BWW Interviews: ANIMAL CRACKERS Sweetheart Stephanie Rothenberg Speaks of her Challenges and Passions with this Show and Jane Austin!
Stephanie Rothenberg - Thank you so much for speaking with me and BroadwayWorld today.
We last saw you in the world premiere of Sense and Sensibility the Musical here at the Denver Center....how was that experience for you?
Well, I've been fortunate enough to work on a lot of new musicals in my professional career and that was one of the most amazing experiences that I've had. It is such a beautiful story, I mean, I don't 'have to tell you, you saw the show. Not only was the cast amazing, but the crew and the creative team were some of the best people that I have always wanted to work for. Everybody was so wonderful. The caliber of performers was so elevated. Then we came to The Denver Center, which was my first time here, and the facilities are so incredible, and the artistic staff, everything from the top down. The costumes that were built for us, the set. It's pretty incredible. There's not many theatres like that around the country. I felt very fortunate, and we all did, to be doing Sense and Sensibility here in Denver. And for me, playing ELANORE, I feel like that's a rare role for a woman of my age. She's the rock solid center of the show and then showing that she's also going through that journey and that change throughout the show. It was quite an exciting and challenging opportunity for me. I loved working on it.
What do you feel was the musicals success?
Well, I think audiences really enjoyed it. (laughter) But really, you know...The music. We already knew Jane Austin had a really solid thing going for her. And then Jeffery Haddow did a great job of interpreting that material from the novel and making it into the musical. But the original music that Neil Hampton wrote was so exciting to work on. It was unlike anything that I had ever heard before. Or seen before. But then to get to sing it and learn that music... it was just....it was stunning. I still get on to that stage and it kind of flashes back all of those songs, and the sets were beautiful. So the combination of all of the elements of song, and scenery and costumes was beautiful to be a part of, and I don't know what it was like to watch, but I know it was beautiful just to be a part of.
And where have you been performing since last we saw you last year?
I went back to New York and I did, immediately, a production at the New York Music Theatre Festival, Nymph. It's a festival that does, I think, upwards of thirty new musicals in the span of few weeks. And so I worked on a new piece called Castle Walk, it's about a ballroom dancing. And it's about Vernon Castle and the first ball room dancers in America and it kind of inspired Ginger and Fred Astaire. I play kind of the young flash back version. It was very interesting, I got to learn how to ballroom dance. It was very different from Sense and Sensibility. Then I did a few readings. I was lucky to do the Rags reading at the Roundabout with Jesse Meuller and some great people and it was pretty amazing to get to work with Charles Strause and Stephen Schwartz and have them in the room. It was pretty exciting. I played BELLA so I got to sing the title song and then die. (laughter). That was pretty exciting. So it's just a lot of little projects like that sprinkled along the way. Lots of auditioning and all of that good stuff of the New York actor.
Now you are currently in Animal Crackers..... what is your role in this and how has the process been for you?
I play a few different roles, everybody kind of does. This version, and the version that been done at Williams Town and at Goodman, it works on a nine person cast and there's a lot more characters than just nine people. So when you are not on stage as one of your main characters you are in the ensemble, so it's really fun. It's a great ensemble piece. I play GRACE, MARY, and another character that sort of becomes HARPO'S muse. GRACE is one my, it scared me a lot, this role, but now it's one of my favorite things to do in the show every night. So she's a platinum blonde, you can imagine it. At first I was like, "You are crazy. I'm never going to look good in a blonde wig." (laughter) Now I can't take it off. It's all set at this high society party in Long Island, and GRACE lives down the street and she also throws amazing parties too. So she sees this party as a threat. She comes in already looking for how she can end the party or make it bad. And with the help of my sister we do this painting swap. It's about this beautiful French painting that they are unveiling at this party and there are all these plot lines about how people steal the painting and replace it with their own or replace it with a copy. Then we can't find the real one and then we have three beaugards laying around and we don't know whose is whose, or who did it, or who stole it, or whatever. So that's the basic plot of the story. So GRACE tries to swap it with her own really bad copy and that's her trajectory. We get to sing a really fun song. Christy Mullen and I sing a song called The Blues My Naughty Sweety Gives to Me. I get to play with the musicians and I get to throw some boa around the neck of a clarinet player. We just have a lot of fun, so that's one of them. Then I play MARY STUART, she's a young photographer coming to the party to shoot the party for the society pages of the newspaper. So she brings along her boyfriend JOHN who's an aspiring young artist. This play realistically is taking place in the great depression but you don't see much of that at all, if any, accept in the two of us a little bit. Because we are working really hard and we are, you know, two young working professionals but we can never quite achieve the level of opulence of what these people have. I bring him to the party to try and sell his copy of this painting that they are unveiling. And then that goes awry as well, of course. We get to sing some of my favorite numbers in the show, Scott Mclain and I; Why Am I So Romantic, and Watching the Clouds Role By. It's really a joy to get to do a role that's just wide eyed, and earnest, and determined, and she means what she says. She really asks, "Why am I so romantic?" Bruce, the director, and I really worked on, even from as early on as the call backs for this show, really it's not wink-wink nudge-nudge, why am I so romantic, we've said it a million times. It's really going, "I'm really in love with you and it's really different than it has been before." It's rare. You get to kind of really ask those questions and be in love. And there's rain coats, and flying stars, and moons with the Marx Brothers' heads in them. It's quite fun. I'm having a great time, so I hope you enjoy the show. (laughter).
What does this play mean to you personally?
It's been a while since I have worked on a comedy, much less a slapstick comedy. We've just had the best time. Working with Bruce, our director, has been one of the highlights of my career. He creates such an amazing and positive room and a place where, because some of it, when you are trying to figure out jokes and figure out timing, and create these very sexy characters and things you feel a little awkward. He creates such a safe space to fall on your face and say that doesn't work forget you ever saw it. So the process of the show has been really positive and uplifting and I've learned that I can do this. I've never really played a role like GRACE before where she's conniving and sexy and worldly and she uses all of this to get what she wants. I was little nervous about it but now it's my favorite part of the show every night. It's been so fun to discover that, to discover that part of me and now knowing I can do those kind of roles as well. That was the same with ELANORE in Sense and Sensibility, I'd only had little snippets of experiences playing that kind of solid female role but never before in that kind of capacity. So you learn those things, and it's been exciting to learn me.
Fascinating! Now do you think this show is in a nostalgic show for the older generation or a fresh piece to introduce these classic comedians to a younger generation?
I think it's both. We had our invited dress last night so we didn't know if we were playing to empty seats trying to make these jokes, you know, okay. It would have really felt like drudging though if it was joke, no laugh. Joke, no laugh. And then there were humans out there last night. And a lot of them. There were old people and children, there were teen agers, it was really just sort of a cross section of people. From what we could get from them it seemed like everybody was having a great time. I eyed some of the kids a couple of times and the little ones love it and teen agers love it for the slapstick and the kind of, you know, the funniness that John Silver, the guy that plays HARPO, brings to it with the horns, and the things falling out of his pockets everywhere, and the ladder choreography, it so funny. There's people like my age and my parents age and those people who are just enjoying what we're creating who maybe have no knowledge, or who maybe have a bit of knowledge about the Marx Brothers. I had a little bit. Then there are the older folks who really know the Marx Brothers and I think our guys are doing amazing work and paying homage to them. And you'll know who's who when you see it. It's kind of new and it's kind of fresh. We're not doing the movie. I think all ages are going to have a really fun time.
Here's a couple of fun questions for you....who is your favorite comedian?
I love Louis CK. Just stand up wise. I watch Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert on a regular basis. I love the political humor that they give. I have also learned to appreciate the physical comedy more, like the Marx Brothers. I've watched more of the films then I have ever seen before and it's wonderful and it's kind of a lost art. The Vaudeville style. You know, keep 'em guessing, keep 'em interested, using everything in your bag of tricks to keep the audience interested. It's fun. It's just plain fun.
If theatre were not an option in your life, what do you think your occupation would be?
I knew from an early age that I was going to go and try to do this. Then if I get there and it's not working then I'll try who knows what else. I had a break down my junior year when I was applying to colleges. I was like, am I really going to go for this and apply for a BFA in drama? It was a big step, and I thought, I'm a good writer, at least I thought I was at 17. I could maybe write things. Or I thought maybe be a lawyer because I could play a part and argue things. But there was never really anything else.
Interesting. Is there a show that you absolutely adore and would do over and over again?
My Broadway debut was How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, so I think that show. I did it with Daniel Radcliff, I was in the ensemble. Then I played ROSEMARY when Nick Jonas was in the show. It was the best experience ever.
That sounds fantastic. What is your dream role/show?
LOUISE in Gypsy. I'd love to do that. I'd love to do it right now too. But as I get older I'd love to play ANNA in The Kind and I, or MILLIE in Fairly Modern Millie. Those are the kind of roles I keep my eye out for.
I could totally see you in any of those roles. Whats next for you after this?
I am doing a production at The Cape Playhouse in Cape Cod of 1776 and I'm playing MARTHA JEFFERSON. Not a bad way to spend the summer!
Again thank you so much for speaking with me and BroadwayWorld today and I look forward to your performance in ANIMAL CRACKERS at the Denver Center!
ANIMAL CRACKERS is bringing a smile to audiences faces now until May 11th on the Stage Theatre of the Denver Center. For tickets or more information, contact the Denver Center Ticketing Services at 303-893-4100 or online at www.denvercenter.org.
PHOTO CREDIT: Jennifer M. Koskinen
Stephanie Rothenberg and Michael Mulhern