BWW Interview: Abigail Shapiro Discusses Role in New Musical LIBERTY
Abigail is one of New York's busiest fourteen-year-olds. She starred as Cindy Lou Who in How the Grinch Stole Christmas at Madison Square Garden, she recently released a live recording of her 54 Below cabaret shows with her younger sister Milly (Matilda), and on top of all that, she's starring as the title character in LIBERTY: A MONUMENTAL NEW MUSICAL.
The talented young star took the time to chat with BroadwayWorld this week about her new role, her engagement at 54 Below, some of the crazy challenges she's faced along the way, and much more. Read the full interview below!
Tell me about LIBERTY.
Well, it's a monumental new musical. [Laughs] It's about the Statue of Liberty and how she came to be. It's kind of like what she would be like if she were an actual person.
One cool fact about Liberty is about the character Walker. They actually used most of his lines from what the person actually said. And there's lines from the "Huddled Masses" poems throughout the show, so that's pretty interesting. There's even a "Huddled Masses" song at the end. There's a lot of historical figures in the show. I actually did some stuff on the Statue of Liberty last year in eighth grade. Andrew [DiTusa] had this whole immigration packet in tutoring in his history packet, and he was reading the Huddled Masses poem, and he was like, "That's my line!"
What is your character like?
She's strong and she's really innocent. She doesn't really know what the world has to offer. She looks up to her father, and that's another reason why she continues to stay strong. At one point she's about to give up, but she always stays strong.
Is Liberty's mother in the show at all?
No. We don't know anything about her mother.
Are you similar to Liberty?
Well, we're both children. Kind of. [Laughs] I have a good relationship with my father like her. We both stand out from the crowd, and we both never give up on our dreams.
You've obviously done a lot of performing, but is this your first time playing the lead character?
Yes. I've never played a lead role in a show before, so this is brand new. What's also cool is that I stay on stage the entire show...I never go offstage. And I've never had to do that before, but I really like it.
What are some of the challenges of that?
What I thought would be a challenge was memorizing my lines, but that actually wasn't. When we were learning the show, I sort of involuntarily memorized it while we were doing it. But what's also a big challenge is that you can get tired, especially on a two-show day. The lights, too, are hot. Two times in the show I get to drink water. There's a little tin cup on the side when I'm not doing anything.
That must be exhausting.
It's so much fun.
How long is the show?
It's only ninety minutes. But it seems so short, like fifteen or twenty minutes. After every show, I'm like, "Wait...that didn't feel like ninety minutes."
Are you the only child actor in the cast of LIBERTY?
Andrew is 13, one year younger than me. He plays Giovanni. Everyone else is adults. There's only seven other people in the cast.
What is it like working with other adults?
Well, it's actually sort of easier working with adults. I really enjoy it. They're all really nice people. I've never been in a cast this small, either, and they're just all so nice. Like, on opening night, my skirt fell off...during my solo. So I was just holding it during my solo, and I never go off the stage, so I couldn't fix it! I was just holding it in an awkward position. And whenever something goes wrong like that, everyone just tries to think of what they can do to help. So everybody was thinking of something they could do, and Cheryl (she plays two characters in the show) just came onstage and fixed it. So I think we all work really well together.
You must have been freaking out!
Yeah, because it was during my solo, too! And at one point I had to use both of my arms because I say "Voila!" and I do this hand motion, and it almost fell all the way down.
Your director for LIBERTY is Evan Pappas. What has it been like working with him?
He's so great. He's one of the best directors I've worked with. It's been a wonderful experience. He's a really nice guy.
Some of your performances are for specifically groups of school children. Is it different performing for those audiences than performing for regular audiences?
Yeah it actually is. With the school, sometimes the audience can be a little disruptive, but sometimes they can actually be a lot better than other audiences. It really depends on the school. We've only had one school performance so far, but the audience wasn't too disruptive.
So far, do you prefer either the school performances or the regular performances?
I think I prefer the regular performances, personally, but I can never really tell because I never really pay attention to the audience. If they didn't tell me that it was a school audience for a performance, I wouldn't notice.
You and your sister Milly recently recorded your album LIVE AT 54 BELOW: LIVE OUT LOUD! What was it like performing in 54 Below?
It's a beautiful venue. It suited our show perfectly. It was so exciting. We had four performances there. They were pretty spread out, and during three of them we recorded our CD. And we chose songs that meant something to us personally and that told the story about how we got to New York and about how we never gave up and followed our dreams.
That's a great idea for a show, especially for two sisters.
I love working with my sister.
It seems like you're very close with your sister.
Yeah. Well, we have our moments and we fight, but we love each other. [Laughs]
Besides performing, what do you two like to do together?
Well, we used to live in Florida, and we would swim all the time when it was summer and when it was warm...well, it's never cold in Florida! So we would always race each other. And my sister's into Harry Potter right now, so we've been watching Harry Potter movies on Netflix. And we do, like, everyday activities together.
I was reading your guest blog post on BWW and saw that you and Milly had to listen to the recordings of your performance at 54 Below to choose what would go on the album. That must have been really challenging.
Yes. I'm extremely critical and I don't like listening to myself. It was hard for me to choose which ones were the best because I had to kind of not think that it was me and take away my critical self. I mean, it's a live recording, so it can't be exactly perfect.
Did you get more nervous for the concerts because you knew they were being recorded?
I was a little bit more nervous, and that's what I was nervous about: the production of it. But once I got up there, I just forgot about everything completely. And we had more than one show, so if we messed something up on the first show we could always fix it for the next show.
Are you the kind of person who usually gets nervous before the show, or are you more of a calm and collected type?
I'm usually calm and collected. [Laughs] But on opening night for LIBERTY I was a little nervous. But it wasn't too bad.
Going back to your concerts with Milly, what did you learn from the experience?
Well, I learned to be less critical of myself. And I learned what it was like to do a live recording, too. It's a lot different from the regular cast recording. And I also learned what it's like to do a cabaret, because if you mess up during a cabaret, no one really cares. It's more like you're singing at home than like, a full Broadway show or any show in general. Because you're just talking with the audience, and it's more normal.
Did you have a lot of people you knew in the audiences come to the 54 Below shows?
A little bit. Our first two shows we had a larger amount of people we knew than the other two shows. One of my best friends came to a lot of our shows.
You've got so much going on in your performing life, but you also have tutoring on the side. How do you manage to fit everything in?
It's good. My sister and I go to regular school, but right now whenever we have a show day for LIBERTY, Andrew and I go to tutoring. It's different when you're in a show and when you're in school because you have to keep organized. It's very important to stay organized. And it's good preparation for other schools and colleges, too.
You've had so many different performing experiences (54 Below, Grinch, Liberty, etc.). Do you have a favorite performance?
Hm...no, I don't...I like them all! I probably can't choose a favorite.
You're so young, and you have so many years of performing ahead of you. Do you have a dream role that you hope to play someday?
I would like to be Glinda in WICKED. It would be really cool to do WICKED with my sister, and she's always wanted to be Elphaba. That would be really fun. Another one of my dream roles is Sara Crewe in A Little Princess. I'm actually going to be doing a cabaret version of that at 54 Below with Bryan Crawley and Andrew Lippa. I'm really excited about that.
Have you read the book and seen the movie?
Yeah, I used to love that book. I've read it so many times. And yeah, that was the first movie I cried in!
Do you have any other projects coming up?
Well, I have the A Little Princess cabaret, and I'm auditioning, and other than that, that's all I know!
Is auditioning stressful for you?
Well, my first audition was for Grinch, and for my sister it was Matilda, and we both got them! And we weren't expecting that at all. My first few auditions I was really nervous, though, but the more auditions I went on the less nervous I got. They're all looking for one thing specifically, and if you're not right for it, you're not right for it, and whatever happens happens.
The performance schedule for Liberty: A Monumental New Musical will be as follows: Mondays at 2 p.m.; Tuesdays at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.; and Sundays at 6 p.m. Single tickets are $69 and are available online at www.libertythemusical.com or www.theatre80.net. Discounted tickets are available for students and groups of 10 or more. For more information on group sales or for help arranging a group, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The creative team for Liberty: A Monumental New Musical includes musical direction and arrangements by Jeffrey Lodin, sets by Tim Golebiewski and costumes by Debbi Hobson. R. Erin Craig is Executive Producer and General Management is by La Vie Productions.
From This Author Louisa Brady