GYPSY OF THE MONTH: Jenifer Foote of 'The Mystery of Edwin Drood'
Dictionary definition of beacon: a source of guidance or inspiration. And that's pretty much what the Beacon, with a capital B, in New York City has been for Jenifer Foote. The California girl spent her first month in NYC living at the Beacon Hotel as a drama student from UC-Irvine studying in the university's satellite program. Fifteen or so years later, she performed on the Tony Awards for the first time at the adjacent Beacon Theatre. "The dressing room [for the Tonys] was one of those little suites at the Beacon Hotel, just like I had stayed in," says Foote, "which was so overwhelming, feeling like it's all come full circle." She now lives on the Upper West Side just two blocks from the Beacon: "I think because when I went there [in college], I felt like this is New York."
Foote's Tony appearance was momentous for her for other reasons. She performed not as part of a big ensemble but in a trio, with Danny Burstein and fellow chorine Kiira Schmidt in "Buddy's Blues" from Follies. Foote had received the gypsy robe when Follies opened on Broadway, and it was the first show for which she sang on a cast album.
A couple of years earlier Foote attained another career highlight, and another "full circle" moment, when she was in A Chorus Line on Broadway. Back in high school, Foote saw A Chorus Line in its original Broadway run the first time she ever came to New York--on a one-day side trip from Maryland when she competed in the Olympics of the Mind academic tournament. She joined the Chorus Line revival in early 2008 as an understudy for Sheila, Maggie, Val and Judy and played Val for the last few weeks of the run that summer. "I feel like that's the peak, doing A Chorus Line on Broadway," says Foote. "It's a dream show--except you don't even dream that big."
Currently Foote is on Broadway in one of her personal dream shows, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. She saw Drood as a preteen in Sacramento and waited at the stage door to get star Helen Reddy's autograph, fascinated by the idea of a woman playing a male role. Frequent listening to the cast album followed, though she'd been enthralled by "Don't Quit While You're Ahead" ever since the song was featured in a local production called Best of Broadway when she was about 10 years old. "I was obsessed with this song, knew everything about it," she recalls. "I can still picture the people in that production doing it."
Foote was in Best of Broadway that year and many others while she was growing up in Sacramento. "That show probably made a bigger impact on me than they could ever realize," Foote says of Best of Broadway, which is still being produced annually. "It made a huge impact on me because the director would cull songs from all these shows--it was really eclectic. It got me interested in all kinds of musical theater." And that interest has not dimmed one bit to this day, no matter that Foote's been making her living in the business for more than a decade. "Probably more than anyone I know here, I have a strong, strong fan passion for musical theater," she says. "I'm still listening to showtunes when I'm walking around the city."
By being a fan and not just an "employee" of musical theater, Foote maintains a newcomer's attitude, even after seven Broadway shows (including Rock of Ages, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Dracula). "It still feels like a hobby," she explains. "I take it really seriously, and I'm thankful I have a way of maintaining my life, but I still feel like I don't work. It feels exactly like it did when I was a kid. Fun."
For Foote, going to the theater when she was a kid was as vital as her training in preparing her for a career in the biz, and she appreciates that her parents not only ran up their odometers shuttling her to classes and rehearsals (including four-hour roundtrip drives daily during the two summers in high school that she trained at San Francisco Ballet) but also took her to see shows. "I saw a lot of theater, whether it was community theater or professional--Sacramento has the Music Circus and a big touring house. I just became a huge fan of theater," says Foote, who also has her parents to thank for putting her in dance class. They first took her to a studio when she was an extremely shy preschooler, in an attempt to bring her out of her shell. Eventually, she'd be going to three different places for her varied training: ballet at Crockett, a feeder school for the Sacramento Ballet; semi-private tap lessons with an elderly local legend named Laverne Krei; and jazz and theater dance classes at the Krei-Matthews studio.