Two young undertakers, two angels and their lover, a colorful instrumentalist and singer, a pie-baking assistant, a quarreling and vocally gifted couple, a distraught girlfriend who’s gone to pot, a couple who take a long time to reconcile, and a disfigured woman who finally finds inner peace and an unlikely soulmate – are my winter 2010 Musical Scene Stealers. Here are the magical musical moments that brought so much warmth and joy to appreciative audiences and me during the many recent snow-filled days and nights.
Zachary Conneen and Heather Strauss as Mr. and Mrs. Sowerberry singing “That’s Your Funeral” in Oliver at Act Two Performing Arts.
There’s nothing like a little morbid comic relief after you see a slew of orphans being forced to swallow grotesque gruel. After Mr. Bumble (played by Ethan Barbee) convinces the Sowerberrys, a mortician couple from hell, to buy Oliver (Ari Goldberg-Helzner) so he can follow behind the wee coffins of future expired youngsters, Zachary and Heather shift into comedic and nasty overdrive – with a “stiff” upper lip – as they taunt the already miserable Oliver on his new job, warn him not to overeat, and send him to “his room” – sleeping near the empty coffins. Zachary, who is 11, (who is being honored here with his fourth Scene Stealer) and Heather, who is 13, had the slimiest, evilest time of their lives, singing and dancing their way à la Cruella De Villa and the Thenardiers. You just wanted to smack ’em and save Oliver from their grave clutches!
Zachary: I have been performing on stage since 2nd grade, and so far I have been trained by the Musical Theater Center (MTC) and Act Two directors, choreographers, and voice teachers for each show I’ve been in. I am just starting to take some voice, dance, and acting lessons to improve myself further, and can’t wait to see what the future holds for me!
Heather: I study voice with Hannah Willman, and acting with Kevin Kuchar, and take classes in musical theater and acting at Ballet Petite (Musical Theatre Petite), Imagination Stage, Adventure Theatre, Musical Theater Center (MTC), and Act Two Performing Arts.
Zachary: I have appeared as Mr. Sowerberry/Mr. Brownlow/Orphan in Oliver and in the ensemble of Bye Bye Birdie (Act Two Performing Arts); Prez in The Pajama Game; Lumiere, the Candlestick in Beauty and the Beast; Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz; Greylag, the Admiral Goose in Honk; Michael Darling in Peter Pan; The Emperor in The Emperor’s New Clothes; Alan Auditioner/Skater Dude in High School Musical; and Wickersham Brother in Seussical all at MTC. I will be performing at MTC from June 25-27th, in Jason Robert Brown’s new musical 13. I’ll be playing the role of “Eddie – the funny guy”. What a surprise!
Heather: I was in the ensemble of Annie Warbucks at Musical Theater Center (MTC) and was the voice of the children in a radio play of It’s a Wonderful Life at SoundIncentive.
At Act Two Performing Arts, I was in the ensemble of Bye Bye Birdie and Thoroughly Modern Millie, and played Mrs. Sowerberry in Oliver. I will be appearing in the ensemble of The Producers at Act Two from March 4-7th, the One Act Play Festival, from March 11-12th , Eleanor in No Less Than the Light and a newscaster in ten/thirtyfour at the American Shakespeare Center. I will be attending the Young Company Theatre Camp from June 20th through July 11th.
Zachary: I couldn’t really relate to Mr. Sowerberry. He’s pretty creepy! So, instead, I tried to bring some of my own personality into it and make it a funnier, likable, cranky old man whose wife (Heather Strauss) could boss him around… and then I took it out on Oliver (Ari Goldberg-Helzner). I’ve played a lot of comedic type parts, but this one gave me the opportunity to try playing a dark and serious character.
Heather: I enjoyed playing the role of Mrs. Sowerberry mostly because she is so different from me. I was able to totally separate my character from myself and become a whole new person on stage. I especially loved working with the Cockney accent. Another reason I enjoyed playing this character was because I was able to have fun with the other actors in the scene, including my co-scene stealer Zachary Conneen, who played my husband. It is a very comical scene, and all of us really had fun working together to make it as funny as possible.
Heather: The song, “That’s Your Funeral” is sung by Mr. and Mrs. Sowerberry, who are undertakers. It is a funny song about how everyone is going to die one day, and how the undertakers profit from death. Playing this character meant a lot to me because it was my first chance to really be in the spotlight and play a character that is very different from my age, dialect, and personality. Also, I liked the comedy of the scene, especially singing with a rolling coffin. Outside of rehearsals, I worked with a dialect coach to nail down the Cockney accent. Mrs. Sowerberry is a colorful character and she was so fun to play.
Zachary: The song gave me a chance to play a dark and serious character. I enjoyed singing “That’s Your Funeral” with Heather, although I couldn’t help myself and tried to get a laugh or two anyway during my performance. A “shout out” to Ari and Heather both of them for making this scene “a stealer” together!
Laura D’Andre as Rizzo singing “There Are Worse Things I Could Do” in Grease at The National Theatre.
When you steal a show from right under two American Idol icons – Taylor Hicks and Ace Young – in a tour of Grease and you get the largest applause of the evening, you must be special and Laura D’Andre’s powerful and heart-breaking rendition of the suddenly powerless Rizzo’s “There Are Worse Things I Could Do” did just that. She had the audience and me eating right out of her hands. I was so moved and shaken by her rendition that I wanted her to sing it again! I have seen dozens of other productions of Grease, dozens of other actresses sing this song, but I have never been moved like I was by Laura’s performance of this showstopper.
Laura: I was born and raised in California. When did I know I wanted to be an actress/singer? My mother tells me it was the school Christmas play, first grade, and I was an Elf. I memorized everyone else’s lines and mouthed them throughout the show. I was hooked. I got involved in voice lessons and community theatre where I got my first big role as Annie! I was raised on jazz and classical music since I was a baby. My father would sit me down at a young age and ask me, “How many brass instruments do you hear?” Even though I did not quite fit in with my friends – I liked Ella Fitzgerald and my friends liked the Spice Girls. Being exposed to such great music no doubt shaped the performer I am today.
I attended the University of California Irvine where I received a BA in Drama and made the big move to NY after graduating in 2008. Prior to GREASE, I got to play Petra in A Little Night Music in White Plains, NY. It was a character I fell in love with entirely. Her spirit, carefree, and cleverness was a joy to perform, not to mention singing the huge masterpiece “The Miller’s Son.” Other favorite roles in CA include Eponine in Les Miserables, and Sarraghina in Nine.
It has been a dream playing the iconic Rizzo in Grease. I have loved the challenge of playing a role so many people associate with Stockard Channing and making it my own. It is Rizzo’s layers that intrigue me. She is a rebellious, tough as nails teen who uses sass and crudeness to mask her insecurity. There is definitely a person close to me in my life who is very similar to Rizzo which gave me closeness to the role. Rizzo is not afraid to do and say exactly what she wants, and I love that side of her. As for life after the Grease tour, it is definitely a mystery. I am excited for whatever opportunities come my way.
The song “There are Worse Things I Could Do” is definitely like a dramatic scene rather than a torch song. It is amazing having Sandy (Lauren Ashley Zakrin) on stage with me throughout the number as it makes for a much more interesting approach. Sandy confronts Rizzo about being pregnant and about the possibility it is Kenicke’s. It is here where we get to see Rizzo finally let her guard down when she is faced with a situation she cannot control. She cannot sass her way out of this one. Up until this point in the show, I have only shown Rizzo as confident, witty, and always in charge of every situation. It is the first time that Rizzo is vulnerable in front of all of her friends and it is too much for her. She is dealing with the very adult concept of possibly being pregnant and trying to handle the embarrassment, shock, and pain with all eyes on her. She has to blow off Kenicke, the one guy she actually cares for, in order to save face. She is too afraid of showing her true feelings.
I approached this scene from the aspect of being judged and how it feels when you are losing control, feelings we can all relate to at one time or another. Sandy is then left alone with Rizzo where she tries to give her condolences and pities Rizzo’s situation with “Good luck Rizzo.” It is here where Rizzo is like, “Excuse me?!!!! Who do you think you are?” “Even though the neighborhood thinks I’m trashy and no good. I suppose it could be true, But there are worse things I could do.” as well as “I don’t steal and I don’t lie, but I can feel and I can cry.” It’s like, “Hey, I’m not such a bad person”. I am not a criminal. I am just different from you. You have no idea what I am going through and have no right to judge me. “(I could) take cold showers every day and throw my life away on a dream that won’t come true.” is the most powerful line for me. It’s where Rizzo is sad in believing the life Sandy wants just is not going to happen for either of them. It’s a very honest moment for Rizzo. The scene is the only true dramatic scene in Grease, and I am lucky and thrilled to tell the story every night.
Parker Drown as Angel singing “Today 4 U” in RENT at Keegan Theatre.
The first time I attended Keegan Theatre’s critically acclaimed RENT, Parker Drown, playing Angel, dressed in his Santa dudes and looking beautiful and angelic, turned to the audience with a beautiful wide smile – grabbed them and made them laugh and applaud. After an audience member shouted out “Go Girl!”, Parker had the audience in the palm of his hand, and never let go of them until he had the entire audience in tears at his memorial service later on in the show. During and after singing “Today 4 U”, I knew I was in the presence of a real angel. And she looked great in that Santa outfit! The Helen Hayes Awards judges agreed with me when they nominated Parker’s energetically divine performance last month. Good luck on April 5th, Parker!
Parker: I started doing theatre camps in seventh grade and in the ninth grade I worked my first professional job in The King and I at Toby’s Dinner Theatre as a cover for every child (both boys and girls, except the oldest and youngest daughters). I took up voice lessons throughout high school, sung in the school choir, performed in all the school plays as well as continuing to perform outside of high school with a touring ensemble group – “The Young Columbians”, directed by Toby Orenstein. I then went off to Syracuse University for 4 years, graduating with a B.F.A in Acting. I followed my time there with an intensive 14-week semester at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre’s National Theatre Institute (one of the best experiences ever).
My favorite roles so far have been Angel in RENT; Student 2 in Shakespeare’s R&J; Tereus and Hippomenes in Tales of Ovid; Dean (u.s.), Dennis (u.s.), and the ensemble of All Shook Up; Prince Nicky in My One and Only; and Clive in Rookery Nook.
As far as my performance of Angel, I really did love every part of it! The most enjoyable part of playing that role was that I got to go on stage every day with people who became dear, dear friends of mine, and we got to tell a really cool passionate story by singing some really kick-ass music (and in my case dancing on table, too). I really don’t know if I have a favorite part of the show. I think that would take me way too much time to try and figure out. Next up for me is a 5-month run of Hairspray, playing Fender and understudying Link at Toby’s – The Dinner Theatre of Columbia, from March 4th to August 1st.
As for “Today 4 U”, this song epitomized joy and fun. For me, as a performer, I love the moments where I can put a smile on someone’s face and in this song; his goal is to brighten Mark and Roger’s spirits. Every time I walked out on stage to do this number, I said to myself, “Make them smile, have a blast, and do what you do best”. Also, the song wrapped up my experience in the show, and why I love doing what I do. How often do you get to go on stage in a Santa dress to sing, kick your face, jump on tables, bang on metal, fan yourself with $200, and dance on chairs, all in under two minutes, and under a spotlight? I mean, seriously, it’s just absurd to think about, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Montario Hill and Jase Parker as Tom Collins and Angel, singing “I’ll Cover You” in RENT at Kensington Arts Theatre.
Why settle for one Angel in this article, when you were blessed by another visit from another heavenly Angel – Jase Parker – and his partner Tom Collins, played by the Montario Hill, a man with one of the most beautiful voices I have ever heard on the stage. And, let me tell you – when Montario and Jase sang “I’ll Cover You”, there was so much love and hope that their love would sustain them through their illness, that when Angel did die, the audience was devastated, even though the majority of them had seen the show before and were RENTHEADS. When Montario sang the reprise of this song at Angel’s memorial service, I had chills up and down my spine. Rarely have I heard “I’ll Cover You” sung with such beauty and emotion. I’ll never forget it.
Montario: I have been involved in theatre for the past 15 years. I started out with the St. Mary’s County Summerstock, and have been falling in love with musical theatre ever since. I graduated from Morgan State University with a degree in Vocal Music. At St. Mary’s County Recreation and Parks Summerstock, I appeared as The Wolf in Into The Woods, Teen Angel in Grease, Maude in Bye Bye Birdie, Mister Bumble in Oliver, and Audrey II (the blood thirsty plant) in Little Shop Of Horrors. At Morgan State University Theatre Department, I played Adam in The Beginning. At Patuxent Playhouse, I played Herb in Godspell, and George in School House Rock Live! Next, I will be playing the role of Fakir in The Secret Garden with The Port Tobacco Players, from April 30th to May 23rd.
Jase: I’ve been involved in acting and dancing in theatre for almost 10 years, and I’ve been singing longer than that. I am a 2007 Magna Cum Laude graduate from The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, where I received my Bachelor’s of Music in Musical Theatre. I’m incredibly honored to have made the Scene Stealers’ list again, and it’s extra special this time; for I get to share it with my wonderful onstage love in RENT, Mr. Montario Hill. Some of my favorite roles have included Samuel in The Pirates of Penzance, The Learned Judge in Trial by Jury, Anselmo in Man of La Mancha, Roderigo in Babes in Toyland, and my other Scene Stealing performing as The Lord Chancellor in Gilbert & Sullivan’s Iolanthe with the Washington Savoyards. After RENT, I’ll be returning to the Washington Savoyards to perform the role of Ko-Ko – the Lord High Executioner – in their latest production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Mikado, which runs from April 9th to the 25th.
Montario: I enjoyed playing Tom Collins so much because it was unlike any role that I had ever done before. It always helps when you have a great partner like Jase Parker to act and react with. It has been a dream role of mine, and I am so fortunate to have had this dream come true.
Jase: Angel Dumott Schunard in RENT was always a dream role of mine, ever since I first heard the original Broadway cast recording back in high school. His music is wonderful and such fun to perform, and I love the spirit of his character. He’s just so beautiful in many ways, from his caring and loving attitude and interactions with those around him – to the way he dresses (Santa drag – love it!!!). I’m very grateful for finally being able to play this iconic role, and I can only hope that it won’t be the last time!
Montario: “I’ll Cover You” is such a great love song. It is not your typical ballad love song. It is uptempo and alive. I believe that it personifies the love that Angel and Collins begin to feel for each other. It fits their personalities to a tee. Love is very serious and when you find it, it should be celebrated just as these two characters do. I think that Jonathon Larson was so ingenious when he uses that song again in the musical to complete the love cycle between Collins and Angel.
Jase: “I’ll Cover You” is a duet sung by Angel and Collins during the first act. In this number, they are finally alone together and Angel decides to take this time to tell Collins that he’s in love with him, and Collins reassures him that he feels the same way. It’s such a lovely piece of music, especially with the words they express – they constantly vow to one another throughout the song that they will never be without the other – no matter how bad things can get. Now that’s a strong and caring love that will last. I can relate to it so much, because that’s exactly how I feel a relationship should be – to know that you’ll have someone to take care of you and love you under any circumstance, and that you can give that same amount of affection right back to your significant other – is really a wonderful feeling. And to be able to sing this number with Montario Hill is such a treat! He’s a wonderful actor, talented vocalist, and he gives me so much to work with onstage. It’s been nothing but an absolute pleasure to work with him in RENT.
Casey Klein singing “Colors of the Wind” in The Stephen Schwartz Project at Musical Theater Center.
Not only did he show that he was a terrific electric guitarist while soloing “On The Right Track”, and that he played a mean violin, while soloing on “Meadowlark”, but Casey Klein showed everyone he also had great pipes when he sang “Colors of the Wind” with great emotion – in his beautiful tenor voice in The Stephen Schwartz Project. And in the audience, watching, listening, and applauding his efforts that night were Casey’s family, friends, and the composer himself – Stephen Schwartz. I’ve watched Casey’s performances in many shows at the Musical Theater Center (MTC), and I am in awe of his many instrumental and vocal talents, and how humble he is. And on this opening night, Casey was a star.
Casey: I’m a 9th grade homeschooler, and will turn 15 on March 7, 2010. I started singing and performing at an early age. I am fortunate to have had many opportunities to learn and grow in the arts at home, with HST Cultural Arts, and the Musical Theater Center. I cut my teeth singing and dancing with the middle school ensemble, “Upbeat Unlimited”, at The Musical Theater Center (MTC), where I am now a member of the high school ensemble, “Singular Sensations”. My very first show at MTC was in 2004, as Senator Vandenberg in Annie Warbucks. Since then, I have participated in many productions: Seussical The Musical (Genghis Kahn), Meet Me In St. Louis (PeeWee), The Wizard of Oz (The Lion), Grease (Teen Angel), Beauty and the Beast (Beast), and most recently as a cast member of The Stephen Schwartz Project. I also had a wonderful experience working at Toby’s Dinner Theater in Columbia as Friedrich in The Sound of Music.
When I’m not performing in musical theatre, I am focusing more on classical music performance. I have had formal training in several instruments, and have picked up others on my own. However, my focus now is with the viola. I’m currently playing with the Academy of St. Cecilia’s Youth. Other instruments I enjoy spending time with include guitar, violin, piano, drums, and saxophone.
The Stephen Schwartz Project turned out to be an opportunity to really express myself musically. I was given the opportunity to play the violin, and the guitar in different numbers on stage. I was also a featured singer for the beautiful song, “Colors of the Wind”. I loved singing this song in rehearsals and on stage. The process for discovering how to sing “Colors of the Wind” began in earnest about two weeks before our tech-in. When Barry Hamilton, our music director, and I sat down for the first time at the audition and I sang it, I had no real concept of how this song should be delivered.
Obviously, in the movie “Pocahontas”, this song was sung about how the settlers disrespected the land that Native Americans cherished. The tension and conflict in the song is obvious, and my intent was to bring to life these emotions. I wanted to show the passion of the Native American point of view, and the love and respect for nature they hold. In today’s age, with all of the issues of environment, we can all identify with these conflicts. I think that the emotion I put into this song really showed in the audience’s reactions. This song really meant a lot to me.
I would like to thank the production team and Michael Bobbitt for giving me the opportunity to express my talents. Michael trusted me with the violin, guitar, and “Colors of the Wind”, and I am so glad he did. Thank you to the cast, especially to Max Talisman for being my tenor buddy. This show has been my favorite experience in theater, and I will never forget it!
Sam Ludwig as Tobias singing “Not While I’m Around” in Sweeney Todd at Signature Theatre.
I saw Sam Ludwig perform most of the role of Tobias in a production of Sweeney Todd at Kensington Arts Theatre on Friday, June 8, 2007. During the whole first act, the thunder was rumbling and booming loudly and the lights were flickering. At the start of the Second Act, the lights and electricity gave out for good, leaving me with half a performance to write about, and pondering when I would ever hear the amazing young Sam Ludwig sing the “complete” role of Tobias.
So, here I am three years later, sitting in the MAX Theatre at Signature Theatre and finally getting the chance to hear Sam sing, “Not While I’m Around”, and I am astounded by the maturity of his beautiful voice and the power of his performance. Memories started flooding back to the night when I interviewed Sam in the dark – “The darkest Sweeney I ever saw!” – and he sang a snippet of “Not While I’m Around” for me, and I said to him, “Someday soon, I will see you perform the role of Tobias on a big stage, and I will hear your gorgeous rendition of “Not While I’m Around”. It happened. He did it this time with the lights on. I’m glad I was around to enjoy it!
Sam: I started singing and doing theater when I was about 16. I got into Ithaca College and attended for less than a semester. When I got back to DC, I started doing some work at Toby’s Dinner Theater and Olney Theatre Center. I started working at Signature Theatre about a year ago in Les Miserables, and was proud to be part of the Helen Hayes Award-winning Ensemble. I just finished performing in Showboat, and will be part of the cast of [title of show], playing the role of Jeff – from April 6th to June 27th.
What I love about doing Tobias in Sweeney Todd is that it’s one of the great Sondheim roles for my type, and I pretty much love to perform and sing Sondheim. What I think makes “Not While I’m Around” such a satisfying scene is that on the surface – it’s this rare moment in the show where there are honest and simple emotions being expressed through a lush and pleasing melodic line, so you get lulled into this false sense of security. And as you begin to realize what’s going on, you get this sense of dread. It just seems like this sweet song – but by the time it’s finished – you just know it won’t end well for any of these characters.
You can see Sam perform a snippet of “Not While I’m Around” in Sweeney Todd here.
Katie McManus and Weslie Woodley, as Joanne and Maureen, singing “Take Me or Leave Me” in RENT at Keegan Theatre.
I sat in on over 140 auditions for RENT at Keegan theatre, and I said to my friends after the second night of auditions, “If I hear ‘Take Me or Leave Me’ one more time, I am going to go nuts!” It seemed like every actress who tried out for the show sang this song. Some sang it well, and – well – let’s not go there! But two actresses really rocked the auditions, and when Directors Mark and Susan Rhea cast Katie and Weslie as Joanne and Maureen, I knew audiences were in for a treat!
When the audience watched Katie and Weslie almost blow the roof off Church Street Theatre with their outrageous and vocally astounding rendition of “Take Me or Leave Me” on press night, and two other visits I made to the production, they went nuts! And I have changed my tune. I would go anywhere to hear Katie and Weslie sing this song!
Katie: Honestly, I’ve never had any vocal training, but there are a few people out there who have certainly “trained” me when I’ve needed it. Among my favorite roles are Georgia in Curtains (Reston Community Players), Lizzie in 110 in the Shade (Kensington Arts Theatre), Violet Hilton in Side Show (Elden Street Players), Baker’s Wife in Into the Woods (Little Theatre of Alexandria), Ms. Pennywise in Urinetown (Reston Community Players), Homeless Woman in A New Brain (The Foundry Players), and Lin in The Great American Trailer Park (Kensington Arts Theatre). I am currently in the ensemble in Sweeney Todd at Signature Theatre, (also understudying Mrs. Lovett), running until April 4th.
Weslie: I grew up in the Northern Virginia area and went off to college to study vocal performance, but I have always had true love for the theatre. I started performing in high school and I haven’t stopped. Since I moved back to DC I have worked at the Kennedy Center (Phantom Tollbooth), Studio Theatre (Jerry Springer the Opera), Keegan Theatre (Rent), and Signature Theatre (Les Miserables, Matt Conner’s Partial Eclipse, and currently Sweeney Todd with my co-scene stealer Katie). After Sweeney Todd, I will be taking on my most exciting role yet – motherhood. My husband and I are expecting a “tiny belter” late this summer.
Katie: It’s so easy to play opposite Weslie. She gives and gives, so it’s very easy to react and act logically. That scene/song was fun and unpredictable every night. I loved it!
Weslie: Rent was an AMAZING experience. Mark and Susan Rhea are a brilliant directing team, and the cast had/has a truly special bond. I have always wanted to play Maureen so I was THRILLED to be given the opportunity to do so.
Katie: “Take Me or Leave Me” is a duet about a heated fight between two lovers, Joanne and Maureen, each passionately stubborn in her own right. Any argument (between lovers, friends, parents, siblings, etc.) can end up this way – each fighting for his/her view on the matter. I think the duet shows the audience that relationships work when you can agree to disagree, meet halfway, compromise, and accept the other as-is. It can seem very logical when you’re on the outside looking in, doesn’t it?
Weslie: “Take Me of Leave Me” was so much fun to do. I have found a lifelong friend in Katie McManus, and I think our fast friendship added to our onstage chemistry. We love each other! Some nights we would get so caught up in the fight and get REALLY pissed at one another. I could always tell when Katie was REALLY mad – because she would add a little more riffing in the mix. I think “Take Me or Leave Me” is that classic fight in a relationship where you say, “I’m the best thing that ever happened to you”. I think we have all been there. It was very therapeutic to sing that song every night and get all the angst out. We really had SO MUCH FUN during that scene!
Jaclyn Young as Mary Lane singing “Lonely Pew” in Reefer Madness at Dominion Stage.
Jaclyn Young has always made me laugh and cheer. She has a wicked sense of humor, and is a terrific actress and singer. When I found out she was cast as Mary Lane in Reefer Madness, I made sure I would be there to cheer her on. Of course, Jaclyn was hysterical and I almost plotzed when she sang “Lonely Pew”. For Christ’s sake, I thought I was going to have to get stoned so I wouldn’t die from laughing too hard when she was on the stage. Pew actresses could have done what Jaclyn did with that song, and I’m still laughing thinking about her singing, “The wafers now don’t taste so great; They won’t transubstantiate; Without you near the gospel choir sounds askew; Jimmy, come back and fill my lonely pew!” You had to see her facial expressions. She was such a hoot!
Jaclyn: I studied Theatre and Music at the College of William and Mary, and after college I studied at the University College Dublin and at the Shakespeare Theatre of NJ before finally settling in DC. Some of my favorite roles have included Pickles in The Great American Trailer Park Musical, Little Sally in Urinetown, Young Elmira in Nevermore, Squeaky Fromme in Assassins (all at Kensington Arts Theatre), Agnes in Agnes of God (Silver Spring Stage), and now Mary Lane in Reefer Madness (Dominion Stage).
Reefer Madness was an insane show. It had a fantastic cast and a role I have wanted to play for years. I loved playing Mary Lane because it had a little bit of everything: over-the-top cheesy love, hysterical crying, drug-induced stripping, dominatrix growling, a dramatic blood-hacking death, and an angelic resurrection!
I am getting ready to open Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses with Elden Street Players… yes, the one with the pool! I am one of 12 actors playing over 80 mythological roles in over 1000 gallons of water. Metamorphoses runs from March 19th to April 10th, http://www.eldenstreetplayers.org. And a shameless plug – my husband Evan Hoffman is directing the show.
“Lonely Pew” takes places toward the end of the first act, after Jimmy has started his downward reefer spiral. Both Jimmy and the audience almost forget about Mary, and when we see her again she is in her church pew – alone. She only wants her boyfriend to come back and go to church with her so that the communion wafers will transubstantiate again. It’s no wonder this girl makes it to heaven! “Lonely Pew” was the chance to sing directly to the audience and convince them that Mary was a real character, and not a just a cheesy caricature. If the audience isn’t in love with her after that song, nothing she does in the rest of the show will matter! I loved ending the song; there is almost no way to make your face look pretty when you sing the word “pew”, so I chose to play up the humor of it!
Karissa Swanigan as Laura, singing,” I Slept with Someone Who Handled Kurt Cobain’s Intervention”, and Stephen Gregory Smith as Rob, singing, “I Slept with Someone Who Slept with Lyle Lovett”, at High Fidelity, at Landless Theatre Company.
When you put two of our most talented local actors/singers together in one show, you are in for a great night in the theatre, but when they appear together in a terrific opening number of the second act, singing and acting their hearts out, you are seeing something really special, and that’s what happened when Stephen and Karissa sang their versions of Tom Kitt and Amanda Green’s wonderful sort-of duet “I Slept With Someone…” in High Fidelity. By the end of the song, you truly understood who Rob and Laura were. That’s a tough feat to pull off, and Stephen and Karissa did it in scene-stealing fashion.
Karissa: I have been training and performing since I was in 5th grade actually. I started attempting to train my voice by listening to Barbra Streisand songs over and over and trying to sing them like her! I continued to perform in musicals and plays through high school and finally got a real voice teacher and then studied music and theatre at Virginia Tech. I worked with the fabulous Daniel Sticco for a few years following my college training and he really helped me develop the sound I have today..
I have been very lucky to play some fantastic women through the years, like Anita in West Side Story with NVCC Summer Stock, and Spider Woman in Kiss of the Spider Woman and Roberta in Zanna, Don’t! at KAT. Working with Landless Theatre Company, I have had such a blast playing roles like Lisa in Debbie Does Dallas, Cheryl in Evil Dead, Aria in Diamond Dead, and now Laura in High Fidelity. I adore all these ladies I have played, but Laura and this production have a special place in my heart.
Playing Laura is quite a challenge for me. I have been playing mostly comedic characters and larger than life characters for so long – and Laura is so real, and has been through things I have been through, and at times it hits so close to home – that it’s scary that sometimes I have to remind myself “this isn’t me”. Her relationship with Rob is also intense and complex, and they love each other so deeply.
The heart of the story is this love story between them – yet you only see them together for brief moments. So it’s a challenge to make sure those moments really matter and capture enough of who she is – and how much they love each other – to make the audience really care for them and root for them to get back together. I really think we got there though, and by the final scene when Andy Baughman just rocks “Turn the World Off”, you can’t wait to see Rob and Laura reunited because it feels so good.
I have to thank Julie Herber for all her amazing guidance and Stephen Gregory Smith for being so amazing as Rob, so committed and giving on stage, as well as a huge support. It’s very hard to break up with him every night! This show is such a joy, and I adore the whole cast and crew.
Up next, I am directing and choreographing Perez Hilton Saves the Universe (or at least the Greater Los Angeles Area) with Landless. That show runs the whole month of May, and then I’m getting married in June to my love, Nick!
Stephen: I attended Shenandoah Conservatory and studied under several amazing teachers. I have performed many roles at Signature Theatre, Ford’s Theatre, Arena Stage, and Studio Theatre. I have nothing but workshops and auditions in the immediate future
Karissa: “I Slept with Someone Who Handled Kurt Cobain’s Intervention” is actually one of my very favorite moments in the show and a chance for me to have a little fun. It’s a great way to open Act II. At this point – Laura has left Rob and moved in briefly with a man named Ian. He was their old neighbor and Laura confided in him, and he was a support to her. Now Laura is trying to decide what to do with her life and is curious about exploring a relationship with him. Ian is very eclectic and “new age” and very different from Rob. However he is also quite full of himself. Laura is confused and vulnerable and one night she just gives in and sleeps with Ian. In the beginning of the song, she is convincing herself that last night with Ian was fun and exciting, and that he has all these qualities Rob lacked. However, the truth is, he is just not what she wants at all and the reprise right after (which is a beautiful duet between Rob and Laura) is the moment where you really see that she misses Rob.
The great part however is that the song is so cute and funny, so I also get to show the audience some of her personality and sense of humor. I love the lyrics “I slept with someone who handled Kurt Cobain’s intervention, a fact which all too often, he’s all too glad to mention. And what is there to brag about? I wouldn’t go and shout it. Cause it really didn’t go so well, when you think about it!”
Stephen: I also enjoy “I Slept with Someone” because it portrays the mental aspects of a one night stand to a tee. The joy that turns to doubt – that turns to regret. It is both hysterical and then very real at the same time. Who hasn’t gone through this scenario? This song is close to me because I have made several bad 2 AM decisions, and this song clearly illustrates the thought process involved and what you feel like after. The audience laughs at it because they identify with the folly of it all. That is the beauty of human nature. It is wonderfully universal.
Karissa: I think so many people can relate to this story and this moment. We have all gone through breakups. It’s so hard and you feel so confused and alone – and sometimes you just need someone to run too to ease the pain. However, most times that person just isn’t really what you want and you feel even worse for it later. People will watch this show and find several moments where they think “wow, I have done that”, “I have said those exact words!”… I know I do.
Read an interview with Stephen Gregory Smith, Director Julie Herber, and Landless Theatre Company Artistic Director Andrew Lloyd Baughman here.
Katie Solomon and Troy Hopper as Violet and Grady “Flick” Fliggins singing “Promise Me Violet” in Violet at Teatro 101.
I have loved Violet ever since I saw it when it opened Off-Broadway in May 1997, and whenever I hear that a theatre troupe was mounting a production of this heart-warming musical, I mad every effort to see it. What I saw at Teatro 101 last month was as powerful and as beautiful as any musical theatre experience that I have had all year – incredible performances by everyone in the small cast, singing the gorgeous score by Jeanine Tesori and haunting lyrics by Brian Crawley with tremendous heart and love.
At the end of the show, as Violet and “Flick” find true love and sing a reprise of “Promise Me Violet”, a wave of emotion overtakes the audience. When I heard Katie and Troy sing it, I just melted. I am tearing up writing this, so I’ll let them talk more about it.
Katie: I started theatre in middle school, which is really hysterical because I was a very shy, young girl. I was always so nervous with everything I did. Somehow I got involved in the drama club and realized I really liked acting. I started to fall in love with it and even though the nerves didn’t go away – I was hungry for more. I continued this passion into high school – where I did my first musical – which was a miracle because I was NOT going to sing in front of ANYONE ever. Ever.
Before I knew it – I was up on stage singing as Cinderella at 15. Singing became an extension of acting for me, and I learned to love it as much as acting in straight plays. When I got to Towson University I declared my Theatre Major the summer before my freshman year (I will be graduating in May, yay!) Lucky for me, I have had amazing professors who have believed in me and pushed me in all the right ways. The most recent roles I’ve played have been at Towson University – Abigail Williams in The Crucible, Player in Pippin, Martirio in The House of Bernarda Alba, and Helen in Troy Women.
I loved playing Violet because it was a journey that I put my whole heart into. I related to her so much – her passion, her drive, and her intense desire to be everything she could hope to be. I understood her feelings of being an outsider, her clever imagination, and the sadness she carried with her. I was lucky because I was surrounded with love and patience by everyone at Teatro 101. They trusted me with this marvelous character, and I’m glad they did, because I learned so much from her. You can see me next in my last Towson University Production, Landscape of the Body by John Guare. It runs March 5th -11th.
Troy: I was born in New York City and raised in Baltimore, Maryland, where I currently reside. While majoring in film and media studies as an undergraduate student at Towson University, I also took several theatre courses. Among them were beginning and intermediate level acting, voice and movement, speech and dialect, musical theatre, directing, and script analysis. As for vocal training, I’ve never had any formal private lessons, nor have I ever studied voice in an academic setting. However, I did participate in choruses throughout my scholastic career. I also come from an extremely musical family deeply steeped in the gospel tradition, though I’ve learned most of the technical and theoretical aspects of singing through practice as a performer.
In the six years that I’ve been involved in theatre, I’ve had the great fortune of playing some rich, challenging, and fun roles including Joe Sutter in The Spitfire Grill, George Spelvin in The Actor’s Nightmare, James “Thunder” Early in Dreamgirls, Belize in Angels in America: Perestroika, and Noah “Horse” Simmons in The Full Monty.
What made the role of Grady “Flick” Fliggins such a joy to portray was the character’s strong sense of self, coupled with his compassion and sensitivity. I love that he’s mature enough to see the world as it is, yet also incisive enough to know that it is one’s outlook on life that determines the outcome. Additionally, this role marked the first time that I played a genuine romantic lead. I have no upcoming productions on my plate, as I intend to take a break from theatre to explore other avenues. I will, however, be performing a solo show as part of the Bethesda Theatre’s late-night cabaret series on Friday, April 9th.
Katie: When Troy and I sang “Promise Me, Violet” it was really an emotional and overwhelming moment for me as the character of Violet. She has to face and overcome so many hardships throughout the show, but being able to have a simple, sweet, and unexpected happy ending for her was fantastic. The thing that is really beautiful about the show, and especially this moment in particular, is that happiness comes from loving and accepting yourself – and surrounding yourself with people who love and accept you for who you are too. Everyone is Violet in some way or another. Everyone has something we are trying to hide or change. To be able to sing “Promise Me Violet” with such a fantastic scene partner as Troy was a blessing for me as an actor and a relief for Violet the character. Finally after two hours, we get to see her realize that she is good enough and accepted for who she is by someone as beautiful as her.
Troy: Violet tells the story of a young woman in the 1960s who travels cross country seeking healing from the scar that’s left her face disfigured since childhood, and redemption from the demons that have haunted her because of it. Flick is one of the two soldiers she meets along the way who vie for her affections. The “Promise Me, Violet” reprise, which is the penultimate number in the show, serves as Flick’s unequivocal declaration of love to Violet. It’s his most vulnerable, most emotionally naked moment, dramatically speaking.
What I connected to most when singing the song was the bond shared by these two outsiders – Flick, marginalized because of his race, and Violet, ostracized because of her disfigurement. I think there’s something in each of us that can testify to that feeling of isolation, which makes their pairing all the more poignant. They see each other in a way that others can’t or choose not to.
“Promise Me, Violet” was the most difficult song to learn primarily because of the time-signature and rhythm changes, which would invariably cause me to fumble the worlds during rehearsals. It was also the last song from the score that I learned, which didn’t help. Anything good about my performance of the song can be attributed to two factors: the strength of the writing and the talent of my scene partner, the wonderful Katie Solomon. Singing those lyrics to that melody alone was enough to profoundly move me, but making that connection with Katie made it that much more special, to the point that I became quite choked up at a couple of the performances.
Local audiences will be able to see another production of Violet, at Kensington Arts Theatre, when it opens on April 30th.