Detailed
Compact
Art
Reverse
May 19, 2020
Today on the podcast, we speak to Chris Medlin about his journey from Broadway to Netflix and back again. An original cast member of Mean Girls, he took a four-month leave from the show last fall to film the role of Isaac in the new Netflix series Sweet Magnolias. Currently in the cast of Diana: A True Musical Story, he spoke to us over the phone about how his experiences on Broadway influenced his work on set. Here's our conversation...
May 18, 2020
When a Broadway show closes, we often think about the cast onstage being out of work. But really a Broadway production is an entire ecosystem - often with more than a hundred people working in a variety of positions. One of the performers affected by the closing of Broadway's Frozen in Bronwyn Tarboton. As a vacation swing with the company, she had been performing with the company in a variety of tracks since October. Here's our conversation...
May 16, 2020
The Broadway adaptation of Frozen will not reopen at the St. James Theatre when Broadway once again opens its doors post-pandemic. It effectively took its final bow March 11 running for 26 previews and 825 regular performances. Today, we share some of our favorite conversations about Frozen with original Anna standby Aisha Jackson, music supervisor Stephen Oremus, the original Queen Iduna Ann Sanders and original company member Tracee Beazer. Enjoy...
May 15, 2020
“The Dramaturg” premiered on February 19th, 2013. It was written by Larry Shaw, and directed by Bryan Goluboff, both newcomers to Smash as of season 2. The viewership was 3.29 million viewers, which was 1.16 million down from the previous episode two weeks prior. We saw new material from both of our up-and-coming shows this episode! We were treated to a brand-new song from Bombshell, called “Our Little Secret” written by Marc Shaiman and Scott Whitman, and a preview of a song from currently-unnamed-show-soon-to-be-known-as Hit List, called “Good For You” written by Drew Gasparini. The episode also featured Megan Hilty singing a cover of Robyn’s ”Dancing On My Own,” as well as snippets of The Wiz’s “Soon As I Get Home” sung by Jennifer Hudson, and Katherine McPhee’s mini-rendition of “They Just Keep Moving The Line.” Eileen demands that Tom and Julia meet with a dramaturg named Peter Gilman to make the quick fixes she thinks the show needs. Tom thinks Peter could be a shepherd for their play, but Julia is afraid dramaturgs are parasites especially when he reads her for focusing on DiMaggio instead of putting the sex appeal into Marilyn herself.  Derek knows that new musicals take years to develop, but needs something now, something big. So he’s burning the candle from three ends: staging a Bombshell number for producers, scheming with Veronica Moore to get his job back at The Wiz and agreeing to meet Kyle and Jimmy about the plot that goes around their great songs.  Ivy talks Smash’s real casting director Bernie Telsey into letting her audition for a revival of Liaisons, but feels like she has little chance of booking up again “real names” like Jen Damiano and Jessie Mueller. When she stops by Bombshell rehearsal to ask Derek for advice, she realizes that she needs to start “dancing on her own.” Tom helps her to realize the Liaisons role is more like Marilyn than she imagined, but the boost helps her win the part.  Inspired or in spite of Peter Gillman, Julia writes a non-PG number for Marilyn and JFK called “Our Little Secret.” It loses Derek a job on The Wiz but Eileen calls it the perfect direction for Bombshell.  Jimmy is his usual angry-white-man self, seemingly pissed off at every opportunity Karen and Kyle provide him to share their show with the world. When they finally meet, Jimmy describes the story of their show: a young man who hates the world but has a treasure trove of mind blowing music. Stealing his songs to catapult her to fame, a female fling gets addicted to the fame his music provides - and he lets her even though his love will destroy him. Derek is intrigued enough to pound beers with the team, and they begin their work on the new musical...
May 14, 2020
Today on the pod, we share part of a conversation with Octet’s Margo Seibert. In this conversation, our sister podcast Page to Stage talks to Margo about her work in the Drama Desk Award winning ensemble of Octet.  Hosted by Mary Dina and Brian Sedida, Page to Stage features excellent conversations with theatre makers. We are big fans of this up-and-coming podcast and are so grateful to them for letting us share a portion of their conversation with Margo Seibert. Enjoy!
May 12, 2020
There has been no seismic shift in the number of actors of color performing on Broadway. Yes, systematic change often comes with incremental progress. However, the recent crop of Broadway musicals seem to provide few examples of such change. I’ve been curious what that feels like for artists of color, so I asked a few into the studio to share their experiences with racial representation in the theatre industry. Today's conversation is with Ann Sanders. Having made her Broadway debut in Beauty and the Beast, she has played a variety of iconic roles including Queen Iduna in Frozen, Anna in The King and I and Christmas Eve in Avenue Q. Here's our conversation...
May 11, 2020
There's a lot of uncertainty in the world right now, but one thing that is for certain is that musicals unite us. Somehow, the alchemy that is a musical can help us feel seen, heard and valued. So we here at The Ensemblist are creating some comfort food for uncomfortable times - taking to some of our favorite musical theatre performers about their favorite musicals. Today we talk to Anastasia's Stephen Brower about (one of his) favorite musical(s), The Color Purple.
May 8, 2020
“The Fallout” premiered on February 5th, 2013, immediately after the premiere episode. (Aww, remember those two-hour premieres that networks used to do back in the day, Mo?) It was written by Julie Rottenberg & Elisa Zuritsky, whose previous work we saw in the season 1 episodes “Let’s Be Bad” and “The Movie Star,” and was directed by Craig Zisk. Now, here’s a weird thing: viewership for this episode was 4.45 million, down from 4.48 in the previous episode WHICH WAS AN HOUR AGO. I guess 30,000 people collectively turned off their TVs after hour 1? We had three featured songs in this episode: one cover of the Eurythmics’ “Would I Lie To You?” And two original songs by two different musical theatre composers: the first by then-up-and-comer duo team Pasek & Paul called “Caught in the Storm” sung by Katherine McPhee, and the second by our home team of Marc Shaiman and Scott Whitman called “They Just Keep Moving the Line” sung by Megan Hilty. Eileen summons her bruised songwriting team to attend the American Theatre Wing gala, but Julia can barely get out the door let alone put on cocktail attire. But Julia heard from Mary Testa who heard from Jackie Hoffman who heard from Cheyenne Jackson who heard from Harvey Fierstein that she and Julia would be presenting at the gala (a lie that Tom made you on the street).  In addition to Bombshell being put on ice, Derek gets fired from The Wiz - not only because he shagged a couple of actresses but the five dancers are accusing him of sexual harassment. One of them, Daisy, serves Derek the T in front of Schnippers, saying “You don’t get it. You’re a big shot Director. You’re in a position of power from the mind you wake up in the morning and you don’t treat that power with respect.” Derek second guesses his serial seducing in a dream sequence set to the Eurythmics' “Would I Lie To You?” Ivy is considering leaving the business, as she’s going in for parts that she would have passed on two years ago. But running into a drunken Derek on a stoop, he leaves her with one nugget of wisdom: “You weren’t my Marilyn, but what do I know?” Karen Cartwright hunts down the young and unknown composing team. Half of the team, a twink named Kyle, is eager to collab with Karen. But while his songwriting partner Jimmy is cute enough to go to Greenpoint for, he is anything but agreeable. Even her attempts to wow Jimmy with an impromptu performance of one of his songs drives him away. Jimmy retorts that he doesn’t need help to make it big, but decides the next day that he’ll give it a go with Karen for Kyle’s sake.  The American Theatre Wing gala becomes an embarrassment for the Bombshell crew, when Tom gets caught in his lie about presenting and Eileen is asked to leave by the League president. But she decides to leave the industry with a parting shot to remember: an announcement that Bombshell is coming to Broadway this season followed by Ivy Lynn giving a stunning rendition of a never-before-heard tune called “They Just Keep Moving The Line.”
May 7, 2020
This week, we share the second half of our conversation with Ruthie Fierberg, Senior Features Editor at Playbill. In the second half of our spirited conversation, we talked about our favorite performance and ensembles of the season. Here’s the second half of our conversation...
May 6, 2020
For almost a decade, The Book of Mormon has been delighting and shocking audiences at Broadway’s Eugene O’Neill Theatre. As both Ugandans and Mormon missionaries, the show’s ensemble works together to make a very funny show even funnier. Today we share stories from three of the ensemblists who have graced the production over its tenure.  Our first story comes from Tommar Wilson, who joined the Chicago company of Hamilton. after almost seven years in the ensemble of The Book of Mormon. As an original member of the show’s Ugandan ensemble, he had seen the show through years of transitions. And the show also ushered a number of personal transitions for Tommar as well. Our next story is from Kenny Francoeur. As dance captain for the national tour of The Book of Mormon, he helped guide dozens of actors into the production while on the road. He used his signature writing style to write an original piece for us about the do’s - and don’ts - for rehearsing as an understudy. Our final story is new to the podcast from Marja Harmon. Like Tommar, she left the Broadway company of The Book of Mormon to join Hamilton on the road. Upon her departure, she wrote a story for us about the family she experienced at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre.
May 5, 2020
There has been no seismic shift in the number of actors of color performing on Broadway. Yes, systematic change often comes with incremental progress. However, the recent crop of Broadway musicals seem to provide few examples of such change. I’ve been curious what that feels like for artists of color, so I asked a few into the studio to share their experiences with racial representation in the theatre industry. Julian DeGuzman has spent the last decade performing in shows that both feature primarily Asian-American casts (Broadway's Miss Saigon) as well as more multi-cultural companies (Newsies, Hello, Dolly! on Tour. He joined me over the phone to talk about how each of those experiences have felt different for him. Here's our conversation...
May 4, 2020
There's a lot of uncertainty in the world right now, but one thing that is for certain is that musicals unite us. Somehow, the alchemy that is a musical can help us feel seen, heard and valued. So we here at The Ensemblist are creating some comfort food for uncomfortable times - taking to some of our favorite musical theatre performers about their favorite musicals. Today we talk to Moulin Rouge! The Musical's Paloma Garcia-Lee about her favorite musical, the 1957 classic The Music Man.
May 1, 2020
“On Broadway” premiered on February 3rd, 2013. It was written by new showrunner Joshua Safran, and directed by Michael Morris, who had also directed the season 1 finale. The episode unfortunately did not premiere to as wide an audience as the season 1 premiere or even the season 1 finale; the viewership came in at 4.48 million, about 1.5 million fewer than the finale and almost 7 million fewer than the pilot. Wow. The premiere featured 6 songs: three original songs by our original team of Marc Shaiman and Scott Whitman, which were the good ol’ “Let Me Be Your Star,” a new song from Bombshell called “Cut, Print...Moving On,” and a new song from a different musical altogether, called “Mama Makes Three” from the show Beautiful (no, not that Beautiful) starring JHud. The two covers in this episode were the titular song “On Broadway” by the Drifters, and “Don’t Dream It’s Over” by Crowded House. Most notably though, the Season 2 premiere marks the introduction of composer Joe Iconis, who wrote the song “Broadway, Here I Come!” Iconis was the first of many musical theatre composers who were able to feature their work throughout the second season of Smash. After closing the pre-Broadway run of Bombshell, Producer Eileen Rand assembles her growing team to announce her goal of booking a Broadway theatre by the end of the week. She’s also planning a soirée for potential investors and invites Karen to pick her three back up singers (Her selections do not include the libertine Ivy Lynn, who Karen is still angry with for sleeping with her ex-boyfriend.) Derek takes Karen to see his former leading lady Veronica Moore tear the roof off of the St. James in a musical called Beautiful. However, this is not the Carole King biomusical but a rousing gospel show. After the performance, Veronica tells Karen “Someone’s always waiting to take you down, honey. But if the work is good, they won’t be able to.” Disdain for Ivy seems to be growing within the production; While other pre-Broadway ensemblists gave received offers for Broadway, Ms. Lynn is still waiting to hear. At rehearsal for the producer soirée, Ivy asks Julia advice. The lyricist tells her, “Maybe you apologized to Karen, but you were apologizing for the wrong thing.”  On their way to the event, composer Tom congratulates his boyfriend Sam on getting offered the General in The Book of Mormon tour. Sam says he would rather stay with his ten lines in Bombshell in order to be close to Tom. But as they canoodle down Central Park West they spot Julia’s husband caressing a coworker, effectively the final straw in ending her dissolving marriage.  Covering for a truant Jordan Roth at the investor event, Veronica and Karen duet on an impromptu rendition of “On Broadway.” Afterwards, Derek tells Ivy that she won’t be joining the Bombshell cast on Broadway. However, the real drama happens after the performance, when Eileen tells Karen and the creative team that Bombshell is being investigated. While the government is looking into how Eileen received the financing, Bombshell is effectively on hold for the foreseeable future.  The next day, Derek commiserates with Karen about how they’re both out of work, telling her “call me if you hear about something else.” But later that night while nursing a drink at a Restaurant Row piano bar, Karen meets a team of musical theatre songwriters who may just be Derek’s “something else.”
April 30, 2020
While the New York theatre season was cut short by at least six week, there was certainly much to celebrate this year. From spectacular visuals to music masterpieces, Broadway stages were filled with memorable moments worth noting.  This week, I got the chance to speak to Ruthie Fierberg. In addition to working as Senior Features Editor at Playbill, she’s also one of the most articulate people I know when it comes to describing what makes a theatrical moment work. We had a spirited conversation about the trends she saw on stages, as well as her favorite musical and visual moments. Here’s the first half of our conversation…
April 28, 2020
Although not exactly touring in stock, today’s episode guest is indeed still here. Gaelen Gilliland has been delighting Broadway audiences since making her 2005 debut in the musical phenomenon Wicked. Between taking a break as Courtney in Legally Blonde to Bikini Bottom’s Mayor in SpongeBob SquarePants The Musical, she has spent most of her career creating musical comedy gold.  Gaelen is now sharing her talents across the country in the First National Tour of Mean Girls. Looking back at her career spanning six Broadway shows and three National Tours, she delights in how lucky she has been to have worked with some of the most collaborative individuals in the industry.  Jon M. Wailin spoke with Gaelen about the inspiration behind her incredible character work, as well as how life on the road has changed since her first tour twenty years ago. Here’s our conversation . . .
April 27, 2020
There's a lot of uncertainty in the world right now, but one thing that is for certain is that musicals unite us. Somehow, the alchemy that is a musical can help us feel seen, heard and valued. So we here at The Ensemblist are creating some comfort food for uncomfortable times - taking to some of our favorite musical theatre performers about their favorite musicals. Today we talk to Soft Power's Billy Bustamante about his favorite musical, the 1990 classic Once On This Island.
April 24, 2020
Before we dive into season two, Aaron J. Albano and Mo Brady take stock of the first season as a whole. One of the biggest reasons we wanted to look back on this show, now that we’ve had seven years of separation from it and can look at it in an unbiased way, is to see if Smash really holds up: To see how the show authentically represents or sensationalizes our business; to see what, if anything, holds true to our 2019 Broadway world, or is it more of a time capsule of the business in 2012; and if anything else that sticks out that may have, or may not have worked. We think that we, having been on the show and thus invested in it seven years ago, can now look at the show objectively and see how it resonates with us differently than it may have then.
April 23, 2020
Today we share with you three great stories from three great women, all of whom have understudied leading roles on Broadway and tour. Over the last year, each of these performers shared their stories of going on as understudies with The Ensemblist on our blog. And today we share these stories again with you, read by the actors who wrote them.  First up is a story from Christine Cornish Smith. Less than a week after opening Kiss Me, Kate at Studio 54, she received a surprising text. Every actor who’s understudied a leading role knows what it feels like to receive this text. You know, the one where the stage manager writes that the leading lady is out and you’re going on in the role? The next story we have to share comes from Shereen Ahmed, who became the first woman of color to play Eliza Doolittle on Broadway. While she’s a trailblazer in terms of representation, her love of the show My Fair Lady is something she developed at a very young age. And while the role isn’t one that she imagined playing, there are reasons why she was the perfect choice to take on the part as an understudy in the Lincoln Center Theatre revival. Our last story is from Hannah Florence, who was so inspired by her friend Shereen’s story that she wrote her own piece for us inspired by it about going on as Anya in the national tour of Anastasia.
April 22, 2020
Today’s episode guest has indeed run the gamut, A to Z. E. Clayton Cornelious has graced the boards of Broadway an unbelievable eight times during the twenty years since his debut. The show then was Disney’s The Lion King, and today this Broadway ensemblist is bringing to life the electrifying story of The Temptations in Ain’t Too Proud.  Throughout the years his career has span the gamut, performing in everything from The Scottsboro Boys to A Chorus Line. And in addition to his work onstage, he is a producer and investor on shows including Caroline, or Change and Hadestown. E. Clayton joined me over the phone to discuss how he keeps the momentum moving forward in his career, as well as how it is never too late to learn something new. Here’s our conversation…
April 21, 2020
For more than 16 years, the Gershwin Theatre has been home to the most Ozmapolitan of musicals, Wicked. And over the years, the show has been home to literally hundreds of ensemblists, not only on Broadway but on two national tours and in regional sitdown productions across the country. Today, we are sharing some of our favorite stories about Wicked from our blog, read by the actors who wrote them.
April 20, 2020
There's a lot of uncertainty in the world right now, but one thing that is for certain is that musicals unite us. Somehow, the alchemy that is a musical can help us feel seen, heard and valued. So we here at The Ensemblist are creating some comfort food for uncomfortable times - taking to some of our favorite musical theatre performers about their favorite musicals. Today we talk to Ashley de la Rosa (Mean Girls) about her favorite musical, Dear Evan Hansen.
April 17, 2020
"Bombshell” premiered on May 14, 2012. Rebeck stans rejoice: this finale episode was written by show creator Theresa Rebeck. It was also directed by Michael Morris, who last directed episode 3 of the series. The viewership was up by about a quarter million viewers this week, ending the season with a triumphant 5.96 million! Yay! No covers this week! Instead, rounding out the season was all music by Marc Shaiman and Scott Whitman. Just like last week, we had various snippets of the Bombshell songs, but most notably were a fully-staged production number (complete with Ivy cutaways) of “I Never Met a Wolf Who Didn’t Love to Howl,” and the thrilling last-minute finale of Don’t Forget Me, sung by season 1’s understudy-turned-leading lady Karen Cartwright. It’s 15 minutes til places and the theatre is buzzing. Tom and Julia are feverishly finishing rewrites to give to their new Marilyn. But who is it? Karen or Ivy? We are transported twelve hours earlier, where Derek, Eileen, Tom and Julia are arguing about how to move forward now that Rebecca has left the production. But in Derek’s mind he continues to see Karen as his Marilyn, so he makes the decision to put Ms. Cartwright on as Ms. Monroe.  The day is spent putting Karen into the show, altering costumes and updating her on rewrites. And as the rehearsal progresses, Karen proves herself adept at the part. But even while she is being put in there are whispers that Ivy already knows most of the show, most notably from Ms. Lynn herself.  When Ivy confronts Derek about why it wasn’t her, he finally admits to her that he’s always seen Karen as Marilyn in her head. She’s not the only one who is #TeamIvy; Even Eileen is pushing Derek to put Ivy on. When Karen learns that Ivy and Dev hooked up she takes her wig off and goes missing. Ivy goes as far as getting into Marilyn’s costumes but Derek gets Karen to channel her personal angst into the role and get back into rehearsal.  And with that we are back at the evening preview with Karen shining as Marilyn Monroe, debuting Tom and Julia’s new ending to the show, a stirring ballad called “Don’t Forget Me.”
April 16, 2020
One thing that has become clear about the Coronavirus pandemic is that it's not a sprint, but a marathon. We will be in this holding pattern for weeks in not months where live performance can not happen in ways we are used to. And so I've been particularly intrigued by artists that are finding new ways to connect with each other during this time. Ben Cook (Mean Girls, Tuck Everlasting) along with his Newsies castmate Dan DeLuca have created a "Mindfulness in the Arts" training course that launches this Friday, April 17. Ben joined me over the phone to tell me how his mindfulness practice began and how other artists can join he and Dan on this journey. Here's our conversation...
April 15, 2020
In Stephen Sondheim’s Follies, the character of Carlotta sings of her long and varied character in the showstopper “I’m Still Here.” The lyrics share that her decades in the show business have provided her with “plush velvet sometimes, sometimes just pretzels and beer.” The same could be said of today’s episode guest, Cameron Adams. The legendary Broadway ensemblist made her Mainstem debut in the 2000 revival of The Music Man. In the twenty years since she’s been a mainstay on New York stages, performing in an extraordinary 13 Broadway shows.  Cameron joined me over the phone to share some of the most memorable moments of her career thus far, as well as how the industry has changed for ensemble performers in the last two decades. Here’s our conversation…
April 14, 2020
With the Broadway League declaring theatre shutdown through at least June 7, this theatrical season has effectively come to an end. So we wanted to take stalk of the abbreviated theatre season and talk about our favorite ensemble performances on and off-Broadway. Joining us is David Gordon, Senior Features Writer for Theatremania.com and President of the Outer Critics Circle.
April 13, 2020
For 366 performances, the spooky souls of Broadway’s Beetlejuice haunted the hollowed halls of the Winter Garden Theatre. Until its untimely demise in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the show was playing to sold-out houses who reveled in its zany, but loving spirit. As fans of the show, we are sad to see it go but so greatly for the joy the company brought to the Broadway community.  The Ensemblist loved sharing stories from its 22 ensemble members over its year on the Rialto. Luckily many of its cast joined us in the studio over the year to record those stories, and we’re happy to reshare a couple of them with you today.
April 11, 2020
“Previews,” the penultimate episode of the season, premiered on May 7th, 2012. It was written by David Marshall Grant, and directed by Robert Duncan McNeill (another weird Star Trek connection: Robert McNeill played Lieutenant Tom Paris, also on Star Trek Voyager! So weird….I wonder what the connection is….). The viewership was up from the previous week, being seen by 5.72 million viewers. Thank goodness. Since this episode included Bombshell’s first preview, we heard snippets of all our favorites by Shaiman and Whitman: Let Me Be Your Star, The 20th Century Fox Mambo, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Don’t Say Yes Until I Finish Talking, and a reprise (finale?) of Secondhand White Baby Grand. One newcomer to the original Smash catalog was (get ready for it) the titular song of Smash! sung in its entirety by Megan Hilty and Katherine McPhee. Two covers in this episode were Kurt Weill’s September Song, sung by Anjelica Huston, and Donnie McClurkin’s Stand, sung by Leslie Odom Jr. and Katherine McPhee. The first preview of Bombshell and while Derek doesn’t want to jinx it he thinks the show is in pretty good shape! But Bobby the Soothsayer tells us: ““You go out of town and all hell breaks loose.” He’s right, as Derek and Rebecca continue to canoodle, even after Karen tells her that Derek is seeing Ivy. Michael Swift is back in the show, arriving at the theatre only to be greeted by Julia’s entire family. But despite the backstage drama, the show goes on. In a never-before-seen number, Ivy and Karen lead the female ensemblists in a number that feels wildly reminiscent of 9 to 5 (down to use of a mustachioed Marc Kurdish.) All in all, the show goes well but ends to crickets instead of wild applause.  What’s the problem? Ellis hits the nail of the wig-prepped head, saying “It’s Rebecca. She’s good and all but she’s not landing any of the numbers.” When Ivy finally confronts Derek about his dressing room antics, he tells her “Rebecca needs my attention, and I’m giving it to her. Is there any other approach?” (Spoiler alert: there is.) After accepting Dev’s second take at a marriage proposal, Karen comforts Rebecca about the first preview audience’s poor response to the show. But as she is confiding in Karen, Rebecca has an allergic reaction to her smoothie and gets sent to the hospital.  With previews for the weekend cancelled, but the creative team is plotting about their game plan if Rebecca doesn’t recover in time. The understudy, Karen, hasn’t had any time on stage, but Ivy knows the whole show. Yet, neither gets the chance when it is announced that Rebecca recovered.  And yet while the drama seems high, it all seems to absolve by Sunday morning when Sam gets the entire Smash family goes to church! Wrongs are absolved, sins are forgiven and Karen unexpectedly leads a gospel number. But after the service, Rebecca calls Karen to say that even though she’s not going back into the show and that the production will have to crown a new Marilyn after all!
April 10, 2020
One thing that has become clear about the Coronavirus pandemic is that it's not a sprint, but a marathon. We will be in this holding pattern for weeks in not months where live performance can not happen in ways we are used to. And so I've been particularly intrigued by artists that are finding new ways to share live performance during this time. Broadway veteran Robi Hager (Dr. Zhivago, Bye Bye Birdie, Spring Awakening) is using Facebook Live to stream a performance of his musical Basic Witches. Described as "Drag Race meets Hocus Pocus," the show is sure to be a much-needed distraction for theatre fans. Here's our conversation... Watch Basic Witches this Saturday, April 11 at https://www.facebook.com/basicwitchesmusical/
April 9, 2020
Just yesterday, the Broadway League announced an extension of its shutdown through June 7. One of the causalities of this is Beetlejuice, which was scheduled to close June 6. That disappointing news means that the production has already played its last performance on Tuesday, March 11. Cast member Elliott Mattox was gracious enough to join me on the phone to talk about how he heard the news and how he is grieving a show he didn't realize has already ended. Here's our conversation...
April 8, 2020
A decade after Sunday in the Park with George won the Pulitzer Prize, a new musical exploded on the scene in a way the theatre community hadn’t seen since A Chorus Line. RENT, with music, lyrics & book by Jonathan Larson, was presented at New York Theatre Workshop in January of 1996 before quickly making the jump to Broadway that April, where it won four Tony Awards and the 1996 Pulitzer Prize. For many theatre artists, including ourselves, RENT was a formative part of their creative identity. Like South Pacific, How to Succeed and A Chorus Line, RENT spoke to a specific part of life in America at the time it was written - ticking every box in the Pulitzer committee’s requirements. RENT’s impact lasted far beyond the show’s 5,123 Broadway performances- this little show about a slice of life in Manhattan’s East Village has been presented all around the world, and twice on film.  At its debut, RENT felt like a completely new kind of storytelling, something that hadn’t been seen on Broadway in at least decades, but perhaps ever. But RENT’s connection in its spirit and staging to the Broadway musicals that paved the way for it may surprise you.
April 7, 2020
That’s right - host Jackson Cline heads Off-Broadway for today’s episode! When he was doing my initial research for this series, many of the examples of queer representation that I found interesting happened to be produced off-Broadway. However, due to timing, he sadly made the choice to cut all of that from our history episode. He thought it’d be fun to dig deeper into those shows while in quarantine. Here’s the result!
April 6, 2020
There's a lot of uncertainty in the world right now, but one thing that is for certain is that musicals unite us. Somehow, the alchemy that is a musical can help us feel seen, heard and valued. So we here at The Ensemblist are creating some comfort food for uncomfortable times - taking to some of our favorite musical theatre performers about their favorite musicals. We couldn't think of a better person to launch this mini-series with than our co-creator Nikka Graff Lanzarone. She joined me over the phone from her home in Brooklyn to talk about her favorite musical, the 1975 seminal hit A Chorus Line. Here's our conversation...
April 3, 2020
“Tech” premiered on April 30th, 2012. It was written by Jason Grote & Lakshmi Sundaram, and directed by Roxann Dawson. Sadly, viewership dipped back down even despite the surge from the previous week, amounting to a mere 5.34 million. Songs this week mainly featured non-Smash properties: we got an opening montage set to Cole Porter’s “Another Op’nin’, Another Show” sung by Christian Borle, and a cover of Rose Royce’s/Mary J. Blige’s song, “I’m Goin’ Down,” sung this time by Megan Hilty. The other two songs we heard were snippets from tech that we heard in previous episodes: “History is Made at Night” and “The 20th Century Fox Mambo.” It’s “another openin’ of another show” for the company of Bombshell. The company makes the journey from New York to Boston for the show’s pre-Broadway tryout. The Ensemblists are joyously rolling their roller bags through Grand Central Station, Linda the stage manager is ushering costume racks into the dressing rooms.  With the first preview two days away, the show is… not ready for an audience. Derek is on the verge of having a stroke, with the show’s technical elements barely coming together.  The number one rule of tech is: nobody has any time! Derek doesn’t have time to tell Rebecca that her leading man has quit the show for a TV pilot. But when she hears that Eileen is thinking of bringing Michael Swift back, Julia gives an ultimatum: she can have Michael or her on the production but not both.  Rebecca admits to Karen that she’s nervous about performing Marilyn for an audience. For the first time Derek seems to direct, telling Rebecca to “use her star power” in her performance. But he uses and abuses his own star power, giving her shoulder massages that lead to a dressing room make out session.  Ivy goes through her own emotional rollercoaster, starting with Derek saying he loves her before standing in for Marilyn, to being relegated to changing Rebecca’s gloves and listening to her and Derek make out from outside her dressing room. Jessica says “No civilians during tech. We’re in the middle of a war. They don’t get it.” Dev comes up anyway, and while out at a romantic dinner admits proposes to Karen. The following is the verbatim conversation between Dev and Karen after he pulls out the ring: DEV: “Will you marry me?” KAREN: “Marry you?” DEV: “Yeah, it’s not all that crazy, is it?” KAREN: “Of course not, I just don’t know what to say.” DEV: “Say yes.” KAREN: “I’m in tech.” DEV: “...is that the same thing as a yes?” KAREN: “I’m sorry, Dev. I’m just under so much pressure now. Tech is so crazy.” DEV: “It’s sounding more and more like a no.” KAREN: “It’s not a yes or a no. It’s I’m in tech.”
April 2, 2020
As the Coronavirus pandemic has raged across the country, national tours have been some of the first productions to fall victim. One of those is the national tour of Miss Saigon which unexpectedly closed, cancelling almost four months of upcoming performances. Company member Adam Roberts spoke to us about how he heard the news and what he's doing since he found himself unexpectedly unemployed. Here's our conversation...
April 1, 2020
Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to bring together five of the most experienced and storied ensemble actors working on Broadway today before a live audience at BroadwayCon. We talked about the shows they originated and the characters they’ve created, but also the disappointments they’ve felt when a show closed. While actors Tracee Beazer, Afra Hines, Kelvin Moon Loh, Barrett Martin and Bret Shuford have each influenced the legacy of musical theatre, they’ve also been a part of shows that just didn’t gain traction with Broadway audiences. I figured with their experience, they must have some perspective about how to handle the disappointment of being in a Broadway flop. Here’s our conversation…
March 31, 2020
Since South Pacific, we’ve had two more musicals win the Pulitzer Prize: How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and Fiorello!. But in 1975, a new musical came on the scene that would truly change musicals for the next fifty years. A Chorus Line. Without question, this show changed how ensembles were written, cast and perceived by audiences. Opening on Broadway in 1975 after a sold-out run downtown at the Public Theatre, it ran an unprecedented 16 years at the Shubert Theatre, as well as tours and companies around the world before coming back to Broadway in 2006. On this episode, we dive into the legacy of A Chorus Line - how exactly it took the ensemblist experience and made it so universal, and how it became one of the most popular and best loved musicals in history.
March 30, 2020
With more than 100,000 people now testing positive for COVID-19 in the United States, it should come as no surprise that some of those people are beloved Broadway community members. Two of those performers are Tina's Charlie Franklin and DeLaney Westfall, who have been self-quarantined in upstate New York after received their positive diagnosis for Coronavirus. They were both kind enough to speak to me over the phone about their symptoms, now that they are feeling better. Here's our conversation...
March 29, 2020
South Pacific changed how ensembles were used even further, by individualizing each character, even those in the ensemble. There were certainly been musicals in those 18 years with ensemble step out features, as anyone who has played Gertie Cummings in Oklahoma! or Mrs. Schuyler Adams in Annie Get Your Gun could tell you. However, most of the chorus tracks were still relegated to the titles of “Ensemble Singer” or “Ensemble Dancer” (and rarely ever both). That’s just one of the reasons why South Pacific was so revolutionary. Based on James A. Michener’s book Tales of the South Pacific (which, coincidentally, won the 1947 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction) the New York Daily Mirror wrote “It boasts no ballets and no hot hoofing. It has no chorus in the conventional sense. Everyone in it plays a part. It is likely to establish a new trend in musicals."
March 28, 2020
Roundabout Theatre Company's Caroline, or Change was the second Broadway musical to announce postponement in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic. I was curious what it would feel like to be in the middle of a creative process, only to be stopped suddenly and placed on hold for the foreseeable future. Nasia Thomas is the dance captain and plays Radio 1 in this Broadway revival of Caroline, or Change. She spoke to me over the phone about how she heard about both the shutdown and postponement, as well as what's she's doing in the meantime. Here's our conversation...
March 27, 2020
“Publicity” premiered on April 23rd, 2012. It marks the return of our original team from the pilot and first few episodes of the series: Theresa Rebeck and Michael Mayer, who respectively wrote and directed this episode. The viewership was up this episode! Yay! Premiering to 6.01 million viewers, about sixty thousand more than last week!! Gotta be that Bollywood promo, right? There were three featured songs this episode, which may have been my favorite episode soundtrack of the season. One cover of “Run” by Snow Patrol, and two original songs: the Bollywood-inspired original “A Thousand and One Nights” and shadow Marilyn’s ballad of “Secondhand White Baby-Grand,” both written by Marc Shaiman and Scot Whitman. Derek calls Karen into rehearsal early to ask her to continue looking over the leading lady material, saying “I think you’d make a brilliant Marilyn.” Rebecca invites Karen to go out together in order for Ms. Duvall to “check out the competition.” When Karen slays Snow Patrol’s “Run,” Rebecca tells her “You are not an understudy, you are a star!”  But Rebecca Duvall continues to give notes on the Bombshell script and score, including to ut one of the show’s only romantic duets “Mr. and Mrs. Smith.” When Tom and Julia write a new song called “Second Hand White Baby Brand,” Rebecca says it should be given to one of Marilyn’s “shadow selves”: Karen! Rebecca continues to ingratiate herself with the company, making smoothies with Linda the stage manager, and becoming BFFs with Karen - taking her clubbing and giving her designer clothing. Everyone’s having dinner dates: Ivy at drinks with Sam and Tom, Eileen and her bartender boyfriend out at BAM, and Karen out to Indian food with Dev and Rebecca, who end up passive-aggressively arguing about what Karen wants her future to look like. In her mind, Karen transports herself to multicultural Bollywood where Dev and Karen challenge each other to prove their love is longer than “A Thousand And One Nights.” The number features 30 dancers including current Broadway performers Ericka Hunter, Nina Lafarga, Nathan Lucrezio and Katie Webber. The fantasy sequence is performed in an Indian wedding venue as scores of multicultural dancers in tunics and saris pitch their thumbs and middle fingers together and push flexed hands towards the corners of the room. In curtained corners of the hall, Rebecca, Tom, Eileen, Julia and the rest of our leading players pose in tableaus that reflect the song’s quandaries.   Back in reality, Julia’s missing son turns out to be sleeping on a friends’ floor, but the search for him causes Julia and her husband to come back together. Her son’s return also brings Tom and Sam together, cementing their budding relationship with a sweet and subtle kiss. Ivy watches Ellis relegated to making Rebecca Duvall’s smoothies, and concocts a plan to get both Rebecca and Karen in trouble by feeding them misinformation about the rehearsal schedule. When Rebecca returns 15 minutes late from a 10 minute break, Derek lambasts her. But when Karen doesn’t return to rehearsal at all, Derek gives Karen’s new song to Ivy.  Ivy crushes her first run of “Second Hand Baby Grand,” which includes staging that rolls Rebecca Duvall upstage as Ivy’s Shadow Self takes downstage center. But the moment the company applauds Ivy for her spectacular performance, Rebecca tells the room that she thinks Marilyn should sing the song.
March 26, 2020
Here at The Ensemblist, we have always striven to celebrate the hard work and passion of Broadway ensemblists. And in our second full season, which first aired in 2016, our co-creator Nikka Graff Lanzarone and I took a journey through Broadway’s past to learn about its future. We explored how the ensemblist experience has changed and been changed by some of the theatre’s most influential shows, writers, and subject matter. And so in this new mini-series, I will be sharing some of the best moments from that mini-series we made four years ago. Our plan is to release these re-edited versions from our season on The History of The Ensemble once a week for the next five weeks, so stay tuned for our episode on South Pacific in your podcast feeds next week. Thank you to Jennifer Ashley Tepper for allowing us to reshare her stories with us this week.
March 25, 2020
As the Coronavirus Pandemic races across the country, its not only closing shows but affecting the health of theatre artists. One of those is Pearl Sun, who is in the Broadway company of Come From Away. She was gracious enough to speak to me after experience COVID-19 symptoms for the last ten days about how she is feeling and how serious she feels this pandemic is Here's our conversation...
March 24, 2020
As the Coronavirus pandemic as raged across the country, national tours have been some of the first productions to fall victim. One of those is the national tour of Once on This Island which unexpectedly closed this week, cancelling almost five months of upcoming performances. Company member Tatiana Loftin spoke to us about how she heard the news and what she's doing now. Here's our conversation...
March 23, 2020
The Coronavirus Pandemic is taking a serious toll on the theatre industry. However, there are glimmers of hope where people are still connecting creatively online. One of those opportunities is thanks to Jeanna de Waal, currently starring as Diana in Diana: A True Musical Story. She is also the co-founder of Broadway Weekends a "theatre camp for adults" that has started teaching free online classes on their Facebook page: Broadway Weekends at Home. Here's our conversation...
March 22, 2020
There are only a handful of moments where you can feel your life change. The moment you say “I do,” the birth of a child. But performers can add another to that list: the moment you find out you’ll be making your Broadway debut. In an instant, you feel your life has change as a door you’ve always wanted to walk through finally opens. There’s nothing more heartwarming than hearing these stories. So I brought together five actors who made through debuts this year together to share the stories of how and when they booked their first Broadway shows. Here’s our conversation...
March 21, 2020
This week, we are pivoting our stories about the Coronavirus from how it caused theatre productions to shut down to what performing artists are doing with this time. Today, we speak to Joe Rosko, founder of Built for the Stage, an online training program that helps actors achieve their fitness goals. We spoke about how to stay mentally and physically fit during this time of isolation. Here's our conversation...
March 20, 2020
“The Movie Star” premiered on April 16, 2012. It was written by Julie Rottenberg and Elisa Zuritsky, and directed by Tricia Brock. Again, shout-out to an all-female team! The episode was viewed by 5.95 million viewers. Down again, man. This episode had three featured songs total, though one could argue that that spoken-word version of “Let Me Be Your Star” should count for half! Wow. The other two were one original song by Shaiman and Whitman called “Dig Deep,” and a cover of “Our Day Will Come” by Ruby & the Romantics. Everyone in the Bombshell rehearsal room is abuzz about movie star Rebecca Duvall, especially her new understudy Karen Cartwright. But as the company sits in her first sing through of “Let Me Be Your Star,” they realize she’s not a vocalist like Karen or Ivy Lynn. You see, “Everyone said she could sing,” but nobody on Bombshell bothered to check first hand. Eileen asks Derek, Tom and Julia to come up with “constructive solutions.” Derek advocates for bringing Ivy back into the show, just in case they need her.  All that Karen can wonder is what Ivy’s return means for her. But once Rebecca showcases her ineptitude, Ivy and Karen begin to conspire together. Ivy teases Karen, prodding her that “you’re counting the minutes until she implodes, and if you’re not you’re in the wrong business.” Rebecca Duvall confides in Derek that she wishes Bombshell could delve into the story of Marilyn with “a little less singing and dancing.” The writers try adding in a short scene for her at the Actors Studio, but she is still perplexed by the idea that a character would break into song. Eileen advocates for Rebecca, demanding a new “extra long scene” for her Marilyn.  Eileen imparts an old adage to assistant Ellis, “Keep your friends close, celebrities closer, and their assistants even closer still.” For Eileen, this includes Rebecca Duvall and her many, many, many ideas for script revisions. But in a late night work session with the creative team, Rebecca turns out to be surprisingly candid about her own limitations, asking for keys to be lowered and ballads to be cut. Based on the collegial session, there’s a new jazzy version of “Dig Deep” added that references Stanislavsky, childhood drama and Sigmund Freud. At a screening of Rebecca Duvall’s new movie, Ivy and Karen talk about their hot-headed boyfriends and catch each other sneaking out of the boring movie. They share a laugh followed by Ivy announcing “She’s annoying. She stole our part. We hate her. Let’s go drinking.” After a few, Ivy tells Karen “When Rebecca Duvall goes down, everything’s up for grabs. You’re going to have to pry that part of my cold dead hands.” In other news, Julia and her separated husband Frank come together to get their son to improve in calculus. Ellis gets caught trying to pull one over on Rebecca Duvall’s assistant. And Tom’s date with “chorus crush” Sam stops short of physical intimacy because “he’s old-fashioned and believes in God.”
March 19, 2020
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to grow, we are speaking with performing arts around the country about how the shutdown of theatre performances continues to affect their lives and work. Today, we speak with Tara Tagliaferro, who was performing in the Maltz Jupiter Theatre production of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying when the show was postponed. She shared how the theatre has been taking care of their artists in unique ways. Here's our conversation...
March 18, 2020
Every spring, theatre fans look to The Ensemblist when they ask why there isn’t a Tony Award for Best Ensemble? And this year, I wanted to provide listeners with an informed and thoughtful look at the challenges and barriers of adding a category to the New York Theatre Awards. Beyond emotions, I’m interested in why adding a category is more complex than listeners may imagine. This week, I got to sit down with the president of the Outer Critics Circle Awards, David Gordon. The OCCs bestow awards to both Broadway and off-Broadway theatre, but have never had a category for Outstanding Ensemble in their more than 70 years of existence. So I sat down with David to learn about the OCC nominating process and why, according to him, creating an Outstanding Ensemble Award is a lot more complicated than I had imagined. Here’s our conversation...
March 17, 2020
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to grow, we are speaking with performing arts around the country about how the shutdown of theatre performances continues to affect their lives and work. Today, we speak with Jane Bunting, who was in Dallas performing with the national tour of Come From Away until performances were cancelled on Thursday. Here's our conversation...
March 16, 2020
This week, I wanted to share with you an extra-special conversation from my friends over at The Spark File podcast. Now, if you haven’t heard of The Spark File podcast, I want you to open up your podcast app and and subscribe to them right now. The Spark File is hosted by Susan Blackwell and Laura Camien - two bad ass bitches with gobs of experience in the theatre space who are obsessed with sparking creativity and inspiration in others.  I’ll take a page from their stump speech and share with you that a spark file is a place where one consistently collects creative inspirations and fascinations. Laura and Susan are on the hunt for fresh ideas, images and inspiration that spark creativity and peak curiosity. Things that inspire all of us to get up off of our asses and make something! Plus, they have a kick ass theme song that makes my butt bounce every time I hear it.  I’ve been obsessed with The Spark File since its launch last fall, but when I heard this conversation with Phillipa Soo I knew I had to share it with you. In this selected short, Phillipa, who you probably know for originating the role of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton in Hamilton, takes about the disappointment she felt during her next Broadway outing, Amelie, and the lessons she learned from it. Here’s their conversation…
March 15, 2020
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to grow, we are speaking with performing arts around the country about how the shutdown of theatre performances continues to affect their lives and work. Today, we speak with John Tupy, who spoke to us from Palm Desert, CA where he was supposed to performing with the national tour of Chicago until performances were cancelled Thursday morning. Here's our conversation...
March 14, 2020
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to grow, we are speaking with performing arts around the country about how the shutdown of theatre performances continues to affect their lives and work. Today, we speak with Christopher Henry Young, who is currently in San Francisco performing in the "And Peggy" company of Hamilton, about how COVID-19 has affected the state of live performance in the Bay Area. Here's our conversation...
March 13, 2020
Yesterday afternoon, Broadway theatres will went dark by order of Governor Andrew Cuomo. Performances will resume the week of April 13. The announcement comes as venues and performing arts organizations around New York City and the country have announced closures of their own amid rising concerns about the global coronavirus pandemic. Early morning, I spoke to Jessica Rush from the cast of Broadway's Tina: The Tina Turner Musical about how she heard the news and how she is coping with the prospect of being out of work for a month. Here's our conversation...
March 12, 2020
Earlier this week, the Broadway League released a statement advising against stage door activities and increasing sanitation efforts in response to the coronavirus outbreak. But I’ve been wondering how COVID-19 has been affecting life backstage at Broadway theatres for folks like today’s guest: Adam Jepsen. Adam is currently one of two actors playing Sven the reindeer in Broadway’s Frozen. Prior to clopping around Arandelle, he performed in the ensembles of Chicago and Cinderella on the Mainstem. He joined me in the studio yesterday to talk about how the coronavirus is affecting artists like him working on Broadway. Here’s our conversation…
March 11, 2020
As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads across the country, it’s creating concern for many of us in the theatre industry. For those of us who make our living by occupying the same space as others to share stories in real time, the coronavirus is posing a real threat to our lives and work. Just yesterday, Jay Inslee, the governor of Washington state, officially banned gatherings of more than 250 people. Of course, that includes theatre performances. As a Seattle native myself, I’ve been curious how the coronavirus is affecting the city’s theatre industry. And luckily, I knew just who to call. My best friend Jason Kappus is currently in tech rehearsals for the 5th Avenue Theatre’s production of Sister Act. Well, he was supposed to until Governor Inslee announced the ban on large gatherings. After the announcement, I spoke to Jason over the phone to ask him about how COVID-19 is affecting theatre artists - and if the show really can go on. Here’s our conversation…
March 9, 2020
Today’s guest knows a thing or three about covering roles of Broadway. Those three specific things are Otho, Adam and Beetlejuice - all roles he covers in his duties as a swing at the Winter Garden Theatre. Beetlejuice isn’t his first foray into covering leading roles either; He’s been a standby on The Book of Mormon, School of Rock, and understudied Michael Urie in last season’s Torch Song. I wanted to know how he manages to standby for such grueling characters, both living and undead. Here’s our conversation...
March 7, 2020
Today’s guest knows a thing or three about covering roles of Broadway. Those three specific things are Otho, Adam and Beetlejuice - all roles he covers in his duties as a swing at the Winter Garden Theatre. Beetlejuice isn’t his first foray into covering leading roles either; He’s been a standby on The Book of Mormon, School of Rock, and understudied Michael Urie in last season’s Torch Song. I wanted to know how he manages to standby for such grueling characters, both living and undead. Here’s our conversation...
March 5, 2020
“Understudy” premiered on April 9th, 2012. It was written by Jerome Hairston, and directed by Adam Dernstein. The viewership dipped yet again from the previous week, premiering to an audience of 5.99 million viewers. Songs this week featured one cover of Kelly Clarkson’s “Breakaway” and two original songs by Marc Shaiman and Scott Whitman: a sort of reprise of Marilyn’s very first song in the series, but this time Katherine McPhee singing “Never Give All the Heart,” and a new song featuring stand-in Christian Borle called “Don’t Say Yes Until I Finish Talking.” The episode opens with a room of cast, creatives and investors waiting to start a reading of the Bombshell script. Waiting, that is, on Hollywood star Rebecca Duvall - who misses playing Marilyn in the reading because she’s stuck in Cuba. In Rebecca’s absence, Tom, Julia and Derek come to Karen telling her that “they want her to understudy Marilyn.” Many of her ensemblist cohorts giggle with Karen excitedly, but Bobby and Sam note that “she’s never going to hack it - especially after Ivy breaks her kneecaps.” Ivy is furious that Karen has been given the job, even when Derek tells her that her outburst at Heaven on Earth means he can’t “even hire her for the chorus.” Derek verbally assaults Karen in rehearsal, which causes Bobby and Jessica and place bets on whether Karen will cry. Later at her apartment, Ivy shows a moment of kindness and advises Derek that “the only directors that were ever successful with Marilyn were the ones who babied her.” She continues her rebranding campaign, joining Karen and the ensemblists of Bombshell for appletinis after rehearsal and bringing her once-rival a pair of Monroe-inspired sunglasses.  Back in rehearsal, Derek calls the cast to run “the Zanuck number” about Darryl R. Zanuck, producer of All About Eve and The Grapes of Wrath. When Derek asks “Where is Zanuck?,” Tom replies “You don’t want to know, but I’m standing in today.” The steam room-inspired number is performed full out by Manuel Herrera, Curtis Holbrook, Keith Kuhl, Spencer Liff, Leslie Odom, Jr., J. Manuel Santos, Phillip Spaeth and Wesley Taylor, One run through seems to be good enough, as Derek gives no notes and quickly moves on to Karen to guide her with kindness. When Rebecca Duvall’s return is imminent, Derek shows up at Karen’s apartment to thank her for her good work. Not only that - he apologizes to Karen for his behavior back in the pilot episode. When Karen’s boyfriend Dev sees Derek walking out of their building, the two men get into a sidewalk fist fight. Dev floats the idea that she quit the show to avoid Derek. She argues back, telling Dev “Marilyn is everything I came to this city to do - everything that I want to be.” She goes to rehearsal the next day, covering the role of Marilyn until Rebecca Duvall shows (played by real life star Uma Thurman!)
March 2, 2020
Understudies are required to replicate another actors’ performance, knowing exactly where they move and how they move there. They must have the bravado to lead a show, but also the humbleness to know they are merely standing in for another artist. Understudies are asked to jump onto the moving train that is a Broadway musical and make sure it doesn’t come to a screeching halt.  What can make the challenge all the more daunting is when you’re joining a long-running show as an understudy as was the case with today’s guest, Jeff Heimbrock. For more than two years, he’s performed in the show’s ensemble while covering the role of Boq. I was curious about the challenges of bringing yourself to a character that has almost 16 years of history baked into its movements, vocals and infections - especially one that he only goes on for sporadically. Here’s our conversation…
February 24, 2020
Creating a character in a new Broadway musical is a gift for any artist, because you get to infuse the show with your own artistry. But it is the lucky few who get to create characters multiple times in multiple musicals. By originating roles in multiple musicals, they helped in a small but meaningful way to shape the legacy of musical theatre for generations to come. ...at least, that’s easy for me to say from the outside. But does it feel like that to the actors who create these ensemble roles? Do they think about the characters they create once the shows close? I posed this question to five of the most experienced and storied ensemble actors working on Broadway today before a live audience at BroadwayCon 2020. Currently performing in Broadway’s Beetlejuice, Chicago, Frozen, Hadestown and Wicked, they each shared stories about the small but mighty influence they’ve had on some of our favorite musicals.
February 20, 2020
From spectacular sets to jaw dropping performances, the theatre is full of magical moments. One of the reasons so many of us love Broadway is that the players display incredible feats of skill in front of a live audience. But in a world of remarkable artists, none one takes on as herculean a task as an understudy. Understudies are required to replicate another actors’ performance, knowing exactly where they move and how they move there. They must have the bravado to lead a show, but also the humbleness to know they are merely standing in for another artist. Understudies are asked to jump onto the moving train that is a Broadway musical and make sure it doesn’t come to a screeching halt. But if they can do all of this successfully, they arrive at the end to receive the adoration and admiration of both audiences and colleagues. If someone knows a thing or two about understudying, it’s Becca Petersen. Her national tour debut was as the female swing on the national tour of Newsies, followed by making her Broadway debut covering Laura Osnes in the new musical Bandstand. She’s spent the last two years as an original company member of Mean Girls, where she covers multiple roles including the leading role of Cady Heron. She joined us in the studio to share her favorite stories from each of these shows, as well as how she keeps her wits about her in what is undoubtedly one of Broadway’s most challenging jobs. Here’s our conversation...
February 17, 2020
Whenever New York-based actors leave the city to perform, there’s a certain amount of bravery that must take place when you walk outside the theatre’s doors. Although the production may stay the same from city to city, your life outside the theatre can change drastically depending on where you are. That challenge is magnified when the cities you’re touring to are halfway across the world in countries you’ve ever been to before.  Ryan Steele has a long history with the Broadway musical An American in Paris. After developing the show in its pre-Broadway workshops, he spent a year traveling on the show’s first national tour. After some time back in the city, he signed on for the production’s international tour which took him to China, Taiwan and France. Ryan came into the studio to talk about the differences in theatre audiences around the world - and how An American in Paris became the gift that kept on giving. Here’s our conversation…
February 13, 2020
Every spring, theatre fans look to The Ensemblist when they ask why there isn’t a Tony Award for Best Ensemble? And this year, I wanted to provide listeners with an informed and thoughtful look at the challenges and barriers of adding a category to the Tony Awards. Beyond emotions, I’m interested in why adding a category is more complex than listeners may imagine. It wasn’t easy. Pursuing an open discussion about the Tony Awards led to a lot of closed doors. But I was eventually lucky to find a few willing participants to talk about the state of theatre awards in the New York theatre industry, as well as their personal takes on why a Tony Award for Best Ensemble could be valuable.  My first discussion is with the wise and wonderful Celia Keenan-Bolger. She is a four-time Tony Award nominee, winning for Best Featured Actress in a Play in 2019 for To Kill A Mockingbird. Beloved in the New York theatre community for almost twenty years, her first theatrical award was in 2005 for Outstanding Ensemble Performing in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Celia joined me in the studio to talk about her experience - both winning and not winning awards - and how a Best Ensemble Award is the closest to what made her love theatre in the first place. Here’s our conversation...
February 10, 2020
Hailing from Atlanta, Georgia, Aisha Jackson has been a constant presence on Broadway stages for the last five years. Starting as a swing on Beautiful and then creating one of the ensemble tracks in Waitress, this month she finishes her run as the Anna standby in Frozen on Broadway. She joined me in the studio to talk about her experiences as an actress of color, particularly in taking on characters created by her cauasian counterparts. Here’s our conversation...
February 6, 2020
Last season, 288 actors worked as swings on Broadway. That’s literally a third of the performers working under Actors Equity chorus contracts. And yet, the job of a swing is still one of the most esoteric jobs in the theatre.  In general, swings are hired to understudy multiple ensemble tracks on a production. They’re asked to remember all of the lines, blocking, choreography, vocal harmonies and backstage traffic for multiple roles. No swings’ job is exactly the same as another, and often one knows quite how they memorize and remember all the information they need to know. But this intense intelligence is only half of the job - they must also exhibit the artistry and technique of any Broadway performer. When people say “the show must go on,” Karli Dinardo is one of the people of makes that happen. As a swing and dance captain for Moulin Rouge! The Musical, she covers seven other women in the show. Before making her Broadway debut in the production, she was a swing and dance captain for Hamilton on the road. We asked her into the study to share her most harrowing - and most triumphant - stories of being a superhero swing. Here’s our conversation...
February 3, 2020
One of the loudest and most vibrant cultural conversations to recently hit the Broadway community has been about racial representation. Throughout dressing rooms and across casting tables, there’s a persistent desire from audiences and artists to see more diverse stories onstage. And yet, the racial diversity of our country isn’t reflected in the racial diversity of Broadway performers. There has been no seismic shift in the number of actors of color performing on Broadway. Yes, systematic change often comes with incremental progress. However, the recent crop of Broadway musicals seem to provide few examples of such change. I’ve been curious what that feels like for artists of color, so I asked a few into the studio to share their experiences with racial representation in the theatre industry. Bradley Gibson made his Broadway debut as a swing on the 2014 musical adaptation of Rocky. Since then, he created the role of Tyrone in A Bronx Tale The Musical and is currently storming the Pridelines as Simba in Broadway’s The Lion King. He joined me in the studio for a candid conversation about how race has played into his career thus far, and where he sees opportunities for better representation on Broadway stages. Here’s our conversation...
January 30, 2020
“Hell on Earth” premiered on April 2, 2012 (Happy...April Fools?). It was written by Scott Burkhardt and directed by Paul McGuigan. The episode was viewed by 6.03 million viewers, which is again down, this time by .11 million. Oof. Featured Songs? Again, no Bombshell music, unless you count the snippet of the “Arthur Miller Medley” that Brian d’Arcy James sang at the piano, but we did get an original song by Shaiman and Whitman from Heaven on Earth, called “The Higher you Get, the Farther you Fall.” We also get a Times Square cover of “Cheers (Drink to That)” by Rihanna. Everybody seems to be moving on after Bombshell workshop. Karen is picking up serving shifts and booking orange juice commercials. Ivy is back in Heaven on Earth, probably forever. But she is definitely not enjoying it, as she rolls her eyes and marks her way through performances and taking prescription pills on the side. Julia’s husband Frank finds sheet music to a song she wrote about former flame Michael Swift. She admits to her affair but Frank storms out, telling her “sorry doesn’t cut it.” Frank confronts Michael, who tells Frank this isn’t the first time they had had an affair. Frank leaves him punched and lying on the sidewalk in front of New York Theatre Workshop, and walks out on Julia and their son Leo.  Out at a Glasshouse Tavern-type doppelganger, the Marilyn cast laments the production’s need to court a star. Jessica leads the charge, stating “Chasing a star is lame. It’s a musical. It’s a new American musical. Why can’t the songs be the star?” Ivy takes it one step further, digging at Karen that “she walks in with the Midwestern moonface and lands everything.” Tom, Julia and Derek discuss stars to replace Ivy in the role of Marilyn, as well as a title for the musical about her. But unknown to Derek, Eileen is also meeting with potential new directors of the Marilyn musical, where she is spotted by New York Post columnist Michael Reidel. Derek fumes when he reads Reidel’s column, but agrees to stay on the project as long as Eileen “finds him a star.” Ellis ends up connecting Eileen with an unseen movie star named Rebecca Duvall. After taking a mysterious prescription at her dressing room station, Ivy takes the Heaven on Earth stage under the influence, falling center stage and getting yelled at by Norbert Leo Butz to “get off the freaking stage.”  In what is the official jumping the shark of Smash, Ivy Lynn storming out of the Shubert Theatre in costume, wig and mic into Times Square. When Karen, who just happens to there to drop off Ivy’s misplaced sunglasses, follows her out Ivy lashes out at her, Ivy yells “You’re nothing special. There are thousands of girls just like you, millions of girls just like you.” Karen then follows Ivy into a liquor store, giving her $20 for a bottle of booze and drinking in public on their way into Duffy Square. They then sing an impromptu duet accompanied by a busker on an electronic keyboard, a drummer on five gallon buckets and two guitarists. Tom and Sam end up at an all-night diner until 5am, on what may or may not be a date. But on the bright side, the episode ends with a title for the new Marilyn musical: Bombshell.
January 27, 2020
Last season, The Prom leapt onto the Broadway scene, delighting audiences with an original queer-themed musical just in time for the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. In The Prom, teenage lesbian Emma Nolan is banned from attending her high school prom with her girlfriend, Alyssa. When a group of narcissistic Broadway performers hear the news, they travel to Indiana to help Emma and pick up some good press along the way. While this premise sounds quite humorous — which it is, The Prom also moved audiences with its great heart and depth.  This week, we asked Caitlin Kinnunen, who received a Tony nomination for originating the role of Emma, into the studio to chat about her experience as a queer actress bringing this role to life. In addition to The Prom, Caitlin has performed on Broadway in Spring Awakening and The Bridges of Madison County. Here’s our conversation…
January 23, 2020
“The Coup” premiered on March 26, 2012. It was directed by Paris Barclay, and written by show creator Theresa Rebeck. This is the first episode Ms. Rebeck has been credited with writing since episode 3. Upon premiere, the episode was viewed by 6.14 million, which is down .42 million from the week before. It just keeps going down… This is the first episode where there is zero music by Marc Shaiman and Scott Whitman, which makes sense since the workshop’s over. Instead, we have the original song “Touch Me” written by Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic and Bonnie McKee, and two covers of Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” and Sly and the Family Stone’s “Dance to the Music.” After the Bombshell workshop, everyone is asking if the musical is dead. Well, Ivy is at least - driving herself crazy on a stationary bicycle. In addition, Derek and Ivy are taking a bit of a break so her inside track on the progression of Bombshell is moot. Derek meets with Karen to tell her that “they” are talking to a new songwriter, a new approach and a new song “and they need her to sing it.” The catch? Tom and Julia can not know. But they do know! Because assistant Ellis and producer Eileen are now BFFs and Ellis now seems to have a full time gig as a professional snoop. Karen is concerned about aligning herself with Derek but agrees to meet him at a dockside in Queens. The dockside ends up being a Brooklyn warehouse where Ryan Tedder of One Republic is working on, which involves Karen singing “‘touch me’ to a bunch of dancers.” Sam and the ensemblists of Bombshell *finally* get Ivy out of the gym by taking to Brooklyn Bowl. Bobby the soothsayer laments “they pay us nothing for those things and then as soon as it’s over no one calls and then we end up prowling around trying to figure out what’s going on. We did all that work for free, basically, and then we have no rights to even ask a question.” The result is what is perhaps the most realistic exchange of the television series thus far: Jessica: “I hate the theatre.” Bobby: “I hate the theatre.” Ivy: “I love the theatre.” Which turns into a bowling lane dance party, jumping off of the furniture, and grapevining down the bowling lane. Ivy catches Ellis on one of his snooping missions, where he lets on the Karen and Derek are working together. She replies, “Oh if they’re going to replace me with a star that’s bad enough but Karen Cartwright is a nobody.” Bobby meets up with Karen under the guise of catching up since the workshop, but what he’s really doing over beers is getting the dirt on Karen’s secret project.  The secret project ends up being a choreographed performance of “Touch Me” a Marilyn-inspired techno song staged on a rotating bed with satin sheets. Needless to say it doesn’t go over well with Tom and Julia, with both of them feeling betrayed by Derek and Eileen going behind their backs. But when the creative team finally comes together, Eileen tells them that the Marilyn musical now needs a star to move forward.
January 20, 2020
Recently, Jackson Cline of The Ensemblist has been asking several questions about queer representation in musical theatre. How has the portrayal and inclusion of queer characters evolved over the years? Are more queer artists getting opportunities to tell these stories, both onstage and behind the scenes? And does giving queer-identifying individuals opportunities to create queer roles create a richer theatrical experience for the audience? Over the course of this mini-series, we’ll dive into these questions and hear from some of the talented artists who have put their stamps on Queer Characters on Broadway.  Today, we’re going to take a journey through time, looking at the evolution of queer stories told in Broadway musicals. So, jump into your time machines, and let’s head back to 1969.
January 16, 2020
“The Workshop” premiered on March 19, 2012. It was written by Jason Grote, and directed by Mimi Leder. The episode premiered to 6.56 million viewers, down about half a mil from the previous week. Being the workshop presentation, we basically saw excerpts of all the original music from Bombshell by Shaiman and Whitman that we have seen thus far, but we also saw a new original song called “On Lexington and 52nd Street” in its entirety which closed out the presentation. We also saw a cover of Colbie Caillat’s “Brighter Than the Sun,” but the tour de force number we got to see was “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” from Gypsy. Investors are coming in tomorrow to watch the workshop presentation of Bombshell. The flame is hot between Julia Houston and Michael Swift, canoodling in the hallways outside the rehearsal room. Ivy Lynn arrives at rehearsal with her mother, Leigh Conroy, who just happens to be a veteran Broadway star in her own right. With only a day before the presentation, rehearsal pauses so that Ms. Conroy can wow the company of Bombshell with an impromptu rendition of “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.” Moments later, rehearsal pauses yet again when Michael Swift’s wife and son barge into rehearsal, causing Julia to storm out of rehearsal and leave rehearsal. Again: the day before the presentation. With all of the personal drama combined with the rehearsal building seemingly crumbling under their feet, Derek Wells wonders if the project is cursed. But Eileen Rand promises him that Bombshell will be a hit “because Marilyn deserved it.” Leigh Conroy won a Tony without drugs but it doesn’t look like Ivy Lynn will be able to claim the same accomplishment, taking sleeping pills the night before the presentation. She confides in Tom Hewitt that “her mother is doing everything she can to undermine her, and Karen Cartwright is being handed everything on a plate.”  The workshop begins with Ivy singing to a swelling imaginary orchestra, but it’s Karen who see dreaming of performing the role of Marilyn. With highlights of the fantasy sequences we’ve seen from the TV series’ first six episodes, we watch both the workshop and the watching of the workshop. Everyone seems to be a bit off of their game, with Ivy falling in a lift, Karen falling off of a platform, and Michael Swift falling head over heels in love with Julia. Amidst the drama, Karen Cartwright records a demo for Bobby Raskin across the street and wins over yet another potential critic with vocals. The next morning at 6am, she gets woken up by a call that Raskin wants to meet her but she skips it to perform in the workshop. The rest of the ensemble questions her decision but she says “she wouldn’t have missed it for the world.” After the workshop, Ivy confronts her mother by drawing a comparison between herself and Marilyn: both were sad and drug-addicted women whose mothers didn’t love them. Leigh tells her that she knows how difficult this business can be, and that even though wishes Ivy would be something else with her life, her day will come because she truly is talented. The team also contemplates the future of Bombshell - and whether Ivy Lynn or Michael Swift will be a part of that future at all...
January 13, 2020
Developing a character based on a real person is a challenge for any actor, in part because whether or not the audience is familiar with that person you want to make sure the role feels authentic to the people that know them. Such is the case in Tina: The Tina Turner Musical, where much of the ensemble takes on people in the life of the titular music icon.  One of those actors is Jessica Rush, who plays the featured role of Rhonda Graam. Rhonda has been friends with Tina for more than 50 years, starting as the road manager for her and Ike Turner. Over the decades, they became close professionally and personally. So how does Rush, a veteran of six Broadway musicals over the last decade, take half a century of life and turn it into a small but featured character? Here’s our conversation...
January 9, 2020
“Chemistry” premiered on March 12, 2012. The episode was written by Jacquelyn Reingold, and was directed by Dan Attias. It premiered live to an audience of 7.04 million viewers. The featured songs in this episode included two covers — Shake it Out by Florence & The Machine and Who You Are by Jessie J — and one original song by Shaiman and Whitman called “History is Made at Night.” Oh yeah, and Karen massacres “Hava Nagila,” if we wanna count that. Changes to the script and score are being made during the workshop of Bombshell, with scenes and songs being moved. Our director Derek Wills isn’t happy with the state of the script, but he’s less happy with his leading lady losing her voice. Ivy Lynn’s voice is inflamed but not infected. While she’s on vocal rest, Bombshell’s creative team begins to contemplate asking Karen Cartwright to take on the part of the workshop’s presentations.  When Derek informs Ivy about this possibility, she takes her first dose of prednisone to help her ailing voice. However, she finds that it gives her night sweats and headaches. Even though she’s “not in good shape,” she still attends rehearsal to prevent Karen from getting a chance at the part. This makes her even more unwell, with side effects including the strangest musical sequence on the series to date.  Karen is daunted by the task of learning the role of Marilyn in a week, but yet she feels like “she can do this!” That confidence is bolstered when she crushes it as the entertainment at the Northport Bar Mitzvah, catching the eye of someone named Bobby Raskin. Our lyricist Julia Houston can’t concentrate on making any edits to the show though because she’s too distracted by her recent smoochfest with her leading man, Michael Swift. But in the process of begging him not to flirt with her, she ends up topless with him in a rehearsal room. Composer Tom Levitt is still trying to decide whether the boring but capable lawyer he’s dating is enough for him.  Eileen Rand is still on the hunt for $7 million in capital, but the workshop is being attended by “Nathan Lane AND the Nederlanders.” But the buzz is good enough for her to lease an apartment on the 87th floor in the Lower East Side that costs $10,000 a month AND buy Ellis multiple $7 martinis.
January 9, 2020
“Chemistry” premiered on March 12, 2012. The episode was written by Jacquelyn Reingold, and was directed by Dan Attias. It premiered live to an audience of 7.04 million viewers. The featured songs in this episode included two covers — Shake it Out by Florence & The Machine and Who You Are by Jessie J — and one original song by Shaiman and Whitman called “History is Made at Night.” Oh yeah, and Karen massacres “Hava Nagila,” if we wanna count that. Changes to the script and score are being made during the workshop of Bombshell, with scenes and songs being moved. Our director Derek Wills isn’t happy with the state of the script, but he’s less happy with his leading lady losing her voice. Ivy Lynn’s voice is inflamed but not infected. While she’s on vocal rest, Bombshell’s creative team begins to contemplate asking Karen Cartwright to take on the part of the workshop’s presentations.  When Derek informs Ivy about this possibility, she takes her first dose of prednisone to help her ailing voice. However, she finds that it gives her night sweats and headaches. Even though she’s “not in good shape,” she still attends rehearsal to prevent Karen from getting a chance at the part. This makes her even more unwell, with side effects including the strangest musical sequence on the series to date.  Karen is daunted by the task of learning the role of Marilyn in a week, but yet she feels like “she can do this!” That confidence is bolstered when she crushes it as the entertainment at the Northport Bar Mitzvah, catching the eye of someone named Bobby Raskin. Our lyricist Julia Houston can’t concentrate on making any edits to the show though because she’s too distracted by her recent smoochfest with her leading man, Michael Swift. But in the process of begging him not to flirt with her, she ends up topless with him in a rehearsal room. Composer Tom Levitt is still trying to decide whether the boring but capable lawyer he’s dating is enough for him.  Eileen Rand is still on the hunt for $7 million in capital, but the workshop is being attended by “Nathan Lane AND the Nederlanders.” But the buzz is good enough for her to lease an apartment on the 87th floor in the Lower East Side that costs $10,000 a month AND buy Ellis multiple $7 martinis.
January 6, 2020
As a capstone to the interviews we’ve had with actors on social media, I wanted to get some broader perspective on social media trends in the Broadway space. That’s why I called my friend and colleague, Felicia Fitzpatrick. She is Director of Social Media and Creative Strategy of Playbill, a well as producer and host of her own very-fine podcast “Call and Response,” which explores the intersection of blackness and performing arts. Felicia shared with me how she sees shows connecting with their fans, tactics that she sees as ineffective, as well as trends looking into the future. Here’s our conversation...
January 2, 2020
On January 5, 2020, Broadway will dim the lights on one of its most delicious confections: Waitress. During its more than four years and 1,544 regular performances on Broadway, The Ensemblist has shared many stories from its talented company. We share with you today two completely new stories from to podcast as well as some of our favorite Waitress audio from the past year.
December 30, 2019
Usually, our “My First Time” episodes feature Broadway stars looking back at the very first time they stepped on a Broadway stage. But on this episode we are going to hear about a series of firsts from one of the biggest hearts on Broadway, Marisha Wallace.  Since making her national tour debut in 2012 with The Book of Mormon, her career has been filled with firsts in quick succession: her Broadway debut in Aladdin in 2014, to her 2017 West End debut in Dreamgirls. She joined me in the studio during a brief stop in New York, before returning to London to play Motormouth Maybelle in the new West End revival of Hairspray. Here’s our conversation...
December 26, 2019
In our recent episodes about Touring Broadway, actors Josh Burrage and Sabrina Imamura shared with us some of the joys and struggles of touring with A Bronx Tale, Newsies and Hamilton. But while they each have significant experience in the road, one thing neither of them were able to speak to was going on the road as a parent.  That’s why I found this Mama’s Talkin Loud so intriguing. Mama’s Talkin Loud is a new parenting podcast hosted two of the co-founders of Broadway Baby Mamas, Cara Cooper and Jessica Rush. In addition to being mothers of young kids, each has also been on Broadway this season: Cooper in The Prom and Rush in Dear Evan Hansen and Tina: The Tina Turner Musical. In this recent episode of Mama’s Talkin Loud, Rush and Cooper spike to Becky Gulsvig and Megan McGinnis, both of whom recently finished touring with Come From Away with young children. Between their discussions of travel days and searching for nannies, I found it a fascinating conversation. Which is why I wanted to share it with you all.  It’s a perfect companion piece to our Touring Broadway mini-series, which is why I’m so grateful Jessica and Cara are allowing us to share it in our feed today. Here’s their conversation...
December 23, 2019
First National Tours are one of the most important calling cards for the Broadway community. Staged in New York City to cross the country, these facsimiles of Broadway shows bring the experience of attending a Mainstem musical to theatrelovers across the country. But how similar are these touring productions to their Broadway counterparts? And what’s the experience for performers who pick up their lives to travel the country in one of the casts? Sabrina Imamura opened the first national tour of Hamilton in early 2017. Performing in the show’s ensemble took her along the West coast for about a year and a half before Broadway called, where she’s been in the show’s Mainstem ensemble since mid-2018. I asked her into the studio to tell about how performing in two productions differed, both onstage and off. Here’s our conversation...
December 19, 2019
Full disclosure: I love Cats. (The musical, not the animals because I’m allergic.) As my mother can attest to, I spent many of my middle school years listing to the double CD set of the original Broadway album, mentally cataloging the characters and memorizing the lyrics. So I’m as intrigued as anybody about this new feature-film of Cats about to be released. Will it be able to contain the same alchemy of weird wonder that has made the stage show a topic of conversation among theatre fans for so long?  As the film hits theatres nationwide, I asked my friend Christopher Gurr to share his knowledge of the show with us. Chris was in the recent Broadway revival of Cats, playing three roles including Bustopher Jones and Gus the Theatre Cat. He shared with me some of the lore of Cats that was passed down to him in rehearsal by director and conceiver Trevor Nunn about what happens in the show and why it's still a draw for audiences today. Here’s our conversation…
December 16, 2019
Welcome back to our bi-monthly episode where we talk about what’s been going down on and off Broadway recently. First up is some very exciting news: the announcement of our 2019 Ensemblist Award recipients - and I’ve brought into the studio Jackson Cline, our Associate Programs Manager to help me share the news. Since 2014, The Ensemblist Awards have been bestowed every December to a Broadway performer who “embodies the ensemblist spirit: someone who is talented, skilled, multifaceted, inquisitive and kind.” The recipients are always chosen by the previous year’s winners as a way for Broadway community members to celebrate artists they respect and admire. In addition, we announce the winners of the best Broadway ensembles and ensemble performances of the last ten years in our “Best of Broadway” poll, voted on by more than 1,500 fans.
December 12, 2019
First National Tours are one of the most important calling cards for the Broadway community. Staged in New York City to cross the country, these facsimiles of Broadway shows bring the experience of attending a Mainstem musical to theatrelovers across the country. But how similar are these touring productions to their Broadway counterparts? And what’s the experience for performers who pick up their lives to travel the country in one of the casts? Joshua Michael Burrage has performed with not one, but two first national tours: Newsies and A Bronx Tale The Musical. In between, he made his Broadway debut in the recent revival of Cats. I asked him into the studio to talk about those two tours, and how those experiences differed from performing on the Great White Way. Here’s our conversation...
December 8, 2019
Just last night, television viewers got to see what Broadway audiences fell in love with last year: SpongeBob SquarePants the musical. The big, little musical the could surprised fans of the production when it was announced earlier this fall that it would be taped for broadcast featuring much of the show’s original Broadway cast, including my guest for this episode Lauralyn McClelland. Lauralyn is a veteran of seven Broadway shows, including Rock of Ages, Matilda The Musical, My Fair Lady and SpongeBob, where she played an airborne mermaid among other fantastical characters. I asked her into the studio to tell me about the experience of filming the show, how it differed from the stage production and her favorite moments of canonizing the incredible production on film. Here’s our conversation...
December 5, 2019
Our second actor nominating the best of the decade is Raymond J. Lee. Most recently, he was seen in the ensemble of Soft Power at The Public Theatre. But on Broadway, he’s originated many of the best ensemble features of the last ten years, from a flying Elvis in Honeymoon in Vegas to one half of a pair of Punxsutawney bumpkins in Groundhog Day. The Ensemblist has compiled our own lists of the Best Broadway ensemble performances of the last decade, nominating our favorites in four categories Best Broadway Ensemble Best Broadway Ensemble Feature Best Performance by an Ensemble Actor Best Ensemble Banger (song that features an ensemble) We’ve brought along two of our favorite Broadway superfans/Ensemblists to help us nominate the best of Broadway from the last ten years. But we’re going to need you to help us make the final decisions. Go to TheEnsemblist.com or click on our Instagram bio link to submit your picks for the Best Broadway Ensemble performances of the decade. Voting closes at midnight EST on Friday, December 13 so submit your notes now.  These selections are from musicals that opened on Broadway between January 2010 and December 2019. The selections for all categories can include both new musicals and revival. They can be based in facts or based in feelings, but I asked them to made sure they could defend them on mic.
December 2, 2019
The Ensemblist has compiled our own lists of the Best Broadway ensemble performances of the last decade, nominating our favorites in four categories Best Broadway Ensemble Best Broadway Ensemble Feature Best Performance by an Ensemble Actor Best Ensemble Banger (song that features an ensemble) We’ve brought along two of our favorite Broadway superfans/Ensemblists to help us nominate the best of Broadway from the last ten years. But we’re going to need you to help us make the final decisions. Go to TheEnsemblist.com or click on our Instagram bio link to submit your picks for the Best Broadway Ensemble performances of the decade. Voting closes at midnight EST on Friday, December 13 so submit your notes now.  These selections are from musicals that opened on Broadway between January 2010 and December 2019. The selections for all categories can include both new musicals and revival. They can be based in facts or based in feelings, but I asked them to made sure they could defend them on mic.  First up with her selections for the best of the decade is Jonalyn Saxer. She’s currently touring the country playing Karen Smith in the first national tour of Mean Girls. But she’s also performed in five Broadway musicals since graduating from Syracuse University: Bullets Over Broadway, Honeymoon in Vegas, Holiday Inn, Cats and Mean Girls, where she originated the role of Taylor Wedell. Here’s our conversation…
November 28, 2019
From Nellie Forbush to Evan Hansen, the librettos of Broadway musicals have been filled with complex characters for almost a century. And while those roles were originated and revived by astonishing actors, much of what makes those characters so fascinating is on the page, meaning written into the script itself.  That’s what makes the work of our guests for this mini-series so remarkable. They’ve taken small supporting parts and turned them into fully realized characters - feeling just as developed and grounded as the leading counterparts. And what makes them even more remarkable is that they are often doing this for multiple characters within the same show.  Jennifer Smith is a legend of the Broadway stage. In the last 35 years, she originated and understudies more than 40 roles on Broadway. Back in 2016, she joined Ensemblist co-creator Nikka Graff Lanzarone and I in the studio to talk about creating ensemble roles in four of her Broadway shows: Tuck Everlasting, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, The Producers and Victor/Victoria. Here’s our conversation...
November 25, 2019
“Let’s Be Bad” premiered on March 5th, 2012. It was written by Julie Rottenberg and Elisa Zuritsky, and directed by Jamie Babbit. Take note: this episode is the first in the series to have an all-female writer/director team! The episode premiered live to 7.76 million viewers, which was up by 17% from the previous week. Including DVR viewing the episode was seen by a total of 10.22 million that week. Not much music in this one, Mo. There was only one original song, the titular number “Let’s Be Bad” by Shaiman and Wittman, with two covers of “its a mans mans mans world” by James Brown, and “a song for you” by Donny Hathaway.
November 21, 2019
Replacing an original company member in a Broadway show is a feat for any performer. But being the first person to replace in a show comes a set of joys and challenges all their own - ones that only get magnified when the show is a huge success like last season’s Tony Award-winning musical, Hadestown. Anthony Chatmon II was deemed that honor when he joined the company earlier this fall, replacing actor Ahmad Simmons as a member of the show’s ensemble. He shared with us what the experience has been like, as well as how it differed from his Broadway debut as a standby on last season’s Be More Chill. Here’s our conversation...
November 18, 2019
“The Cost of Art” premiered on February 27, 2012, and was the first episode in the series NOT written and directed by show creator Theresa Rebeck and Michael Mayer. The episode was written by David Marshall Grant, and directed by Michael Morris. At premiere, the episode was viewed live by 6.6 million, but including DVR recording, was viewed by a total of 9.05 million viewers.   There was a lot of music in this episode: Two original songs (History is Made at Night and I Never Met a Wolf Who Didn’t Love to Howl), two snippets of original songs (20th Century Fox Mambo from last ep, and preview of Let’s Be Bad from the next episode), and two covers (Buble’s Haven't Met you Yet and Adele’s Rumor Has It).
November 14, 2019
Jill Abramovitz is currently slaying Beetlejuice audiences in her duel roles of Maxine Dean and Juno. She’s so incredible that we here at The Ensemblist bestowed her one of our first ever Season Standout awards. We asked this veteran of Broadway’s Cinderella and 9 to 5 into the studio to talk about how she developed those roles into some of the funniest moments in what is already a very funny show. Here’s our conversation…
November 11, 2019
Smash was also an incredible glimpse into the theatre community in the early 2010s, as many of the shows’ writers, actors and dancers were played by real Broadway performers with real Broadway cred.  But we wanted to go back in time to see how the show has weathered: what it got right and what it got very, very wrong. So let’s dive in and talk about season one, episode three: “Enter Mr. DiMaggio.” “Enter Mr. DiMaggio” premiered on February 20, 2012. It was written by Theresa Rebeck, and directed by Michael Mayer. Now here’s where viewership gets a little fun: this is the first week where ratings take into account households with DVR. Apparently this week’s episode had a live viewership of 6.5 million, which is about 1.5 mil down from last week, but including DVR viewership the episode had a total of 8.7 million viewers, which was .65 MORE than the week before! Oof. Just so much math. The episode only had one original song by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” but two covers were also featured: Bruno Mars’ “Grenade” sung by Will Chase, and “Redneck Woman” by Gretchen Williams, sung by Katherine McPhee.
November 7, 2019
From Nellie Forbush to Evan Hansen, the librettos of Broadway musicals have been filled with complex characters for almost a century. And while those roles were originated and revived by astonishing actors, much of what makes those characters so fascinating is on the page, meaning written into the script itself.  That’s what makes the work of our guests for this mini-series so remarkable. They’ve taken small supporting parts and turned them into fully realized characters - feeling just as developed and grounded as the leading counterparts. And what makes them even more remarkable is that they are often doing this for multiple characters within the same show.  The Lightning Thief employs a cast of seven actors to bring the story of Percy Jackson on stage. Much of the show’s small cast is tasked with creating multiple characters, none more than actors Ryan Knowles. Using a versus title facility of voice and movement, he creates strikingly specific characters over and over in the show, including Charon, Hades and many many more. Here’s our conversation…
November 4, 2019
Aaron Albano joins The Ensemblist as co-host of this new mini-series, where we rewatch and dissect what is still the Broadway community’s favorite tv show: Smash. Yes, we’re talking about the NBC series that aired from 2012-2013. The show gave a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of an imaginary Broadway musical called Bombshell, from the auditions to its workshop to its journey to the Tony Awards. But we wanted to go back in time to see how the show has weathered: what it got right and what it got very, very wrong.
October 31, 2019
On this episode, we share our stories of seeing Moulin Rouge! The Musical on Broadway, heading back to Mean Girls at the August Wilson Theatre and traversing downtown to take in Soft Power at The Public Theatre - as well as a story of Rock of Ages' Kevin Michael Raponey.
October 28, 2019
Aaron Albano joins The Ensemblist as co-host of this new mini-series, where we rewatch and dissect what is still the Broadway community’s favorite tv show: Smash. Yes, we’re talking about the NBC series that aired from 2012-2013. The show gave a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of an imaginary Broadway musical called Bombshell, from the auditions to its workshop to its journey to the Tony Awards. But we wanted to go back in time to see how the show has weathered: what it got right and what it got very, very wrong.
October 24, 2019
Al Blackstone is an emmy-nominated director and choreographer, known for his unique way of storytelling through movement. His choreographic creations include Happy We’ll Be, Freddie Falls In Love and the upcoming Norma - which is described as an after-hours performance series at a to-be-disclosed iconic Manhattan institution.  I asked Blackstone into the studio to talk about Norma: how it was inspired by his time in the musical world, and how he works with many of Broadway’s most beloved dancers to create work that feels distinctly non-Broadway. Here’s our conversation...
October 21, 2019
The relationship between money and psychology is tricky for anybody, but perhaps no one as much as an actor. Much of what makes finances hard for actors to negotiate is the fact that we can’t depend on a steady paycheck. If you don’t know how much money you’ll make this year - let alone in five years - how can you plan for the future? Ali Solomon has worked on both sides of the Broadway proscenium. She made her Broadway debut as a swing in Finding Neverland. But she’s spent more time working on the choreographic teams of Broadway musicals, including Beautiful and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I asked her into the studio to talk about how balancing two careers affects her finances, and what - if any - stability she finds in a career where she’s constantly wearing different hats. Here’s our conversation...
October 17, 2019
This month, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical will shutter its doors after nearly six years on Broadway. Along the way during its 2,418 public performances, The Ensemblist has been lucky to share stories from many of its ensemble members. In honor of its closing, we wanted to share some of our favorites from our early years, as well as a new story to the podcast from one of the show’s touring cast members.
October 14, 2019
The relationship between money and psychology is tricky for anybody, but perhaps no one as much as an actor. Much of what makes finances hard for actors to negotiate is the fact that we can’t depend on a steady paycheck. If you don’t know how much money you’ll make this year - let alone in five years - how can you plan for the future? Andy Tofa is currently touring the country with Hamilton after performing regionally at The Muny, Ogunquit and Gateway Playhouses. We spoke over the phone about his financial philosophy and how he created it thanks to financial insight training. Here's our conversation...
Loading earlier episodes...
    15
    15
      0:00:00 / 0:00:00