BWW Interview: Erica Stephan of NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT Dishes on Catching the Theater Bug and the Power of Gershwin
With Theater at the Center's premiere of the award-winning Broadway musical, NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT, only a few short weeks away, things are in full swing (quite literally) for actress Erica Stephan. This zesty, swingin' show, set in the roaring 20's and chalked full of Gershwin classics, debuts at Indiana's acclaimed theater. Before stepping into the shoes of tomboy Billie Bendix, Stephan took time for a quick Q&A:Theater at the Center audiences are in for a treat! This show had a good run in New York City but hasn't been done very frequently in the Chicagoland area. What would you say to locals who haven't heard of the show? Why is this a "must see"? Its one of those shows that's unbelievably fun to do and unbelievably fun to watch! Whether you're an audience member or an actor on the stage, you're going leave the theater smiling. The story takes place in the 1920's and its music is classic. One of the biggest appeals to this show is that people will recognize the songs, whether they realize it before they step into the theater or not. They've heard them performed by famous artists throughout the decades.
There's "Let's Call The Whole Things Off," "S' Wonderful", " Lady Be Good"! Do you have a favorite tune?Absolutely. "But not for me."
"Nice Work" premiered on Broadway in 2012, but features a score from George and Ira Gershwin. Why do you think this iconic Broadway-style music continues to thrive?Two things come to mind: The music is just timeless and the lyrics remain relatable. I think that's one of the reasons these songs are so beloved. They withstand time. In fact, a woman recently came up to me and said that she loves this show because it has her favorite song, "Someone To Watch Over Me". No matter how old you are or what you're going through, these songs can speak to you. That's when you know something works.Let's talk about Billie! You're playing a strong, spunky, rough-around-the-edges character. She's not your typical leading lady. What's your favorite part about tackling this role? So far, what I'm finding with Billie is that I like to balance the tough side of her, when she's one of the guys, with that part of her that's learning to fall in love for the first time. This feeling is new and it effects the way she acts but she manages to maintain who she is and stay true to herself. I think by the end of it, she's gone through some character development...but she still wears the pants in the relationship! Imagine you could play any other character in the show for a night. Who would you pick? Probably Cookie or Duke! I love the 'character acting' aspect of those two. They're just bro's.
You're certainly not new to the Chicagoland theater scene. You were in White Christmas at Drury Lane and The Little Mermaid at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre. Where and when did you get your start as a performer?Chicago's home! I grew up in the suburbs, seeing shows in the city. I started as a dancer, doing ballet from age four through high school. Funny enough, when I'd go to see shows, I would kind of think, "I wanna do that. I'm gonna do that someday." I knew in my head that it was something I'd love. My first musical was so typical. I tried out for Annie at school in eighth grade (and got Grace) and it was then I caught the theater bug. After high school, I left Chicago to go to the Webster Conservatory in Missouri. I was able to weave dancing and portraying a character into one and I fell in love with acting. I love the feeling I get when I step into a character's shoes. What made you return to the Windy City? Do you have any go-to spots in Chicago? I really wanted to be close to family and I love that this city has enough of a theater scene that I could work and make it my home. Check out this place called Gather in Logan Square! It's my favorite restaurant. I also love to explore the city's unique neighborhoods.
Aside from grabbing a bite at Gather, what's your typical day look like when you're not at the theater? Any crazy hobbies?I actually have a little side business called The Elf Shop! I make homemade Jewelry and gifts. I loved crafting and making gifts as a kid, so when I got older I kept up the hobby. It started on Etsy, I got involved with some Chicago markets and it's caught on! Hopefully it continues to grow. I love it.Looking back to your other passion, do you have a dream role? Oh, there are so many! Into the Woods is my all-time favorite musical so I'd love to play any female role from that. However, at this age, I'd also really love to play Cinderella. And down the road, Mother in Ragtime.Is there a performer that you look to for inspiration? Well, literally last night I was watching a video online of Jessie Mueller in Waitress. She's someone I look up to. I think she's such a talented performer...and from Chicago!Your show is pretty dance-heavy. As an experienced dancer, do you have any regiments or rituals to prepare yourself for big numbers? I do the traditional stretches before each show--that's a must. I don't have any crazy pre-show habits... but I do drink LOTS of Emergen-C! That stuff is powerful.I think anyone could benefit from that! Last, but certainly not least, any projects on the horizon?
In the future, I'd love to break into straight acting and do a play. I'd also love to work with Steppenwolf Theatre and their school. That's on my bucket list. As for right now at this very moment? I'm soaking in this fantastic show.
Watch Erica Stephan and the 's wonderful, 's marvelous cast of NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT, playing at the Theater at the Center from May 5 through June 5. Visit www.theatreatthecenter.com to learn more.Photo Credit: Pat Kremer, Big Splash PR