BWW Interview: Rose Hemingway of KINKY BOOTS at Music Hall At Fair Park
Name: Rose Hemingway
Hometown: "I grew up in Philadelphia, but I moved to New York right after college. I've been there twelve years now...oh my gosh!"
Current Role: Lauren in the national tour of Kinky Boots
Kyle Christopher West: Thanks so much for chatting with me today. I'd love to start off by hearing about how you first got the itch to perform?
Rose Hemingway: That's an interesting question. I was raised in a family of 9 kids, and I'm the only one of us in show business at all. I think a lot of it stems from trying to grab attention when I was a kid [laughs]. [Also,] there was always something really magical about New York. My dad worked in Manhattan my whole life. When he was alive, he worked in advertising: he worked for Good Housekeeping magazine in brand development, so he would travel to Manhattan from Philly every day. He would come home and talk about it like it was this otherworldly kind of place. I remember as a kid just thinking, "I need to get there." He would take us occasionally to see a show at Radio City, or for Bring Your Daughter to Work Day...things like that.
Kyle: Jumping ahead quite a bit, but before you kissed Daniel Radcliffe, Nick Jonas, or Darren Criss nightly in HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING, tell me about performing opposite your husband (then, fiancé) in the tour of MAMMA MIA.
Rose: That was incredible! I still say MAMMA MIA was one of the best years of my life. It was my first big gig: I had been bartending for a few years before, so it was a big shift in my lifestyle. Geoff [my husband] was already out on the road. He got bumped up to play Sky at the same time I was cast as Sophie, so they flew him out so he could rehearse with us for a month. I definitely had a crush pretty quickly. He kind of took me under his wing when I went out on the road, and sort of shepherded me into the tour, as a friend. We pretty quickly fell for each other, and it was just a magical year. He doesn't act any longer but, to this day, I think he's one of the best actors I've ever worked with.
Kyle: By chance, I happened to be seated next to Geoff at Dallas Theater Center on opening night of MOONSHINE: THAT HEEHAW MUSICAL. He was so excited during the show, at intermission, he turned and said, "I'm so sorry. That's my wife up there." He also shared some great stories about your HOW TO SUCCEED experience from his point-of-view. What are some of your favorite memories from that journey?
Rose: You know...it was just incredible. I don't want to say it was "once in a lifetime," because I hope it's not, but it was very unique. I met [Director] Rob Ashford doing PARADE in L.A. right after MAMMA MIA. From there, he called me in for the reading, and I clicked so quickly with Dan [Radcliffe]. Pretty soon after the reading, I found out I was [cast for the Broadway production] and, a year later, we started rehearsals for Broadway. It felt like I went from zero to 60. I didn't expect that I would be catapulted to playing the leading lady opposite a movie star. Any sort of event Dan was invited to, he would ask if he could bring me; I was at the MET Ball and movie premieres. We're still great friends to this day. It was a whirlwind. I learned so much. I definitely wouldn't trade it for anything. It was equal parts terrifying and wonderful.
I had done the show in high school, like pretty much everybody does. I was in the ensemble and I covered a pirate dancer [laughs]. It was for the local boys' high school. I went an all-girls school, and they were sort of our brother school. I was a freshman, and I really remember looking up to the girl who played Rosemary: she was unbelievable!
I've always loved the show; I was really excited when it came around. All of the boys [Daniel Radcliffe, Nick Jonas and Darren Criss] were all really fantastic in their own way, but Dan and I went through it together. He taught me a lot, and he's one of the hardest working people I've ever known. He was such a great leader in that company for the cast and crew. It was definitely a positive place to go to work everyday!
Kyle: Moving forward to Kinky Boots, how did you become involved in the tour?
Rose: Actually [laughs], when they were first casting it, I was seen. I remember, [and] I think I wasn't the only one, but I'm pretty sure I sang "History of Wrong Guys" as a ballad. There was nothing in it that indicated it was comedic! Well, ballad is a little too strong, but I definitely sang it from a more earnest point-of-view, as ingénues do. I obviously didn't get it [laughs]. When they were replacing Annaleigh [Ashford], they brought me in for that audition and I remember I totally bombed! I had worked so hard on the song and, as soon as they started playing the accompaniment, I just couldn't find it. I remember leaving, and I was just laughing because it was beyond embarrassing. But, they called me back in - and I didn't end up getting it that time. Since then, I've been in a few times. Last summer, they called me in for the Broadway company and, in the end, they decided to go "in a different direction." I decided that Kinky Boots wasn't going to be my thing but, a month or two after that audition, they called my agent and asked if I'd be willing to do the tour. It's definitely a role that I wanted to tackle.
Kyle: Although you joined the production as a replacement, it seems each actress has put a slightly different spin on your character, Lauren. What can you tell me about your approach to the role?
Rose: You know, it's a different skill set to recreate a role verses creating a role. It's a challenge when you're taking what someone else did and finding it in your body, and your own voice and how you tell the story. They definitely gave me some freedom, for sure, but there are some things that are "set" that the audience wants to see, and we give them that. Because Annaleigh Ashford brought such a genuine quirk to it, I needed to make sure that was honest to me, and that [the character] was real.
Kyle: I imagine Kinky Boots has had a particularly strong reaction from the audience since the shift in our climate through the inauguration and everything that's been going on these past few months. Since you joined the show in December, have you felt any change in the response the show has received?
Rose: I actually started [the tour] in Canada, which is interesting because I think Canadians are sort of watching us [as Americans] with their jaws dropped. I know I feel very proud to be bringing this show to the other parts of the country that aren't the liberal, elite, "New York bubble." We get incredible responses; they're always on their feet in the end. People you'd think of as the most cliché conservatives, who are there dragged by their wives, are the first on their feet. I think the show is beautiful in that it gives people across the board characters that they can relate to. To me - and I don't know if I'm biased because I'm now in the show - but it feels more important now. I feel like it's an urgent message...instead of shutting people down who might think differently, the whole message of our show is about being open to those who are different than you, and accepting people for who they are. There are still nights when I tear up about it. There's just a line: "Accept someone for who they are" and the audience will go wild at that. I think the show is definitely uplifting, and it promotes acceptance and love.
Kyle: I can't hang up without asking you more about your time in Dallas. Your energy onstage in MOONSHINE was absolutely infectious. How was your experience in helping to create that production?
Rose: Thank you! Creating Misty Mae in Moonshine is probably my favorite thing I've ever done. The creative team involved is just really great people. I've never been in a show with that kind of laughter coming from the audience every night, consistently. There's nothing like it, to be able to know that you're bringing people that kind of joy and belly-aching laughter. Every 30-seconds there was a laugh line, and it was so special. It taught me so much about comedy and comedic timing. I do not think I'd be playing Lauren today if I hadn't played Misty Mae; it allowed me to stretch those comedic muscles that I wasn't brave enough to before that. All involved feel that it's something special and hope there's another life to it. Something's still happening, but we don't know what that is, or when. There's something about Misty Mae...she's hard to let go of!
Kyle: Is there anything in particular about coming back to town that you're looking forward to?
Rose: Oh, Velvet Taco! I've literally been talking about it for weeks. The cast is also part of The Ghostlight Project: the theatre community held up a light to pledge to be a beacon to those that are marginalized, and to do our part. One of the things we pledged moving forward was to do benefit concerts to raise money for LGBT Youth, or to help ex-cons when they get out of prison [or other charities]. We're actually holding a concert at Round-Up our second Wednesday in Dallas. I'm really excited about that!
Kyle: Thanks so much for your time today, you've been so easy to talk to!
Rose: Thank you!
KINKY BOOTS arrives at Musical Hall at Fair Park on March 28th and performs through April 9th, 2017. For tickets and more information, visit www.DallasSummerMusicals.com. After Dallas, the tour visits several venues in Florida. Additional details can be found at www.kinkybootsthemusical.com.