A glimpse into the ‘big switch’ at MetroStage:
Lauren ‘Coco’ Cohn and Natascia Diaz on Glimpses of the Moon
It’s a great 42nd Street-type story: the lead gets sick and another cast member assumes her role and saves the show. Then bring in a talented actress/comedienne who comes down from The Big Apple to play the roles that the new lead actress was performing – and give them only have a very short time to learn their new roles before the critics arrive to review the show and their performances. WHEW!
It’s a great story, so here’s Lauren ‘Coco” Cohn and Natascia Diaz to fill us in.
Joel: What is Glimpses of the Moon about?
Coco: I am guessing you aren’t asking for the plot here, eh? You want a motif. A passion statement. The show is about wanting what the other guy has and doing anything necessary to achieve it. A good solid theme, eh? One can find plenty of comedy and drama in that. Not to mention music.
Natascia: It’s about a social climbing young couple in the 20’s trying to fit into high society while they find themselves and each other. The story follows the journey of Nick and Susy, who are very popular but penniless, and rely on their charms and intellect respectively to be invited into high society…Susy hatches the ultimate scheme: for them to marry and live off the wedding presents while they help one another look for millionaires to marry. The plan works, until they realize what their true heart longs for…and they fall in love.
Joel: Talk about the characters you play in the show.
Coco: I play three roles: first, Ursula Gillow, a competitive, society matron who is clearly trying not only to keep up with the Joneses, but outdo them. She brings Nick Lansing to the party literally and figuratively, setting the stage for the central action to occur. She doesn’t listen. She is loud and uninhibited. Next, I play the Maid to the Vanderlyn household. She knows precisely what is going on behind the scenes and between the lines. She’s no dummy. Finally, the most integral role I play is the misunderstood, Coral Hicks. She comes from a ridiculously rich family and managed to adopt none of the refinement. She’s dorky and lovable. But don’t underestimate her – she’s wiser than first she seems…
Natascia: Susy Branch is an effervescent, social delight, who, since her father died and squandered her inheritance, has become a regular guest and party favorite at the Vanderlyn household. She is on a mission to avoid the fate of “unmarried girls who don’t have their own fortunes,” and as Ellie Vanderlyn suggests, to marry…anyone…with a big enough bank account. On this quest, she realizes the price of climbing those steps…and what it costs. By the end of the play, she discovers she is not who she thought she was, and must follow her heart.
Joel: How much of you own experiences did you bring to your performances?
Coco: I’d have to say that I brought NOTHING BUT ME to these roles. There was no time to do anything other than. By that I mean that I dug deep into a very useful bag of tricks that have been ‘perfected’ over time, and applied them craftily to each of these three very different woman. Make no mistake, I reveal this with respect to my own abilities. Blech. As I type this, it begins to sound pretentious rather than humorous as I intended. James Liptonesque or something. Ah, well. By the way…if Heaven exists, and I arrive at the Pearly Gates, I just want God to laugh and applaud.
Natascia: I always find a little bit of me, to varying degrees, in every role I play. Suzy is ambitious, clever, quick-witted, and fighting for her future. I certainly relate to that. But I have never played an ingénue and never been seen as one or cast as one, which I always thought was a shame. I get cast a lot as the sassy side-kick, or “magic being”, which I love, but in a lot of ways, characters like Charity Valentine resonate with my soul. My friends know this about me. I am terribly naive, trusting, and open. No one has ever seen me like this on stage. And I love painting with these colors. I think I even changed the writers perception of me as an actress in the role as well. I wish that everyone could be so open minded in their casting! The things the creative team has said to me have been unbelievable – how through me they see aspects of the role they’ve never seen. Support like that is music to an actor’s ears.
Joel: Tell us what happened just 9 days before press night on Sept 12th.
Natascia: OMG! Well, to begin with, I had a very wonderful but hard summer playing Aldonza in Man of La Mancha at the beautiful Hangar Theatre (first time since I covered it and performed it on Broadway with Brian Stokes Mitchell) then Esmeralda Agron in Capeman which was transcendent. It was more than a show. It was an invocation. Both were very dramatic, vocally demanding, and emotionally ravaging roles. So I was looking forward to lying back for a minute from the heavy lifting and playing a fun secondary character. Then our leading lady developed health problems and had to pull out, and all of the sudden, all eyes were looking to me. I honestly had no intention of volunteering. And I had to think about it for a couple of days. But there was really no time. I said, “Yes” and decided to look at it as a challenge and an opportunity to test myself, and not to mention “save the show” and all our jobs. Hey, can I put that on my resume?
Coco: The gifted composer, John Mercurio is an old friend. I know his remarkable talent. I also know Tajlei Levis’ talent and I had the good fortune of seeing the original incarnation of Glimpses of the Moon at The Algonquin in early ’08. The production was clearly in a bind. They had exhausted local options as well as the two other women in NY who had previously played the roles (which would have made the learning curve a lot simpler). I got a call late in the afternoon on Friday. John gave me a little bit of the rundown about what was shifting and I don’t know what possessed me, but I suddenly said, “Yes” and was on a train to DC the next morning. David Marquez was first impossibly grateful to see me, then supportive and patient, then complimentary beyond what I deserved
Joel: What did you go through to learn your roles so quickly? And – most important – how did you keep your sanity?
Coco: I was just throwing some kind of a performance out there from the first moment. Seeing what stuck. Painting with broad strokes. Learning choreography to songs I had virtually never heard, blocking to scenes I had skimmed once. It was pretty surreal. I realized during Act II of the first PWYC performance that I had basically only said that scene out loud with Sam once. Not kidding. I did manage to stay sane(ish) most of the time. I think there were tears twice, but never a full-fledged meltdown. I did, however, feel overwhelmed the whole five days – YES – FIVE DAYS! – I had to pull it together before an audience was there. I couldn’t sleep most of those nights. There were panicked texts at four in the morning to John and to friends in NY and LA. Why was I putting myself thru this stress? I think the biggest challenge for me was to retain and add on. It was always two steps forward, one step back. I compare it to cramming for finals. You can know the stuff for the test, but it’s gone the next day. I needed it not to be gone!!!
Natascia: The 60 pages of dialogue I had to memorize. Looking back now, I really can’t believe I was off book in 5 days. I’m proud of that. We had our first preview less than a week from when I started learning it. I have always been a quick study. Everyone I’ve worked with all know this about me as well, but I have never in my life had this skill put to the test to this degree with the sheer volume of material. All the crew, creative team, the head of MetroStage, and my fellow castmates were right there for me. And music? I just kept listening and listening, over and over, until it sank in. I would run lines with anyone at the theatre. The costumes all fit me perfectly – it was very eerie. But it was nice that I didn’t have to worry about that aspect. Sanity? I wait to be challenged in this profession. I relish it. That’s how we all get things done, isn’t it?
Joel: Natascia – What do you like about the way Coco plays Ursula, Coral, and The Maid. And what is different in the way Coco plays them – than the way you were going to play them?
Natascia: I love this question! Coco is a savvy comedienne of the highest level. You can spot that brand of expertise the minute someone like her opens her mouth. You know you’re in good hands. And you are going to laugh. I use this analogy about my approach to any material; it’s like painting. Some shows need thick rich oil paint, and some need water color. I think the piece (and the part) is served much better with how she paints it. I learn a lot watching her style. In my journey as an actor, I am working towards being more aware of what style is needed with each piece, and how that manifests itself in my approach to the work.
Coco: Ooooo…dangerous and intriguing question. Remember he’s printing this, Natascia! Even though you didn’t ask, I would like to say that Natascia blew me away with how she was working to make it all happen. She is sublimely talented. Period.
Joel: Natascia, you have been involved with the show before this MetroStage production. Tell us about that.
Natascia: At the Algonquin, where it was performed in New York, I was the guest artist (Cabaret Singer) that appears in the second act to perform the “11 o’clock number”. People who did it before me include Tom Wopat, among noteworthy others. It was one great number, then home! Fabulous!
Joel: You are working with some other talented cast members – Sam Ludwig, Matthew Anderson, Gia Mora, and Stephen Schmidt. Tell us about their performances and working with them.
Coco: First, Gia is my touchstone! She was tireless about explaining things to me, buoying me up, going over choreography and harmony ad nauseam. She never said no any time I asked to run a moment or talk about a bit. NEVER. We still piece thru stuff backstage and review beats. The “rehearsal” doesn’t end. I am eternally grateful to her. Truly. I think this entire cast is exactly why I was able to hold it together and somehow shimmy onto the stage, feeling vaguely ready to perform. I respect and adore each and every one of them -both their talent and their humanity. Not a clunker among ’em. Makes the whole thing worthwhile!!!
Natascia: They are all gems, and I am fans of each one. I love the DC acting pool. I have enjoyed them in shows I’ve seen in DC, and really love playing every performance of this show with them.
Joel: Talk about working with director and choreographer David Marquez.
Coco: David was a rock through all the stress. His encouragement was the key to helping me keep it together. We were just getting to know each other and developing a rapport when it was time for him to move on to his next project. The whole thing is a blur. I look forward to knowing him more.
Natascia: David and I are close friends and admirers of one another’s work. Anyone who saw the documentary “Every Little Step” can recall seeing him in my living room as I unveiled my outfit for my final callback for Cassie. His eye is impeccable, and his choreographic language and theatrical sensitivity are simply genius. We speak and work together, whether in dance or acting or conceiving, like true collaborators and friends who trust one another implicitly.
Joel: John Mercurio wrote a jazzy score for the show, and Tajlei Levis wrote the lyrics. How would you describe the score and lyrics?
Coco: Deceivingly complex and layered. Everyone wants to call it fizzy and frothy (which it is), but there is much more there than meets the ear. The score is smart. It manages to be contemporary and reminiscent all at once. No easy feat. I deeply admire what they have accomplished.
Natascia: The score is unexpected and lovely, with something for everyone’s tastes in it, while evoking the period (America in the 20’s) beautifully.
Joel: Coco – How did musical director Darius Smith help you prepare for your performance?
Coco: To be absolutely honest, I was thrown so far into the deep end, that Darius’ time needed to be spent elsewhere. He was adding in his fellow musicians and we were teching the show immediately upon my arrival. John Mercurio came down on the train with me and became my lifeline to learning my music. While someone was onstage working on something, I was in the lobby with John and a keyboard, making sense of something else. It was collaboration in its truest sense. The band rocks! Or I should say jazzes! I love that they share the stage with us. It’s kind of magical.
Joel: Let’s talk about some of your songs in the show: Natascia: “Cigars”, “What Are You Waiting For?” and “Glimpses of the Moon”, and Coco: ”The Glories of Greece” and “That’s What Money Can Buy”.
Coco: “The Glories of Greece” – This is my seduction song. Pathetic as it is. Nick speaks Greek and it gets me all hot and bothered. I deeply believe I win him over in this song. Or at least I bamboozle him. It’s sorta one big WHEE!!!
“That’s What Money Can Buy” – This is my transformation song. Thru Ellie’s critical eye, I look myself in the mirror and realize that I don’t have what it takes to get what I truly want: Nick. First I feel a little stung by her words and then I feel empowered by the change. It’s an Eliza Doolittle moment.
Natascia: “Cigars” – Is a song that illustrates her moral dilemma regarding taking a box of cigars that were left in the cottage she was staying in. It is a wrestling match between her sense of what’s right and what is pushing it too far.
“What Are You Waiting For?” – Is a song that begins to pull Susy and Nick to their separate objectives in finding other partners…and away from each other.
“Glimpses of the Moon” – Is a song that comes out of a moment where Suzy and Nick realize they are enjoying their time together, and see something deeper in their being together.
Joel: John didn’t write a song for both of you to sing together in the show. If he told you he would, where in the story would you want that song placed, give the song a title, and what would it be about?
Coco: Interesting! Hmmm. How about a parallel story duet in the vein of “What You Don’t Know About Women” from City of Angels. Put it in Act II before the scene where I run into Susy and Ellie at Altman’s and I have my “transformation.” We could call it “One Gal’s Trash is Another Gal’s Treasure”. She, full of regret and confusion for what she is leaving behind. Me, fantasizing how I can be more like her to get my man.
Natascia: What a great question! The moment would be like “It Would Have Been Wonderful” from A Little Night Music.
Joel: What has been the audience reaction to the show?
Coco: The audience response has been warm and wonderful. They are so obviously charmed. Only really disappointing part has been the size of the houses thus far. People are loving it! More people should see it!! COME!!!
Natascia: They’ve been charmed by it. It’s a lovely confection, perfect for that space and anyone who wants to be enchanted by a ‘new piece’.
Joel: Since I took my social group The Ushers to the matinee on Sept 12th – a few hours before the evening Press Performance – what has changed in the show and in your performances?
Coco: The show is still intact exactly as you saw it, but I think the abject fear has now been replaced by a sense of fun and exploration. Every show is a little different for me. Still trying things on and thinking in new ways. I feel like I am finally in the driver’s seat. The first two weekends I felt almost as if I was rehearsing in front of the audience. It’s subtle – nothing a theatregoer would recognize, but I knew.
Natascia: I’m having much more fun, and I am making new discoveries every show.
Joel: What’s next for you after Glimpses of the Moon?
Coco: That is always the million dollar question, isn’t it? Unlike what impresses me so much about the DC theatre community, we NY fools have to keep looking for the next big thing when one ends. Truth is, I just ended up forfeiting a role in the new Barry Levinson film, “The Bay” (formerly “Isopod”) because they changed their shoot schedule and it would have precluded me from three performances of Glimpses of the Moon. I couldn’t put my cast or MetroStage in that position. We had worked so hard to elevate this production to what it has become. I know it was the right decision.
Natascia: I am going to do a few dates of Jacques Brel Returns at the Triad in New York, and there may be a NY show in my future.
Joel: Coco – This is the first time the DC theatergoers have seen you in a show. Fill us in about your career.
Coco: I am so honored to be part of the DC theatre community. I feel so welcomed. I have spent two + years back in NY after many in Los Angeles where I built a career doing Film and Television. I also was Head of Musical Development for the critically acclaimed theatre company, Neurotic Young Urbanites (comprised of we NYU Grads who migrated West). We were passionate about bringing theatre to an audience that wanted to stay home and watch TV. That time with the Neurtotics was the fondest chapter of my life thus far.
But my return to NY has been gratifying as well. I made the move because the footlights were calling me back. I have my eye on Broadway. Meanwhile I have continued the TV and Film work, Commercials and VOs along with my first love, theatre. My career? A little bit of this. A little bit of that. I am also writing a play with music. A two-hander about Charlotte Sass (1900-2000), a woman who was an unsung hero of the 20th Century. It’s a vehicle for guess who? Maybe I will workshop it at MetroStage? On that theme, I have already mentioned to Carolyn that I’d like her to have a looksie at another musical I co-wrote with Lauren Bowles, Curtis Moore, and Amanda Green. It’s called up the week without a paddle. Perhaps MetroStage will produce the East Coast premiere? Please stand by…
Joel: Why should DC area audiences come and see Glimpses of the Moon?
Coco: Come see Glimpses of the Moon for the delicious cast, gorgeous tunes, clever writing, excellent musicians, glimmering costumes. See Glimpses of the Moon because MetroStage is committed to nurturing original works. Support new musicals!
Natascia: Because it is charming, light, fun, NEW, in a delightful theatre, and we’re fabulous! We really are. More importantly, support new work. Follow the performers you’ve seen and admire. Support the theatres you see shows in. Go to a new theatre and show whenever you can. Supporting theatre is a dollar well spent. Always.
Glimpses of the Moon plays through October 17th at MetroStage, in Alexandria, VA. For directions, information, and to purchase tickets, click here.