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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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5 Debut Questions - Meet Hamilton's Lexi Garcia

The Ensemblist

Today on our blog, we welcome Hamilton's newest ensemblist, Lexi Garcia, to Broadway and learn about her journey to the Great White Way:

Lexi Garcia

Lexi Garcia

1. What is your name and hometown?

Lexi Garcia/DeBary, Florida (I usually just say Orlando though because no one has ever heard of little ol’ DeBary )

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

W2!! Also known as “The Bar Wench”

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

Funny story actually.. I had just joined the National Tour of Finding Neverland!! (My first equity gig, I was ECSTATIC! And for those who know me know just how much I truly love Peter Pan & Neverland!) 

I flew to Louisville, Kentucky, learned the show in 2 days, and then that weekend received the magical Hamilton phone call. 

Honestly I did not know what to do with myself. I think I happy cried for a solid two weeks. 

I will forever be thanking my lucky stars that I had the opportunity to learn both of my dream shows. 

I never got to break a wing for Neverland, but you can bet I blast the soundtrack in my apartment and put on a one-man show by myself!!! 

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

Hamilton is larger than life. This show  touches so many different people on so many different levels I just want to always make sure that’s on the forefront of my performance/thought process.

Obviously the choreography is out of this world amazing, but it’s not about me and it’s not about “feeling good,” it’s about expressing every word and every idea SO CLEARLY that the audience doesn’t have any questions. You’ve got people sitting in their seats who have purchased those tickets over a year ago! I refuse to let them down due to an ego slip! So long story not-so short = the most surprising thing about getting ready for the show is the mental preparation!

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

The company is PHENOMENAL. Learning and growing and exploring and playing alongside of Broadway’s best totally sets my soul on FIRE. It’s terrifying and thrilling at the same time.

[When Cast Album Obsessions Get Very, Very Specific]

Mo Brady

by Mo Brady

You know when you find a musical theatre song that you can’t stop listening to?

That doesn’t happen me.

My obsession with musical theatre scores gets even more specific. I get obsessed with moments of musical theatre songs: specific chord progressions and vocal arrangements that simultaneously send a shiver down my spine and a smile across my face. And I just found a new song to wear out the repeat button on my iPhone with.

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Of course, this is not the first time I’ve been unable to stop listening to a song from a Broadway cast album. In the summer of 2015, I played the chord progression between 0:45-0:48 of Hamilton’s “Yorktown” on repeat for three months straight. Last winter, I couldn’t stop listening to 2:32-5:02 of Dear Evan Hansen’s “You Will be Found.” And now, I’ve become obsessed with the second and third verses of “Super Sea Star Savior” from SpongeBob Squarepants.

When I saw SpongeBob last month at Broadway’s Palace Theatre, I was appreciating the first act but wondering in the show was really “for me.” But when the first soulful strains of “Super Sea Star Savior” began, my ears perked up. It’s like Tina Landau was standing behind me, whispering “you’ll like this one” in my ear.

For those who haven’t seen the show, “Super Sea Star Savior” takes place about 2/3rds the way through Act I. Patrick Star, the titular character’s BFF, has been heralded by a group of cultist sardines as their new savior. The song builds from introspective adoration of Patrick to a full-scale production number. Written by Yolanda Adams, the song is the most gospel-infused of the score (complete with four-corner church claps, thanks to choreographer Christopher Gattelli).

The whole song is a great piece of musical theatre but, as I said, it’s the second and third verses that really turn my crank. When the bass solo begins that pulsating rock groove at 0:54, I can feel the stress leave my body as my shoulders settle away from my earlobes. The soloist’s slide from “every” into “where” at 0:59 melts the furrow off of my brow. Lauralyn McClleland’s lilting belt on “found” at 1:04, and the weight with which she ends the word “prayer” put a smirk across my face.

I could keep going. The addition of the tambourine at 1:44. The vocal sforzando at 2:07. The way Danny Skinner transitions so purely from note to note in the word at “everyone” at 2:36.

Is this kind of obsession over ensemble vocals normal? I don’t care. Because it reminds me being a kid again. When I was in high school, I used to drive my parents’ minivan through the suburbs of Seattle blasting Rent and The Wiz. Back then, musical theatre wasn’t a career or an industry. It was simply a dream.

Blasting “Ease on Down the Road” and  “La Vie Boheme B” out the windows of a Chevy Astro, I felt whole. I wasn’t thinking about the future, I was living in the moment.  It was exactly where I was supposed to be. Today, playing these perfect musical theatre moments in my ear buds as I walk through Times Square reminds me of how the simple (and specific) places in which we can find joy.

So if you see me walking through Midtown Manhattan, loudly humming an alto part to myself, please don’t stop me. I’m celebrating the pure joy that musical theatre can bring.

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What moments from Broadway cast albums are your current obsessions? Let me know: I’m @mo_brady on Instagram.

"Real Looking People. And Fish. And Crustaceans."

The Ensemblist

Spongebob Squarepants picks up the diversity torch that Groundhog Day left when it closed in September. Like the August Wilson’s most recent inhabitant, the cast is made up of actors of many sizes, ages and ethnicities. There’s even an ensemble sea creature I would guess is trans, although it is never mentioned or even matters.

What hits the audience so clearly from the very first song is that we are seeing a real-looking world populated by real-looking people. And fish. And crustaceans.

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Full disclosure: when I’m seeing a show, one of the first things I think about in the opening number is “coverage.” As in, I look at the cast and try to figure out which ensemble members are covering which principal tracks. But in Spongebob, I didn’t think about that at all. I was just swept into the world of Bikini Bottom, full of strange, humorous and relatable creatures. You know, like how theatre is supposed to be.

Even the actors playing the ensemble are diverse. The 15-person ensemble includes artists with a wide array of talents, from Kyle Matthew Hampton (a professional skateboarder) to Jai’len Christine Li Josey (an 18-year-old Jimmy Award winner making her Broadway debut). We get to see Curtis Holbrook’s Xanadu-esque roller skating skills, Jon Rua’s electric movement and Vasthy Mompoint’s comedic genius. The production embraces the individual actors’ strengths and talents, and we as an audience get to bask in the glow of watching them shine so brightly.

The thrill of David Zinn’s set and costume design is that they enhances each member of the ensemble’s individuality. He builds on the thrilling world he created in last season’s Amelie, substituting the cacophony of a French hoarder’s apartment for the cacophony of an overstuffed toy store. Time and again, he dresses the ensemble in surprising and inventive costumes. It’s like an Easter egg hunt to look at the production because the harder you look, the more you appreciate it. I’m not sure what heaven looks like, but I hope it’s as full of childlike wonder as a David Zinn production.

Also, like the aforementioned Groundhog Day ensemble, the Spongebob Squarepants ensemble spends almost the entire production onstage. I can only imagine how exhausting the show must be to perform because almost every single number features the ensemble in some form. Their poor phones must be so lonely offstage, because I can’t imagine they have any time to check them during the show.

Kudos go to choreographer Christopher Gattelli for his spot-on staging. More than any other musical stager working on Broadway today, Gattelli can see what a song needs to land with the audience. Whether it be an exquisite display of puppetry like “Hero Is My Middle Name” or a ladder-scaling thrill like “Chop to the Top,” he brings each number to the audience in its most perfect of forms.

Even the musical staging reflects the unique personalities that inhabit Bikini Bottom. Sure, we get a perfectly coordinated kick line in the bring-down-the-house tap number “I’m not a Loser.” But in the gospel-inspired “Super Sea Star Savior” and the Act II opener “Poor Pirates,” each ensemble member gets to dance with their own flair, like a real person. Or a real pirate.

In the show’s grin-inducing finale, the cast directly addresses the audience with the titular cartoon’s famous theme song. As they toss blow-up pool balls at us, we can see the organic smiles on the actors’ faces. And as they look us with open hearts thanking is for participating in an evening of live theatre, we can do nothing but return the gesture.

"That Duality Makes The Show Thrilling To Watch."

Mo Brady

by Mo Brady

The rapturous Broadway revival of Once On This Island opening on Broadway this week is bolstered by many strong components. Hailey Kilgore leads the production in a stunning Broadway debut as Ti Moune. The production design is sumptuous, thrilling the audience again and again with simple, but effective theatrical magic. But the show thrives thanks to the explosive and energetic contributions of its ensemble.

The company of Once On This Island

The company of Once On This Island

Like director Michael Arden’s last Broadway outing Spring Awakening, the show uses its entire company of actors as an ensemble, bringing them out onstage before the show begins to literally set the stage for the proceedings ahead. And along with Kilgore, each of the four actors playing the Gods bring lush and layered performances to their roles. However, alongside those five actors are the eight ensemble members with performances that are just as nuanced.

Once On This Island takes place on the night of a terrible storm, when a group of villagers come together to act out the story of an orphan named Ti Moune. Each performer plays multiple roles, from peasants to bourgeoisie. In addition to portraying these multiple characters, the ensemble works together to create and change the playing space, not mention to provide occasional musical support to the show's band. It’s a large load to put on any band of actors’ shoulders.

But this company of eight ensemblists are more than up to the task. It’s difficult to single out one standout among them because each extends such artistry to their performance. Darlesia Cearcy’s soulful voice is strikes right to the core with everyone of her all-too-brief solos. Rodrick Covington duets beautifully with Lea Salonga on her rapturous rendition of “The Human Heart.” Cassondra James is a perfect ensemblist, fully invested in every moment of the show’s proceedings (Making her Broadway debut in the show, I can't wait to see her onstage again). Tyler Hardwick is a chameleon, somehow frightening one moment and then winsome the next. And the combination of the emotive Kenita R. Miller as Mama Euralie and warm Phillip Boykin as Tonton Julian are a perfect pair.

In order to succeed, a production of Once On This Island must be equal parts structured and chaotic. At times, the company must work in perfect synergy to focus Ti Moune on the next step of her journey. At other times, the same actors must become distinct individuals, each wearing their heart on their sleeves. Yet, this company navigates these shift in tone with precision. They perform acute shadow play of "Sad Tale of the Beauxhommes," and then moments later dance with seemingly reckless abandonment in "Walk With Me." That duality makes the show thrilling to watch - the audience doesn’t know where we will be taken next, but we are sure we will be guided there expertly.

The company performs with such joy, it’s impossible not to get swept up in the show’s infectious energy. It’s hard to imagine a more engaging, better sung, more truthful production of Once On This Island than the one currently showing at the Circle in the Square.

Phillip Boykin and Kenita R. Miller - Photo credit: Joan Marcus

"He Simply Loves Performing."

The Ensemblist

Anastasia ensemblist Kevin Munhall shares his admiration - and a few pre-show rituals from - his Allegiance castmate and one of Broadway's greatest ensemblists, Scott Wise.

Kevin Munhall

Kevin Munhall

When asked to reflect on Scott Wise, three things immediately come to mind (well, four if you count handstands), but surprisingly none of them have anything to do with his immense talent, his Tony Nominations, or even his Tony win (I mean honestly, how many people have won a Gypsy Robe AND a Tony???) Yes the man is a dancing, singing, acting, tumbling ball of talent and skill, but what left the biggest impression on me during our time working together in the ensemble of Allegiance is who Scott is as a human—the magnetic qualities that enliven his work and make it impossible not to watch him onstage, or want to work with him backstage. What makes Scott so special and why I think he’s accomplished so much over the last 30 years is his humility, work ethic, and radiating joy for performing and it’s because of these things that I believe Scott is the epitome of the ensemblist spirit.

If it weren’t for Scott’s humility, I probably never would have had the opportunity to work with him.  A year after winning the Tony for Jerome Robbins’ Broadway, Scott was in a predicament much like Cassie in A Chorus Line—he wasn’t a star, yet he had clearly moved on from the ensemble.  A year later he found himself in a dry spell without any compelling principle offers coming his way and nobody thinking about him for ensemble work anymore.  Instead of being stubborn and resenting the situation, Scott made a call to the casting director of the revival of Guys and Dolls asking for a job in the ensemble. In a 1992 New York Times article about his decision Scott said,

“Everyone is curious about why I am doing this. The reason is, I think I still have a lot to learn. And I have a family to support, so I work when I have to, not when I feel like it.” 

This kind of humility is absolutely essential to maintaining a career as an ensemblist. Of course you need the talent to be able to step into the spotlight when the opportunity arises, but you also need the humility to be willing to return to the ensemble and do the grunt work when your shining moment is over.

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Speaking of work, Scott is the first one there.  Always. While the rest of us struggled to make it to half-hour on time from Astoria and Washington Heights, Scott never failed to beat us there from two-and-a-half hours away in Connecticut.  Let me break that down for you: Scott was running a dance studio with his wife (the dynamite performer Elizabeth Parkinson), teaching dance classes, raising a kid, and commuting almost five hours a day and yet he never let any of it keep him from showing up early, warming up fully, and giving the best performance he could each and every night.  That kind of work ethic is the epitome of the ensemblist spirit, but I don’t think Scott would even let you call it work ethic—he simply loves performing.

And that really is the best thing about Scott—thirteen Broadway shows later, he still absolutely loves what he does and that joy infects everyone around him.  Scott couldn’t be further from the jaded chorus boy who focuses solely on the drama and the difficulty of performing eight shows a week, instead he lifts everyone else up with his enthusiasm for the work we are so privileged to get to do every day. 

A great example of this is his warm-up.  Scott does handstands before each show. Countless handstands. Walking handstands, bendy handstands, straight handstands, one-handed handstands, pullback handstands (you know…when you casually use your wedding ring to make tap sounds and do pullbacks on your hands), pretty much anything you could think of a person doing upside down, he’ll do it for you.  “I’d much rather tumble than dance at this point,” said nobody ever...except for 57-year-old Scott Wise. And because he was so enthusiastic about handstands everyday, we all decided we should learn how to do them.  Before each show Scott would hold court onstage and guide anyone interested into a handstand. He’d sometimes have up to six of us onstage all doing our best to keep up with him.  I’d never been upside down before in my life, but after meeting Scott, I’ve now learned how and keep it as part of my pre-show ritual.  Now I wouldn’t dream of doing a show without going upside down once or twice beforehand (something my Anastasia cast can definitely attest to). 

And that’s just how infectious Scott’s joy is—he leaves you better than you were before and makes you excited to go to work and keep improving. I consider myself extremely lucky to have worked with the ultimate ensemblist—someone who inspired me to keep playing, to have fun, and to continue growing as an artist.

"Every Performer is both a Soloist and Ensemble Member."

Mo Brady

Company XIV artistic director Austin McCormick gives us an inside look at the company's seasonal smash-hit Nutcracker Rouge, and how the company works together as an ensemble to create the one-of-a-kind theatrical experience.

Austin McCormick

Austin McCormick

Company XIV is comprised of a seriously multitalented and unique group of performers.  We combine circus, ballet, burlesque, drag and song to make one of a kind theatrical events that blend theater and nightlife.  Our signature style is to expose our dressing rooms and “offstage” areas allowing audiences to see us dress and undress, pull curtains, light our fellow castmates with spotlights and help each other with quick costume changes. 

The most beautiful part of XIV is that every performer is both a soloist and a true ensemble member- no divas allowed. We love and support eachother on and off stage and truly enjoy contributing energy and whatever is needed to help our fellow cast perform at their best. Our cast even seats our guests as they arrive and opens Champagne bottles for VIP couches.  Our goal is to make the audience feel like they’ve stepped into our world- we’re there to entertain and serve in every way! Ooh la la.

When I am conceiving and choreographing our productions I am tremendously inspired by the performers and their particular skill sets. For example our most recent show, Nutcracker Rouge features Tilly Evans-Kreuger who I originally hired as a dancer and then learned is a figure skater. We created an act where she ice skates onstage! Marcy Richardson our resident soprano and aerialist is incredibly versatile and skilled singing opera while suspended in an aerial hoop in a sea of glitter. Not to mention tap dancers and aerialists Nick and Ross Katen who are identical twins and able to seamlessly maneuver many genres of performance.  Nutcracker Rouge changes every year and part of the fun for me is in adapting and altering the show to feature and highlight the XIV beauties!

photo credits: Philip Van Nostrand Mark Shelby Perry and Gingerb3ardman

Best Ensemble Moments of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade 2017 - LIVE UPDATES!

The Ensemblist

Check in here for live updates from The Ensemblist team about our favorite ensemble moments of the Broadway performances shown during this year's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade!

 

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Mo: Hi! I’m here

Jax: Hi, Mo!

Spongebob Squarepants

 

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Mo: One of my favorite things about the parade is seeing the swings in the number. Already we can see Jesse JP Johnson in the opening moments. And Alex Gibson in that ginger curls!

Mo: It’s awesome to see the that the opening number, “Bikini Bottom Day” has the same infectious energy on TV as it does at the theatre. At the Palace, the cast welcomes the audience with such joy. And that energy transcends into our living rooms as well! Don’t you agree?

Jax: Watching the company of SpongeBob SquarePants perform their opening number on the parade was an absolute and captured the experience I felt in the theatre. Seeing the ensemblists enter as unique individuals and then come together in a high-energy moment of unison choreography even gave me chills when watching on television. I can only imagine the delight this performance brought to children everywhere who haven’t yet had the opportunity to experience it in a theatre.

Mo: I have to give a shout out to Curtis Holbrook. I mean, maybe it’s because he’s on roller skates in a neon pink costume. But his smile always looks massive and genuine. Who stood out to you, Jackson?

Jax: As always, Gaelen Gilliland was a favorite for me. Her commanding, yet warm and joyous presence always draws my eyes directly to her.

Dear Evan Hansen

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Mo: Alright, here’s Dear Evan Hansen! And in addition to our first glance at Noah Galvin as Evan, we get to see a mashup with the full cast - even the standbys!

Jax: I agree, Mo! It’s so special to see Dear Evan Hansen include their standbys in the Parade performance.

Mo: Did you see their performance on The Today Show a few months ago? I found this performance to be more effective than that. Maybe it’s because of the choreography? Or maybe because the actors are so cold that they literally have tears in their eyes? Lol

Jax: I did see the Today Show performance and thought the same thing. I thought that adding choreography for this version made the storytelling clearer.

Mo: It wasn’t much choreography though. I thought they could have shown audiences at home a little more of the arc of the show through that song. I wonder if you don’t know the plot of the show, what you took away from that performance (other than that “You Will Be Found” is an amazing song).

Jax: I agree. I don’t know if I would’ve totally understood what was happening, but the song is so beautiful that I would’ve wanted to listen to the album to find out more.

Mo: It does make me want to sit in on an understudy rehearsal at the Music Box Theatre - I’d love to see Olivia Puckett, Colton Ryan, Asa Somers and the rest of the production’s standbys tackle the material.

Jax: Absolutely!

 

 

Anastasia

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Mo: Here we go - Anastasia!

Jax: Our first of two Ahrens & Flaherty musical performances on the Parade!

Mo: A costume reveal for Christy Altomare? I was not ready for that!

Jax: That cloak!!

Mo: “Once Upon A December” works so well on the parade! I’ll admit that on that small stage at the Broadhurst Theatre, the number feels a bit cramped. But here at the Parade, there is really room for the number to explode.

Jax: The ensemblists have space to soar!

Mo: And the show used the camera blocking to their advantage. By starting the nubmer with a one-shot close up, and then expanding to wide shots, we really got to watch the memories in Anastasia’s memory expand. Any standout ensemblists in the number for you, Jax?

Jax: While I found myself drawn to various ensemblists at certain moments, I didn’t find myself focusing much on individuals. I was so moved by the beauty of the big picture they all worked together to create.

Mo: Yeah. That’s the difference between an ensemble like Spongebob and one like Anastasia. In the former, everyone is supposed to stand out as an individual. In Anastasia, everyone is supposed to work together as a team. And both of the shows excelled this morning in their respective ways.

Kev: Hi boys! I just got into NJ. I missed Sponge Bob but I caught the Anastasia performance!

Jax: Welcome, Kevin! We’re all Jersey boys today. ;)

Mo: Don’t worry, Kevin. That’s what YouTube and DVR are for! (Sheesh, Jax. You love a MT pun.)

Kev: I agree! “Once Upon A December” worked SO well on TV and in such a nice open space. It was so fun to see all those big, lavish costumes have the room to spin and twirl and breathe. And they all created such a solid, strong picture.

Once on this Island

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Kev: Y’all. I’m lit (did I use that right?) for Once On This Island. One of my favorite scores ever but I’ve never seen it onstage except for when I played Agwe in 7th Grade.

Mo: Has there ever been a casting choice more obvious than Kevin Bianchi as Agwe? Unclear.

Jax: LOL. Here we go!

Kev: I love a Once On This Island where the Grand Hommes look like they’re in Ragtime and the peasants look like they’re in In The Heights.

Mo: Wow. The show just looked so BIG in the number. I’ve always thought of OOTI as a small show, but even before the kids came in the show looked massive. That’s the benefit of using the swings in your TV performances, right?

Jax: Totally! It was very special to see the swings on the parade performance. The show felt much more intimate when I saw it at the Circle in the Square last week. Having a larger company for the parade helped the energy explode on screen.

Mo: Did you feel like the performance helped you understand what the show is about? I’ve never seen the show (GAY GASP!), and I don’t necessarily have a sense of what happens in the musical.

Kev: Jax, are all those children in the show for real??

Jax: They are. And I had NO idea they were coming since the finale is the only time they are onstage.

Mo: Those kids are all really in the musical? Think of the child wranglers!! Jax: When you saw  the show last week, you said Grasan Kingsberry was a standout. Anybody different draw your eye this morning?

Jax: Darlesia Cearcy! Her expressive eyes read so well on television. While her acting choices are extremely specific to the character she’s creating, they don’t distract from the unity of the ensemble at all.

Kev: I’m always so intrigued by ensembles that maintain a sense of unity and cohesion even when they are showing us segmented worlds onstage. And this show is a perfect example of that.

Mo: Alright boys, I gotta go be a dad to a sick toddler! Happy Turkey Day!

Lisa Gajda: Broadway's Greatest Ensemblists

The Ensemblist

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

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

Lisa Gajda

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

Mary Ann Lamb: Broadway's Greatest Ensemblists

The Ensemblist

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

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

Mary Ann Lamb

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

Scott Wise: Broadway's Greatest Ensemblists

The Ensemblist

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

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

Scott Wise

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

Three Ensembles In Need of Broadway Revivals

The Ensemblist

by Mo Brady

The Wiz (1974)

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

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


Jerome Robbins’ Broadway (1989)

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

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

 

Legally Blonde (2007)

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

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

 

 

 

 

What is a "Themed Put-In?"

The Ensemblist

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

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

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

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

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

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

Justin Bowen

Justin Bowen

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

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

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

“Yo, Who The Eff Is This?”

The Ensemblist

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

by Hamilcast: A Hamilton Podcast creator Gillian Pensavalle

Gillian Pensavalle (left, with Lin-Manuel Miranda)

Gillian Pensavalle (left, with Lin-Manuel Miranda)

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

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

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

Gillian Pensavalle

Gillian Pensavalle

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

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

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

Number Two: History has its eyes on them. 

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

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

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

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

I have the honor to be your obedient servant,

G.Pen

 

"And Suddenly My Eyes Were Opened!"

Mo Brady

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

Arbender Robinson

Arbender Robinson

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

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

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

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

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

AND SUDDENLY MY EYES WERE OPENED!

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

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

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

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

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





 

 

 

The Audience Energy Was the Best Welcome to Broadway!"

Mo Brady

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

Kelvin Moon Loh

Kelvin Moon Loh

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

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

My personal criteria for who I was going to invite-  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The cast of Spongebob Squarepants on Broadway

The cast of Spongebob Squarepants on Broadway

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

The Ensemblist

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

Julian De Guzman

Julian De Guzman

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

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

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

Julian De Guzman and the Broadway cast of Miss Saigon

Julian De Guzman and the Broadway cast of Miss Saigon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mo Brady

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kimberly Marable

Kimberly Marable

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Broadway cast of The Lion King

The Broadway cast of The Lion King

"They Are The Strongest People I Know."

Mo Brady

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

Rosie Lani Fiedelman in The Lion King

Rosie Lani Fiedelman in The Lion King

I joined The Lion King Company in June of 2014.

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

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

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

Rosie Lani Fiedelman in The Lion King

Rosie Lani Fiedelman in The Lion King

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

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

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

 

"It Never Failed To Give Me The Chills."

Mo Brady

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

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

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

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

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

Blake Hammond

Blake Hammond

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

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

"The Ensemble is the Heartbeat of Any Show."

Mo Brady

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

L. Steven Taylor as Mufasa in The Lion King

L. Steven Taylor as Mufasa in The Lion King

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

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

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

L. Steven Taylor

L. Steven Taylor

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

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

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

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