GYPSY OF THE MONTH: Mayumi Miguel of 'Cry-Baby'
Before this season, the last musical to arrive on Broadway from La Jolla Playhouse, Jersey Boys, was greeted with exuberant reviews and a Tony Award for Best Musical, and it's still selling out two and a half years later. This spring, Cry-Baby also rode positive California notices cross-country from La Jolla to the Great White Way. But New York critics were hostile, and it's been struggling to fill the cavernous Marquis Theatre.
Mayumi Miguel, a member of the Cry-Baby ensemble, shrugs it off. "You always have to be prepared either way," she says. "I think it's because we did get such great reviews in California that everyone wanted to nitpick at us. We knew that for the New York audiences, we might not be 'edgy' enough and they might not think we're as good as Hairspray [the previous stage adaptation of a John Waters movie]."
Miguel plays both sides of the tracks in Cry-Baby: In the opening number and later scenes, she's a wholesome, full-skirted goody-two-shoes, but at Turkey Point she's one of the tight-pantsed bad girls singing backup for Wade and doing some athletic canoodling with their dates. She's enjoying herself completely, despite the critical drubbing the show has taken. "I love this cast," she states. "I want to do every show with this cast. We enjoy each other so much, and we're always joking around. It's a very chill cast: If you throw something at them, this cast does not freak out one bit. Every single person is like that."
Miguel clearly possesses such levelheadedness, which certainly is an advantage in a profession that can be fraught with anxiety. She sounds decisive and content when discussing her career, never harping on rejection or any unfulfilled ambitions. For example, when she was told to lose weight by teachers with the Joffrey Ballet—where she studied on scholarship for a summer in high school—she dropped out of the program right then and there, realizing that trying to pursue a ballet career under those circumstances (she weighed about 90 pounds at the time) would be unpleasant and dangerous.
And now, well-established in musical theater, with three Broadway shows and TV and movie credits to her name, she's not looking to bump anyone out of the spotlight—or boss anyone around. Miguel doesn't talk about a future as a choreographer; when her dancing days are over, she wants to be a lawyer. And she's not too concerned with moving up to a featured or principal role. "I'm a true gypsy. I love being in the ensemble," she says. "I'm A-OK with not being in the spotlight, but knowing that I am an important part of the show."
Last seen on Broadway in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Miguel more recently performed in the 2006 tour of Pippin (after it originated at Connecticut's Goodspeed Opera House) and last summer's Maine State Music Theatre production of Grand Hotel. Her bolero in Grand Hotel with partner Mark Stuart Eckstein was called "the most pleasant surprise of the show...precision and utter drama" by Maine's Times Record newspaper. The Coastal Journal reviewer said it was "some of the most sensual, intense, dramatic and athletic dancing I have ever witnessed."
In one respect, Miguel started out on top. Two of her earliest professional jobs were at illustrious NYC venues: Radio City Music Hall and Lincoln Center. She'd already been in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular for three years when she made her Broadway debut at age 20, in the original cast of Lincoln Center Theater's Contact. She got into that show by crashing an invited audition. She had run into fellow dancer Rocker Verastique, with whom she'd worked on a show called Spirit, and he told her about a new musical that he was involved in. "You would be great for this show," he said, and tipped her off about an audition to be held less than 24 hours later.
"I had no idea it was just a dance show," Miguel remembers. She went in prepared to sing—having warmed up vocally in the car while her mother drove her to the audition from their New Jersey home. "I was getting my 16 bars ready." At the door, she got the old "you're not on the list" from a person running the audition (only five other people had been asked to come in), but she kept dropping Verastique's name until she was allowed in.
Within an hour of leaving the audition, she was called and offered a role. That was for Contact's run at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater off-Broadway. It opened there in the fall of 1999, and by the following spring had moved into Lincoln Center's Broadway house, the Vivian Beaumont, and won the Tony for Best Musical.
Just as Miguel has been unruffled by the Cry-Baby pans, she wasn't overly emotional about Contact's success. "I didn't fully understand how amazing it was, because I was coming from just doing Radio City and dancing," she says. "I knew Broadway was huge, but I didn't understand how huge it was until two years into the run. I was like, 'I've made it. I'm here.' It took me a while to actually get it. I was happy and I was grateful and I knew I'm lucky, but it took me a while to realize how hard it is for people to get to this place. It didn't hit me right away; it hit me after the fact."
Miguel was in Contact for its entire 29-month Broadway run. A week before it closed, she married actor Brian Noonan, who was playing Cable in a tour of South Pacific (starring Robert Goulet and Amanda Watkins). The actress playing Liat had given her notice, effective the day of Contact's closing, so Miguel auditioned to replace her—and soon the newlyweds were costars. For five months as the show toured the U.S. and Canada, "Brian got to sing 'Younger Than Springtime' to me eight times a week," says Miguel. "The first couple of times, I cried on stage, 'cause I was like, 'We're living our dream...we just got married, and you're singing to me. This is perfect.'"
Besides an ensemble role in Miss Saigon at Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera in 2003 (hubby Noonan starred as Chris), Liat is the only Asian character Miguel has played. "I can't get the Asian shows," she says. She's been cut at auditions for Broadway and touring productions of Flower Drum Song, The King and I, Miss Saigon and South Pacific. "So then I stopped going to those auditions."
Miguel's parents immigrated from the Philippines so they could raise their children in the United States. Her older sister, Melani, was 2 when they came here; Mayumi was born six years later. Two and a half years ago, with their daughters grown and married, Miguel's parents retired and moved back to the Philippines. She's now living in the house where she grew up, in Passaic Park, N.J. ("12 miles from the Lincoln Tunnel").
Throughout her childhood, Miguel spent most of her waking time in neighboring Clifton, where she trained at Dance World Academy. She first enrolled when she was 5: "My mother felt I wasn't as social as I could be and thought I should be more friendly with children, because I didn't like to talk a lot in preschool." At age 8, "dance started consuming all my time," she says. She was at the studio from 3 to 10 nearly every day. "We did everything, but my dance teacher felt that ballet was the root of all dance, so we had to take between 14 and 16 ballet classes a week."
Miguel attended Catholic schools that didn't have any performing arts programs, so her exposure to theater was limited when she was growing up. She did get to see some Broadway shows—including Show Boat, Rent and Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk—on field trips with her dance studio. (On one of those outings, they went to see Cats because a Dance World teacher was in it: Christopher Gattelli, now the Tony-nominated choreographer of South Pacific.)
Miguel also participated in many competitions with her dance school. She won titles at Dance Educators of America and Miss Teen Dance in Pennsylvania, among others. The competition experience helped steel her for the ups and downs of showbiz. "I learned how to be humble," says Miguel, "in the sense [that] I went to a really good school and we won a lot—we also lost—and you have to know how to handle it. I learned that: how to take things as they come. You're not always going to get what you want."
Her short-lived training with the Joffrey occurred when she was 14. A couple of years later, she decided to give NYC auditioning a try—and got into the chorus at Radio City. They were reluctant to hire a minor, but director Bobby Longbottom lobbied for her. She did the show for three holiday seasons (her roles included a teddy bear who dances en pointe to The Nutcracker), each year missing two full weeks of school for rehearsal, then being out of school two days a week for performances. Although the school pre-approved the schedule, by her senior year she was one day over the maximum absences permitted. There was briefly talk of not letting her graduate, but her parents worked it out with the school.
Miguel didn't go to college, though she plans to eventually so she can pursue her lifelong interest in law. "That's my ultimate goal. I'll probably reach that when I'm 50, but that's okay—my heart is telling me that is what I want to do," says Miguel, who intends to become an entertainment attorney and do some pro bono work for Equity once she gets through law school. For now, though, "my body is young, I have no injuries, I've danced all my life, I love it, I'm going to keep doing it while my body allows me to do it."
One of the other competition kids from Jersey that Miguel met back in the day was Brendan King, who's now a swing in Cry-Baby. He and Miguel were dance partners in the show last month when her regular partner, Charlie Sutton, missed a week of performances due to a pinched nerve in his neck. She has another dance partner offstage—Mark Stuart Eckstein, with whom she performed in Grand Hotel. They go swing dancing together for fun, and for a break from dancing to pre-choreographed steps. "In ballroom and swing dance, you have to just let it happen," Miguel explains. "It's very amazing as a dancer to release the power and just actually follow, and be led, by a man."
On screen, Miguel has danced in the movie Enchanted—as one of the bevy of brides in the "That's How You Know" Central Park number—and in about five episodes of the hit sitcom 30 Rock (actually, she performed in its show-within-the-show, The Girlie Show). She's also filmed a workout video called Legwork, demonstrating quad and back exercises for women who wear heels. In addition, Miguel appeared in two episodes of Sex and the City: In one, she steals Carrie's cab; in another, Big (Chris Noth) picks her up in celebration after he bowls a strike on a date with Carrie. Noth selected Miguel from all the extras for that bit.
Back in 1998, she performed in Spirit, a dance piece based on Native American music and mythology that was filmed for PBS, with Kevin Costner as narrator. She had done the show, which was directed and choreographed by Wayne Cilento, in concert a few times too. Miguel also has performed with dance companies, including Jazz Dance America when she was 18 years old (The New York Times: "The standout dancers also included...the minxlike Mayumi Miguel"), as well as Dre.Dance, a modern troupe cofounded by Taye Diggs, and Eckstein's nascent M. Stuart Dance Theatre.
Her other theatrical credits include Guys and Dolls at Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey, Frank Wildhorn's Camille Claudel at Goodspeed and a rock opera of Romeo and Juliet (cowritten by Terrence Mann) that was given a tryout at Goodspeed in 1999. Miguel has appeared several times in Broadway Bares, the annual burlesque fund-raiser produced by Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. She was on its poster in 2006—see naked lady at far right—and won the Strip-a-thon in 2002, the first year that pledge drive was held in conjunction with Broadway Bares. (To support Mayumi in this year's Strip-a-thon, click here.)
For raising the most bucks in the '02 Strip-a-thon, Miguel was awarded two plane tickets, which she used for her honeymoon a couple of months later. She'd met husband Noonan at the stage door when he was in Jesus Christ Superstar in 2000. Miguel went to the show with a friend and another woman the friend knew. That woman had already seen it a few times and had a crush on Noonan, so she wanted to meet him afterward. But he ended up giving all his attention to Miguel. "I was not very nice to him at first, because I just don't like stage door chat, to be honest," she says. (As for the woman with the crush on him: "She's no longer an acquaintance of mine.")
Noonan, who covered Phantom and Raoul in Phantom of the Opera and Enjolras in Les Miz on Broadway, gave up performing a couple of years ago to launch a corporate entertainment and hospitality company, Bella Notte (it produces shows for Royal Caribbean cruises). Though it's a ways off, Miguel knows the day will come when she too forsakes the stage for another endeavor, probably law. "Once I start getting aches and pains and injuries, I'll know there's someone waiting who wants to do this, and so I might as well pass the torch," she says.
Photos of Mayumi, from top: dancing in Cry-Baby, with Charlie Sutton (center) and Spencer Liff (right); with husband Brian; in a dressing room of the Marquis Theatre, wearing the very long false lashes she wears on stage; in costume backstage on the Pippin tour; in glasses and not much else, on the far right of the Broadway Bares poster. [Cry-Baby photo by Joan Marcus]