey as well. His feature number, “Gimme The Ball” was not over choreographed and Denis told me he wanted to ensure that I could tell the story. Initially, I thought I needed more to do with the notion that everyone will expect high belting and running around downstage. In the end, I am so grateful for Denis and his thought process. Within the 7-show run, I found a new sense of Richie. He became more smooth, big hearted, vibrant, and honest to me. I found that by simply “living on zero” and going the distance I could share him with the audience in a more grounded way. It was such a freeing discovery and one I will take with me throughout the rest of my career.

I am so grateful to be in the A Chorus Line “family.” This show is the gift that keeps on giving. It is a story that will never go out of style. Baayork Lee taught me that “What I Did for Love” is an anthem for all artists. It’s lyrics perfectly embody the truth of how we all feel as performers. We do this because we have to. We fight every single day for the dream and to be successful because we love it. The MUNY is one of the few places that has the production value, integrity, and ambition to take on making a new version of this masterpiece of a show. The run was beyond successful and anything I could have dreamed. Mike, Megan, Denis, Ben, and all departments could not have put together of a better reimagined version of this musical. It was an honor to be an apart of this new piece of history. The show will live on forever and I am excited for whatever is coming next. It’s “what I (do) for love."

"One Broadway Debut Down, One More to Go"

Mo Brady

Podcast guest Douglas Lyons shares his journey from Broadway performer to (future) Broadway composer.

Douglas Lyons

Douglas Lyons

It was mid-April 2011 when my agent called and asked me that dramatic question I'll never forget: "Do you wanna be on Broadway?" It had been a two week, four callback process, and I knew the job was down to me and two other guys. Combined they had done a total of seven Broadway shows to my whopping zero, so hopes were pretty low. But in some angelic fate I booked the job: The Book of Mormon.

My first rehearsal was coincidentally the morning of the 2011 Tony nominations and I was joining the Original Broadway Cast as an additional swing. Less than two weeks later, I found myself smiling behind Matt Stone and Trey Parker on a double decker bus posing for People Magazine. Cue head explosion.

There's a lyric in the show: "This book will change your life" and the show lived up to its promise. My Broadway debut at Mormon lasted 13 months and I hopped on an opportunity to join the First National Tour in an onstage track.

On the Mormon tour during our Denver sitzprobe, I met a someone who really would "change my life," Ethan Pakchar, who would tour with us on guitar and unexpectedly become my first writing partner. We wrote music in hallways, dressing rooms and hotels around the country and found ourselves recording a live album in NYC in August 2013, kickstarting a writing career.

After leaving the Mormon tour, I was blessed, yes #blessed, to book a role in the Original Broadway company of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, where I spent the last three years and ten months of my life. I loved it. Talk about life imitating art, singing Carole King every night opened my eyes to a new idea, that maybe just maybe I too could be a songwriter. Writing with Ethan started as just a hobby but somehow, over time, a real passion and interest sparked, and I found myself not only an actor but also a writer in the theater.

The Lyons and Pakchar album, #Love (Live), began to open some doors. I got to get my feet wet as a lyricist working on a new musical feature film from a friends recommendation, and Ethan and I started working with an agent at William Morris Endeavor. Quickly I learned that the writing world is extremely different from the acting world. There are no breakdowns or open calls. No one is looking for your "type." There's a blank piece of paper, and no one cares if you write on it or not. Doesn't that just sound encouraging, promising and worth the chase? And somehow I still wanted it.

My focus began to shift. My average day became three-four hours of emails for writing projects, plus a two-three hour writing session, into a producer coffee from 5:15-6:25pm at FIKA on 41st and 6th, so I could make my half-hour call at Beautiful on 43rd at 6:30pm. Wild fun yea? Yes and no. The opportunities to meet people and grow yes, but the schedule and it's toll on my self care, not so much. I started to evaluate my time to see what made me happy. As I said, Beautiful is one of the best shows to happen to me, but I had to stop and ask myself: Is eight shows a week what you really want, or are you attached to an old dream with a blessed paycheck?

The answer: I wanted both. I wanted to perform eight shows a week, but also to write something that actors could perform eight shows a week. But ultimately I would die trying to do both simultaneously. This fork in the road presented itself in neon paint just around the time anxiety began to set in. Audition appointments would come in for new opportunities and I'd freak out. "What if I book this?" It would mean I couldn't go on a writing retreat. "But all your friends are booking their next Broadway show." "You haven't booked anything, what's wrong with you?" The funny thing is I had booked something, but with my pen.

Thanks to the kindness of Beautiful giving me time off, Ethan and I found ourselves in residence at Goodspeed Musicals in their Johnny Mercer Writing Colony. This would be the beginning of many other writing opportunities.  Our show Five Points was selected for workshop at The Musical Theater Factory in 2015, The Sheen Center and 11th Hour Theater Company in 2016 and Theater Latte Da in 2017. Now mind you this was all during Beautiful, but I wouldn't leave until I had something else, and then I did.

This summer I found myself in a fierce dreadlock wig playing Simon Zealotes in Jesus Christ Superstar at The Muny.  I honestly could have asked for a leave of absence to return to Beautiful, but after much deliberation and a few tears in my Astoria apartment, I left after almost four years of bliss. As a 17-year-old freshman at the Hartt School, my dream was to be an actor on Broadway! At 21, (okay fine 30) my new dream is to be an actor AND WRITER on Broadway. If you had told me this ten years ago, I would have laughed in your face.

The representation of writers of color in Musical Theater on Broadway is small, and I want to change that. I'm not alone in this, as I know a whole host of people who look just like me who are hungry for that debut. My personal mission is to create theatrical work that demands diversity and not just when casting "colorblind." I'm talking writing theater pieces that only work because a colorful cast is embedded into the breakdowns of the script from it's inception.

Douglas Lyons (right, with Ethan Pakchar)

Douglas Lyons (right, with Ethan Pakchar)

It's funny how dreams shift. I didn't expect to be here and yet here I stand. In summary, the idea of "Broadway" is just the beginning for all of us, for that dream may spawn something else within you that leads you to another path in the business. Don't be afraid of that voice, you aren't a failure, you can't see it in the moment but you are only expanding yourself and your possibilities. You can do both, or all three, just find the balance.

As I finish this article in Minneapolis at Theater Latte Da, where Five Points will get it's fully staged World Premiere in 2018, I'm also staring at my phone awaiting a call from my manager to see if I've booked this final callback I had on Friday. And even if I don't, that's okay. For what I do have is some balance and a new dream to boot. Dear Broadway, I've got one Broadway debut down and one more to go.

Update: Manager called. I booked the job.

Catch Lyons and Pakchar in Concert at Rockwood Musical August 28 featuring stars from The Voice, Hamilton, Come From Away and more.  Also don't miss Polkadots: The Cool Kids Musical at The Atlantic Theater Company Sept 16-Oct 8.

The Family You Make

Mo Brady

Podcast guest Telly Leung (Aladdin) shares why he created the upcoming concert SHOW SWAP to benefit his friend and Broadway ensemblist Adam Kaokept (Miss Saigon).

Telly Leung

Telly Leung

When tragedy strikes, your family is there to support you and help you through a tough time. This doesn't just mean "family" in the traditional, genetically-related sense of the word. When it comes to show-people, it also means the "family you make."

I spend more time with my "show" families than I do with my actual family. Someone that has been very near and dear to me is Adam Kaokept. I first met Adam on the first national tour of Flower Drum Song in 2003, and he has remained one of those people closest to my heart. Fifteen years later, we have done many shows, gotten married to our wonderful husbands, and been through many ups and downs together professionally and personally. 

He built an amazing family when he made his Broadway debut in the original company of Aladdin (a family I had the honor of joining about two months ago), and he brought his professionalism, warmth, and free spirit to the Broadway company of Miss Saigon, another tight-knit Broadway family. 

Adam Kaokept and Jon Wotell

Adam Kaokept and Jon Wotell

Members of both companies at the New Amsterdam and the Broadway Theater have had Adam and his husband, Jon Wotell, on our minds (and hearts) a lot recently. Jonny just finished getting his masters degree, and he decided to celebrate this monumental achievement by biking (yes - I said biking!) coast-to-coast from New York to Los Angeles. To people who don't know Adam and Jon, this would be shocking. But, for all of us who have been part of the family for years, we know that climbing ancient ruins in Peru teaching kids English in the jungles of Cambodia and back packing through South East Asia is just another day for these adventurous dreamers. 

Adam Kaokept and Jon Wotell

Adam Kaokept and Jon Wotell

Jon was already 2700 miles into the trip (about 4 days from finishing the ride) when he was struck in a hit-and-run while biking alongside a highway. A passerby found him lying on the road and called for help and he was helicoptered to the trauma center in Las Vegas. He was in critical condition, and a team of incredible doctors rushed to keep him alive with multiple surgeries. Adam got the call, called out of Miss Saigon indefinitely, and got on the first plane to Vegas to be by Jonny's side.

Jon has endured several life-saving surgeries and thankfully, he is alive and has no brain damage from the accident. But, he has yet to recover the use of his body below the waist, and the medical bills are mounting - and will continue to mount as he heads to a physical rehab center. 

The companies of Miss Saigon and Aladdin have decided to come together and produce a benefit. All proceeds will go towards the medical costs and other expenses affiliated with Jon's incident. On August 20, both companies will participate in SONG SWAP, a one-night-only concert at the Green Room 42, where members from the cast of Aladdin will sing songs by Boublill & Schonberg and members from the cast of Miss Saigon will sing songs by Alan Menken. 

Fun, right? 

If you want to join in on the fun (and help us raise some money for these two lovely humans), get your tickets here NOW (it's sure to sell out). If you can't make it to the show, but this story has touched you to help Adam and Jon, we urge you to give what you can here.

"It truly reminds everyone what it's like to have a dream."

Jackson Cline

Friend of the podcast Drew Redington (Holiday Inn) discusses his beautiful experience performing A Chorus Line at The Muny in the final installment of his blog series.


Drew Redington

Drew Redington

Being a part of multiple shows at the Muny is both a challenge and reward. The hardest part about going from All Shook Up to A Chorus Line was that I didn’t have one day off for a little over a month. Because the shows run right after the other, I had a few days of double duty rehearsing A Chorus Line during the day and doing All Shook Up at night (what I did for love…). However, there is nothing more satisfying than getting to tackle all of that madness. I’ve always been someone who loves to be thrown into a crazy process, I think it’s when I do my best.

Now, A Chorus Line at the Muny… wow. I truly don’t think I have ever been a part of a more special experience. From the first day of rehearsal to the bow on opening night, I couldn’t help but return to my younger self at 4 years old when I saw my first show and told myself “I want to do that." As publicized, The Muny’s production of A Chorus Line is not the original of Michael Bennett, but the re-creation of director/choreographer Denis Jones. While some purists may think this is a bit odd, I actually found it to be inspirational. A Chorus Line was created through the memoirs of real dancers on Broadway, and through the years, sometimes when it’s done, I see that some productions almost treat it as a historical piece as opposed to the original play that was written. That being said, I am a huge admirer of the original and believe it’s one of the best things to have hit the Broadway community. However, approaching this show with new eyes has allowed me to remember the true meaning behind the show and bring my own truth to it through my personal career in the Broadway community.

Getting to play the role of Mark was a dream. Every night when we started the show, I couldn’t help but remember my first New York audition, not knowing anyone, being nervous, and just being bright eyed and bushy tailed, hungry. So much of my life is reflected through Mark right down to the point where he gets the job at the end of the show. Every night when I stand on that line and hear Zach’s line “Rehearsals begin…", I can’t help but look back to when I was 19, sitting in one of my college classes and getting an email offering me my Broadway debut and then running out of class to collapse on the hallway floor to turn into a blubbery, sobbing mess because my childhood dream was going to become a reality. Needless to say, it brings me to happy tears every night.

I think the biggest highlight of this process was re-creating/re-discovering this show with some of the most exceptional actors I have ever gotten the honor to work with. During one of the rehearsals, we were reading the Alternative scene (for those who don’t know, it’s the scene when the people on the line are asked what they will do when they can’t dance anymore), and the attitude of the room completely shifts from rehearsal to reality. All of us in the cast probably talked for over an hour about how A Chorus Line truly carries the timeless reality that is show business. Worrying about the next job, wondering if the previous show you did was the last you'd ever do, or even just wanting to make your debut and be the third hoofer on stage right. It hit me why this show is so special. One of the most common questions/comments I receive as a performer is about my alternative job, of which I have none. A Chorus Line tells the world loud and proud that show business is my job. It’s my life. With all of the fantasy/make-believe on Broadway, A Chorus Line I believe is the first time/only time a show strips down its actors to reveal who we truly are as people.

Drew Redington with his A Chorus Line mini

Drew Redington with his A Chorus Line mini

The last thing I will say about A Chorus Line at the Muny is that it truly demonstrates/reminds everyone what it’s like to have a dream. One of the changes made in this production was that each person on the line had a mini version of themselves played by a child. During the song “What I Did For Love," each mini would come out and stand behind their adult self on the line. This brought one of Diana’s lines to life for me: “I remember standing outside the stage door…” Every night, I get chills, because behind me is a little Drew Redington who did his first show on the Muny stage and wanted nothing more than to be on Broadway. It’s weird to say, but my life is literally played out every night on stage. It’s something that I will always carry with me for the rest of my life.

Getting the chance to do A Chorus Line at the Muny was unreal because it reminded me why I wanted to go into this business, and it solidified my confidence that I am meant to have this as my career. I have no regrets, and I wouldn’t change anything about it. The good or the bad, because at the end of the day, all of it happened because there is nothing else that would make me happier. Every choice I make, I do it for love.


Listen to additional stories about working at The Muny on our Summer Stock episode.

"It is Actively Listening and a Willingness to Learn."

Mo Brady

Friend of the podcast and Playbill Social Media Manager Felicia Fitzpatrick shares why she felt compelled to create her new podcast, Call and Response. 

Felicia Fitzpatrick

Felicia Fitzpatrick

Why did I launch a podcast that explores the intersection of blackness and performing arts?

Because the 2016 Tony Awards made history as the first time all four musical acting awards were awarded to black performers.

Because in 2015, Misty Copeland became the first black American Ballet Theatre principal dancer in the 75 years of the company’s existence.

Because I’ve only met three black women publicists during the last season.

Because I only know of one lead black Broadway producer.

Because I was confused for Lynn Nottage at Sweat’s opening night (being only one of three black women in the room, I counted).

Because the only time I saw black celebrities at opening nights this season were at Sweat and Jitney.

Because at other opening nights, the bartenders or security guards are sometimes the only other people of color I come into contact with.

Because so many of us felt neglected by the industry after last summer’s police brutality incidents.

Because after Alton Sterling and Philando Castille’s shootings, I made a “Raise Your Voice” playlist of black Broadway artists and shows, and it lifted my soul up in a very particular way.

Because the soundtrack to Alvin Ailey’s Revelations always lifts my soul up in a very particular way.

Because there is a rich and deep history between black culture and performing arts; the two being so interconnected, I can barely see where one ends and where the other begins.

Because of the recent The Great Comet casting controversy.

There’s a quote by renowned neo-expressionist artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, “I’m not a black artist, I’m an artist.” On some level, I get what he’s saying. Why marginalize himself more than he already is? Why not hold himself to the same standards as artists of all colors?

However, until we have full equality, I think it’s necessary to uplift and recognize black theatre artists. Until we have full equality, I think it’s necessary to acknowledge artists who have succeeded in the institution (ironically) labeled The Great White Way. Until we have full equality, let’s celebrate those who have climbed -- or perhaps in our industry, kick-ball-changed -- their way through the system that might be (unintentionally) holding them down.

Call and Response guest Christian Dante White with Felicia Fitzpatrick

Call and Response guest Christian Dante White with Felicia Fitzpatrick

Conversations this past year have been peppered with buzzwords like “diversity,” “representation,” and “inclusion.” But what are the proactive steps we’re taking?

And like Michael R. Jackson, my episode 4 guest, questions, how do we even define diversity? We often immediately think of casting -- we try to satisfy the representation quota with just the number of brown bodies on the stage. But what exactly are those bodies representing onstage? The white lead’s sassy best friend? The wise sage that serves as some spiritual guide? The violent villain?

Like Kirsten Childs notes in her interview with The Interval, “Back in the day, most of the time that African Americans did shows on Broadway or Off-Broadway, they were either the all black version of a show that was created for white people; the token black person in a pretty much all white musical; or revues.”

And have we thought about the casting of folks behind the scenes? Who chooses the stories we tell onstage? Who chooses those who choose the stories onstage? Who crafts the messages for shows? And who chooses who crafts the messages for the shows?

What about producing new work written by new voices? You know, new work from a perspective we haven’t heard, but should be hearing? What about creating a mentorship program that specifically focuses on cultivating young people of color to become producers? Why not have more than one person of color on the opening night red carpets?

Call and Response guest Adrienne Warren with Felicia Fitzpatrick 

Call and Response guest Adrienne Warren with Felicia Fitzpatrick 

Diversity and inclusion can not be just a flashy attempt to make more money. Like Adrienne Warren, my episode 2 guest, notes, “Black people are really trendy right now. Black is trendy. In two days, it could not be.” It needs to be inherent to the work. I understand The Great Comet has bottom line -- and I understand that the job of a producer is to meet that bottom line. As it stands now, Oak’s blackness felt like an icky marketing ploy that went awry. This is not the first time we’ve seen black artists discarded due to the possibility of losing money, and maybe that’s why we were so quick to react.

It’s true that social media can lend itself to a mob mentality -- with folks hopping on trains where they don’t even know the destination; they don’t know what they’re standing for or what they are claiming to believe in. But to me, the fact that a few raised their voices in concern, which may have led to the proposed mob mentality, means that maybe we should stop and listen. Maybe we should stop letting whiter, louder voices drown them out. Maybe we should realize that we as an industry could be doing more.

What does this look like? I’m glad you asked. This is not choosing “And I’m Telling You” at karaoke and imitating Jennifer Holiday’s vocal prowess or executing excessive neck swivels under the guise of representation. This is not telling your black friend that you wish you could be black because they have such good rhythm. This is not asking the black woman you know if she decided to wear her hair natural after she saw a compelling performance of The Color Purple because of the women’s wigs in the show.  

It IS actively listening. It IS having a willingness to learn. It IS recognizing and accepting that not everything is about you.  It IS making sure that people of color not only have a seat at the table, but feel comfortable enough to use their voice at it. It IS using your privilege and resources to amplify the voices of others.

And that’s what I’m trying to do with the Call and Response podcast.

A question I constantly asked myself between the Alton Sterling and Philando Castille shootings and November 9, was, “How am I using my platform to spread important messages?” I’ve attended rallies and marches, but those didn’t exactly “click” with my inner-activist. It was after an Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performance at New York City Center in December that I decided telling the stories of the thriving black performing arts community would be my act of resistance. Maybe it would be a blog -- interviewing Broadway performers about what it’s like to work in the industry. Then I realized -- why only Broadway? Then I realized -- why only performers? Then I realized -- why am I not letting the artists going through it tell their own stories? After all, I wanted to give a platform to amplify their voices. Why not actually amplify their voices?

In several of these call and response interviews, the artists have referenced Leslie Odom Jr.’s interview where he cites that we can’t be so quick to praise one season of diversity on Broadway. How do we make sure last year wasn’t an anomaly? How do we keep the momentum going? How do we make sure it wasn’t the only banner year for diversity on Broadway?

Last year cannot be just a colorful (excuse the pun) fever dream of diversity. It can’t be a blip on the Broadway radar. It can’t be just a petty fight over the metaphorical TV remote of diversity with our older Hollywood sibling that we just happened to win this time.

I hope that this podcast inspires young artists of color to rev the engine of opportunity, kick their artivism into high gear, and put action into overdrive; to feel confident as they kick-ball-change their way through the system.

It feels right -- chronicling these important black stories through this oral storytelling tradition; through the call-and-response ritual that has long-standing ties with black culture. There are plenty of black actors, musicians, dancers, creatives, writers, administrators, and hopefully, more than just the one lead Broadway producer I know about, who are ready to share their experiences and push the meaningful dialogue in the direction of equality, diversity, and inclusivity.

Listen to the call and response podcast here.

 

 

 

 

"I am bursting with gratitude to be a small part of this ensemble."

Jackson Cline

Friend of the podcast Austin Durant (You Can't Take It With YouMacbethWar Horse) discusses the joyful experience of working on a Shakespeare in the Park production:


Austin Durant

Austin Durant

Tonight marks the official opening of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, this summer’s second offering of free Shakespeare in Central Park produced by the Public Theater. This play, one of Shakespeare’s most beloved comedies, is being presented as a countermeasure to the portentous staging of Julius Caesar that so bewildered our friends, Romans, and countrymen earlier this season. If you’re unfamiliar with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, it is the story of an enterprising Athenian woodworker known as Snug the Joiner, who overcomes self-imposed limitations and the besiegement of the supernatural world to become one of the greatest actors of his time. If you read closely, there are subplots concerning patriarchy, love, magic, and the order of the universe. This is my second time performing on the Delacorte stage. In 2014, I played the role of Friar Francis in Much Ado About Nothing under the direction of the great Jack O’Brien, and this summer I’m playing Snug the Joiner under the direction of the equally visionary Lear deBessonet.

As an actor in the New York theater, apart from making a Broadway debut, I can’t think of a theatrical experience that is more momentous than stepping onto the stage at the Delacorte for the first time. You would be hard pressed to find a more enthusiastic and supportive audience anywhere else in the city. I imagine that the theater-goers at the Delacorte represent the broadest spectrum of New Yorkers in any house in the city. Going to the theater can be an expensive habit. But the Public Theater does well by virtually eliminating the financial barrier for it audiences at Shakespeare in the Park. The commonality among the audience members at the Delacorte is their willingness to seek out one of New York City’s greatest cultural offerings. It’s an enormous space that calls for large production values and easily accommodates a large company of actors.

Historically, Shakespeare in the Park has served as a soft landing for recent graduates of theater schools with a handful of ensemble roles going to actors in the first blush of their careers. While that is still the case in this production, Lear deBessonet has reimagined Midsummer to include ensemble members of a slightly older vintage. It is a joyous production, and I feel lucky to share the stage with this truly unique company. If you have already caught a preview performance or if you plan to come to the Delacorte in the next two weeks, you will undoubtedly see some of the New York theater’s usual suspects: Rashad, Nielsen, Ashford, Burstien, Poe, and Joy. But those of you who are familiar with the Public Works spur of the Public Theater, and, indeed, most of her work, you will know that Lear has a knack for assembling a company the reflects the beauty and diversity of our city. I am bursting with gratitude to be a small part of this ensemble, and in the next couple of weeks, I hope to tell you a bit more about us.


Learn more about working at the Delacorte Theatre by listening to our Shakespeare in the Park episode.

"I Understudied Some Dude Named William Shakespeare."

Mo Brady

Chicago actor and friend of the podcast Andrew Mueller tells the incredible story from the Chicago Shakespeare Theater's production of Shakespeare in Love.

Andrew Mueller

Andrew Mueller

I had an ensemble track in a production of Shakespeare in Love, playing some guitar and singing here and there, and even -- every once in a while -- pretending to be an actor! (I mean that literally; the ensemble members mostly played members of the Admiral’s or Lord Chamberlain’s Men during rehearsal scenes. Meta...)

I also understudied some dude named William Shakespeare, whoever he was.

The day before we closed a solid, relatively uneventful two month run, I got this text message from the stage manager while out to brunch with two other cast mates:

Hey Andrew,

[Actor playing Shakespeare] isn’t feeling well this morning. He’s hopeful that he’ll be able to go on, but I wanted to give you some warning just in case. Do you have any major concerns or moments in the show you’d really like to look at? Obviously we would take some extra time with fight call.

Hopefully none of this will come to fruition, and I’ll update you as soon I have a more solid answer.

This might be a fun time to mention that we had forgone understudy rehearsal the week of the extension (because everyone was doing such a great job), and I had already put my script in storage before moving apartments earlier that week (because, hubris).

Now, when understudying, it’s obviously your job to be prepared -- which I was. Being the second-to-last day of a one-week extension, I had very nearly had the absolute maximum amount of time to prepare. But until you actually do the thing under performance conditions, you don’t really know if you can do the thing under performance conditions.

My brain immediately started rifling through all of the things I’d want to look at. There was a bit where I’d have to climb up to (and hang from) a balcony sixteen feet off the ground, but I’d gotten the chance to practice that plenty. There was a very involved one-on-one rapier duel that I’d only done with the other actor’s understudy, not the actor himself. There was a massive all-skate brawl/chase scene that, since it required more people than we had understudies, we’d never been able to fully run in rehearsal. And, oh yeah, there was an onstage change masked behind a bed curtain that, if unsuccessful, would not only irreparably derail the plot but also expose me to the audience wearing only dance- and mic-belts.

But it was only 11:30, fight call wasn’t until 2:10, curtain wasn’t until 3, and the ASM had said it probably wasn’t going to be a problem, right?

"Some guy named William Shakespeare'

"Some guy named William Shakespeare'

My two brunching cast mates immediately noticed my expression (askance and lost in thought), and were just as immediately game to help once I shared the info. After all, their show would suck if I sucked, so it was in their best interests to do whatever they could.

We finished up brunch and started the carpool a little early that day.

Arriving at the theater a little less than an hour before fight call and nearly two hours before curtain, the mood backstage was only slightly uncertain. Everyone seemed to be operating under the assumption that Shakespeare would rally himself and do the show, and I was there early only as a precaution. Even so, some wardrobe staff were looking at me very closely. The lead and I were similar enough in size that it had been decided long ago that we’d share costumes, but that meant a tiny bit of game-time cinching should I have to go on.

But, again, it wasn’t going to come to that, right? Right?

I joked around backstage with the actor playing Viola, the apocryphal love interest character, since she was one of the only other people there that early. If things didn’t turn around, we were about to have to make out a lot, and one wants to have established an easy rapport for that sort of thing.

Stage management came back and told us Shakespeare was on the mend and heading to the theater soon. I wouldn’t have to go on, and everything would proceed as usual. The nervous energy that had built up began to subside, but, to tell the truth, I was equal parts relieved and bummed; part of me, I guess, had been looking forward to it. I went back to my dressing station to start getting ready for my normal show, but way earlier than I’d usually be there for a normal show, so there wasn’t a whole lot for me to do.

And then Shakespeare came in, shivering, sweating, and overall not looking his bardtacular self. Evidently he had been feeling better, but the trek from his housing to the theater had drained him more than he expected, and he was awaiting a thermometer to see if he had a fever. Appearing as though he were a few moments from melting into a puddle on the floor, I wagered that he probably did have a fever, and all that nervous energy came surging right back.

He looked at me apologetically, “I should’ve called out sooner.”

I took a deep breath and, rather surprised at my own poise, said, “Just say the word."

And then we were off.

He went home to sleep off whatever it was he was fighting, and I went off into the waiting arms of stage management and the costume staff.

The next several things felt like they all happened at once:

Costumes were thrown at me, pinned on me, and just as quickly taken away. Luckily, the character didn’t change clothes much.

My understudy showed up (being in the show myself, when I got bumped to Shakespeare, someone needed to fill my normal role), and they started doing all the same things to him. He, similarly, was using all of my track’s costumes, despite being slightly taller and skinnier than me. The economy of wardrobe.

There was then the question of which dressing stations we would use. Would I take Shakespeare’s, and my understudy take mine? To my logic, it made more sense for me to stay at mine so there’d be only one personnel change, but in retrospect that probably inconvenienced the costume staff a lot. They didn’t say anything, though. Everyone was pretty accommodating that day, for whatever reason.

The fight captain and stage manager hovered about, asking me questions and trying to plan fight call. We basically decided we’d start as early as we could and run everything twice as much as usual. Never a bad idea. House management would hold the doors.

I was handed a (new, unused) dance belt. I didn’t wear one in my usual track, and not being a very adept mover (understatement), I’d had precious little experience with the garment during the rest of my career. There was very little time for an orientation. I found out later that the actor playing Shakespeare used the full-seat variety, but I, for whatever reason, by default, had been given the thong type. “Great! Use it,” I said to myself in a patronizing director voice.

I then had to take said dance belt off again so it could have mic packs sewn into it. For a moment I sat in my robe and waxed my moustache, as I couldn’t very well get into costume until the absolute base layer of said costume came back.

An assistant stage manager brought me a script from the office, and I tore through it, refreshing myself on entrances/exits.

The costumes came back and it felt like a flood carried me out to fight call. En route, someone asked if I needed anything else. “Can company management call my parents?” I asked, probably sounding somewhat pathetic.

We then proceeded to run all of the most physically demanding moments of the show several times each in quick succession. I became very sweaty, thirsty, and tired. Just how one wants to start this type of experience.

The massive all-cast brawl/chase was indeed full of surprises that I never got to truly experience during rehearsals, so it was good we did that four times. This, of course, was my understudy’s first time doing the fight with enough bodies onstage, as well.

The one-on-one duel required some adjustments to spacings and facings -- no two people are alike, of course -- and we drilled it again and again and again. I’m not sure if I was just nervous or heavy-breathing-acting my way into light-headedness, but I was wiped afterwards.

I practiced climbing the balcony at one point -- I don’t remember if it was between the fights or after them. I only did that once.

And then it was time to begin.

The show started with Shakespeare coming up through the traps in the blackout, seated at his desk, trying vainly to write Sonnet 18 (“Shall I compare thee...”). So, after the marvelously supportive group energy of fight call, I had to leave everyone, climb down a tight spiral staircase, and sit in the dark, waiting to be catapulted into the show, alone.

While I expected the wait in the dark to feel excruciating and interminable, I actually felt oddly calm. I had done this before, only this time I was wearing the costume and there were hundreds of people watching. Same thing. A crew member relayed to me that we had places, I heard the whirring of machinery, and up I went.

And we did the show.

I made some little gaffes that I wasn’t thrilled with, but nobody died (other than the characters scripted to do so). I dropped one R&J allusion I really liked, but it didn’t hurt the plot. I forgot a prop letter, but had prop script pages to use as a standby (I was informed that it was not the first time the Viola had been handed something other than the letter). An ASM met me at my exits and followed me to my entrances for safety’s sake. I climbed balconies, fought with swords, said quite a lot of words mostly in the right order, made the onstage change in time (although evidently my moustache was more than a little visible around the veil), kissed a fellow actor many times with no rehearsal (I credit any manufactured chemistry to her, bless her), and generally did what I was contracted to do: the play, should the lead call out.

And there in the audience were my parents, my brother, and my friend the Viola understudy, all in the same row, beaming at me. Elsewhere in the crowd were my understudy’s father and girlfriend, equally beaming at him.

The play ended with me at the very same desk where I started, with the character of Shakespeare ruminating on everything that had taken place, trying to write a new play -- trying to encapsulate the experience, fit it into a narrative, let it inform people’s lives. Apropos, if one likes heavy-handed symbolism. The lights went down, and I took a deep breath.

Then I freaking panicked, because we’d never gone over the #@&!% curtain call.

That’s not entirely true -- we’d gone over it, but, much like the big fight scene, never with enough people. And it wasn’t just a curtain call, it was a bergamask. Shakespeare nerds might have encountered the term (I was unfamiliar), but basically the cast came out, took their bows, and then engaged in a big old jig. The audiences usually clapped along and loved it.

Only, I had no idea where to go.

Once again, not entirely true, but I didn’t know precisely where to fit in with the rest of the cast. We were skipping around in circles with our hands joined in the center, and twirling, and all I knew was that I needed to find Viola again and get back downstage-center by the time the music ended. (At least I knew the music well; I played along with it on guitar for my normal track.)

I semi-collided with one of Chicago theatre’s luminary mainstays, but no one was irreparably harmed. I led three bows, squeezed Viola’s hand in elation and gratitude, and exited the stage.

Lots of people said very nice things. There were hugs and backslaps and cheers for both me and my understudy. I got to see my parents and brother afterwards and share with them through laughter and disbelief everything that had happened that morning.

And then, as the crowd died away and I got a chance to decompress, I went and got notes from the stage manager so we could do it all again, because of course this happened on a two show day.

Live thee-ya-tah.

“I’ll Do Anything If It’s on Broadway.”

Mo Brady

Friend of the podcast Jonalyn Saxer (Holiday Inn, Cats) shares what happened after she achieved the goal of being on Broadway for a full year.

Jonalyn Saxer

Jonalyn Saxer

It is a crazy thing achieving your dreams. Being on Broadway is something I wanted from the time I knew what Broadway was. Sometimes I feel like I’m telling people I’m an astronaut when I say I’m a Broadway performer, it just seemed almost unachievable for so much of your life. And then it happens. You get the call and all of your dreams come true. And then you ask, what now?

Every performer on Broadway works so consistently because they are always reaching for something. I always knew that I wanted to start my career as a swing on Broadway. But after I booked my first Broadway show as a swing, I started to realize all of the things I wanted to achieve in my career in more detail. You may think “that’s because you want to be a lead role, or in the onstage ensemble, right.” But actually, no. My goals are much more specific, different, and constantly changing. 

My dream was to be on Broadway, and then I booked Bullets Over Broadway as a swing, but the show closed shortly after I joined. I booked my second Broadway show, Honeymoon In Vegas, achieving another goal; to be a member of an original Broadway cast. And that’s when I realized I wanted to be a member of the onstage ensemble of an original Broadway cast. I achieved that goal in Holiday Inn. And I realized more goals of mine; to be in the ensemble and cover a lead, to be a dance captain, to be a part of a show from it’s very first lab, to leave a show before it closes, and to be in a show that I don’t ever have to worry about it closing. Recently I reached a milestone in my career. I have been working on Broadway for a full year. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the most luck with being a part of a long running shows. The year was comprised of two different shows, Holiday Inn and Cats. These experiences made me set a new goal: to be in one show for an entire year. 

Jonalyn Saxer

Jonalyn Saxer

New goals arise in every new job you take. You think “wow, this experience was amazing, but what if…” For me, those goals are anything from “next time I want to cover,” to “the next show I do, I want it to be a heavy dance track” to “I want to be one character for a whole show.” 

It is so important to continue to set goals for yourself. Otherwise, why do you still audition? How do you keep your career moving forward? How do you keep your life moving forward? When you achieve the biggest dream in life, where do you go from there? 

Everyone in the business has this mindset. We’re artists. We’re almost never satisfied. But that’s usually a good thing. Each new job I’ve had has just showed me more and more what I want. It’s as if every time I book a show, I’m achieving another goal of mine, but then I realize another goal to work towards. 

Jonalyn Saxer (center, with the cast of Broadway's Holiday Inn)

Jonalyn Saxer (center, with the cast of Broadway's Holiday Inn)

I think all of these things are what keep us going in this crazy business. I can guarantee you that any person who has multiple Broadway credits under their belt always has a new goal they’re reaching towards and/or just freakin’ loves being on Broadway. I was once afraid I was going to move backwards. Just like I had told myself that I wanted to be in a show for a whole year, I had told myself that I didn’t want to swing again. But it seemed like any show I auditioned for always asked the same question as we went into final callbacks, “Would Jonalyn be willing to consider a swing position?” I started to get worried. If I say no, does that mean I don’t have a chance of booking this awesome new show? So I asked my friend and castmate Jen Foote, “You’ve been in so many Broadway shows, as both a swing and an onstage ensemble member. Does being a swing hurt your chances of being onstage? Do you like it? Do you want to do other things?” And her response was the most inspiring and eye-opening thing in the world. “I’ll do anything if it’s on Broadway.” And she is right. Even though I set new goals for myself to reach constantly, my dream is to be on Broadway. Fortunately, and unfortunately, even when you get on Broadway, you don’t always stay there forever. Shows close and new shows are always coming in, so you have to keep reaching for your dream. It always comes back to that initial want and goal, to be a performer on Broadway. 

I personally feel that Todd Buonopane puts it in the best and most succinct way in his podcast, Broadway Stories. He says, “We have to dream our Broadway dreams more specifically. You want to be in a show that runs, that people like, that you like, with people you like.” 

Jonalyn Saxer (center, with the cast of Broadway's Holiday Inn)

Jonalyn Saxer (center, with the cast of Broadway's Holiday Inn)

"This is the strongest ensemble that I have ever been a part of."

Jackson Cline

Marcus Shane (Mamma Mia!), currently a swing on the national tour of Rodgers & Hammerstein's The King and I, celebrates the impressive work of his fellow ensemblists in the second installment of his three-part blog series:


I really wish Elsa was around here to build me a snowman, because it is freaking HOT outside!

Marcus Shane as Prince Chulalongkorn with Manna Nichols as Tuptim

Marcus Shane as Prince Chulalongkorn with Manna Nichols as Tuptim

Here we are in the dead of summer, and THE KING AND I cast has just docked at the beautiful and historic Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.! We overlap with the national tour of CABARET for three weeks here, and we are all very excited to be reunited with our favorite Ensemblist, Jackson Cline! (Jackson is such a dream boat!) Our four weeks in Chicago was a marvelous time, crossing over with the ALADDIN and HAMILTON tours, and I’m happy to report that I survived my Prince Chulalongkorn debut, the best way a 30-something year old could.

Over here at KING AND I, we are quickly approaching our 300th show, and our company is even stronger than when we started back in October. (Fun fact: Our unbreakable King, Jose Llana, has yet to miss a show!) One of the main factors contributing to our show sailing along so nicely is because of the sheer brilliance of our stand out, amazingly dedicated ensemble. The people of this ensemble are rock solid. Rarely does anyone call out, and, in fact, there are many who still have not called out at all! I dare say this is the strongest ensemble that I have ever been a part of.

The touring company of The King and I

The touring company of The King and I

Marcus Shane prepares for "The Small House of Uncle Thomas" ballet

Marcus Shane prepares for "The Small House of Uncle Thomas" ballet

So here is a question for you all. Have you ever tried performing a 20-minute ballet in masks with very limited eye sight? With footlong pagodas on top of your head? Twice a day??? It is HARD. These guys and girls go out and do it flawlessly each performance, making it look so easy. And trust me when I tell you that it is anything but that. There is a lot of sweat and sometimes tears (mostly from me). When I’m on, the only thing that gets me through the ballet is pretending that the person dancing next to me is the enormous piece of pizza that I’m going to scarf down after the curtain comes down. Everyone has their own way of coping and that is mine, okay? Lay off me, I’m starving.

Back to the topic. Watching these colleagues of mine giving their heart and soul into each performance gives me so much inspiration. Our leads in this production are the best of the best, but their show could not happen without this ensemble. It makes me think about every other show out there, play or musical, and how their ensembles are working just as hard as ours. I strongly believe it’s time for the Tonys to create the ‘Best Ensemble’ category. These people DESERVE to be recognized. It’s time, Tony Awards. Let’s make it happen, eh?

Alright, I’m going to step off the soap box now and try to rest up for this upcoming 5-show weekend. Be our guest and come visit us in Washington, D.C. this summer! We’d absolutely love to have you here and we’ll save you all a special spot in the royal palace.

Stay cool this summer all you beautiful people! (And remember to drink lots of water!!!)

Always,

Marcus Shane


Learn more about working on the road by listening to our Life on Tour episode.