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Annaleigh Ashford: Bubble-Bound

Ambitious and amiable, Annaleigh Ashford made her Broadway debut originating the role of Delta Nu sorority sister, Margot, in the Tony Award-nominated musical Legally Blonde.  Prior to this engagement, Annaleigh was a bright 20-year-old spinning in a grandiose green dress on-stage in the first national tour ensemble of Wicked

Some nights on the road, she would cover the role of Glinda, The Good.  But beginning Tuesday, October 9, 2007, Annaleigh returns to the legendary bubble, assuming the role on Broadway!'s own News Desk Editor, Eugene Lovendusky, grabbed a table at the Café Edison in Times Square to chat with Annaleigh (as she experimented with a new lunch platter) to discuss her transition from one thrilling moment in her early performing career to another…

Eugene Lovendusky: You just hit 22-years-old, and here you are about to ride on the big Broadway bubble! How do you feel?

Annaleigh Ashford: It's so crazy, I can't even believe it. I'm so excited… I just had a lesson this morning with my vocal coach; we were singing through the very top of the show – I sang through it and then we both looked at each other and screamed "Oh!" like little girls! I can't wait. It's going to be fun and so great to take a journey every night; to start in one place and end up somewhere completely different.

Eugene: You grew up in Denver, Colorado. Did you find musical theatre or did musical theatre find you?

Annaleigh: I think we came upon each other at the same time… My mom is an elementary school gym teacher and my whole family is into sports. But when I was a little girl, I loved to sing and dance and any chance we could get to see anything, I was so excited.  My mom made me do track and I hated it! I was so bad. I hated running. I did gymnastics, swimming, I was so over it! I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to be in dance class and having a singing teacher. I looked up at my mom and said: "It is time." She knew exactly what I meant, so we opened up the Yellow Pages and we flipped to the nearest dance studio – it was this really fabulous little ad and it was for Kit Andre's Dance and Performing Arts Center – and it was this woman in a top hat, really fabulous.

Eugene: How old were you?

Annaleigh: I was seven; I started taking dance there and I started taking voice lessons with Kit Andre, and she kind of became a grandma to me. She taught me such basic fundamental lessons about singing… breathing and a structure of a song. We danced every night. That studio was really into musical theatre. I knew what "All That Jazz" was when I was eight. I knew Fosse and A Chorus Line. I got a really great education there.  I had a Liza Minnelli karaoke tape! I had a karaoke machine that I would sing in the front yard with Whitney Houston and Liza.  My mom would catch me and ask me to go to the back yard [laughs] But I did my first musical when I was nine – it was Ruthless! The Musical.  I remember I had a friend come into town and she was a casting director and she called me in… and I ended up getting it! It was my first show at a great theatre in Denver (that just closed)! Two of the greatest theatres that I worked in Denver just closed. 

Eugene: What a bummer…

Annaleigh: It was so strange. I made my Broadway debut – and the first theatre I got my Equity card at and the first theatre I worked at closed in the same season.  Isn't that weird?  I started working here and there, and when I hit thirteen I started doing chorus work.  By the time I was sixteen, I got my Equity card playing Sandy in Grease.  It was at one of the first Equity dinner theatres in America – and they gave so many people their card! I had played Patty there four years ago and I wasn't going to audition because it was my senior year of high school… They called me about four days before they opened and said: "Sandy has vertigo and strep throat; we need someone!" I had just found out I was going to Marymount Manhattan College and I told them I needed my Equity card… I drove in, listening to the CD on the way there. I learned the show in four days, I got to do it for three months, I got my Equity card, I got to graduate.  I started school, and the very first audition I ever went to in the City was for Wicked before they had ever started working on it… in the Fall of 2002.  I read the break-down and loved it.  I went in and it was crazy! I waited four hours; I was like number 463! My line was up and they came out and said: "We've had to cut it back from sixteen-bars to eight-bars." I didn't have an eight-bar song! I was so freaked out! I went in and I sucked… I cracked on my last notes… I only sang three notes. I picked the wrong song. I got so upset. And then I didn't audition for it again until I auditioned for the road. I'll never forget that… It was the first show I ever auditioned for!

Eugene: You're telling such a great story here! Being on the road I'm sure is very important… what did you learn about yourself and your skills as a professional in Wicked and Legally Blonde?

Annaleigh: As an actor, you can find comfort in the space of the theatre or the consistency of the structure of the show.  Sometimes those things aren't always a comfort on the road because they change so quickly. You have a new orchestra every two weeks; a completely different space with a different sound system. You're in a new climate for your voice.  Because of that, it's such a test of being "in the moment" and trusting your work and having to go for it! I'm so grateful I was also a cover on the road – because you just never know – it could be like being shot out of a cannon.  If you trust your work and you trust the piece, you're going to be fine.  There is something so beautiful about traveling with other people.  You have to be a safety for each other because you're away for your home. Going out of town, opening a new show, is kind of like being on the road in that respect because you become a family.  You go through so much in terms of development, and also help create the story, create the character, having input – that needs a very safe space. Being out of town for that chunk of time is like going away to summer camp! You share something beautiful being in an original company. Those two months feel like half a year. Tour-time versus Real-time.  Time gets distorted.

Eugene: That's a lot of work.  You were talking about being a cover… Why should everyday theatre-goers appreciate understudies?

Annaleigh: One thing that's so fascinating, to watch a cover, is there is no way for it not to be in the moment. Even if somebody goes on often, everyone has to be on their game. Nobody can be on autopilot. Not only for safety issues, but also most importantly as an actor, you have to be ready for whatever they give you – and you have to give it back.  It should be respected and loved because it is one of the hardest things to do in the whole world.  Especially the first couple of times someone goes on…

Eugene: That must be so special and so scary.

Annaleigh: It's first scary, but then you don't have time to be scared. You have to trust yourself. It's a lot of homework too. You have to do it all on your own, just get there and see what happens. Your first-time going on, you're asked: "How did it go?" and you say: "I don't really remember it!" It feels very surreal, and partly because of the lights! I remember the first time I went on for Wicked in my own track; it was harder than going on as Glinda because I didn't know what the lights were going to feel like! I got really lost. I did a turn in the Ozdust Ballroom and I was a different way than everybody else. And I said the wrong line! I had two lines in the show and I messed it up.  I was Pfanee – Glinda's best friend – my first line was "Oh, how good are you!"… but I said "You are so good" fully committed and so happy… That's my second line and I said it totally in the wrong spot! It was horrifying! The light hits you and you freeze! And then you learn to love the lights. By the time I went on for Glinda, I was totally used to what it was going to feel like and I got to explore.

Eugene: What a rush.

Annaleigh: And the very first time I went on, I was working with almost the exact same company on the road as I will in New York!

Eugene: That's what I love about Wicked. They keep it in the family.

Annaleigh: Isn't that kooky? Who would have ever thought it?

Eugene: Have you ever gone on as Elle in Legally Blonde?

Annaleigh: No. As a cover; it's hard to think like that because you would never wish a fellow actor out.  Laura Bell Bundy is like the bionic woman! We have a really tough schedule – we have three double-show days when most shows only have two.  She's been doing amazing. It's exciting for her.

Eugene: How have you handled Wicked rehearsals while in Legally Blonde?

Annaleigh: I'll have one week of double-duty with Wicked at day and Legally Blonde at night.  I like to rehearse at day and perform at night because I think it refreshes your work at night. Even if you're tired, you appreciate it more. My last week is going to be so fun, because I love Glinda.

Eugene: It's already under your belt, too.

Annaleigh: It is in a way, but I'm also so excited to start from scratch again and have some rehearsal time. And I get to be with this orchestra here! This orchestra is incredible. And I get to play the Gershwin! Who can believe that? The company I'm going to be with is just amazing.  It's going to be hard to say goodbye to Legally Blonde. I have a family there and I've had so many amazing things happen in my life since I've started with them and I feel like I got such a beautiful opportunity to create something.

Eugene: What are you going to miss about Legally Blonde?

Annaleigh: Omigod, I'm going to miss the dog.  [laughs] Chico! Chico and I have a special connection. Everybody asks: "What is he going to do when you leave?" And I say: "What am I going to do?" I should just bring him over and put him in a little bubble! [laughs] I'm going to miss all my Delta Nu magic I get to escape to every night. It reminds me that musical theatre is musical theatre and comedy for a reason. Not only as an audience, but as an actor, you get to escape to it. What a blessing that is. I'm going to miss the constant joy.  But I won't be missing the pink.  [laughs] I'll get some new pink!

Eugene: What are you looking forward to in the role of Glinda, probably one of the coolest roles on Broadway right now.

Annaleigh: It is! She becomes a different person in the end.  I'm looking forward to that! Finding all the moments when she realizes all the important life lessons… [unconsciously tosses her hair]

Eugene: You just did the toss-toss.

Annaleigh: Oh I did! [laughs] Ooo! I'm looking forward to my wig, too!

Eugene: Are there little moments in the show that make you go insane with anticipation?

Annaleigh: There are certain moments where there is an expectation to live up to – like toss-toss – that were just so beautifully constructed by Kristin Chenoweth. There are certain things she planted. They work so great that they hold on and they're in the script.  I'm looking forward to those moments because they're a challenge. You have to make them your own even though somebody else created them.  And I love the beginning of Act II… I think "Thank Goodness" one of the most beautiful songs in the show because it's so true to what so many people go through each day.  Inside you don't really know… All your dreams can come true and then at the end of the day, they look back and ask if it's really what they want.  And also, I never think Glinda is ill-willed toward Elphaba. I just think she's naïve. And as time goes by, and as Elphaba teaches her, she grows as a human being. Oh! And the moment in "Defying Gravity" when Elphaba is singing her face off – it's amazing to watch your cast mate do it. You get to stand there and totally watch them take over and fly literally and emotionally, and you can just stand there and support. That's all you do is stand there and support! It's beautiful and so important for the story. And I'm excited to watch Stephanie J. Block do it.

Eugene: Finally she's on Broadway in that role!

Annaleigh: I got to watch her do it every night on the road, which was such a treat. I can't believe I get to play opposite her. This is happening. I'm totally living my dream. And when you have hard days, and you do get to escape to it; that's what reminds you why you do it.  I always remember when I was on the road in my track at the end of the show, I get to turn around and see the front row. People's faces as they watch the very end, they were completely into the story and were able to completely escape for those two and a half hours... and so were we.  That's the beauty of it. That's the gift. That's the calling and that's why we do it.  So walking into auditions, waiting for four-hours and they won't even let you go to the bathroom because you don't have your card. It's okay. Because at some point the light's going to hit you and you'll forget your line!

Eugene: Perfect. Thanks so much and congratulations again!

Annaleigh: Oh gosh, no thank you! I'm so glad we were able to share our first matzah brei doing this!

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From This Author Eugene Lovendusky

Eugene Lovendusky graduated summa cum laude from SFSU with a BA in Writing for Electronic Media and a minor in Drama. Raised in the SF (read more...)