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Undercover Showtunes #2: Stephanie D'Abruzzo

New York Musical Theatre Festival concludes its first-ever Spring Concert Series with "Undercover Showtunes" on Monday, June 18 at 7PM at The Zipper Factory (336 W 37th St.) in Manhattan.

"Undercover Showtunes" is a unique concert comprised of pop and rock songs that weren't written for musicals, but sound as if they might have been – songs that tell a story, create a character, paint a full, vivid portrait as a great song in a musical is meant to do.

For more information on "Undercover Showtunes" and purchase tickets visit the show website at NYMF.org.  Tickets are $50 and $90 with post-concert cast party included by calling 212-352-3101 or visiting online.  Discounts are available here.

Stephanie D'Abruzzo (Avenue Q) is one of the many talented Broadway and screen stars set to appear at "Undercover Showtunes."  BroadwayWorld.com's Eugene Lovendusky, based in San Francisco, got the opportunity to chat with D'Abruzzo about her up-coming performance and her past and future stage experiences…

Eugene Lovendusky: I love the premise of the "Undercover Showtunes" concert.  What song will you be performing Monday, June 18?

Stephanie D'Abruzzo: I will be performing "Unsent" by Alanis Morrisette and "Synchronicity II" by the Police. "Unsent" was Jess McLeod and Brian Nash's idea, "Synchronicity II" was mine. They're both great songs and I'm really looking forward to having some fun with them.

Eugene: Some musical theatre fans feel they simply cannot find anything better than the music, lyrics and orchestrations showtunes provide… especially not on the radio.  How do you feel about this opinion and what kinds of music do you know of outside of musical theatre (like those presented at "Undercover Showtunes") that might tickle their fancy?

Stephanie: Who are these people? I daresay they are listening to the wrong radio stations.  There is nothing wrong with loving musical theatre, but I think that it's naive to hold it superior any other musical classification, especially since these other genres have been influencing Broadway more and more in recent decades.  Look at Spring Awakening or Hair.  These are radio songs. The Color Purple and Caroline, or Change have R&B all over them. And then there are the jukebox musicals... even the bad ones have good music in them.  There are lots of stories in pop music, lots of lush orchestrations, lots of attention to detail. You just have to know where to find them. The best stuff is never overt. "Undercover Showtunes" should be a really wonderful evening, if the Ben Folds night was any indication. For those who are already familiar with the pop songs being performed, they will enjoy the fresh take these amazing performers and musicians spin on them. For those whom you mention, they will be very educated and pleasantly surprised and driven to spend many 99-cent increments on iTunes when they get home.

Eugene: What kind of music were you raised on?

Stephanie: We did not have many record albums in my house growing up, so my music exposure as a youngster was mostly movie soundtracks, television variety shows, Bugs Bunny cartoons, and whatever we listened to on the radio in the car, which was mostly Top 40 in the 70s and 80s, as well as the local oldies station. I still remember discovering the classic rock station when I was in high school and being totally blown away by it.

Eugene: And what kind of music do you find yourself most often listening to today?

Stephanie: My tastes range all over the place, from vocal standards to Motown to 70s funk & soul to 80s pop to film scores to artists like  R.E.M., Ben Folds, Prince, Annie Lennox, the Police, Elvis Costello, Cat Stevens, the Ditty Bops, local bands that friends of mine are in, and the list goes on... I have no single favorite genre or artist.

Eugene: How important is it for you to be involved with the New York Musical Theatre Festival?

Stephanie: It seems like, in a very short time, the Festival has managed to utilize the talents of just about every young working New York stage actor, be it in an actual Festival show or a benefit for it. It's a great group of people to be associated with. And if singing a couple of songs in a benefit will help keep the Festival alive and known, well, how can I say no to that?

Eugene: What is your previous experience with NYMF, if any?

Stephanie: I performed in the very first NYMF Kickoff Concert in September of 2004, and I also was in the staged reading of Oh What a Lovely War, which was presented as part of the Festival in October of 2005. And of course I was in the Ben Folds benefit this past March. My first NYMF show as an audience member was Altar Boyz, and wow, what a staggering success that show continues to be!

Eugene: Theatre and TV-fans alike were greatly amused by the musical episode of "Scrubs" in which you starred as a woman with a "unique" condition.  Tell us more about that and what it was like!

Stephanie: I had a wonderful time shooting that episode and I was so incredibly lucky to not only have the opportunity to work on such a unique episode of a wonderful series, but also to work on a show that I have been a personal fan of since it began. The cast and crew there are amazingly talented and astonishingly kindhearted. I was on that set for a short two weeks and I still miss that experience.

Eugene: Do you miss Kate Monster? Sorry for the bad analogy [laughs]… but some war amputees say they can sometimes feel their missing limb.  After holding that puppet 8 times a week for almost 2-1/2 years, do you sometimes wake-up at night feeling like she's there?

Stephanie: I have performed many puppet and non-puppet characters in my career. Some I miss, some I do not. But when I miss them, I only miss performing them. The actual sweatiness of the fur and foam and fleece? Not so much.

Eugene: You worked alongside Avenue Q's Robert Lopez in providing the voices to Sheldon and Deb in the Finding Nemo: The Musical studio recording.  Have you run down to Orlando to see the show?

Stephanie: I did not exactly run down to Orlando to see it... but I was in Florida recently with friends and we did happen to wind up seeing the show. I still remembered every note I had sung 9 months ago (I also did background vocals for the group numbers).

Eugene: Something new for you (outside puppetry and voice-work) was your turn as Diana opposite Farah Alvin in the off-Broadway musical I Love You Because at the Village Theatre.  Tell us a little about that production.

Stephanie: I like to think that what I did in I Love You Because was no different than the kind of work I did on Avenue Qexcept for the fact that I wasn't holding a puppet. In fact, it was easier than Avenue Qin many ways: I only played one character, I had much less stage time, I didn't have to speak and sing in character voices, and I could actually pick up props. But it wasn't really "new." I think that so many actors are defined by the first thing that people see them do, and there were people who simply couldn't accept the fact that I was doing something that they perceived as being a radical departure from Avenue Q. The irony is that the role of Diana is actually a little closer to my personality than either Kate or Lucy.  As for the production itself, it was a nice, albeit short, run of 111 performances (kind of a relief after nearly 1000 at Avenue Q) and it was great fun to get to dance that Christopher Gattelli choreography!

Eugene: You also appeared with Farah in If You Give a Mouse a Cookie for TheatreWorksUSA last year.  Looking at some of your other credits, children's television and theatre has played a significant role in your performance history.  Why is this an interest for you?

Stephanie: I am always interested in working and fun things like health insurance. If You Give a Mouse a Cookie gave me 8 weeks of Equity work. When I got called to do it, I was grateful for the gig. The fact that it was a children's theatre piece was pure coincidence.  I hadn't even read the script or knew what roles I would be playing when I accepted the job. When I decided to pursue a career as a Muppet Performer when I was in college, it was my hope to be able to play a wide range of Muppet characters in all areas and genres of television and film. At that time, the Jim Henson Company was making films and TV series that appealed to a wider age range, and was creating characters that had depth, humor, heart, and unlimited potential for an unlimited demographic. Even though I had a great deal of respect for children's TV and theatre, it wasn't my intent to specialize solely in that area. I did indeed want to work on shows like "Sesame Street" and I am honored to be even a small part of that legacy, but I also wanted to do characters that had wider vocabulary and satirical humor.  It just happens that there is more employment for puppeteers in preschool television than anywhere else right now. I've been proud to work on some really great children's shows, but they are not my only interest.  The reality of an actor's life is that we do not always have the luxury of choice.  We take what comes to us.

Eugene: What can fans hope to see (or hear) you in next?

Stephanie: I will be in The ATrainPlays XII on June 20 at Dodger Stages, and will be performing a song at Jeremy Schonfeld's Joe's Pub show on June 24.

Eugene: Thank you very much for your time, Stephanie, and have a fantastic night at "Undercover Showtunes!"

Photos: Stephanie D'Abruzzo (courtesy www.AvenueQ.com); Stephanie D'Abruzzo with Kate Monster (by Nick Reuchel); Stephanie D'Abruzzo with Farah Alvin in I Love You Because, 2006 (by Ben Strothman); Stephanie D'Abruzzo with David A. Austin as part of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, 2006 (courtesy TheatreWorksUSA)

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Eugene Lovendusky Eugene Lovendusky graduated summa cum laude from SFSU with a BA in Writing for Electronic Media and a minor in Drama. Raised in the SF Bay Area, his love for the arts bloomed at an early-age; a passion that has flourished in NYC, where Eugene now lives and works. He is a proud member of the New York City Gay Mens' Chorus.