The Ensemblist #47: [DRessed as] A Girl: on Broadway



One of the oldest conventions in theatre history since the Greeks is making a slightly newer cultural splash. Across all media platforms, gender roles in storytelling are becoming more fluid, as men are donning heels and wigs to play women, transgender actors and characters are in the spotlight, and drag is as forward and fierce as ever.

As RuPaul famously said: “You’re born naked and the rest is drag.” And in theatre, that is even more true, as no one who walks in the stage door at half hour is who they will eventually become by places.

As we started researching the proliferation of drag on Broadway, we began to realize it wasn’t JUST drag. Playing Edna Turnblad in Hairspray is very different than playing Albin in La Cage aux Folles. But there’s something that unites these characters beyond the high heels, and we wanted to explore that further. 

So, for this episode of The Ensemblist, we spoke to three actors who identify as male, and have played roles on Broadway outside their own gender: one a woman, one a drag queen and one a transwoman. They talk about their approach to their roles, their auditions, and things they've learned along the way.

Our Guests:

Gregory Haney (Tarzan, Memphis, Bring it On, Wicked)

Blake Hammond (Living on Love, First Date, Sister Act, Elf, Billy Elliot, Hairspray, The Lion King, Kiss Me Kate, The Music Man, On the Town)

Joey Taranto (Rock of Ages, Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark, Kinky Boots)

The Ensemblist #46: Ballet on Broadway



Ballet is BACK on Broadway! With musicals like On The Town and An American in Paris popping up in midtown this season, classical dance is making a grande jete into the theatre scene like we haven’t seen in a long time, and Broadway ensemblists are being joined by stars of the classical dance world to bring this venerable art form back to the main stem!

On this episode of The Ensemblist, we spoke to three Broadway dancers who started out in the classical and concert dance worlds. Hear about their transitions to Broadway, how working on a theatre production is different in rehearsals and tech, and what it feels like speak on stage for the first time after years of performing without words. 

Our Guests:

Sara Esty (An American in Paris) - former Soloist with the Miami City Ballet

Stephen Hanna (On The Town, Billy Elliot) - former Principal dancer with the New York City Ballet

Christopher Vo (On The Town, The King & I) - former touring member of the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company

The Ensemblist #45: Parallel Careers



It may seem like performing on Broadway is THE dream come true- the pinnacle of career achievement. And while that might partly be true, we know that so many of Broadway’s best and brightest break the boxes they’re put in, and have many passions that grow right alongside performance pursuits. On the most recent episode of “The Ensemblist,” Nikka and Mo interview three Broadway performers who not only juggle daily responsibilities and a performance schedule, but also maintained entirely different occupations as well. Guests Susan Blackwell, Jennifer Dunne, and Phillip Spaeth reveal how they discovered their parallel passions and how they feed and inspire their lives, both onstage and off.

Our Guests: 
Susan Blackwell ([title of show])
Jennifer Dunne (Oklahoma, Curtains, Chicago)
Phillip Spaeth (Wicked, West Side Story, Women on the Verge, Matilda)

The Ensemblist #44: Life On Tour



Each year, major theatrical productions travel all across North America, bringing the magic of Broadway to theatregoers who can’t get to New York City. Whether opening a new company or joining a show that has already completed its Broadway run, life on tour is a crazy experience all on its own, with different challenges at each stop along the way. Guests Ryan Jackson, Rachel Rincione, and Kirsten Wyatt share their experiences with constantly opening and closing the same show as they travel from city to city.

Our Guests:

Ryan Jackson (Wicked)

Rachel Rincione (Les Misérables

Kirsten Wyatt (A Christmas Story, Urinetown, The Boy Friend

The Ensemblist #43: Understudies



A Broadway show is a team, and that team wouldn’t be able to go on eight shows a week without their understudies. And as most of a show’s understudies come from its ensemble, we wanted to highlight this very important aspect of an ensemblist’s life. Guests Gaelen Gilliland, Adam Kaplan, and Wallace Smith share their favorite understudy experiences, mishaps, and crazy backstage antics that go along with the job.

Our Guests:

Gaelen Gilliland (Honeymoon In Vegas, 9 to 5 the Musical, Legally Blonde, Wicked

Adam Kaplan (Newsies)

Wallace Smith (Rocky, Godspell, American Idiot, Ragtime, Hair, The Lion King)

The Ensemblist #42: Spotlight On: Costumes!



Nikka and Mo are so excited to bring you the latest edition of their “Spotlight On” series, which began in April 2014 to highlight behind-the-scenes careers on Broadway. 

On this episode of The Ensemblist, we hear from three important members of the costume team: a designer, a wardrobe supervisor, and a dresser. John Michael Dias, Tree Lonon, and Tobin Ost share their memories of getting started in the world of wardrobe, the process of opening a Broadway show from a costume perspective, the kind of upkeep it really takes for all those costume pieces, and those quick changes that make Broadway so dang spectacular.

John Michael Dias (performer: Jersey Boys. Wardrobe: On The Town, Scandalous)

Tree Lonon (over 20 Broadway productions as a dresser)

Tobin Ost (Designer: Jekyll & Hyde, Bonnie And Clyde, The Philanthropist, Brooklyn)

The Ensemblist #41: Half Hour



Nikka and Mo give listeners another special episode of The Ensemblist, featuring a number of recent podcast guests discussing their preparations before they hit the stage. 

Actors’ Equity requires that all performers arrive at the theatre one half hour - thirty minutes - before showtime. This is your time to get into costume, make-up, wigs, mics and do all of the preparations needed before a performance. You can come earlier if you want, but you absolutely HAVE to be there at half hour. Each Broadway show’s physical, vocal, and visual demands are unique, so too are the pre-show rituals. Episode 41 features seven Broadway ensemblists discussing those various rituals: Brandon Bieber, Andrew Kober, Tamika Lawrence, Jess LeProtto, Tracy McDowell, Mary Beth Peil, and Kristen Beth Williams.

TheEnsemblist #40: Fall Theatre Roundtable with Patrick Hinds (and Chad Campbell!)



Happy New Year! Welcome, listeners, to our Fall 2014 Theatre Roundtable! 

For our first episode of 2015, we're doing something a little different. In this episode, we are going to discuss four of the plays and musicals that opened on Broadway during the fall season- Side Show, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, The Last Ship, and On The Town. We discuss the shows themselves, their use of ensemblists, and some of our favorite performances. 

However, we know that Broadway shows aren’t made of ensemblists alone. There are also those beautiful people above the title, as well as the designers, directors, and other creatives. We invited Patrick Hinds of the Theater People Podcast to discuss his favorite parts of those shows for a little crossover action, as well as a special appearance from our intern, Chad!


The Ensemblist #39: Listener Questions with Tamika Lawrence



Hello Gorgeouses! Here we are with the second of our listener questions mini-episodes- this one with one of Broadway's most fabulous forces of nature. We LOVED talking to this amazing lady!

Tamika Lawrence made her Broadway debut in 2012 as a replacement ensemblist in Broadway’s The Book of Mormon before becoming an original cast ensemblist and understudy on Matilda the MusicalThese days, Tamika stars as Elena in Broadway’s If/Then, a role that has her bouncing back and forth between principal features and ensemblist moments eight shows a week. We can't wait for you to hear our long-form interview with the Queen of Broadway Ensemblisting herself, Ms. Tamika Lawrence!

The Ensemblist #38: Listener Questions with Jess LeProtto



Hi, gorgeous listeners! We love you!

For this year’s listener questions episode, we decided to speak to just two guests, and to ask them each multiple questions. These two episodes will be released today (December 21), and on December 28, so look out for them during your post-Christmas travels, or car trips, or treadmill runs, or whenever you’re hiding inside a closet at a party to avoid everyone...

Our first guest is a complete Broadway stud. He made his debut at the tender age of eleven as a vacation swing in The Boy From Oz, and went on to perform in Dr. Suess’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas - TWICE. From there, he was as an ensemblist in Bye Bye Birdie on Broadway before jumping onto the national stage as a contestant on “So You Think You Can Dance.”

Upon his return to the Great White Way, Jess LeProtto made a splash as Buttons, the feisty, high-flying paperboy in the original company of Newsies- becoming the literal poster boy for the show in its last year on Broadway and the current national tour! He is now playing various roles in the incredible revival of On The Town including the role of S. Uperman opposite Jackie Hoffman.

Here's our long-form interview with the man, the myth, the legend, Mr. Jess LeProtto...

And don't forget to vote for your favorite Ensemblist of the Year on Twitter! Check out our website and click on the "Ensemblist Awards" tab at the top of the page!

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