BWW Interviews: Carrie Manolakos Talks LIZZIE and Her Career
This past summer, Theatre Under the Stars finally gave us the news that many had eagerly been anticipating. In July, TUTS announced their newest endeavor and introduced us to TUTS Underground, a brand of theatre that is edgy and features innovative and modern works. Utilizing the intimate Zilkha Hall in the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, TUTS Underground is unleashing an electric 2013-2014 season that is sure to be a new theatre experience for Houston audiences. Opening the inaugural season for TUTS Underground is LIZZIE, a rock musical about the infamous murderess Lizzie Borden. I was really excited when Carrie Manolakos, singer-songwriter and actress, generously agreed to take time out of her busy schedule to let me know about her experience playing the axe-wielding Lizzie Borden, and a little bit about what Houston audiences can expect from this TUTS Underground show.
BWW: The first question is pretty generic, but I always like to know this answer. When did you realize that you wanted to do musical theatre?
Carrie Manolakos: You know, I think I pretty much knew my whole life. My mom says that I sang before I talked. So, I grew up listening half to show tunes, and half to Whitney Houston and all of those pop people that are legendary. So, I was really almost always singing from basically the time that I could. I really always knew that I was going to, in some way, shape, or form, be singing, doing theatre, or something like that. Forever. (Laughs)
BWW: Lizzie Borden seems like a powerful role that defies stereotypical female convention. What drew you to this role?
Carrie Manolakos: I think that she is so interesting, and I think that she is so powerful. The role is so dynamic because there is so much truth for her behind what has happened and what she has done. She has also been really hurt throughout her life, and it is just a really powerful and super dynamic role. So, it is interesting. I feel like most of the roles that I have played up until now have been more extreme one way or the other, but she is very ferocious and very powerful. Clearly she does some unconventional thing and has some unconventional behavior, but she is also super vulnerable and really accessible as well.
BWW: Did you do any special research on Lizzie Borden or anything thing special to prepare for the role of Lizzie?
Carrie Manolakos: You know, I have of course done my fair share of Googling and looking some stuff up. We talked about it quite a bit my first time around because I really didn't know a ton about the piece, and I didn't know a ton about her except the bare essentials and the couple of documentaries that I had seen. I was sort of learning as I went, but she is just so deep. There are so many parts to her life or story that I feel are kind of uncovered in this show, ranging from her dad locking all of her doors to her sort of romance with her next door neighbor. These writers have done a ton of work to further the parts of Lizzie that we may not know.
BWW: LIZZIE has a studio album that will be released on October 8, 2013. What was it like preparing for the cast recording compared to preparing the role for stage?
Carrie Manolakos: Honestly, I have spent a lot of time in the studio, I already knew the role, and I knew the music. We had a kind of brief brush up rehearsal, and we sort of worked it out in the studio if there was anything that we had wanted to change a little bit or that we kind of wanted to add because it was a studio recording. It really wasn't that much preparation for the studio recording for me, since we had done the production already. We had one member who was brand new who had quite a bit more rehearsal, and we had another cast member who had done it a couple of years previously and a lot had changed since then. So, for me, there actually wasn't really any different work to be done because we had kind of already done it, and it was pretty true to the script and the score.
BWW: Speaking of CDs, you released your debut album Echo, which I happen to be a huge fan of, last year in 2012. Do you have any plans to work on new solo music after LIZZIE?
Carrie Manolakos: Yeah. This is actually the first theatre job that I have done in a while because I have been so focused on my music. Essentially, since May, I have been writing almost nonstop in Nashville and LA, doing some work, and doing some concerts. I have written a ton over the summer, and I am actually headed back to Nashville after this show. My goal is to kind of, after this trip, figure out what the next step is. Possibly build a team. My goal is to collect the songs and really get focused on what direction I am trying to go. I am very itchy (Laughs) to record, so I am feeling ready. I just want to make sure that I am very prepared and that I have the right songs that I want for this next album.
BWW: LIZZIE is a rock musical, which is one of the elements that makes it so exciting. Did you find that you had to do any different vocal preparations for this role compared to the other roles that you have played previously, such as Elphaba in the Second National Tour of Wicked and Sophie in Mamma Mia? Regarding the rock sound, did you have to train your voice differently?
Carrie Manolakos: Not really. Over the last few years I have started to find my own sound as a singer, and I think it's erring more towards the planet of LIZZIE than the sort of musicals that I have done before. For me, it actually came very naturally to sort of shift gears into what this is. They have been really awesome to kind of give me the freedom to express that side. It felt really natural, and it feels really good to sing. That is when you know that it is really well written. I mean it's hard. It is very vocally demanding. (Laughs) It is actually not as long, it is about an hour and a half. That helps a little bit. It is just so fun, and it is so powerful that I think, for me, it comes out really naturally. It doesn't feel forced. But, just like anything else, you got to take care of yourself and make sure to rest your voice so you can do all of your shows.
BWW: LIZZIE will be the opening show for the first ever TUTS Underground Season. TUTS Underground is geared towards bringing Houston audiences an edgier brand of theatre and reaches out to the more contemporary minded theatregoer. What makes LIZZIE such and edgy show and without giving away too much, what can Houston audiences expect?
Carrie Manolakos: Well, it is four girls rocking out, super intense, and it is super fun. Essentially, it errs more on the side of a rock concert, I would say, than a musical. It just kind of is its own entity and its own beast. I haven't done a show that is quite like this ever before, and that is why I am so attracted to the piece. The dialogue that is in the show is essential and so necessary, and the rest of it is sung through. It's just wild. It's a wild show. It is really fun, and it is moving and funny. Above all, it is really powerful. It is just a really powerful and ferocious musical with four awesome girls rocking out.
You don't want to miss LIZZIE, the first show of TUTS Underground's inaugural season! LIZZIE opens on October 10 and will run until October 20, 2013 in the Zilkha Hall at The Hobby Center for the Performing Arts. For more information about TUTS Underground, or to book your tickets to LIZZIE please visit http://www.tuts.com.
Photos courtesy of Theatre Under the Stars.