Faces of Curtain Up: Interviewing Amy Jakiel, star of Musicalfare's THE MUSIC MAN 9/5-10/14
Everyone who’s familiar with Buffalo theatre knows that the best time of year is the first couple weeks of September. That’s when Buffalo theatergoers and performers alike gather together in one big celebration, known as Curtain Up. Each theatre in the area has a different show open on September 14th, and then afterwards there is a cocktail party in the downtown theatre district. As part of the Curtain Up celebration, I’ll be doing an interview series known as “Faces of Curtain Up,” where I’ll focus on a different performer from a different Curtain Up show.
My first interview is with Buffalo favorite Amy Jakiel, who is no stranger to Curtain Up. This is her third straight appearance in Musicalfare’s Curtain Up show. Prior to her appearance this year as Marian Paroo in The Music Man, Jakiel appeared in Oliver! as Nancy and also in Shout! The Mod Musical as “Yellow Girl.” I met with Amy to discuss this year’s role and her career as a performer/director extraordinaire.
So Amy, when did you start acting?
Well, I started at a pretty young age. My first stage appearance was at St. Joe’s [a local high school known for their excellent performing arts program] in Carousel. I was 7. My first professional show must have been Sound of Music at Artpark.
And what about the work is most fulfilling for you?
I guess I really just like to be someone else. I couldn’t ever do the same show for years like some people, I’m constantly moving and playing and exploring, finding new characters. I love that I can unleash my crazy personality without being judged (laughs) No, really, I find a lot of challenges in doing different roles, finding all the ways I can bring myself to them.
You’re an actress by hobby, not by trade. What do you do, and do you find theatre connecting with your “day job”?
I work at People Inc., basically managing a day service for adults with developmental disabilities. I help them to develop job skills and independence skills. I did get my degree in Special Education with a concentration in music, so I guess theatre helped when I was working with the kids, being able to communicate with them. I also teach at the theatre school at the [Lockport Palace Theatre] so obviously it pays off there. Ultimately, though, I’m always complimented when people tell me, you know, “you get along with every age group.” I guess that has something to do with being open to different things and dynamics when you’re forming a character.
This is kind of a random question, but, at least to me, it’s always been like “Oh my God it’s Amy Jakiel, she’s so famous!” Are you ever recognized, since you work so frequently in the Buffalo scene?
Oh man, I don’t know. I think it’s always as the character, it’s never like “You’re Amy Jakiel, aren’t you.” Like one time I was out somewhere and the guy next to me leans over and goes, “Uh…you were just in that puppet thing, right?” And I was like “Avenue Q? Yeah!” And he turns to his wife and is like, “See, honey, I told you! She’s Kate Monster!” Or when I go to see Shakespeare in Delaware Park, and I’ll be in the bathroom line at the top of the hill, and somebody will come up and be like “Omigod it’s Elle Woods!” That kind of thing.
Jakiel just appeared as Elle Woods in the WNY premiere of Legally Blonde: the Musical at the Lockport Palace Theatre. She also appeared as Kate Monster/Lucy The Slut in Avenue Q, also at Musicalfare.
Because Buffalo theatre is so small, what’s it like working with people like Kacz [John Kaczorowski, who is appearing as Harold Hill and was also Emmett in Legally Blonde] twice in a row?
Well, it’ll actually be three times, since I’m doing RENT at Musicalfare, where Kacz is playing Mark. But it’s definitely a unique experience. Because I’ve been doing it so long, and since Kelly and Laura and my dad do shows also, I’m friends with a ton of people in the theatre scene anyway. Like I’ve known Kacz forever. But it definitely helps onstage chemistry, and I’m kissing Kacz a lot more in this show than Blonde. It’s funny, because this show is the show where he runs around like a chicken with his head cut off, and I get to sing a little, listen to him sing a little, and if he does okay I’ll slap a kiss on him (laughs). It definitely helps to feel comfortable with your love interest in real life. Although it’s funny, when I was in high school I was doing Children of Eden at Joe’s and my first stage kiss was with my boyfriend at the time, and we went to kiss and something stupid happened, like we both went the same way, and I was like “that’s not what we do! We do this all the time, what the heck?” (laughs). Yeah, I was like sixteen. Although occasionally knowing everyone is a little risky. Like when I was in Annie in Annie Get Your Gun, and playing opposite my sister Kelly’s fiancé Steve. Everyone was like “That must be so weird, isn’t it weird?” That’s when I’m like, “no, it’s a stage kiss, we’re just doing our job, we walk offstage and we’ve forgotten it happened.”
Speaking of Kelly, your family is also very active in Buffalo theatre. Your dad Steve is phenomenal, and of course your older sister Kelly and younger sister Laura are extremely talented as well. Tell me what that’s like?
It’s funny, because it’s actually more exciting to me when my non-theatre friends come see my stuff, because they’ll love it and not view it through a critical lens (laughs). It’s actually really great. I have a lot stronger a connection to theatre because of my dad and his teaching at Joe’s. But I work with Kelly a lot more frequently than with Laura. I don’t think I’ve ever worked with my dad, unless I’m forgetting. But we all did Carousel together because they needed kids, and then I did Les Miserables at Joe’s with Kelly…
I’m not so secretly obsessed with the CD of that show, it’s so funny to listen to you and Kelly and you’re still able to hear traces of Kelly and Amy so early on.
Yeah, it’s cool because Kelly as Fantine in that recording sounds a lot like Amy now. It was weird when we were the Celestes in Sunday in the Park with George together and singing the same vocal line, because we sound exactly the same in that register and it’s weird hearing your double singing next to you. But, yeah, we totally get along when we work together because we’re all very driven, like we have our fun but we’re very independently motivated and we respect that in each other. There’s a commonality in our household because of theatre.
If you didn’t go to school for theatre, what is it that most affected how you perform now?
Well I did this really cool program through Northwestern University that was basically theatre boot camp. We had core classes, but we also had electives so I took a class in lazzi, which basically prepared me for touring with Matt Iwanski [also appearing in Music Man] and teaching kids with puppets, and then of course Avenue Q helped me gain puppet experience, all of theatre happens like that. It’s one of those things where you gain experience while you’re working. It’s awesome. And of course Swing Choir helped a lot.
Swing Choir is basically a glee club at St. Joe’s that performs pop culture songs, numbers from musicals, etc.
And how about this show, Music Man. Is Marian a part you’ve always wanted to play?
Actually no, this is totally cool for me. I’m playing up the tomboyish, feminist side of Marian though. I think there’s a trap in playing her as an ingénue. You’re missing something. And this is a stripped down version of the show, focusing more on the relationships and the people and less on the spectacle. It’s actually my dad’s favorite show, so we grew up with Music Man quotations being inserted into daily life. We’ll be in rehearsal and I’ll be like, “Oh man, Dad said that to us.”
What’s the hardest part about the show?
For me it’s keeping the emotional rawness and emotional depth every night. After four weeks of rehearsal with one night off, it’s really a difficult thing. To fall in love with someone you’re not in love with for four weeks of rehearsals and then a six week run isn’t an easy task.
And how cool is Curtain Up for Buffalo theatre?
Definitely great for theatre in this area. It’s not so stressful for us, because we open a week before Curtain Up night, so it’s cool because we have an opening, and then the Curtain Up celebration the weekend after. The day after Curtain Up is going to be the crazy one, what with the wedding and all.
That’s right, Kelly and Steve are getting married!
Yeah, so like 95% of the guest list is Buffalo theatre people. So I’ll go to the wedding, then do a show, then go back to the party after. Kacz and I are contemplating taking the limo to the show, they won’t need it at that point (laughs). Bottom line, though, Curtain Up is amazing because it’s all the people you know and love in the same setting for one amazing night of theatre!
Amy, thanks so much for the interview, and I can’t wait to see the show!
Musicalfare’s production of Music Man, starring Amy Jakiel, runs from September 9th through October 14th. Curtain Up night in Buffalo is September 14th. Stay tuned for interviews from cast members from other Curtain Up shows. You may order tickets by visiting Musicalfare online at www.musicalfare.com or by calling the Box Office at (716) 839-8540 Tuesday-Friday, 10 am to 4 pm.