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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

Breaking the 'Historical Mold' of Eliza Doolittle

Mo Brady

by Shereen Ahmed 

Shereen Ahmed in  My Fair Lady

Shereen Ahmed in My Fair Lady

In my home, My Fair Lady was the movie-night staple. Every time I popped my VHS into the TV, I felt instantly transported to early 20th century London. The soaring orchestrations of Lerner and Loewe burst through my bedroom and it was transformed into a glorious study. I twirled endlessly to “I Could Have Danced All Night,” my tight curls flying across my face in a frizzy mess. My mother can confirm, I danced all night, even after several attempts to “GO. TO. BED!” Sorry, Mom.

I was twelve years old, and even though I knew every line and every song by heart – I anxiously sat on the edge of my seat as Eliza confronted each challenge with striking determination, courage, and wit, plowing gracefully through them one by one. It was a masterpiece.

Meanwhile, every Sunday, I was shuffled to the local Mosque, where, just like Eliza, I spent hours reciting my vowels – only for me, they were in Arabic. If I ever felt the urge to crumble in defeat, I would channel Eliza’s perseverance. Memorize a 42-verse surah from the Quran in Arabic? Even the most difficult challenges felt conquerable. It was safe to say those few – okay, numerous – movie-nights spent in Covent Garden had a major impact on me.

Fast forward a couple of years and, much to my parents’ distress, I was on my way to the big city to follow my dreams of performing on the Great White Way. Well, let’s just say it wasn’t exactly a cake-walk.

 After waiting countless hours in cattle-calls to sing eight bars, being told politely that “perhaps Advanced Ballet isn’t the appropriate level for you” in dance class (I should have taken the hint when the pointe shoes broke out: I was wearing gym socks), and being stereotyped out of most, if not all, open calls I attended, I needed to be reminded of my ‘why.’ So when a friend suggested to me to attend the My Fair Lady open call, I went on the whim of frustration. I expected nothing but the rare opportunity to sing. For me. It was for Broadway after all. There was no way in hell I was booking that.

Then there was a callback. “Cool! More practice!” I thought.

Then another.

Next thing I know, I’m sobbing on the floor with my best friend whose couch I was sleeping on for a couple of weeks by that point. I was going to be an ensemble member of the Lincoln Center Theater revival of My Fair Lady. It was truly a dream come true.

I soaked in all of its glory. Any chance I had I was offstage, watching anxiously just like I had as a child. Only, it wasn’t on VHS. It was eight shows a week for over a year.

When the opportunity came for me to understudy the leading role, it was brought to my attention that in the show’s entire Broadway and West End history, Eliza Doolittle had never been portrayed by a Middle Easterner. Ever. My Fair Lady premiered over 60 years ago, while Pygmalion, the play the musical is based upon, premiered over 100 years ago. So I wondered, “Where do I fit?” This prompted a journey for me I never anticipated.

Growing up Muslim and Egyptian in a post-9/11 world was, for lack of a better term, hard. Sure, there were a couple of protesters outside the Mosque nearly every Sunday, and sometimes I’d be referred to as the ‘terrorist’ in school, but eventually discrimination became the norm. Once my family was refused service at a local restaurant for being one of ‘them.’ This refusal was on an Islamic holiday, Eid-al-Fitr, the last day of Ramadan. Fear-mongering was rampant in a post-9/11 United States, and blatant, entitled discrimination was not far behind. I was a part of a community that was outcast and encountered systemic discrimination on a daily basis.

Shereen Ahmed

Shereen Ahmed

My Fair Lady became my outlet as a child. I found solace in Eliza. She confronted discrimination I also faced – and broke free despite her status as a working-class woman in Edwardian England. It is through Eliza’s determination for a better life that she challenges the restraints society placed on her. Through the medium of speech, she is able to climb up the ranks of class.

Although My Fair Lady examines the social inequalities of early 20th century England, this show feels eerily familiar to 21st century US, intertwining class, race, and gender into one potent revival. What better time to revive this show than now?

It is simply not enough to examine class without also understanding the intersection of race and gender and how these three pillars of discrimination can alter the human experience. If Eliza were Middle Eastern, would her experience be different? Possibly.

Lincoln Center Theater’s production of My Fair Lady is more diverse than any other production of the musical seen in Broadway and West End history. It is breaking ground in diversity, inclusiveness and equal opportunity by opening a once sealed door. After more than 60 years since the original show’s premiere, they are sending an important message to those whose hope for their own future in the theatre could be impacted by the fact that this barrier has finally been broken. That makes LCT a true pioneer in changing the realm of American Theatre, and I couldn’t feel more humbled and grateful for the opportunity to perform in my dream show, in my dream role. A role that I felt was never an option for me before this production.

I may not fit the historical ‘mold,’ but Eliza is a heroine for the 21st century. Her story still rings honest and true today, challenging the social institutions that perpetuate discrimination. That is what makes her story so timeless.

So consider this a love-letter to My Fair Lady. Or perhaps a “thank you” to Lincoln Center Theater for finally opening the door. Either way, the once impossible challenge feels entirely possible. If only twelve-year-old Shereen could see her now. She would never go to bed.


5 Debut Questions: Mean Girls' Daryl Tofa

Mo Brady

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

Daryl Tofa

Daryl Tofa

1. What is your name and hometown?

Daryl Tofa. Orange County, Southern California.

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

Martin Jitla, Kevin G. understudy in Mean Girls.

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

It was right after the final callback. We just got done dancing, singing, and reading sides in front of the whole creative team, and then I walked out of the room with this huge overwhelming feeling that I just booked the job. Later that day, Bethany Knox, the casting director, texted me saying that they want me for the part.

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

The most surprising thing about preparing to perform this show is you have to just go and take a leap of faith. There is no time for hesitation or second guessing, like when the show is going, you just have to jump on the train and ride it. It really is non-stop for the ensemble.

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

I am looking forward to discovering every new small detail of the show that makes the show so unique that you might not catch just watching the show a couple times. I want to be able to fully encapsulate every bit of this show and express the vision that the creators wanted the world to see!

Daryl Tofa

Daryl Tofa

5 Debut Questions: Mean Girls' Jake Swain

Mo Brady

Today on the blog, we welcome Mean Girls ensemblist Jake Swain to Broadway and learn about his journey to the Main Stem.

Jake Swain (left, with Cheech Manohar and Daryl Tofa)

Jake Swain (left, with Cheech Manohar and Daryl Tofa)

1. What is your name and hometown?

Jake Swain from Orem, UT.

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

I play Tyler Kimble in the Ensemble — one of the Mathletes!

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

I was working a double shift at my restaurant, Le Bernardin Prive. It had been several weeks since I'd gone through final callbacks with the team. So I had 100% moved on and made peace with the fact that it hadn't panned out this time around. I was in the back polishing silverware with my friend Katy when I saw I had an email from Bethany Knox at Telsey asking me to call her. (I didn't have any reps at the time, so casting was contacting me directly.) My stomach flipped. I mumbled something about needing to step out. Then I ran to the staff room and called casting. Beth told me the news. I flipped out, ran outside, and called my family. Then, I went back and finished my second shift at the restaurant. 

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

Well, I didn't expect to feel so much anxiety in the weeks leading up to the first rehearsal. I just didn't know what to expect. But this company and these audiences are fantastic. There's support flowing from every direction. Makes work a joy.

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

Everything! The learning and growing that's coming. The relationships. The moments of "whoa, how did we get here?" And sharing those moments with everyone who’s helped me get here: family, teachers, friends, mentors.

Jake Swain

Jake Swain

Rehearsing with the Queen of "Razzle Dazzle"

Mo Brady

by Colt Adam Weiss

Colt Adam Weiss (right, with Gary Chryst and Ann Reinking)

Colt Adam Weiss (right, with Gary Chryst and Ann Reinking)

I woke up that Friday and had an extra spring in my step, which usually isn’t there at 8 am. The reason being is that I had a company rehearsal with the cast of Chicago that was being run by none other than the legend, the choreographer of this revival, Ann Reinking, and her right-hand man, Gary Chryst. I knew it was going to be an incredible day.

I have been a part of the Chicago family for a few years now. I started my journey with this magical show in 2011. From then until now, I’ve performed the show with Royal Caribbean and five national tours, the first of which got me my Equity card, and I made my Broadway debut with the show in the summer of 2015. Chicago has truly been the gift that keeps on giving.

My roles have changed over the years; I was a swing for two years, moved into the role of Aaron for three tours and took on the role of dance captain for one of those years. A task that was both challenging and rewarding. I’m currently performing in the show as a vacation swing. About two weeks ago, I got an email asking if I was available to come in cover the roles of Bailiff/Clerk and Aaron for two weeks. I was quick to respond and happy for the opportunity to be dancing this unique work once again.

Colt Adam Weiss

Colt Adam Weiss

As the cast trickled in last Friday, we sipped our coffee, gave our morning hugs and warmed up, getting ourselves prepared to soak in the afternoon. When Ann walked in, you could feel a shift of energy in the room. We were in the presence of a true legend. She started our rehearsal by working through “Razzle Dazzle.” We walked through a couple sections of the number and stopped to clarify the intention of what we were doing. She’s very passionate about intention, that it’s not just steps, but what specifically are we saying in the storytelling of her choreography.

There’s a moment in the number where the ensemble is in a tight clump being controlled and manipulated by Billy Flynn, “the silver tongued prince of the courtroom.” We all shoot our hands up at once like there’s a gun being pressed into our backs, punctuated with an audible gasp, that’s then followed by a pause and laughter, as if to say, “oh, he’s just kidding,” and we enjoy the manipulation. That was probably one of my favorite parts of the afternoon, listening to the imagery that gave intention to the movement.

There are several moments in the show that she wants us to have a kind of smirk on our faces. Portraying to the audience that we have a secret, that we’re in on the joke, that we know what’s about to happen and just you wait for it! She said it’s like the cat that you ask if he ate the canary and he says no, but there’s a little yellow feather sticking out of the corner of his mouth. Pretty cheeky, right? 

The afternoon continued with little anecdotes about Bob Fosse and other glittering imagery to keep us focused on the intention behind this brilliant choreography. There’s something so beautiful about dancing in the Fosse style, not so much a style, but a philosophy. The work is never done, you can always dig deeper into the pool of Fosse. This afternoon was yet another plunge into that pool. Getting to work firsthand with Ann was nothing less than humbling, yet empowering and truly inspirational.

Colt Adam Weiss with Ann Reinking, Gary Chryst and the cast of Broadway’s  Chicago

Colt Adam Weiss with Ann Reinking, Gary Chryst and the cast of Broadway’s Chicago

Black Faces in “White Spaces”: Diverse Storytelling in Theater

Mo Brady

by Ashley De La Rosa

Ashley De La Rosa (right, with Curtis Holland)

Ashley De La Rosa (right, with Curtis Holland)

A few weeks ago, Curtis Holland and I played Regina George and Aaron Samuels opposite of each other. We are the only understudies of color for these respective roles in the Broadway company of Mean Girls. The energy in the building was electric because myself and the entire cast were so excited to see two POC leads rule North Shore High for a night. Not to mention the incredible response from the fans at the stage door and on social media. I was reminded how important it is for people like Curtis and me to play roles that are traditionally white. How important it is not only for us as actors, but for this industry as a whole.

The representation of people of color in mainstream media in the past has been one-dimensional: focusing only on the baby mamas and absent fathers, painting Latinas as “fiery” and “exotic” and erasing anything else outside of a stereotype. But things have begun to shift in the last few years. Jordan Peele’s Get Out and Us, Ava DuVernay’s A Wrinkle In Time, and Issa Rae’s Insecure are prime examples of stories that represent Black bodies in a more diverse and empowering way. That representation is expanding into the theater world as well. Regina George, while flawed in many ways, is a character who is the Queen Bee and admired by everyone in the school. Aaron Samuels is admired for his intelligence, generosity of spirit, and kindness. These are the characters that POC should be playing because we are more than a stereotype.

Ashley De La Rosa

Ashley De La Rosa

As I move forward in my career I would love to see more diversity on stage and behind the table in audition rooms. Diversity begets creativity and creativity begets exceptional art. Every time I go on for Regina or Gretchen, I receive messages from people all over the world expressing how excited they are to see someone who looks like me play those parts. Many of the messages are from women of color who believe that they can see themselves in me and are inspired to continue their exploration into the performing arts. Representation in the arts still has a long way to go. We need to continue to push for diversity in casting, not just for actors of color, but for every single marginalized group in this industry. We are more than capable of telling these stories and sharing our experiences on stage. It’s a long road. It’s not perfect. But I can assure you, it works.

50 Years, 50 States

Mo Brady

by Kevin Carolan

Kevin Carolan in Sioux Falls, SD

Kevin Carolan in Sioux Falls, SD

You would think renting a car to go from Omaha, Nebraska to Sioux Falls, South Dakota would not be many people’s idea of an adventure (360 miles round trip). But I was a man with a mission. You see, South Dakota was the last of the 50 United States that I had yet to visit. So I wanted to make sure I did while I was still 50 years old, for obvious symmetry reasons.

I hit the jackpot three times when acting jobs set me off on the road in national tours: In 2005, as Amos Hart in Chicago; in 2014, as Governor Roosevelt in Newsies; and I’m currently playing Claude (and others) in the North American tour of Come From Away. I got to visit many cities in the U.S., and Chicago got me to Tokyo, Osaka, Taipei, and Dubai. 

Having the opportunity to visit cities more than once was a gift, as every stop has countless attractions and events to fill any available time. 

Kevin Carolan

Kevin Carolan

And there were always surprises along the way. Sure, San Francisco has an infinite amount of things to do and is one of my all-time favorite places, but I was so happily surprised to learn that Omaha, NE could have access to such great seafood and antiquing or that Cincinnati, OH had such a vibrant live music scene (and a great arcade bar in 16-Bit) in its Over-The-Rhine district. And having the chance to see not only the Rocky Mountains while stopping in Denver, but the magnificent Canadian Rockies in Banff while traveling from Edmonton to Calgary filled me with wonder and awe. 

Perhaps I feel most grateful on this particular tour, based on the message that Come From Away inspires. The story of a small town of people, coming together to care for complete strangers in a time of need is a much-needed tonic right now. There are beautiful, giving, caring people in every city of every state (and province). And if I can, I’d like to say hello to all of them.

Kevin Carolan

Kevin Carolan

My Two-Show Day Backstage

Mo Brady

by Lauralyn McClelland

Lauralyn McClelland

Lauralyn McClelland

Being a swing can be amazing.  It’s a great feeling when you know what you’re doing and you get to play different parts all the time!  However, in between those moments there can be a lot of down time. On those days I’m not being used, what do I do with myself? My Fair Lady is about two hours and fifty minutes. I’m in a basement. And those two show days are, well, long. Sure you can write notes, review tracks, trail actors backstage, watch the show, even enjoy the hell out of some snacks that always pop up in the green room.  

However, I’m so close to knowing this show. Already I’ve learned 11 of 12 ensemble tracks. Now, it’s hard to go over it again and again. It’s kind of like when you know you have homework to do and you start cleaning your room instead. Just me? Cool.

Here’s an example of my recent two show day:

Saturday Matinee

  1. Trail Hannah Florence

  2. Watch Cameron Adams’ maid sequences on the monitor during Hannah’s down time


Dinner Break

  1. Get outside and walk around during dinner break

  2. Eat Shake Shack….because why wouldn’t you?!

Lauralyn McClelland

Lauralyn McClelland


Saturday Evening

  1. Get organized to do some damage on notecards for Hannah’s track. I’ve got my pencil, my color coordinated notecards and a book ring to keep them on.  Im so ready and yet, so restless!

  2. PLACES - go visit with cast members in the hall as they wait for the orchestra to begin.  Dance and joke around because you have energy to do the show but no stage to use it up.

  3. Hobbit hole/aka swing room with a monitor and desk.  Fellow swing Brian Shepard visits with you for a bit.  Attempt to continue Hannah’s track notecards.

  4. You leave to get water, as you come back Brian is leaving.  Your eyes get wide and you shout “WHERE ARE YOU GOING?!”

  5. He suggests you go visit people during “shower chats” (pre-Eliza-needs-a-shower scene) and “maid chats” (pre-maids’ scenes) because clearly you need some human connection.

  6. Drink your water and write a notecard in the Hobbit Hole.

  7. Go Stage Right to visit with Higgins’ four maids

  8. They go onstage.

  9. You go to your dressing room and attempt to french braid your hair, which you’ve never been very good at, but you make it look decent after a few tries.

  10. Go to Stage Management for “maid chats,” maids comment on your new braids!

  11. They go onstage

  12. You go back to the Hobbit Hole and work on another notecard.

  13. Social media/trying to connect to the internet

  14. In need more human contact, you go to your dressing room and chat with your two roommates and dresser during intermission.

  15. They start Act II

  16. You watch the Waltz on the monitor and realize you haven’t been taught a section of Hannah’s waltz, so you can’t get through ALL the notecards!

  17. You find it’s harder to write notes in front of a monitor, the things you’re writing don’t always correspond with what’s happening onstage and you get distracted watching the show and enjoying it instead of studying it!

  18. Social media/trying to reconnect to the internet

  19. Another notecard and a half

  20. Twist your braids into buns

  21. Roam the halls

  22. Find snacks

  23. Taxidermy a lion

  24. Just making sure you’re still with me

  25. Watch “Get Me To The Church On Time”

  26. Once that number ends, I can head home (reason being, that is the last scene the ensemble women are in).

This is my fourth Broadway show as a swing, and each show has been a totally different experience.  What has thankfully been consistent is the rewarding experience of doing several tracks as if they were my own, and my genuine love of the people I get to work with. A great cast makes backstage life so much better, especially when you are only backstage some shows.  It is a necessary component in being a happy swing. So, thanks to my fellow cast mates for helping me through those two show days when I get a bit delirious!

Lauralyn McClelland

Lauralyn McClelland

"It Is An Absolute Joy."

Mo Brady

by Jason Forbach

Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations is a new Broadway musical that tells the story of the men that made up this pop super group and their music. Despite all of these men and their ferocious talent, it is one woman’s performance that had me suddenly sitting taller in my seat. With all of this show’s stylish flash and sizzle, “If You Don’t Know Me by Now,” so sublimely sung by this actress, had audience members scrambling through their Playbills to find her name. If you don’t know her by now, you should. Her name is Rashidra Scott.

We spoke with Rashidra recently about her role as Josephine in this show’s ensemble, her journey bringing this character to life and how she manages the pressures of premiering an original musical on Broadway.

Rashidra Scott

Rashidra Scott

Let’s start with how you began creating this role of Josephine for Ain’t Too Proud. Did you feel a different challenge or weight of responsibility when recreating a real person on stage compared to other fictional roles you’ve taken on in the past?

Well, confession, Aisha Jackson originated Josephine in our workshop a couple years ago, so being able to watch her process gave me a solid foundation. Beyond that, I’ve pulled from my mother and the village of women (single & married) who had any hand in raising me. I had the great fortune of growing up around a lot of strong women, watching them balance their own careers and lives while carting us kids between school, community theatre, dance rehearsals, piano and voice lessons.

It’s always a challenge portraying a real person, because you want to make them as well-rounded and three-dimensional as possible, while also honoring their legacy and being truthful to their journey. Josephine could actually come to the show one of these days and have her own thoughts & feelings about this stranger portraying her. My specific Sister Act nun, Finian’s Rainbow sharecropper, or Hair tribe member will never pass judgement on my past performances, because they don’t exist in real life.

You were involved with the show in its out-of-town tryout. How has the show grown or changed on its journey to Broadway? How has your involvement, your role, in the show changed? Can you speak a little about that experience mounting it several times with the intention of bringing it to New York?

The Josephine track hasn’t really changed at all... maybe an addition or cut of a few lines here and there, but overall she’s stayed the same. But seeing the expansion of the other female roles has been exciting. We came in knowing that, obviously, this show is not about the women, but about the men. Going through the journey of our collective presence being expanded has been fascinating and exciting - from Johnnie Mae going from just her scene to singing herself off, the Supremes expanding from one song to a medley in Act 1, and Tammi Terrell going from having a couple brief scenes to an entire duet. The team realized the desire and need for allowing each of us to have more of a presence throughout the storytelling of the show.

Mounting the show in different cities was exhilarating. You never know how a show will be received. We’ve known from day one how special this project is, and we’ve all felt the responsibility of bringing nothing short of our A game in to the room every day. But just because we feel the magic doesn’t always mean audiences will. Experiencing breaking box office records in three cities before we even got to New York was equally exciting and terrifying to me. Performing well on the road doesn’t always translate to a successful NY run, but so far it seems to have strengthened us. It gave us each more time to really explore our characters and find more for and with them.

Rashidra Scott

Rashidra Scott

You’ve originated several Broadway shows, one of them being another mega jukebox Broadway hit, Beautiful. How does this experience compare to that? After working with Des McAnuff, who has elevated this style of jukebox musical story telling yet again with Ain’t Too Proud, what did you see in his process that was new or different compared to other original shows you’ve helped create?

I had the same feeling of “this show is gonna be something special” at the reading presentation of Beautiful and during the workshop of Ain’t Too Proud. While every ensemble member in Beautiful has a feature, they’re production number-based more so than acting. Most of my time was spent with Josh Prince, Jason Howland and the rest of the ensemble. We’d get pulled in to the room to do our book scenes as needed. There seems to be more weight to our ensemble features in Ain’t Too Proud. Des and Sergio like to have everyone in the room at all times, so we’re always on the same page and have access to the same information that’s being discussed in the room, which can be really helpful in figuring out how the characters fit in with each other and inform how we interact with each other.

I think the lesson I’ve been reminded of is the reward of stepping out on faith and walking in your purpose, in spite of any fear or uncertainty. Both Otis and Carole (and practically every artist) have had to pick themselves up from some potentially debilitating personal issues and tragedies, and they didn’t let those circumstances stop them. They were fortified by their own personal tragedies in a way that is nothing short of inspiring. I’ve also learned to trust my voice - to not worry about comparing my sound to anyone else’s, but to trust in my gift and my journey.

Your track in the show has several beautifully overwhelming moments of emotional gravity. Without the build of interacting with fellow actors constantly onstage, how as an actor are you able to key in as Josephine so sporadically, when given the responsibility to deliver so many important emotional mile markers throughout the show?

This question is like you were a fly on the wall in Berkeley! Figuring out how to access the necessary emotions was very isolating for most of the process until New York, I think. I always had to separate myself from everyone else and figure out how to get myself to the necessary emotional depths, particularly for the final scene. I had to think of the saddest things that’ve ever happened to me, sometimes I’d picture my deceased grandfather smiling at me and saying, “I’m proud of ya, baby” in the way only he could. Anything along those lines. Then one night I was about to step out, realizing I just couldn’t get there, and I thought about how this is a tribute to Lamont and how we so often don’t consider the impact we have on people’s lives, but our living is never in vain and to live a life worth honoring every day because tomorrow is never promised to any of us. Creating my own backstory for Josephine, with and without Otis and getting more familiar with all its intricacies, has helped me more than any sad thoughts or stories, though. Playing the honesty of each moment and all that’s behind them is really what best helps me key in.

Rashidra Scott

Rashidra Scott

There is a huge, positive crowd response with this show. It must be thrilling to have such a fired-up, engaged audience. There have also been thrilling reviews. How do you juggle the demands of a new show, with so many eyes on you... not only from expecting audiences but from creatives and critics through previews to opening, all the way to TONY night? Do you feel like you are still in the middle of this marathon?

It’s all absolutely a marathon. While the rehearsal/performance schedule is taxing, I consider myself getting off easy by being in the ensemble. The focus is so heavily on the Classic 5 that the extracurriculars aren’t falling to me. I pretty much live with tunnel vision right now, though. I’m definitely aware that people are very positively responding to the show. I don’t read reviews, at least not while I’m in the show. Whether they’re positive or negative, I like to stay true to the show that we’ve created with our creatives and trust in that without any distraction of “Person X said this moment really stood out” or “Person Y said this moment didn’t work, so how do I make it work?” That’s why we have a creative team - to be the guidance we need in order to create the best show possible. My goal is to always focus on the scene and moments at hand and be honest.

It is a huge, powerhouse cast with a lot of intricate staging and choreography. There are so many talented people both on and off stage. Explain a bit about this company’s dynamic and sense of ensemble.

I know this is said of every cast, because it’s generally true in some sense by nature of what we do and dynamics we have to create, but this cast really is like a big ol’ family. We’ve been there to lift each other up and push each other through some highs and lows of life. We’ve all personally experienced the personal life sacrifices that we touch on in the show. Our understanding of that central theme gives us access unlike any other. Even in our time together, we’ve had cast members miss family funerals, births, celebrations. We’ve each sacrificed within this show and before it. There’s such a high level of respect and appreciation for what each of us brings and what our journeys have been to bring us all to this moment. We all feel purposed to be a part of this show and to take care of each other as best possible.

Rashidra Scott

Rashidra Scott

What is the hardest challenge you’ve had to face in this process? What has been the greatest joy?

The hardest challenge, I think, has been the struggle of existing as a (Black) woman. We so often naturally, effortlessly, and seamlessly take the position of being care takers and nurturers to the point of sometimes not being aware of our own needs and ending the day feeling empty and not knowing why. Having four (five including our book writer, Dominique) other strong black women to share the weight of that responsibility has been helpful, though. It’s validated in moments when I otherwise would’ve been left to feel insecure or crazy.

It is an absolute joy and honor to watch my brothers shine every single show. To watch them get the recognition they’ve deserved for years. To never have had the right roles to showcase their true star power, until now. To watch a group of black men be celebrated and uplifted. To watch them take their final bow and recognize the responsibility they carry. To be such positively wonderful role models of and for Black boys and men. To be any small part of that is humbling and thrilling.






Remembering Eric

Mo Brady

BROADWAY ENSEMBLISTS SHARE THEIR MEMORIES OF ERIC LAJUAN SUMMERS

Eric LaJuan Summers

Eric LaJuan Summers

“Eric was one of a kind. I will always remember his unique sense of humor and most of all his always loving energy. When my daughter, who was probably one and a half at the time, would visit Kinky Boots every weekend, Eric always made it a special point to interact with her and make her feel welcomed and cared for. He talked to my husband and I so lovingly about his large family, and he was so proud to be an uncle to multiple nieces and nephews, which made him a natural when it came to playing with my daughter. I remember thinking how amazing it would be to come from such a large family who loved and supported and helped each other the way his did. Then, of course, when he got sick, they all rushed to his side and he just knew how much love was always surrounding him. He was a bright light, a raw talent, and a force to be reckoned with. He will be sorely missed. “ - Blair Goldberg

Eric LaJuan Summers (left, with Rashidra Scott)

Eric LaJuan Summers (left, with Rashidra Scott)

“We met doing a production of Dreamgirls at Marriott Lincolnshire - Lorrell and Jimmy. One I remember one of the first times we were running “Ain’t No Party” and I decided to run my hand down his stomach with the “Don’t I give you good lovin’” and I legit stopped, lifted his shirt, and said, “Ummmmm, excuse you?!” because he’d always wear oversized shirts, and I didn’t know before that moment the rock hard ab-ness happening under there. 

I also loved singing something different every night for “Lorrell Loves Jimmy” because he sang the hell out of everything every night, and he was blocked to be on his knees, so he just had to sit there and take whatever I gave him without reaction. There were a couple times when a random show got thrown in to my shared dressing room when he finally got off stage from that scene.

One of the first times he was in the hospital, I stopped by to visit him before leaving for Ain’t Too Proud in Berkeley. I was complaining about a last-minute audition that I didn’t really want to go to, ‘cause I just really felt like I wasn’t gonna book it (Zander, I didn’t), but the appointment came in 2 hours after I’d just shipped all my dance shoes and clothes to California so I was gonna have to buy a new pair of shoes and clothes just for this audition. He very quickly reminded me and pointed out that I at least had the option to audition, and I needed to remember to be grateful and just go in.

Jamal Story, Darius Crenshaw and I stopped by to visit Eric at around 7 pm a couple months ago. We got so caught up in catching up, we didn’t leave his apartment until 5 am. None of us had been paying attention to the time, and apparently we thought we were teenagers again.

I think Ain’t Too Proud may have been one of the last shows he was able to audition for. I used to FaceTime him all the time around intermission of the show and we’d just catch up and chat. I was able to give him and his brother a pair of comps to one of our previews - he hadn’t been feeling well all day, but he fought and came anyway. I hadn’t told anyone he was coming, figured I’d tell them after the show. Except he was sitting front row, center, with his leopard print surgical mask on. When Ephraim reached out to the woman next to Eric, he swatted her hand away to try to make Ephraim grab his hand instead. By intermission, a few people were yelling at me for not telling them he was gonna be there and FRONT ROW CENTER!

He was an absolute light, joy, and inspiration.” - Rashidra Scott

Eric LaJuan Summers

Eric LaJuan Summers

Working at The ‘50s-Themed Diner at 1650 Broadway

Mo Brady

by Abigail Charpentier

Gabrielle Elisabeth

Gabrielle Elisabeth

New York City is beloved by theater fans from all over. With shows on Broadway, off-Broadway, off-off-Broadway and various cabaret venues, it’s easy to find entertainment. One setting that often does not come to mind is a restaurant. Theater enthusiasts visiting the city may not be familiar with one establishment, but will love it once acquainted – Ellen’s Stardust Diner.

The ‘50s-themed diner at 1650 Broadway is famously home to a singing waitstaff. Founded by Ellen Hart in 1987, customers can enjoy “Mamma Mia Meatloaf” while hearing songs from the show sung by their waiter.

While the experience is desired for tourists and theater fans, it may be more so for actors and actresses looking to make it to the theaters down the street. Gabrielle Elisabeth, an ensemblist in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, worked at the diner before performing on Broadway as Little Eva, a Shirelle and a "One Fine Day" backup singer.

The high-rise building in Times Square where Ellen’s settled on the ground floor was also the birth place of several classics created by songwriting teams Goffin/King and Mann/Weil in the 1960s while contracted by Aldon Music.

“I literally worked in the building where Carole King, Gerry Goffin, Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann created hits, and then I book a show about them!” Elisabeth said. “That blew my mind, and I didn't really make the connection until I had been in the show for a few weeks.”

Elisabeth first heard about Ellen’s when she was working for Disney World in 2016 from her friend Nikisha Williams. When she made the move from Florida to New York, she immediately called up Williams and was put in touch with the manager of the diner.

After auditioning to be a singing waitress with Alicia Key’s “If I Ain’t Got You,” she made it to the next round in the audition process.

“I was ecstatic! Then I remembered I had no experience serving... so I did what any sensible person would do. Lie,” Elisabeth said. “I lied and said I worked as a server in my hometown, which is kind of true. I did some catering, but nothing on the scale of what I knew they would expect from me.”

As a Starduster, Elisabeth loved performing “If I Ain't Got You,” “Don't Forget Me” from the NBC show SMASH and “Proud Mary” by Tina Turner.

She explained that performers often are able to choose the songs, which usually fall into categories: a “build” song, a song that is recognizable, a “pre-bucket” song, a “bucket” song and the occasional ballad.

Once an hour, Phillip (as in “fill-up”) the Bucket is passed around the eatery and people make donations. The money raised is split up between the waitstaff on that shift and goes toward training (voice lessons, dance classes, etc.).

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Pre-bucket songs are songs that are huge numbers incorporating several Stardusters, like “One Day More” from Les Misérables. A bucket song “is a song that has a nice beat and keeps the energy going.”

Elisabeth said Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk” is a fan favorite.

With the pooled tips, she learned the importance of working as a team and helping one another so everyone does well at the end of the night.

“You can build off one another and create a great experience for the guests,” she said.

Over the course of time at Ellen’s, she learned how “to audition smarter, not harder.” She would wake up at 7 a.m., audition all day, serve tables from 5 p.m. until after midnight and then do it all over again.

“The exhaustion I felt was one I hadn't felt since college,” she said. “I wasn't giving my best in auditions, and my attitude at work was getting worse and worse. Having a job at Ellen's is such a physical job on the body, the voice and the mind. I had pain in places I didn't even know existed.”

She then started budgeting her time better; instead of auditioning for everything she could, she started going in roles she thought she was truly right for. She worked the hours she needed to survive and spent the rest of her time in class.

Despite the difficulties, Ellen’s Stardust Diner was still an enjoyable job. One of Elisabeth’s favorite shifts took place when the computers and Posi, the operating system used to take orders and run credit cards, went down. Unable to cash people out and get them along their way, the line outside kept growing longer and longer.

“A few of the servers, myself included, went out to the line and started a sing-along. We had a tambourine and a cow bell,” she said.

“It was so much fun and really just showed me you don't need much to make magic.”

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When Health Comes First: Diaries of a Workaholic

Mo Brady

by Stephanie Bissonnette

Stephanie Bissonnette

Stephanie Bissonnette

Work broke up with me. My greatest nightmare.  The one thing I thought could never leave me. Let’s face it, as actors, employment is the vacation. When you’re not “working,” you tend to work ten times harder. You teach in New Jersey and Long Island, you work study for discounted dance classes, you volunteer your time to get a chance to perform, you audition relentlessly… and you have two other jobs.

I’m also the girl who had a low key panic attack when she had to miss her first five shows due to laryngitis in November. Over a year since starting this marathon in Washington D.C., I’ve always had a rather intimate relationship with work, but the past three months have been the ultimate test. What does a workaholic do when the only work to be done is healing? 

Finding out I had a brain tumor was the first blow. I had suspected something was off, but whatever it was felt so minor. I have been training 23 years to get on my leg. Luckily, that training saved my life. Dancers are so hyper aware of our bodies. To all of the dancers out there, trust your gut. You know when something’s just a minor ailment or if it’s something that needs to be addressed. So many doctors looked at me, evaluated me, and gave me a passing grade. I would pass all their physical tests, then insist that these weren’t an accurate representation of what I was feeling.

I have been trained to autocorrect any misstep, any imbalance, to “get on my leg.” I kept seeing doctors, insisting on more scans. Thank God I trusted my body. The news was a blow, but somehow I already knew something was there. Now, I wanted a plan of attack. A way to fix it. Take the note, get back on my leg, and get back to work. Steph Bizz doesn’t quit. I didn’t survive the Cats open call and being non-eq for four years to let this thing in my head tear away everything I had worked endlessly to achieve. My dream.

Surgery was the endgame, and I truly was ready to go. Don’t get me wrong, I was terrified of the rehab, a fear of waking up and not being able to walk, let alone dance. However, the idea of a little physical hard work has never frightened me. If it did, I would have quit three years ago. I just wanted it to happen as soon as possible. Anything to wake up from the nightmare.

The first 48 hours after surgery were a pain and exhaustion I had never felt in my life. The tests, the prodding, the discomfort. No sleep. No food. Constantly fasting for the next scan or check up. Lumbar punctures. Three-hour MRIs. I’ll save those details for the memoir.

When I finally made it to the inpatient physical therapy almost a week post-surgery, I was weak and tired, but ready to get to work. Ready to train. My PTs were so impressed with my strength and progress. I looked around at so many patients struggling to sit up, to stand, to walk up stairs. I felt ungrateful for being so upset with my progress. That’s what I get for dancing on tables, kicking my face, and doing aerials for a living. This experience has definitely reignited how thankful I am to just have a functioning body. My biggest concerns prior were my big boobs, my curves and the endless yearning to be taller, thinner and leaner. Now I was just thankful to walk outside.

Stephanie Bissonnette

Stephanie Bissonnette

Then, the final blow came. It was cancerous. The tumor was cancerous. I would need treatments. Extending my timeline into an indeterminable length. The TKO. The response that I never wanted to hear.

“We don’t know when you’ll be able to go back to work.”

The breath left my body and I couldn’t even speak. My parents were the incredible pillars of strength they’ve always been my whole life. When I would call and complain about not getting seen or cry when I would get so close to getting the job, they ensured me that if anyone could do it, I could. I cried angry tears through PT, then went back to my room and began to break the news to my musical family. I feel I can’t emphasize this enough. The hardest part about having cancer is truly saying it over and over and over again as you tell the people who matter. Seeing their faces as they process the information then immediately shift to become the shoulder for you to lean on. Selfless. Hopeful. When you feel nothing but dread.

The good news you ask? I have less than ten treatments left, which feels like a weight lifted. Is the work done? Not even close. The physical therapy will intensify to get me back in shape and hopefully back into the show soon. The best part? Reconnecting with family and friends. Learning to heal deeply. To trust your body. To enjoy just a laugh, a movie, or a puzzle with a friend and have that be enough. The worst part? Missing my musical family, missing debuts, missing departures. We’re a family. We made this incredible show together. We’ve been stuck in rooms together for two years. The memories are too many to count.

In our careers, we’re always looking for the next success, the next gig, and unfortunately, the next flashy Instagram post. Are we our résumé? Who are we outside of our craft?  I’ve learned I’m loved. I’m strong, but I’m vulnerable. I’m independent but at times so needy, even if I pretend I’m not. I’m surrounded with support but I can be so lonely. I’m strong, but I can be weak. I’m a daughter, a sister, a friend, a colleague, a teacher. I’m still a New Yorker through and through. A good night’s sleep can cure a lot. Puzzles and Netflix 4 life. The best thing I’ve learned? The best connections you make in life are with humans, not jobs. Surrounding myself with good people who lift me up in my darkest hour, who believe when I can’t, who insist when my faith is shaken. The family and friends who are there unconditionally, always. Whether you are unemployed doing puzzles at your kitchen table or taking a bow on Broadway.

Stephanie Bissonnette

Stephanie Bissonnette

How to Write an Anthem

Mo Brady

by Mo Brady

Matthew Sklar

Matthew Sklar

There are few moments that are impactful for a theatre lover as when they hear a new favorite song for the first time. As lovers of the art form and believers in its ability to evoke emotions, we are always on the hunt for new showtunes that not only tell a story but speak to something greater about the human experience. Such is the case with composer Matthew Sklar’s “Unruly Heart.”

As a piece of theatrical storytelling, “Unruly Heart” lands halfway through Act II of The Prom. An original musical, the show centers on Emma (played by Caitlin Kinnunen), a lesbian teenager who causes a controversy by making the public request to take her girlfriend to prom. While the plot features many of outlandishly lovable characters, the heart of the story is Emma and her journey towards self-acceptance. In “Unruly Heart,” Emma shares her story with an internet audience and finds that her story resonates with many outside of her town.

Sklar began working on Broadway while he was a teenager himself. While studying at New York University, he began playing in the pit for the original Broadway production of Les Miserables, eventually graduating to conducting the show. He worked as an arranger, conductor or musician on more than a dozen additional Broadway musicals before getting the opportunity to write his own.

Alongside writing partner Chad Beguelin, Sklar made his Main Stem debut as a writer first for the musical adaptation of The Wedding Singer, for which he was nominated for a Tony Award. Since then, the team has worked on numerous collaborations, including the successful musicalization of the beloved film Elf. For The Prom, Sklar worked again with Beguelin, in addition to co-creating the show’s vocal arrangements with Music Supervisor Mary-Mitchell Campbell.

Together, Sklar and Beguelin wrote the first draft of “Unruly Heart” in the summer of 2014. While this was well before the show’s first staged production in 2016, it was about halfway through the team’s writing process. The team wrote the song in hopes of finding an opportunity for Emma to find her own voice.

“It felt right for Emma to sing directly into her laptop camera, sitting in her room - on her own terms,” says Sklar. “Then we would see kids from all over the country see her video online and express their love, support and pride.”

Caitlin Kinnunen (center) and the cast of  The Prom  (Photo by Deen van Meer)

Caitlin Kinnunen (center) and the cast of The Prom (Photo by Deen van Meer)

Aside from some minor lyric changes, the song stayed virtually the same until the show’s pre-Broadway lab in 2018. “We all loved the song, but we felt something was missing from the final section. Casey (Nicholaw, director) asked if we could create a bigger build and have the ensemble truly soar vocally.”

Collaborating with Campbell, Sklar quickly worked on a revised arrangement and taught it to the company that afternoon. The results were striking and immediate. When it was presented to Casey and the rest of the creative team, they has a positive and visceral reaction.

“They began sobbing as the music built and built,” says Sklar. “It was a thrilling day.”

In performance, “Unruly Heart” has an anthemic quality. Forever, part of the song’s power lies in its build from soliloquy to anthem.

“Since Emma is a teenage girl who plays the guitar, I knew it had to be a guitar-driven song,” remembers Sklar. “It had to be somewhat simple, because Emma would probably only know a limited amount of chords.”

As the song progresses, the orchestra slowly builds around her. Only once the ensemble begins to sing with her, it becomes quite epic.  

The key or placement of notes in the singers’ ranges affect how an audience perceives a song. “Placement in vocal range is incredibly important,” reveals Sklar. “The higher you climb in vocal ranges, the more intensity you’ll get. So you want to make sure you’re supporting the story you’re telling by creating the correct dynamic shape of the vocals.”

One of the most striking moments of the song’s climax is when the ensemble goes from singing in parts to singing in unison. “I always enjoy the element of surprise in vocal arranging,” admits Sklar.

“Unruly Heart” has found its way into the hearts, souls and Spotify playlists of many theatre lovers, including Sklar himself. The simple, but poignant song has become one of his favorite moments of The Prom to watch. “You can feel the audience and actors connect. It’s really beautiful to witness.”

Matthew Sklar in front of Broadway’s Longacre Theatre, home of  The Prom

Matthew Sklar in front of Broadway’s Longacre Theatre, home of The Prom

The Detroit Boys

Mo Brady

Ain’t Too Proud - The Life and Times of the Temptations

by Mo Brady

The cast of Broadway’s  Ain’t Too Proud  (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

The cast of Broadway’s Ain’t Too Proud (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

It’s easy to make broad comparisons between Jersey Boys and Ain’t Too Proud, the new musical based on the life and times of the Temptations with a book by Dominique Morisseau. In many ways, Broadway’s take on Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons was the first to prove that a bio-musical could be both emotional and entertaining. But those comparisons go deeper than their shared format through director (Des McAnuff) and choreographer (Sergio Trujillo). Both shows move swiftly and succinctly through the rise and creation of some of the most popular music in American history - and to entertaining results.

Like The Four Seasons, the Temptations was made of men with strong and sometimes competing personalities, and in both shows, much of the drama stems from absent parenting or addiction issues. The Ain’t Too Proud ensemble functions similarly to that of Jersey Boys as well, with the men playing managers or replacement group members and the women playing their romantic and sexual exploits. Like in Jersey Boys, one of Ain’t Too Proud’s most enjoyable tangents is an extended sequence by a girl group - this show’s being the Supremes played by Taylor Symone Jackson, Nasia Thomas and Candice Marie Woods.

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Also as is the case in Jersey Boys, the ensemble is charged with quickly establishing characters for the leading men to play off. This challenge is met exceptionally well by the 11-member ensemble, playing roles both large and small. However, none have a heavier lift or meet the challenge more successfully than Rashidra Scott. As Otis Williams’ wife Josephine, Scott is charged with establishing an emotional grounding for the plot. In just four short scenes, she brings empathy and humor to her role, as well as a dose of showstopping vocals.

Many of Scott’s fellow ensemble members also bring expertise to small roles. Jahi Kearse (Holler If Ya Hear Me, Baby, It’s You!) bestows a formidable but compassionate strength to his commanding take on Motown founder Berry Gordy. In her Broadway debut, Taylor Symone Jackson has the audience hooting with laughter in her short turn as Temptations manager Johnnie Mae, and Beautiful vet Nasia Thomas brings some of that signature Sergio Trujillo energy to the show as spitfire Tammi Terrell.

In Ain’t Too Proud, we also spend considerable time with Temptations beyond the group’s core five. Saint Aubyn as Dennis Edwards and E. Clayton Cornelious as Richard Street each bring strong vocals and slick moves to their time in the group.

Most notably, Jarvis B. Manning, Jr. as original Temptation Al Bryant is a revelation. It’s hard to believe this role qualifies as an ensemble track, with Bryant spending almost the entirety of the show’s first act as the lead singer of the Temptations. Manning, Jr. commands the stage with charisma, endowing his role with a winning smile and powerhouse vocals. While Ain’t Too Proud marks his second show on the Main Stem (after Motown The Musical’s short-lived return to Broadway in 2016), it certainly won’t be the last time New York audiences will see him shine.

What’s new for Broadway in Ain’t Too Proud? I’m not sure. Between Motown The Musical, Beautiful and Jersey Boys, the elements of the show feel like things already seen on Broadway in recent seasons, but between the well-loved music, Sergio Trujillo’s reliably crowd-pleasing choreography and strong performances across the board, it’s a heck of a fun night at the theatre.

5 Debut Questions: My Fair Lady's Sarah Quinn Taylor

Mo Brady

Today on the blog, we welcome My Fair Lady ensemblist Sarah Quinn Taylor to Broadway and learn about her journey to the Main Stem.

Sarah Quinn Taylor (Photo by Steven Truman Gray)

Sarah Quinn Taylor (Photo by Steven Truman Gray)

1. What is your name and hometown?
Sarah Quinn Taylor from Wichita, KS.

2. What is your role/track in your Broadway debut?
I was hired as a vacation swing for My Fair Lady at Lincoln Center. Made my debut in an Ensemble/Higgins’ Maid track last week and on to my next ensemble track this week. I actually also found out today I’ll be joining the cast as a permanent swing, so that’s exciting!

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

My husband and I actually have our home base in Pittsburgh, where he is the Production Manager at Pittsburgh CLO. So I flew into New York City on a Sunday night and had only packed a carry-on. I went to the dance call on Monday morning, and five hours later, I found out I’d booked the gig and would be starting rehearsals the next day! Needless to say, my husband had to make a trip to bring me more clothes.

4. What's been the most surprising thing about preparing to perform the show?
Especially in a show like My Fair Lady, the life and energy of the ensemble is so important. There are so many special moments and relationships on and off the stage that people have built into their tracks. It’s fun for me to be able to try and catch as many of those little moments as I can!

5. What are you looking forward to most about your experience on Broadway?
I’m so excited to continue learning from the most generous and insanely talented people in this business. When I’m not onstage, you can bet I’ll be in the wings watching Laura Benanti in all her brilliance. Every day is a masterclass!

Sarah Quinn Taylor (Photo by Steven Truman Gray)

Sarah Quinn Taylor (Photo by Steven Truman Gray)

A Theatrical Family Tradition

Mo Brady

by Paula Leggett Chase

Paula Leggett Chase (Photo by Jordan Matter)

Paula Leggett Chase (Photo by Jordan Matter)

When I was 23 years old, I packed up and moved to New York City hoping to perform on Broadway. My grandfather, Jesse Osborne Kyler, or “Oz” as he was commonly known was rightfully concerned, knowing how hard show business can be. Oz had never been to New York City himself, but was familiar with the business.

Oz was a sound man in southern Indiana.  Born in 1902, he became fascinated with radio during his stint in the army at the tender age of fifteen in WWI. He hung his placard on Evansville’s first radio repair shop in 1922. Eventually, he opened Kyler's Sound Service and designed, installed, and ran sound for an almost innumerable variety of venues and events. Touring musical shows, concerts, sporting events, horse races, fairs, ice shows, politicians and circuses—Oz was the guy.

When I was twelve, and he had been retired for several years, I found a box of letters and signed photographs from Truman, LBJ and Nixon, and fancy movie stars like Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda, all praising his work. He didn’t care about those letters; he was never a sentimental person. Nevertheless, when I found them I was so proud of him I compiled them into a scrapbook. 

“The big stars are always sweethearts," he would say knowingly, as he turned the pages. “The ones who have really made it big are sweet as to you as they can be.”

“Always be nice to the crew on a show-the crew can’t make you, but they can sure ruin you!” he’d laugh gleefully.

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I spent a lot of my childhood listening to his stories about working with the stars that played Evansville, Indiana, my beloved hometown. Elvis Presley was “a fine young man, well-mannered.” Sally Rand, the 1930’s fan dancer “was not a spring chicken - she wasn’t really naked, she wore a kind of body suit and they covered her with makeup out of bucket!" Johnny Cash, who was in a rough place and Grandpa had to give him a ride back to his hotel: “He tried to open a bottle of beer on one of my mics.” The touring Russian ballet companies: “they’re all crippled by the end of their careers—terrible life!”

Cab Calloway: “There was one guy in the band whose only job was to roll joints! I never saw him play anything!”

Dozens of rock acts like the raucous concerts of Led Zeppelin: “The didn’t play live! They had rubber strings on their guitars!”

Dick Clark shows: “Those kids weren’t paid enough money to feed themselves! I had to give them cigarette money!”  

Paula Leggett Chase (center, with Gwen Verdon and Al Lewis)

Paula Leggett Chase (center, with Gwen Verdon and Al Lewis)

I proudly tagged along with him on many a job and the more heartbreaking, illusion-busting the story, the more I heard how rough show business was; how outrageously precarious and downright dangerous and foolish to pursue— the more I longed to be part of it.   

Grandpa trusted the brotherhood (and sisterhood) of IATSE and sent his last union card with me when I made the big move in 1984 with the following penned on the back: “This girl is Paula Leggett—my granddaughter. Would appreciate any courtesy you can show her. Jesse O. Kyler. Retired Member #102.”

Paula Leggett Chase in  Cabaret  (left, with Joel Grey and Jennifer Allen)

Paula Leggett Chase in Cabaret (left, with Joel Grey and Jennifer Allen)

Grandpa Kyler never did get to New York to see me perform on Broadway, but he did see me in Cabaret on tour. As much as he would grumble about the dangers of show business, I know he was incredibly proud of me. Once when I came home to visit Kentucky Lake where Grandma and Grandpa Kyler retired, I overheard him bragging to his cronies. At the boat dock where he would hang out and “shoot the breeze" in his loud brash voice, he told everyone within earshot (and beyond) how his granddaughter Paula was “making a splash in the show business up there in New York!” He also sent his wife, my wonderful Grandma Addie, to the city to see me perform in my first two Broadway shows, A Chorus Line and Crazy For You, and buy me a piano for my first apartment.

Tootsie marks my tenth Broadway show. I did okay, Grandpa, you don’t have to worry. Thank you for everything, and especially for every terrible, frightening showbiz story. I’ll never forget you, and I’m ever grateful. 

 

A Stage Full of Real People

Mo Brady

by Marialena Rago

Matt Wall

Matt Wall

 “I feel like you take something with you from every project you work on with you as we all go along our individual journeys...”

Ensemble members come from all backgrounds; some are new to Broadway, while others have been in a number of shows. The ensemble of My Fair Lady is a diverse cast of performers that has something quite special: many of the male performers have been in more than 10 Broadway performances each.

Matt Wall is one of those performers. He has been in The Drowsy Chaperone, South Pacific and Evita, to name a few. In Lincoln Center Theater’s production of My Fair Lady, Wall plays many different characters. “We [the ensemble] wear many hats in this show,” he says. “I play an opera-goer and a cockney worker in Covent Garden, Mrs. Higgins’ driver, Charles and a bride in ‘Get Me to the Church.’”

An experienced performer knows how to balance many roles and knows how to approach them.

“With principal roles, you have the luxury of the character arc as well as all the details given in the script,” Wall said. “A large percentage of your character is, essentially, on the page. As an ensemble member, you have to create your own backstory, typically. You get the basic details, but have to fine-tune and create your own story and relationships.”

Experience doesn’t only make a performer better, it fills out the stage and makes it look more realistic to the audience. Choreographer Christopher Gattelli says director Bartlett Sher wanted a stage that looked like it was “full of real people.”

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“For my contribution, the performers had to be able to move both like the upper and lower classes in the production,” Gattelli says. “They had to have the posture, elegance, and grace to do ‘Ascot’ or the Embassy Ball, and then be able to get down and dirty for ‘Get Me to The Church’... and not so much technically, but more as actors that can move in both ways.”

Gattelli also says that there is a reason that people who have worked on Broadway for a number of years consistently do.

“It is not just talent per se, it is also their collaboration and kindness, as well as work ethic in the room, which I can speak to all of these gentlemen about.”

Collaboration during a Broadway show is something that Wall thinks makes a truly great ensemble.

“I think a great ensemble is the result of everyone being on the same page as far as the world of the show is concerned,” he says. “We spent our first two days of rehearsal doing ‘table work.’ We discussed the time period, class system, and language, among other things. That level of understanding of the piece is reflected onstage and creates a cohesive unit.”

Having experienced performers helps the ensemble as a whole because putting a world together from scratch is hard work, but it is work that brings people together and forms a strong bond.

“I love the camaraderie that is established in the ensemble. You create these great relationships on-stage and even better ones off-stage.”

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“Tom, Dick, or …Darry?”

Mo Brady

by Christine Cornish Smith

Christine Cornish Smith

Christine Cornish Smith

I’ve come to believe that when you firmly declare something, the universe will test you in that declaration. So when someone asked me if I would go on as Lois soon and I answered, “Oh, I won’t go on for a while, if ever!”… you better believe I got the call the very next day that I was on for both shows.

All I know is that with the help of the amazing Stephanie Styles, the supportive and loving cast and crew, and some hot tea with a side of Ricola - I made it through going on as Lois Lane/Bianca just a few days after opening Kiss Me, Kate and with no rehearsal or put in.

*Insert shocked face emoji here*

I am lucky enough to be understudying one special and generous lady. Our Lois Lane, Stephanie Styles, gave me an extra heads up early Wednesday morning. I had an inkling the night before, but officially knew by about 9 a.m. Wednesday morning. Talk about a wake up call! I didn’t even need coffee. I was suddenly awake AF, y’all. This is my third Broadway show, but my first time understudying a principal role, so I relied heavily on the advice and stories from the Broadway vets that I have worked with. I remember my two dear friends from My Fair Lady, Matt Wall and Cameron Adams, told me to know the lines and songs like the back of my hand, because no matter what happens with the blocking or choreo, if I know where I am in the script, I will be okay. So, with that advice, I felt prepared in that regard walking into the theater on Wednesday.

The catch is, Lois has a series of lifts, stunts, and tricks with props… all of which I had never touched or run with any of the boys. So I was in full makeup and pin curls by 10:30 a.m. pacing around like a crazy person until people starting filtering into the theater so I could start running through the things I had never done before. Since I am on eight times a week in my own ensemble dancing track, there are a lot of things I had never seen Stephanie do. Stage management and cast members were so supportive and arrived early to run things with me, while I tried my best to remain calm and simply focus on each task at hand, one thing at a time. It was hard to not get in my head, as Stephanie is a petite and slender dream, so all the lifts and stunts were built onto her small frame! 5’9” Amazon lady over here: let’s just say it added another element of comedy with my frog legs squeezing through the ladder, upside down, at the end of “Always True To You.”

Christine Cornish Smith

Christine Cornish Smith

After running the important things for safety, we were already at half hour for the show! The first show was an out of body experience. I was making weird mistakes, such as… Running up to the pay phone, immediately picking up the phone and shouting "Hello-is-Bill-Calhoun-there?” Without, you know, putting in a quarter or dialing a number at all. Or in the song, “Tom Dick or Harry,” getting so into it that I belted out “Tom, Dick, or Darry!” (Who is Darry?) I also quite enjoyed falling to the floor downstage in “Always True,” but realizing that I was on the wrong number, looking to my right and seeing a pool of light in the distance. So, naturally, I crawled into the spotlight while singing, because… I needed to find my light.

Before I knew it, we were at the curtain call. Then it was time (for me) to review what just happened and get geared up for the evening show. I reviewed my script and got a few notes regarding blocking and choreography so that I could apply them to the show in a few hours. My parents happened to be in town and came to the evening show, along with some wonderful friends. The second show was definitely less frantic and I was able to take in what was actually happening with a little more presence. I had moments that felt so surreal and dreamlike, that I had to really remember to remain focused so I wouldn’t get emotional! The fact that I used to listen to Kelli O’Hara sing The Light in the Piazza on my CD player in high school, completely idolizing her, and now she is my castmate giving me blocking just seconds before running onstage and executing that blocking in front of hundreds of people on Broadway.

What?

The thing that struck me the most: how everyone really came together and worked as a team. The day really reminded me about the community aspect of theater. How no performance can occur without all the elements coming together. There are so many parts to the whole and it is beautiful. The fact that Stephanie Styles is sick and at the ENT sending me silent videos of footwork to help me out in the morning, and then flowers show up from her at half hour wishing me luck (Talk about a class act!). Pam, our Assistant Stage Manager, was walking me through backstage traffic that I had never seen before mid-show while she was calling out other cues. Jeff, our Production Stage Manager, showed up early with his two-year-old in order to give me the tracking sheet and an updated script since we just froze the show a week prior. It was all so inspiring to see teamwork functioning at its best and I felt truly in awe at the generosity of the artists around me. It was a day I will never forget, but I also still am not convinced that it happened!

Christine Cornish Smith in  Kiss Me, Kate

Christine Cornish Smith in Kiss Me, Kate

5 Debut Questions - The Prom's Nicholas Masson

Mo Brady

Today on the blog, we welcome The Prom ensemblist Nicholas Masson to Broadway and learn about his journey to the Mainstem.

Nicholas Masson

Nicholas Masson

1. What is your name and hometown?

My name is Nicholas Masson, and I’m from Hudson, NH.


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

I’m the male vacation swing, but my debut was in the track normally done by Wayne “Juice” Mackins.


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

I had done the lab in early 2018, so the company already knew I was familiar with the show. I received an email from the company manager about a month and a half ago asking if I would be willing to join the company as their new vacation swing. 


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

The most surprising thing about this was how fast it all happens. I learned my track the day before I went on, so I guess just how quickly you have to be ready because you never know when you’re gonna need to go on. I found out I was going on only about an hour before the show. So I had to quickly go over everything I learned the day before. It’s Crazy! 

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

I’m looking forward to sharing the stage with such an incredibly talented and supportive cast. These are some of the best that Broadway has to offer, and I’m so excited to be able to have the chance to learn hands on with the most amazing Broadway veterans. Between Josh, Brooks, Beth, Chris, and Angie, I’m getting a free master class in Musical Theater. And this Ensemble pushes me to always give 1000% onstage. Anytime I feel like I might not gonna make it through a number, I look at my cast mates onstage and they give me this look like, “We can do it! Keep pushing! Don’t Stop! Go Go Go Go!” So to have them with me onstage is so comforting. 

Nicholas Masson (third from left) and the cast of  The Prom

Nicholas Masson (third from left) and the cast of The Prom

The Damsel In Distress

Mo Brady

 BariToned at Birdland Jazz Club

by Christine McNeal

BariToned

BariToned

What more could be said about the riveting cabaret BariToned besides the phrase “pure Broadway joy?" Kicking off its The Damsel In Distress Tour at Birdland, this bewitching show stars creator, founder, and producer, Edward Miskie, the charmingly honest and funny Kyle Hines, and Joe Hager, the epitome of manly swagger.

BariToned  is composed of a trio of burly baritones who breathe new life into the songs of our beloved Broadway leading ladies. I found myself giddy with excitement at the start of each new song, only to be more delighted when a familiar song took an exhilarating turn and blended seamlessly into a wonderful mashup.

Dan Pardo stands as the backbone behind the beautifully arranged trios and mashups that make the show as wildly entertaining as it is. The trio of baritones soared through the tight harmonies and show stoping transitions. This night of wonderful musical theatre would not be complete, however, without the delightfully campy and wildly entertaining choreography by Brooke Martino. Edward, Kyle, and Joe were wonderfully in sync throughout without ever losing their corky individuality.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the eleven o’clock number that brought the largest smile to my face and ended with an eruption of applause from the audience. The baritones performed a mashup of “If You’ve Got It, Flaunt It,” “Big Spender,” and “There Are Worse Things I Could Do” that truly had me doing a happy dance throughout. The show flew past in what felt like moments. I think that the audience would agree with me when I say that I was very glad to see a few encore moments that brought us all to our feet.

BariToned will be headed from New York City to San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco and more. If The Damsel In Distress Tour is coming to a city near you, do not hesitate to see this Broadway lover’s dream.

BariToned

BariToned