The Ensemblist #49: Tony Season: For Understudies!

17May

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It's TONY SEASON, you guys! And we don't know about you, but we are SUPER excited to cheer everyone on during Broadway's biggest night! Of course, since this is The Ensemblist, you know we're not taking the Tonys at face value- we wanted to dig a little deeper and find out how the pressures of awards season affected the nominees' understudies.  


On this episode of The Ensemblist, we spoke to three Broadway actors who covered Tony nominated roles during awards season. We found out how they became understudies, what it’s like to understudy a nominee while the whole community is watching, and how that experience affected their performances in the roles they eventually took over. 


Our Guests:

Shoshana Bean (Hairspray, Wicked)

Andy Kelso (Mamma Mia!, Kinky Boots)

Kenita Miller (The Color Purple, Xanadu)

The Ensemblist Unedited: Ilene Graff

10May

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Hey, look! We're starting a fun new series over here, and we're calling it The Ensemblist: Unedited. 

Why, you may ask?
We conduct interviews with ensemblists every week, and those ensemblists graciously open up and tell us about all their crazy Broadway adventures. We have this unbelievable treasure trove of great stories that, for one reason or another, don't quite fit into the episode. Rather than let that audio collect figurative dust on a virtual shelf, we've decided to bring it to you in this new Unedited format! You’ll get to hear our full, candid, unscripted conversations, become reacquainted with past guests, or find out something new about the ensemblists you already love. 

Because it's Mother's Day here in the US, we thought we'd kick off the series with a couple fantastic stories from Ilene Graff, Nikka's mom (and guest host of Episode 48: Broadway in the 1970s)! You'll hear about her audition for "Promises Promises," and something called the "longest running poker game on Broadway."

Enjoy!

The Ensemblist #48: Broadway in the 1970s

3May

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We've got a great guest host this week as the one and only Ilene Graff (Nikka's mom) steps in, filling in while Nikka is in rehearsal! Why Ilene, you ask? 
Because she was on Broadway in the 1970s, and had been nudging us for awhile to make an episode where we interviewed her friends! We took that idea and ran with it, talking to three incredibly accomplished guests about their time on Broadway in the 1970s. What has changed? What is the same? How has Broadway evolved since the days of EPIs (listen to find out about those!) and auditioning onstage? We talk about all those things and SO much more!

Our Guests:
Tim Jerome (Man of La Mancha, The Rothschilds, The Magic Show, Creation of the World and Other Business, The Moony Shapiro Songbook, Cats, Me and My Girl (Tony Nom), Grand Hotel, Lost in Yonkers, Beauty and the Beast, La Boheme, Tarzan, The Lyons, Phantom of the Opera, (also: The Red Shoes and The Baker’s Wife) 

Kathryn Wright (Hair, Pippin, Dancin', A Chorus Line)
Nick Wyman (Grease, The Magic Show, Very Good Eddie, On the 20th Century, Whoopee!, My Fair Lady, Doubles, Les Miserables, The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940, Phantom of the Opera, Sly Fox, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Tale of two Cities, Catch Me if You Can)

and Guest Host:
Ilene Graff (Promises Promises, Grease, I Love My Wife)

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

19Apr

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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

5Apr

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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

22Mar

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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

8Mar

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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

22Feb

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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!

8Feb

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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

25Jan

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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.

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