GYPSY OF THE MONTH: Vasthy Mompoint of 'Rocky'
Everybody's talking about the whiz-bang stagecraft in Rocky, but another aspect of the new musical means more to cast member Vasthy Mompoint: its underdog story. "I've always felt like I was a bit of an underdog," says Mompoint, whose Rocky roles include TV reporter Linda McKenna and an Apollo Creed groupie. "I never thought any of this would happen to me, so I just love this show for that reason. My parents grew up in Haiti, one of the poorest countries on this side of the world. They came from zero and moved here--I could have easily grown up in squalor. There are people who live there who look exactly like my relatives [in America] and have it completely different."
She also feels like an underdog because she isn't one of those gypsies who's been dancing since she could walk. She was already an adolescent when she went to her first dance class--at the suggestion of a track coach who thought it would help her gain height on the hurdles. Even after she'd become a dance-class regular and gotten involved in school performing groups, she wasn't a star. "I was not in any way what anyone thought I would be right now," Mompoint says. "I never got into the special small groups for competition at my dance studio, I never got solos in choir, I auditioned for a whole bunch of [school] shows and I got one."
Yet Rocky is not only her sixth Broadway production overall but her second of this season alone. She was also in Soul Doctor, which played at Circle in the Square last year. Mompoint auditioned for Rocky the day after Soul Doctor opened last August and had an offer in hand when Soul Doctor posted its closing notice less than two months later. In Soul Doctor she had a solo ("Elijah Rock") and understudied a principal, Amber Iman as Nina Simone. She didn't get to play the role in a performance but says, "It was really cool singing that stuff, even though it was for an empty theater at understudy rehearsal." And it was a big confidence booster, Mompoint adds. "I felt like that helped me with my audition for Rocky."
When Sylvester Stallone came to meet the Rocky cast, Mompoint was expecting a quick introduction and photo op. Instead she had a 20-minute conversation with Stallone about everything from his Hell's Kitchen upbringing to whiskey. She's also been pleasantly surprised by Rocky's audiences. "I never have done a show where the men [in the audience] don't look like they've been forced to come," she explains. "All these different kinds of men from different social statuses and colors and ages--black men and white men, businessmen and guys with jeans down to their butt."
Mompoint hadn't seen the Rocky movie before she was cast in its stage incarnation, but she came to it with her own athletic backstory. She began dancing around age 13 to improve her track results, then gradually phased out track as she phased in more and more dance classes. These days bicycling's probably her No. 1 sport, as she usually bikes between the theater and her Astoria home in warm weather. While only male ensemble members play boxers at Rocky's gym, the women were put through the same fitness training in rehearsals--a six-station circuit of such exercises as pushups and burpees.
Still, that's not the toughest workout Mompoint's had on a Broadway show: 2006's Hot Feet involved nearly nonstop hip-hop dancing. "I never burned that many calories before," she says. "I could eat two burgers before the show and would be fit!" The Earth, Wind & Fire musical was Mompoint's second Broadway credit--and second Broadway flop. A year earlier she'd made her debut in Good Vibrations, another jukeboxer. Both plays got terrible reviews and closed just short of three months.
"The show not doing well had no effect on any of us," Mompoint says of Good Vibrations. "We were all so happy. We were all the same age--22, 23, 24--and most of us had never been on Broadway before. It was a time [in our lives that] when a show closes we weren't like, 'Oh god, our mortgages! Kids!' We were just like, 'Okay, I guess I'll do another one!'"
Hot Feet also had a young ensemble, with many musical-theater newbies who were transitioning from concert dance. Mompoint's subsequent flop, Ghost, would be more of a disappointment, since the show had been a hit in the West End. It lasted only four months on Broadway in 2012, but Mompoint walked away with some great memories. Producers paid for the whole cast to go to London to see Ghost there. "They flew us all to Europe and I got a Broadway show? That was, like, the best thing that's happened, ever," she says.
Soul Doctor, unfortunately, marked another flop. But Mompoint's found an upside to working on all these underperformers: "It usually bonds the cast more, because most of the time you know going into it that it's going to be a short experience." She does have a Broadway hit on her résumé--Mary Poppins, which she was in for its first two years. Her ensemble track included the role of Fanny, daughter of candy-store owner Mrs. Corry, who leads the company in "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious."
All of Mompoint's Broadway credits have been as part of the original cast of a new musical. In addition, she's done a couple of new musicals regionally: Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, which was scored by alternative rockers the Flaming Lips and produced in 2012 at La Jolla Playhouse under the direction of Des McAnuff, and Robin and the 7 Hoods, directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw at San Diego's Old Globe in 2010. Other recent regional credits include Tarzan at North Shore Music Theatre and My One and Only at Goodspeed, both in 2011. Back in the summer of 2004 she had the title role in the first production of Aida after it opened on Broadway, at Missouri's Arrow Rock Lyceum Theatre.
Mompoint made her professional debut in a regional house, the Fireside dinner theater in Fort Atkinson, Wisc., where she was in Once Upon a Mattress when she was 19. Born in Staten Island, NYC, Mompoint lived in Charlotte, N.C., as a young child and then in Hoover, Alab., from age 10 on, as her father was transferred by his employer, Bell Telephone (her parents now live in Atlanta). She moved to New York after high school to attend the American Musical and Dramatic Academy (AMDA), a two-year conservatory. Mompoint didn't think college would be worth her parents' money since "a classroom always made me feel so confined," she says. "I read three or four books a week, I think I'm a smart person, but I got frustrated in school. I liked learning, I just wasn't a good tester and all that stuff. I never did well in a classroom setting."
She hasn't abandoned schooling altogether. She takes French lessons at Fluent City and has stepped up her studies during periods of unemployment. "When I'm not working, I'm working harder than anything," she states. "I will be in class, I'll always be reading a play or doing research--going to Lincoln Center and watching musicals, studying actors."
Although Mompoint's parents wanted their children to pursue lucrative, stable professions (her sister became a doctor), her father spoke the most valuable words of support she's heard. "He told me the most important thing to realize is whether you get a job or don't, you're still the same person. If your confidence is high because you work, that means your confidence will be low when you don't work." Broadway performers in particular shouldn't judge their self-worth by auditions, says Mompoint, because "it's just about what four people behind a table think about you."
Mompoint has had a regular TV job--voicing the character Layla (right) on the animated kids' series Winx Club for two seasons--and she has a few sidelines to her performing career. One is child care. A family for whom she babysat while attending AMDA referred her to their friends, whose autistic daughter was 2 at the time. "Now she's 15 and I still work with her," Mompoint says. "She's the most consistent thing in my life in New York. I've lived in different neighborhoods, I've had different jobs, different boyfriends, different friends. She's the longest relationship I've had. They're like my second family." Through word of mouth, she's been hired by other families with autistic children, and she'd like to start an agency specializing in such care. Because of that work, Mompoint's very interested in the upcoming Broadway production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, which is based on Mark Haddon's best-selling novel with an autistic protagonist.
Mompoint is also a designer, creating accessories like handbags, clocks and journals out of old vinyl records and cassette tapes. She and her friend Jen Elise Davis launched V & J Designs about three years ago and sell at artisan markets such as LIC Flea in Queens. "It's still art, but it's a different way to exercise my brain," she says of the business that grew out of a hobby. Mompoint is organizing a Broadway craft fair, slated to be held July 7 at the theater-district restaurant Emmett O'Lunney's. The fair will feature products made by theater folk, along with live music and food. Mompoint plans to donate some of the proceeds to the Actors Fund ("my favorite charity") and hopes to eventually hold the fair a few times a year. (If you or somebody you know in the theater community would like to participate, contact Vasthy through Facebook.)
Photos of Vasthy, from top: her headshot; in costume for the filming of the TV news reports shown in Rocky; with Sylvester Stallone during previews; front left, backstage at Soul Doctor with (clockwise from back left) castmates Ryan Strand and Amber Iman, makeup artist Brandalyn Fulton, actors Ian Paget and Alexandra Frohlinger and child wrangler Rachel Maier; left, with Will Chase, Amy Spanger and ensemble in Robin and the 7 Hoods; as a "Step in Time" chimney sweep in Mary Poppins; modeling a bag made by V & J Designs.