BWW Interviews: Christy Altomare, Wendla From Spring Awakening, March 9 - 14 At The Fabulous Fox Theatre
Many theater-goers today have a keen sense of what "musical theatre" should look like. For some, a Rodgers and Hammerstein classic fits the bill. Others may think of some of the mega-musicals that have graced the stage over the years, but for some, a new show like Spring Awakening excites, energizes, and adds a whole new facet to the musical theatre experience. Atlanta audiences will have the opportunity to experience this revolutionary show at the Fabulous Fox Theatre March 9 - 14 presented by Broadway Across America - Atlanta.
Spring Awakening, based on the infamous 1891 Frank Wedekind play, features an electrifying score by Duncan Sheik, book and lyrics Steven Sater, direction by Michael Mayer and choreography by the award-winning Bill T. Jones. Set against the backdrop of a repressive and provincial late 19th century Germany, Spring Awakening tells the timeless story of teenage self-discovery and budding sexuality as seen through the eyes of three teenagers. Playing the part of one of those teenagers, Wendla, is Christy Altomare. I had the opportunity to sit down with Christy and talk about her experience with the show.
BWW: Hi, Christy! How are you?
CHRISTY: I am doing great how are you doing?
Great, thanks! We're looking forward to the show coming to Atlanta! Have you ever been here before?
No, actually I have been to Georgia before when I was very young with a choir tour but I have never actually been to Atlanta, which is shocking to me because I have so many friends from Atlanta.
Okay, first, if you just met someone who's never seen or have never even heard of Spring Awakening before... how would you describe this show, and what should people take from seeing it?
I guess the first thing I would say is that it won 8 Tonys in 2007 including Best Musical, so that they would know how incredible it is. It doesn't have the clout of a Legally Blonde or something that there is a movie to, but it has won all these Tonys and many people love seeing it night after night. Although it might not seem like your typical musical it has had that kind of draw. About the show, I would say that it's a rock musical about young teens discovering their sexuality in the late 1800s. I would also say that the music is not like your typical musical theatre experience. The songs are like something you would hear on the radio. Every character in this show, no matter how old you are, from puberty on, you can identify with every character because everybody knows what its like and can remember a time when they were coming of age.
You have been touring in the role of Wendla since July 2008, right? How did you feel about stepping into that role?
Yeah, it has been almost two years for me. I am one of the veterans of the show I guess you could say. I was very lucky. I had kind of this fairy tale experience. When I was in college, everyone would ask what was my dream role. And I would say "to be Wendla in Spring Awakening". And actually, for my showcase, which is where you go to NY and you sing for all the casting directors and agents in New York after you graduate, I sang "Mama Who Bore Me", which is the first song of the show. The casting director was in the audience and they happened to be searching for a Wendla for the tour, so all the planets aligned for me and I was in the right place at the right time. So, here I am getting to perform this incredible part, which was my dream role, even in college. I feel so lucky to get to work with the original creative team in this show. I can't tell you how many times early on that I walked into rehearsal and just started weeping for no reason.
What drew you to be a part of this musical?
Actually I had auditioned for the show when it was just a workshop and it was going to be premiering at the Atlantic Theatre. I had a manager at the time in New York and he sent me over some demos of Duncan Sheik's songs that he was thinking about putting in the show and I literally had a heart attack where I was standing. I ran upstairs and looked through all my Joni Mitchell material to find a good audition song for the workshop. I have been a songwriter since I was 13 years old and this music felt like me sitting down in a coffee shop playing one of my own original songs. So, as much as I do love the classical musical theatre sound my heart really lies in your basic relaxing, singer-songwriter, and alternative type sound. It is cool that I am able to apply that and do musical theatre at the same time.
Was it a bit intimidating to step into a role that was memorably played by someone else (Lea Michele)?
Lea Michele is so incredibly talented and it felt more like an honor to get to take over in this new way. I didn't think so much about recreating what she did, but in a sense you sort of have to do both things; you have to honor what the person before you has done and acknowledge that and try to bring bits of that into your performance, but at the same time step away from that and create new things and make it your own. So it's the balance of those two things plus whatever the director says that makes the part come to life. I think Lea had the hardest job because she had to create the character from scratch.
Have you met her?
Actually I did, I was so lucky; she came to our opening night in L.A., which was about six months into our performances. She came backstage and complimented me and shook my hand and said that she thought I had done the part justice. It was a very cool night and I will never forget that. It made me feel like she was passing the torch to me and that she was proud.
One of my BWW colleagues in Orange County (Michael Lawrence Quintos) had the chance to speak with both Jake Epstein and Matt Shingledecker in the fall, and asked them this same question. So I'm curious, what is a typical tour day like for you? Can you describe your life on the road a little?
So much of it is on the fly, as confined and the same as a show can be there is so much difference around you. Your whole world changes every day and that's pretty cool. It's not like on Broadway where you are doing the same show in the same house and everything is the same. It is new and exciting, new people, new fans, new energy, new houses, so that's cool. As far as specific tour life, you mostly have your days free so you get to explore the city as best you can. Hopefully there are fun things to do in every city and you do that. You go to new restaurants and you experience the cities.
When not doing the show, on your downtime, do you spend most of it with the cast?
Yeah, and what's kind of lucky about this show is we are all young so it feels like you are going back to college, so that's kind of cool. Your cast really can become your friends and your family, because you get to know everyone so intimately and they are like your Brothers and Sisters.
What has been your favorite city so far on the tour?
I loved Toronto and I loved L.A. I rented a car in L.A. and I traveled to all the different boroughs and it was sunny and beautiful, so those would be my favorites so far.
Which actors do you admire?
I really love Natalie Portman and I love young, up and coming actors like Rachel McAdams, I love her. My favorite male actor in the world is Robert Downey, Jr. I think he is incredible. I think it is important for every actress to go back and look at all the old movies, watch AMC, watch the things that came before you so you can borrow from that. I watch a lot of old black and white movies and I find a lot of things that people do today are being redone over and over again so it is cool to see the people who originated that.
What music influenced you the most growing up?
I would say Folk music. I love Joni Mitchell, Jewel, and Carly Simon and that's kind of where my sound lies and who I sort of emulate. I love John Mayer and a lot of others. I love listening to songwriters with insightful lyrics that make you think.
Is that a good description of the type of music you yourself perform outside of musical theater shows?
Yes, I am very much a singer songwriter type. I came out with an EP when I was in L.A. and you can buy it at the stands at the show. Its about six songs and I told the producer I just want to make a CD where people can turn it on, lay back, relax and listen to some chill music. So I created an EP based on that. I try my best, the hardest thing for me is writing the lyrics. I really like to sit down and say I am going to tell a story that has never been told.
What about other musicals or plays? Is there another role in a different play you would love to perform someday?
There are a lot of parts that I could play. But I think where my heart really lies, is with shows like this, which are so revolutionary as far as musicals go. I would love to be a part of new works that are testing boundaries, like this new musical that is coming out called Beauty by Regina Spektor. It's all about Beauty and the Beast and you see a lot of that happening, like the new Green Day musical. You see a lot of contemporary musicians creating story musicals. And I think that is the kind of thing I would really like to focus on.
What has been your favorite part of being part of Spring Awakening?
I guess getting to touch people every night. Any time anyone asks why do you do this, why do you find happiness in performing I say that what makes me feel the most fulfilled is getting to play this part every night so I can touch people. When, after a show someone can come up to me and say you really moved me, you really touched me, I really felt that, that has been the most fulfilling thing.
And what's been your least favorite part of the tour?
I guess it would be the travel, especially when you want to go home and you miss your family. Sometimes I will go back for a day on my day off and that is hard when you are not seeing your friends and your family on a consistent basis.
Any interesting facts that your fans may not know about you?
I have the biggest sweet tooth in the world and I could just eat sugar all day long. I am obsessed with sugar, which is one funny fact about me. I am really interested in being a creator too, and I have aspirations to write musicals in the future and write more songs in the future. As much as I am a performer, I also really want to create and kind of make my mark in the world in that way.
Now as a show, Spring Awakening not only features a very young cast portraying very young roles, the show also attracts a predominantly young fan base. Do you have any tips or advice for all these young kids who dream of having your job someday?
I would say just to be confident and know that you can do it. If you stick around for long enough, everyone gets something eventually it's about constantly honing your craft, constantly taking classes, and having a passion for something. Things will always work out and to not be afraid of that. As far as specifics, don't worry about what it is you think they want you to be, just worry about showing them your heart because there is no one else like you. Everyone is a completely different individual.
Do you have any other special projects in the works outside of the tour?
I am working on another CD right now with my old co-star, Kyle Riabko. He was my Melchior when the tour started and we have been writing songs together and we hope to have another CD come out sometime soon. And I am still writing so I am probably going to try and come out with another CD as well.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
If you were going to say anything else about the show, I would say that it is really cool. There is seating on stage, which is really awesome, and I think, really cheap. So if people really want to do theatre, sitting on stage is really helpful because you get to see the actor's faces and you get to see the tears in their eyes every night. I would encourage young kids to come out and get those tickets on stage. It has been a pleasure to work with the cast, and we all get along really well and we have fun every night on stage and I couldn't say that for many companies. So come out and see us!
For more information about Christy's songwriting, check out her music at www.christyaltomare.com.
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