BWW Interview: Analisa Leaming Talks HELLO, DOLLY! On Tour
Leaming understudied the role in the recent Broadway revival and celebrated 600 shows with the classic musical a few weeks ago. In addition to Dolly, you may have seen her on Broadway as Anna in Lincoln Center's revival of The King and I, Rosalie Mullins in School of Rock, or Anita in On the Twentieth Century.
When she's not onstage, Leaming created and hosts "A Balancing Act," a podcast designed to aid creatives in shining their light unapologetically. Leaming sits down with artists from all over to open the door for uplifting and inspiring conversations about life in the arts. Three seasons in, guests have included Rebecca Luker, Gavin Creel, Ali Ewoldt, Jessie Mueller, Sierra Boggess, and so many more.
BroadwayWorld got the chance to talk with Leaming about taking a classic on the road, how Irene differs from her previous credits, which of her past characters she would like to have on her podcast, the importance of checking in with yourself on tour, and so much more in the interview below!
You are currently playing Irene Malloy in the national tour of Hello, Dolly, a role you understudied in the recent Broadway revival, as well as having performed it regionally at North Shore. So you're quite familiar with the story. What drew you initially to the story, and what do you think keeps you coming back?
Initially, I remember preparing for it back for the regional show, and that scene in the hat shop. I remember thinking, "This woman! She's so fun, and she's not your typical ingenue. She's definitely got a little more life experience to her, and as a woman in the late 1800s, she is a bit more in charge than you would think. I just think she's so much fun. I actually celebrated my 600th performance two weeks ago, which is crazy. That includes on broadway, but I've done far more-almost 400 as Irene-on tour. It's really pretty wild because I still, even playing a role this many times, I just love her. I still find new things which I didn't know was possible. This is the longest run I've ever done. She's in control of her own fate in a way, which I just love.
You originated the role for the first national tour, and now you are now in year 2 of the tour! What has been the biggest highlight as well as the biggest thing to adapt to on tour?
I think it's been very different than doing this show in New York. We get to take it to all these different cities and states across our country. We meet all sorts of different people and age ranges, and we get to introduce people to this show that have never seen it before. There was even someone last week in Cincinnati who said it was the first show that they had ever seen, period. That doesn't happen as often in New York City, so that's been one of the highlights; just getting to introduce this classic piece of theatre to the masses.
There certainly was an adjustment between year 1 and year 2. I think I'm the only principal who stayed and has been here from the beginning. It was an adjustment because it is a slightly different show, but then ultimately, once I realized this is who Irene is now, it's a great thing because the show is still fresh. You're not seeing a stale production that's been going for three years. You're seeing a fresh new show.
In addition to wowing live audiences nightly, you also have your own podcast, "A Balancing Act." Can you talk a little bit about how and why you got that started, and if it has helped at all in furthering and inspiring your craft?
It was definitely a selfish venture to start because I was having these conversations with people I look up to, and I realized, "Oh my gosh. They feel the same way I do, and I'm sure there are people who are not as far along as I am in my career who feel the same way." We all feel the same way, but we don't really talk about it, so I felt this huge call to make these conversations available to everyone so that we could all realize that we all feel the same. Every single one of us, when a show ends, we're like, "When am I going to work again?" Whether you are Rebecca Luker, or it's your first equity contract. I think there's so much peace in that knowing. It became this thing where I wanted to do this service for people. It started out as that, and then I quickly realized over the last three years that it's helped me so much in my journey too. It's awesome when I get emails, Instagram messages, and I meet people at the stage door who are like, "I listen to your podcast!" It's amazing. Even if nobody listened to it, I would still be glad that I did it.
If you could have any of the characters that you have played, including Irene, on "A Balancing Act," who would you most want to have? And what do you think you'd end up discussing?
That's such an interesting question! Well, the first place that my head went was Anna from the "King and I." She was such a pioneer in her time. Now, you think, "Of course you're going to stand up to a man and demand equality!" But for her to do that back then was a whole different story. So, I think I'd want to talk with her about her fearlessness or at least how she moved forward with the fear.
After listening to your podcast, something you are very open about is keeping your mental health and your training in check, especially while touring. Can you talk a little bit about how you go about that? Have you felt this makes a difference in your tour life?
Yeah! I think it's important for me to check in with myself every day and be ruthlessly onto myself as far as how I'm doing and how I'm showing up in the world. It's really easy on tour, and anywhere in life, to just go through the motions. Maybe see the city a little bit wherever you are, and then you eat good food, then you go to the theater, and rinse and repeat. It's easy to take for granted the gift of the show and the job that we have.
Of course, there are those days where I don't want to do that seventh or eighth show the week, and I don't want to travel to the next city and pack my suitcase again. But the moment I start to live in that place, it's imperative that I check-in and ground myself. That I find something else creative to fuel me if I'm not feeling that with the show in that particular week. That I check in with how I'm showing up in all those mundane, day-to-day activities. Whether that's through a journaling practice, making time to meditate, or skyping with my therapist. I don't want to act like I'm one of those people where every single day I'm like, "This is my life, and I'm so super zen!" No, but I'll wake up after behaving the other way that I described first for a couple of weeks, and I think, "Ew, I'm complaining, and I'm grouchy." Then I have to recommit to one of those practices.
What excites you most about playing Irene every night?
You know what it is? I say this all the time, but when you do a comedy, you have your scene partner onstage, but the audience is the third scene partner. It doesn't get old because it's truly different every night because the audience is different every single night. I look forward to going out there and seeing what it's going to become. If I say something funny to Cornelius, and the audience reacts a certain way, he then reacts a certain way. He takes a beat, or he doesn't take a beat. Then I'm forced to be slightly different in my response, whether it's timing or energy levels, something. It's really a fun game of passing the ball between us on stage and that's really fun.
Do you notice similarities between Irene and previous roles that you've played, such as Anna in King and I, Rosalie Mullins in School of Rock, etc? Differences that may be fun to step into?
I honestly think it's her awareness of her sexuality and getting to play with that. I, obviously, didn't get to play with that for the majority of my other characters. This is what I meant when I said she's had more life experience. She's aware of her feminine wiles, and she gets to use that for fun, so that's different!
In the show, Dolly is a jack of all trades and is constantly handing out business cards with a variety of fortes on them. If you were to offer lessons in something that wasn't theatre-related, what would it be?
It would say, "Let me help you get out of your own way," or maybe "Mover and Shaker: Let's make your dreams happen and get our of your own way." I think I do have a gift in that. I can see, watch, and listen to people talk about their own lives, and I think, "Oh, those are all the stories you're telling, but none of them are actually true. You think they are, but as soon as you shed those stories, your life would open up in a way you couldn't imagine." I think that's kind of a life coach, which is this secret desire I'm constantly thinking about doing, so maybe it'll happen.
I think that's kind of what your podcast is!
It is, it is! That's why it does interest me to do more one-on-one stuff, so maybe one day, the opportunity will present itself.
And finally, if there is one thing you hope audiences take away from the show, what would that be?
That would be my favorite message from the show, which is: have an adventure, not let the parade pass you by. Go out there, get messy, and see what happens.
Don't let the parade pass you by before you get a chance to see "Hello, Dolly!" at the Aronoff Center, running now through Dec. 15. For tickets, a full tour schedule, and more information visit https://hellodollyonbroadway.com/tour.
Led by four-time Tony Award-winning director Jerry Zaks and choreographed by Tony Award winner Warren Carlyle, the entire creative team of the recent Broadway production has returned to recreate their work for the national tour of Hello, Dolly!