ROCK OF AGES' Shannon Mullen Talks Touring with Broadway's Throwback to the 80s
Shannon Mullen, who currently stars as Sherrie in ROCK OF AGES' second national tour, has missed four performances.
And the show kicked off in October 2011.
Mullen is currently proving to Chicagoans eight times a week that not only does she have incredible tenacity, but that she's a tiny powerhouse with a killer voice. She and the rest of the ROCK OF AGEs cast take the Broadway Playhouse's stage daily, where the show is currently in the middle of a sit-down run through August 5.
From BLONDE to...Crimped Blonde
To land the role of Sherrie, Midwestern doll turned 80s glam stripper, Mullen had to fight for the right to don that blonde, crimped wig.
"The minute I heard they were casting, I emailed the casting director. I sent all my stuff in, and essentially said, 'I AM YOUR SHERRIE!'"
Mullen made a video in April 2011, put together a compilation of Sherrie's most iconic and vocally challenging songs in the show, including 'High Enough.'
And though he replied enthusiastically to her enthusiastic digital audition, telling her he would "love to see [her]," Mullen was currently in the middle of the country starring as Brooke Wyndham-Price in the national tour of LEGALLY BLONDE.
"He said, 'If you can't make it to New York [soon], it doesn't look good.'"
And though she couldn't make it back to her home state on such short notice, too busy pushing workout routines onstage opposite Elle Woods - a few months later, in the summer of 2011, she was brought in to audition for a role in ROCK's ensemble, which surprisingly, landed her the role of Sherrie.
"It took three flights to get to New York, but it was perfect. Everything was on time, it was smooth. It was perfect."
They brought Mullen in with two other girls, each vying for a coveted spot to belt the songs of White Snake and Journey. The other two were cut, and Mullen was left.
"I was in there for two hours, singing a high E eight times, eight different ways. But it was so weird - there was no stress, each note came out perfectly, as well as I could ever imagine them to."
When she was back on with LEGALLY BLONDE, Mullen had determinedly decided that if she didn't hear back from the casting director by the end of that next Friday night's show - she would give up her hopes of playing Sherrie in the second national tour. When the curtain had drawn, there was still no call, message, any indicator that she would be AGES' new female lead. At 11:30 PM, the casting director did call - "he's always playing pranks," she said - with the good news.
"Sherrie has the perfect mix of both naivety and edge," Mullen said, commenting on her unwavering desire to become the Midwestern Sherrie. "By the end of the show, she's discovered that edge"- working as a stripper - "and that's how she sort of learns to accept herself."
Finding Focus on the Road
ROCK has previously been playing 2,000 seat venues, though the Broadway Playhouse is far from that scale, with the potential to seat 549 fans.
"It makes you very conscious of yourself: I can work on a much more personal level, my actions don't have to be so big - because the theater isn't that big - it's really nice."
Luckily for Mullen and the rest of the cast, ROCK OF AGES has planted itself at the Broadway Playhouse for the remainder of the summer.
"[A sit-down run] lets you feel like a human being again! You can take advantage of the city and actually do the things you want to do and see the places you want to see."
And though finding a temporary touring home and iniviting Chicagoans to experience ROCK for an extended period of time is a definite perk, the hardest part of touring for Mullen, however, is losing a sense of freedom. The freedom that comes from being able to drive a few hours, jump on a plane, whatever, just to maybe spend an afternoon with her family.
"It's hardly possible when you're on the other side of the country," she said.
Mullen, a native of Rochester, NY, has previously toured the with the companies of HAIRSPRAY and LEGALLY BLONDE before being cast in ROCK OF AGES.
"If you're playing a city for a longer time, you can really relax into that place. Usually, when you're coming in for one performance or for just a week, it's always new. You're explaining the show. But you begin to develop a sense of family for the locals and the crew and everyone who works in the theater. Being on tour allows you to invite people with the same love."
But performing the same role, day after day for over eight months, seems to be a daunting task - and it can be, Mullen assures.
"I find a focus if I'm having a bad day," Mullen said. "Maybe from a cast member, from Dom[inique Scott]," who plays wannabe rocker, Drew. "I just know I have to do it for someone else."
Aside from the selfless lens she uses to view her job and the theater community in order to combat a sluggish day, Mullen has two pre-show traditions: to hug each member of the cast, and watch the audience's reaction to ROCK OF AGES' opening number from off-stage.
"Their reactions are just like mine when I saw it for the first time."
Their jaws drop.
"It makes me realize how lucky I am that this is a selfless art."
Prior to each show, while Mullen is doing her own pre-performance traditions, ushers hand ROCK OF AGES audiences flash light lighters - a la classic rock concerts from the 80s - to make the audience feel right at home amidst grunge and big hair.
"Oh god, the first three nights of show when the audience used the lighters, I couldn't leave the stage. I had to be dragged from it.
"At the end, it's the ultimate 'thank you' moment."
Mullen, last Christmas, wanted to share the thank you moment she receives every night with her family - and gave them engraved lighters.
The Legacy of ROCK
It isn't news that jukebox musicals have become a recent trend in the theater world, nor is it a surprise that they've become increasingly successful - JERSEY BOYS has been running on Broadway since 2005, and ROCK OF AGES since 2009. ROCK has recenlty inspired the star-studded movie, while rumblings of a JERSEY BOYS have recently come to fruition with Jon Favreau the frontrunner to direct.
"Jukebox musicals attempt to bring awareness to musical theater," Mullen believes. "They reach out to people who normally wouldn't know musical theater, it's a way to connect theater to the mass population."
Though for herself, she's finding the legacy the show will leave with her once she eventually departs from the headbanging and poledancing atop the ROCK stage.
"I am Sherrie, I'm a dreamer," she said, loving the feeling of relentless dreaming and the desire for them to come true. "I've never understood why people want to lose that dream, if it still makes you happy - why change that?"
ROCK OF AGES plays through August 5th at Water Tower's Broadway Playhouse. Tickets are available online at www.broadwayinchicago.com.