BWW Interviews: Brynn O'Malley Talks About Playing Dot in SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE
When you see the logo for the Signature Theatre's terrific production of SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE, you can't miss the coy smile of Brynn O'Malley wearing a hat, carrying an umbrella, wearing a 19th century dress, and her beautiful, piercing blue eyes looking at you. She could easily be Eliza Doolittle (from MY FAIR LADY) or the famous umbrella holder from MARY POPPINS. And she has a personality to match her smile. Here's a little more about her.
CS How do you begin in musical theater?
BO I did a little musical theater in high school, but I was really focused on playing the viola by the age of 15 and believed I'd play in a symphony or teach music. I started doing my high school and community musicals, which included Stephen Sondheim's A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC, and I fell in love with his music. My voice teacher gave me the records of NIGHT MUSIC and SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE. When I discovered Sondheim, i realized that musical theater could be a truly fulfilling art form as a careerl I knew I could be happy in this business if I could just periodically be a part of his shows. And I'm still here so I got very lucky in that regard!
CS Did you ever see the show when you were young?
BO I never saw the show live but I must have watched the PBS recording a thousand times as a teenager. I've dreamt of being a part of this show. ANY part, for nearly half my life.CS What was your first Broadway show?
BO I was lucky to be an understudy for "Belle" in BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. I did it for 9 months and then left to play the lead in SHE LOVES ME at the Arena Stage. I was only 24 or 25 and here I was playing the lead. It was my first regional theater experience. I was really impressed with the actors. I felt it was just like Broadway and I could create something here. I was so honored to get a Helen Hayes nomination.
CS Can you tell me about your roles in ANNIE, WICKED, and HAIRSPRAY?
BO I saw HAIRSPRAY while I was in college (University of Michigan). I was so excited to see it. I got rush seats, the last row in the balcony. When I first witnessed "You Can't Stop the Beat", I just knew I had to be in a show like that. I lost my mind when I got that job. I was crying I was so happy to be in such a special show. I was a replacement in the role of Amber. WICKED was a great experience. I played "Nessa Rose" a couple of months on Broadway and did the tour. In the ANNIE revival I played "Grace" for a year and so enjoyed working with James Lapine. I took a leave of absence from ANNIE to do HONEYMOON IN VEGAS at the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey.
CS You have been experienced in performing early in your career in the Baltimore/Washington area. How was that experience?
BO I did ARSENIC AND OLD LACE in Baltimore at Center Stage, also when I was very young and we had such an amazing cast. I met so many wonderful people there, it changed my life. I'm still friends with many of the actors from it. I had the best time working under Director Irene Lewis. I played the young fiancé. It was my first professional play. When I got the role at Signature I didn't hesitate since I was so familiar with the wonderful actors in the area from Center Stage and Arena Stage. I saw the caliber of talent there and I knew I would have no problem.
CS How much did you enjoy your television experience?
BO It was fun being in "Smash". I was supposed to play an agent in one episode but then before I knew it, I was in a huge dance fantasy musical number with all these incredible Broadway dancers. It was great. I also enjoyed ROYAL PAINS. I did a couple of scenes as an art critic. We spent several days in upstate New York at a mansion with amazing catering. I had a wonderful time.
CS How did you get involved with HONEYMOON IN VEGAS?
BO My agent was encouraging me to focus on televison instead of theater at the time. When I saw that Jason Robert Brown had written HONEYMOON IN VEGAS, I couldn't resist. As I've said for years, "Stephen Sondeim is the reason I got into the business, and Jason Robert Brown is the reason I've stayed." Although I truly believe he can write anything, he's one of the only successful contemporary composers that consistently writes for voices like mine and in the style I like to sing. I heard a couple of songs from the show before my audition and wept at the thought of singing this music every night. And then I read Andrew Bergman's script and it was so funny, irreverent, and touching. It's a rare opportunity to be a part of something like this. And I really understand the character of "Betsy". She's a lot like me. Jason and I had never met before my audition so I was a nevevous wreck throughout the process. It took a lot for him to trust me with this part and I am forever grateful that he did.
CS What was it like at the Paper Mill Playhouse?
BO It was insane. It was so exciting building a brand new show with an incredible cast and creative team. Working with Jason was a dream-come-true. Rob McClure (Tony-nominated for CHAPLIN) and I somehow never crossed paths considering our histories with AVENUE Q so we actually met at my audition. He was cast as "Jack" a couple of days before my final callback and I read with him. We had heard from so many mutual friends that we would get along. Literally, within 5 minutes of the first day of rehearsal we knew we were going to be lifelong friends. I trust him implicitly on stage, and that is RARE!
CS What is it like to be originating a role on Broadway?
BO It's getting very exciting. I'm not taking for granted how fortunate I am to be a part of such a well-written, thrilling work and to be playing such a strong, grounded female character. We worked so hard on this show, harder than I think most of us have ever worked on anything to bring it to fruition. I really can't wait to start sharing it with 1200 people a show, 8 times a week. I think it's going to bring so many people an incredible amount of joy. Can't ask for much more than that out of life, can you? I'm a very lucky gal. We start previews November 18 and open January 15th.
CS Knowing you had HONEYMOON IN VEGAS coming up, how did it happen you came to Signature for SUNDAY?
BO Well, as I said, I always wanted to do this show. I did the revival on Broadway where I played Celeste #1 and Elaine and was an understudy for Dot played by the great Jenna Russell. It was a limited run during Tony season. She won the Olivier Award in London. I never went on as Dot. I truly didn't mind since I would have had to replicate her performance with her accent and dialect, recreating her performance. It never felt like mine. It was an honor to be her understudy but it was a lot of pressure.
I did not plan on doing a show prior to VEGAS heading to Broadway. But SUNDAY is one of the reasons I became an actress and I really wanted the role of Dot. So I auditioned. I had obviously heard great things about Signature, but had never been there. To play Dot, to do so out of town? Yup!. Since I was familiar with the wonderful local group of actors in the area, I decided to take another dream job in one year. I got the part knowing VEGAS was going to Broadway. The timing was perfect. Rehearsals for HONEYMOON begin two weeks after SUNDAY closes.
CS What is it like performing at Signature?
BO It's amazing. I met Clay (Claybourne Elder as George) in Kansas City where we did INTO THE WOODS. I was the "baker's wife" and he was the "wolf". We became friends. I was very excited he got the part. Matt Gardiner has done a superb job directing, especially with the unusual sight lines at Signature. He has a great eye for staging and stage pictures. It's also great working with Jon (conductor Jon Kalbfleisch) and the superb orchestra. He knows the show like the back of his hand. I believe he's conducted SUNDAY four or five times so I feel safe under his direction.
SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE continues at the Signature Theatre until Sept. 21, 2014 For tickets, call 703-820-9771 or visit www.signature-theatre.org.
Photo of Brynn O'Malley and Claybourne Elder by Charles Shubow