BWW Interviews: Jasmin Richardson of MEMPHIS National Tour
Tonight, a little bit of MEMPHIS is hitting the Big Easy for a 6 day run at the Saenger Theatre. This soulful, Tony winning musical set in the 1950's highlights the story of a sassy club singer, Felicia, and the radio DJ, Huey, who wins her heart and is determined to help her rise to the top despite all of the obstacles they face together. While infused with the heavy theme of civil rights and the extreme prejudice of the time, MEMPHIS is splattered with song and dance that will certainly move you to your feet.
Playing MEMPHIS' leading lady is Jasmin Richardson who is no stranger to the stage. She has had roles in several shows such as DREAM GIRLS and THE DROWSY CHAPERONE, and has performed on Disney, Norwegian, and Celebrity Cruise Lines.
Keep reading to learn more about Jasmin's unconventional road to a career in musical theatre, and what she loves most about MEMPHIS.
Tell me a little about yourself, and where you're from.
I'm from Houston, Texas. I am the oldest of three kids. I have two younger brothers. My mother is a teacher, actually a theatre teacher. And, my dad is an accountant. I honestly didn't think I'd be doing what I'm doing now. That's always interesting because I love theatre and I always appreciated it because of what my mother does, but I definitely did not think this was going to be my career path. Now that I'm doing it I couldn't imagine doing anything else.
What did you think you would be doing instead?
I was always an athlete in high school, so I kind of thought maybe I'd go that route and I knew I was probably going to try to get a scholarship. I ran track and field. I thought I would go that route as far as college. It wasn't until my senior year of high school that I auditioned for my first show and wound up getting the lead in it. It was THE WIZ, and I wound up playing Dorothy. It kind of opened my eyes to a whole other world. I kind of had something there. I could always sing, but acting was totally new to me. I picked a smaller program, I felt like I needed some one-on-one attention because I really didn't know what I was doing. They really helped me understand the craft of acting. I went to Abilene Christian University in West Texas, and it was the best training ground for me especially not really having much to start with. They really helped shape my ideals and my technique as far as the way I approached roles. I have to give a lot of credit to my professors there.
Was it intimidating to audition for your first show in your senior year?
Oh my gosh, absolutely! I actually bombed it, if I'm being honest. I went in and I totally forgot my monologues. I really think if it wasn't for me singing I probably wouldn't have made the cut. I forgot my first monologue, both of my monologues actually. And then I sang and it helped me out so that's how that went.
And then you wound up being nominated for a Tommy Tune Award for that role!
So that wasn't something you expected, right?
I did not expect that, honestly. But yeah, that's kind of a big deal in high school to be nominated!
Since high school and college you've worked in various venues including cruise lines. How was the cruise ship experience for you?
It was a great experience. I was right out of college and cruise ships were my first professional gig. It kind of helped me to save money. I needed to move to New York, that was my goal. I got to visit a lot of beautiful islands that I never would have gotten the chance to see had I not taken the job. It was really influential in allowing me to save money and get a lot of experience in a lot of different styles. That helped. I really enjoyed my time on the cruise ships. Disney was fantastic. It's a very specific type of brand, so you have to stay within that brand. It's geared for children so you always have to, you know, make sure everything's clean as far as your background. Nothing crazy. I didn't party or do anything outrageous when I was on the Disney cruise for sure. It was great. It was really, really wonderful. I loved it, and they take really great care of you. It's a really wonderful work environment. It's very positive and uplifting, so I quite enjoyed it.
How is working on a cruise ship different from being on a national tour?
Tour life is very different in the fact that you wake up in one place and you perform in a different place. It's crazy as far as scheduling. And you can focus on a particular show, whereas cruise ships you have several different shows and you're doing three sometimes up to five different shows a week. With this I'm focused clearly on MEMPHIS, and I can really get to know Felicia, who is the character that I play. I can see our similarities and differences, and really get to know her because I've done over 120 shows now. Every day I learn something different. Every I day I don't try to perfect her, but I do as far as the actress in me technique-wise just to help me do eight shows a week. I've gotten it down with stamina, and endurance to do the show every day. It's really wonderful, and it's different. It's two different things as far as what you need to do on a cruise ship and what you need to do on a national tour. I'm growing. I'm constantly growing.
You mentioned that you play Felicia in MEMPHIS. How does her character fit into the story?
Felicia really is the catalyst for the show's start. As far as Huey, she has this music, this rock and roll music, and he is inspired and motivated and wants to put it on the air for the world to hear. He hears her singing and he comes into this underground bar, where clearly he stands out because he's white. That kind of gets the ball rolling, and he wants to put her on the radio. He wants to give her the recognition she deserves, so that's how I see her. And, it's so rewarding to play a character that's so rich in not only singing, but with her lines. Joe Dipietro wrote the script, and he gives you so much to work with as far as her getting to know Huey and this love connection that they have. She's also the sister of the bar owner, and he fights for his sister to be heard, but because she's black she never quite reaches the place where he believes she should be. Huey kind of helps take them to the next level. It's a really enriching role to play. I have a lot of incredible songs, and I really get to kind of be the leading lady in this particular show. I'm very blessed and I'm honored to do it every night.
How do you think the messages in MEMPHIS are relevant to today?
I think the relevancy of it is that everyone is fighting for equality. Today people are fighting for their rights to marry who they love, and I think it's relevant because people can relate to it. Honestly, the 50's weren't that long ago. My grandmother lived through the 50's, and when she saw the show she told me it took her back to that place and how she felt at that time. I think that we all are still fighting for rights to be who we are and to love who we want to love, and that's such a human thing. People can connect to this story the love that they have for each other, and the opposition that they face. During that time it was the law, they were fighting the law. I think it kind of starts a dialogue for that conversation when people leave the show. I like the way that the show is written because it's not so heavy that people walk out all weighted down. The music is very uplifting. Joey Elrose is playing Huey and he is really a genius when it comes to the comedic timing of things. He knows the show so well that people will still laugh and enjoy themselves, and not be weighted down by the heaviness of the story line. I think that's the relevancy of it all, and it's so relatable even in today's time.
What's your favorite part of the show?
My favorite part would have to be 'Colored Woman.' It's one of my favorite songs. I never get tired of singing that song, ever, because it speaks to so much of who she is as a person and the things she's fighting for and colored women kind of being oppressed at that time. She was fighting for her right to be who she is and to fulfill her dreams. That is probably my favorite time, when I get to sing 'Colored Woman,' and what that song means to me even now as an African American woman, and especially during that time. I think that is my favorite part of the show.
Do you feel that Felicia is like you, being that you are both women trying to make it in show business?
Absolutely, I totally relate to that. I relate to just trying to be her, and wanting your gifts to be recognized and to do what you love to do. That is something I totally connect to. I'm now realizing I'm one of three women who have played this role, and that is daunting when I think of the women who came before me. But it is also rewarding to think that I am playing this role before the rights are even released to be played regionally. I relate to her in the fact that I'm fighting for my life, too, and to play these characters that are so strong. The women are strong, and not demeaning. I'm playing someone that I respect. I'm playing a role that I am proud of. I'm playing a role that honestly feeds me as an artist creatively. I don't take it for granted because I know that there are so very few roles for African American women, even with color blind casting... if you can even get a role that people can see past your color. That is something that I take very seriously with this character, and I want to portray her in the best and positive lights. I love her. She's incredible. I get to dress like her every night, and I get to play across some pretty fantastic people, and I'm not taking any of these moments for granted. I definitely relate to her in my struggles even as an African American actress now, so I connect with that.
What is the one thing that you hope audiences take away either knowing or feeling when they leave the theater?
I want audiences to take away that it only takes one person to spark change. One person. A lot of that started with Huey, him standing up and fighting against what everyone says was normal at the time, and everyone fighting him for it. He believed. He believed that she needed to be heard, and give her exposure that she never would have gotten at that time. It only takes one person, and that would be what I want audience members to walk away with. It only takes one person to spark change.
See Jasmin as Felicia in MEMPHIS tonight through Sunday, March 16 at the Saenger Theater in New Orleans. For tickets and more information visit www.saengernola.com.