GYPSY OF THE MONTH: Sarah Jane Everman of 'The Apple Tree'
Sarah Jane Everman has played Glinda in Wicked and is currently understudying the roles of Eve, Princess Barbára and Passionella in The Apple Tree, but she really isn't trying to copy Kristin Chenoweth. She can sort of gauge her career by Chenoweth, though. Everman was just graduating college when Wicked was starting its pre-Broadway run in San Francisco. A little more than three years later, Everman had already graduated from Wicked and was understudying Chenoweth in another Broadway show.
"I feel like I couldn't have even dreamed this for myself," says Everman. "Moving to New York, my goal was to make a decent living as an actor. I didn't care what it was, whether it was regionally or Broadway or not, so this is beyond what I imagined. I mean, I'm understudying Kristin Chenoweth. You go and you sit and watch them in shows—I saw her when they first opened in Wicked. I never would have thought that I would understudy her someday."
Whether she ever is actually deployed in Chenoweth's Apple Tree roles remains to be seen. With Chenoweth's rave reviews outstripping those for the show in general, producers may be reluctant to give ticket buyers an Apple Tree sans Kristin. Two performances in mid-January were canceled when Chenoweth needed time off for her Metropolitan Opera engagement. "I think it's the best worst job on Broadway," Everman says. "It's an honor and it's amazing; at the same time, it's scary to understudy someone like that, when everyone comes to the theater anxious to see her."
Everman is on stage every night in a variety of roles in Parts 2 and 3 of The Apple Tree, including a short solo dance as the Prisoner's Bride in "The Lady or the Tiger." She came to the show straight from the Broadway cast of Wicked, where she was in the ensemble and understudied Kate Reinders as Glinda. She had done the same while in the Chicago company of Wicked for ten months in 2005-06. Then, she did get to cover the lead role—for several weeks, in fact, after Reinders injured her foot three or four months into the run. Everman had rehearsed the role and was prepared, unlike in previews when Reinders was out sick once and she had to go on before she'd fully learned the role. "We had yet to rehearse at all. So they pulled me into a studio and gave me about two or three hours of blocking rehearsal." Everman says she can barely remember that performance: "I think I was on autopilot. It was very much about 'I need to be here, and I need to say this line.'"
Inspired by compliments she had received wearing a brunette wig for the Wicked ensemble, Everman last fall dyed her naturally golden hair brown. (It was also a reaction to "a horrible breakup," she admits.) De-blonded, she says, "People view me as sassier and treat me like I'm a little older. They expect me to have this fire in me because I have this dark hair now."
But another, less-cosmetic change has started to take her career in new directions. When she was cast in the Chicago company of Wicked, it was the first time she got a job without a dance audition. "It was a big feat: They hired me and they didn't even see me dance." The same thing happened with her next job, playing Gloria, Patrick's snooty fiancée in the Kennedy Center's Mame. "I got hired through singing and acting. This transition is a big deal to me. Dancing was my 'in' for this business. It got me on Broadway.
"Dancing will always be my passion," she continues, "but, you know, I want the spotlight and the microphone. I want to be playing roles. Regionally, that's fine. I would just love to feel that—to build a character and have permission to use my creative juices outside of an ensemble."
She's had the chance to do that in The Apple Tree understudy rehearsals, especially with Ella, the chimney sweep who becomes Passionella the glamorous star. "It's a very extreme character," Everman says, "so that's fun trying to find your own Ella and what your nerdy, sort-of-unfortunate soul is."
As for Passionella, Everman already had some experience enchanting an audience while clad in an evening gown—from her days participating in Junior Miss pageants. She won the national title in 1999 right before she started attending the University of Cincinnati's College-Conservatory of Music (CCM), and the prize money—which included $5,000 from the Creative & Performing Arts competition—paid for most of her college education.
What she remembers most fondly from her reign as America's Junior Miss are attending events with sports stars like Brett Favre and making charity appearances at the Mulherin Home for developmentally disabled adults in Mobile, Ala., where she would visit with the residents and sing for them.
For the talent portion of the Junior Miss pageant that she won, Everman sang "Don't Rain on My Parade"—a song she'd probably never use to audition. "Picking some obscure, really cool musical theater song is probably not going to do best in the pageant world," she explains. "As far as judges and the audience, they're pleased by those old favorites and big showstoppers. I knew that in the musical theater world that'd be kind of a faux-pas."
She obviously has steered clear of too many missteps in the musical theater world, as she's been employed almost continuously since early 2004, when she did a reading of Best Foot Forward at the York off-Broadway—her first theater job in New York. That was followed by a small role as a college student in a Michael Jackson-inspired Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episode and, not long after, her Broadway debut in Wonderful Town. She joined the revival as a replacement in the ensemble for about four months, then left to do the world premiere of Princesses (a pop update of the children's story A Little Princess) at Goodspeed Musicals in Connecticut.
She returned to Goodspeed in the spring of 2005 in the featured role of Alice in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. She's also been in two Encores! productions, Bye Bye Birdie and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and took part in Roundabout's reading last year of 110 in the Shade with Audra McDonald, who will star in the Broadway production later this season (Everman will not be in it).
In Mame last summer at the Kennedy Center, Everman performed alongside Christine Baranski in the title role and Harriet Harris as Vera Charles. "They're amazing people to learn from, as actors and as human beings," Everman says. "I find them both fearless, and that's so hard to do for some of us. It was cool to watch them do that—this works and this doesn't—and realize that it's okay to fall sometimes because what you're going to end up with is something absolutely phenomenal. And they were both gracious through the entire thing."
Still, her career highlight was yet to come: In September, on her 26th birthday, she played Glinda on Broadway. She never expected to actually play the role on Broadway, since both Reinders and her standby had to be out. "So getting to go on was a big thing as it was," says Everman, "and that it happened on my birthday was huge."
Though Everman has been working regularly and has had speaking parts, she is still unnerved by her profession's potential instability. "That's what I love and hate about this business," she says. "You always have a new project to move on to, so that's fun to keep it fresh and have a new challenge, but at the same time that instability is so scary." Since The Apple Tree has a limited run, soon after its December opening, "the buzz [was] already starting to go around the company: In March we're not going to have jobs," she says. "Sometimes it makes you want to go be an accountant. If there's anything else that you remotely like doing and think you can do, then do that."
She may still be shaken by her first few months in New York, when she had to work at the Clinique counter in Macy's to get by. "Which was dreadful—not because of the people, but because I'm not a salesperson," she says. "I wasn't naïve enough to think I was going to come here and be on Broadway in a month. I knew that. At the same time, hearing 'no' three or four times a week is hard. It was pretty bruising. I was working two jobs actually—at Clinique and at this children's [clothing] showroom. It was not what I wanted to be doing. So I was pretty sad."
Before Everman moved to NYC, the Georgia native had visited a few times on high school trips. She attended the performing arts division of a public high school, and they came to New York once a year to take classes and see shows. She saw her first Broadway show, Beauty and the Beast (which she has since auditioned for), on one of those trips, as well as Sunset Boulevard, Les Misérables and Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk. But, she apologetically admits, "I remember—this is awful—sleeping through some of them. The days were so packed, going from 8 o'clock in the morning to 11 o'clock at night. By the time you put me in a chair I was gone."
Everman, who started taking dance classes when she was about 5 ("I think I've always been a little ham"), commuted an hour every morning and afternoon from her home in Marietta to her high school in another Atlanta suburb. But she was grateful for the opportunity, as evidenced by her response to a question she was asked on stage during the Junior Miss pageant. "The question was something about the youth today—our generation. What is the benefit of being a teenager in today's age? And I mentioned magnet schools, the specialized schools where we can start early," she says.
She wasn't focused exclusively on performing in high school. She took AP courses and belonged to the National Honor Society, the math team and a community-service organization called the Beta Club. "I always say that I kind of got dumber when I went to college because I just didn't have as much of an academic life."
She performed at Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera for two summers during college and in two shows at St. Louis Muny between graduation and her move to New York. Her five shows at Pittsburgh CLO included Guys and Dolls—where she had "my first real feature in a regional theater," as the Havana dancer (Robert Cuccioli was Sky Masterson)—and Bells Are Ringing, where she first worked with choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler. She was thrilled to reunite with him for The Apple Tree.
"Andy is a perfectionist, as am I. I admire that so much, because every once in a while you run into some choreographers that kind of say: 'Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, just do that…Okay, yeah, that's fine.' Andy takes so much pride in every little detail and he's very specific," she says. "We always joke about him being angsty, and I love that about him because it means he's passionate, he wants it to be so good."
On March 12, the day after The Apple Tree closes, Everman is scheduled to perform in the "At This Performance" concert, showcasing Broadway understudies. She will sing "Gorgeous" from Tree and another song of her own choosing that's not from the show. The concert, produced by Musicals Tonight!, will be held at the McGinn-Cazale Theatre uptown. She's unsure of her next gig after that, but does have some plans for her offstage life. She wants to get a dog to join cats Wilbur and Hunter in her home and hopes to find time to resume volunteer work for Mulherin or the ASPCA.
Photos of Sarah Jane, from top: in The Apple Tree, between Brian D'Arcy James (left) and Kristin Chenoweth (right); outside Studio 54, where The Apple Tree is playing; with her Princesses castmates (behind her from left, Marissa Perry, Lindsey Mary Faber and Melissa Menezes); as Wicked's Glinda; with her mother after her first-ever dance recital. [Apple Tree photo by Joan Marcus]