BWW Interview: Actress/singer Rebecca Spencer Talks CATCH ME IF YOU CAN
Actress/singer par excellence Rebecca Spencer has delighted audiences on Broadway in Jekyll & Hyde and played Madame Giry in Phantom in Las Vegas. Since 2014 when she moved to Los Angeles, she has performed her exquisite cabaret and done at least 3 shows for Musical Theatre West (MTW) in Long Beach: The Music Man, S'Wonderful, and Mary Poppins. She will open March 30th in their new production of Catch Me If You Can. Spencer took time out of a busy rehearsal schedule to talk about her role in the show and about her illustrious theatrical career thus far.
You'll be starting performances of Catch Me If You Can at MTW March 29. Larry Raben is directing. Have you ever worked with him before?
RS: No, but I've enjoyed his work. I've always wanted to work with Larry. When I was in Las Vegas, he was in The Producers. I got to see his work. He's wonderful. I've only auditioned for him one other time besides this out here. I had the audition for Catch Me If You Can with Doug Carfrae. I met Doug when I did the Las Vegas Phantom. We became quick friends but at that time I was still living in New York. I had no idea I would be moving out here. Anyway, reuniting with Doug was great, and we've never been cast together. We'll be playing husband and wife. It's such fun.
The fact that you already know Doug will give you an extra edge, good chemistry together and make it that much more interesting to watch.
RS: Yes. As far as the show is concerned, Larry I'm sure will have his different take. The show had mixed reviews on Broadway.
It's a wonderful show. I've seen it a couple of times.
RS: I never saw it. When I moved out here, I started teaching at AMDA (American Musical Dramatic Academy) College and Conservatory of the Performing Arts. There was a very talented student who chose this as his dream role and we had to explore the show, but mostly his role, the lead role.of Frank Abagnale ...
I know I'm getting off the beaten track, but moving out to LA, I didn't really know anybody...I came out here because my husband Jim D,Asaro got the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts director production position...amazing, the first thing I saw in the paper was MTW had this giant picture of Davis Gaines doing Man of La Mancha. I had heard that Musical Theatre West was one of these very good places to work. I hadn't seen Davis for years. We had done Showboat together when we were younger. He introduced me to Mary Ritenhour a production manager for them, and my agent got me my first audition for MTW for Music Man, reading Eulele Shinn. I got the part. It was a terrific company, Davis was doing the lead and I had a lot of fun.
I put myself into AMDA at the time as a regular teacher and when I walked into the faculty room the first day it was like a Broadway show cast ... people with whom I had done summer stock, early cabaret in the 80s and early 90s...we all moved up the ladder developing our passions. I was so enamored that I had walked into a community of teachers, directors, choreographers...and we cared about the kids. It was so wonderful to work with the students and ... I was put in front of music every day. My favorites are the American Songbook and vaudeville all the way up to the 60s, my favorite era...and I taught Drew Mizell with the Catch Me material, that I mentioned earlier. Fast forward four years and I'm in Mary Poppins at MTW playing two little character parts, and there's Drew. I was performing with AMDA graduates. All I can say is, you better do what you teach. (she laughs)
Rebecca Spencer left in MTW's S'Wonderful 2014
Are you still at AMDA?
RS: No. It was by choice due to prioritizing my career focus and energy, I am currently not an active faculty member as I was from 2014-16, but remain on their substitute list. I had a lovely experience there. I teach from home now, as a vocal coach and preparing young artists to build their audition material book. I also love classical singers, recitals and cabaret. It's important that all young artists understand what their essence is.
Let's get back to Catch me If You Can at MTW. Describe the role you're playing.
RS: I am cast in the role of Carol Strong, with Doug (Carfrae) playing my husband. We are the parents of Brenda Strong. Frank Abagnale is in love with her. We do a step into time with a Mitch Miller singalong pastiche. It's a bit of a production number. She's from New Orleans. It's the 60s. There was an innocence in the 60s, that this guy could get away with writing fraudulent checks and becoming a conman. My character doesn't know that the FBI has found him until after he admits it. He's been posing as a minister of the Lutheran faith and a doctor and a lawyer. The mother is very impressed.
Do you have a certain philosophy about preparing for a role?
RS: I think what is so interesting when you're building a supporting role, and it's a little gem of a moment...it's like why does it happen? In this kind of show, there's obviously a time evolution, whether there are ... flashbacks or flashforwards, this was the 60s, and you're influenced by what it was like in the south as opposed to anywhere else. How did women serve in that time? Some of the social graces. Sometimes the essence of people has never changed, a strong woman is a strong woman, but...how outspoken can you be? You try to make the character interesting, and just as I do with my recordings, you've got to get to the truth. It embraces the fact that Frank was after a family; he came from a broken family, so he's after a stronger family or he's attracted to a family tree that he's always wanted. There's an evolution for his journey and my character impacts the storyline.
A lead role is of course decidedly different in scope.
RS: When you have a lead role, and I've done numerous leads in my lifetime....it's almost easier to have a bigger part because you get a longer time for your pivotal moments and your journeys and you have a bigger interaction with the other characters in the company and what information and discoveries you get in those exchanges last throughout the scene...but,, when you're doing a supporting role, you have to know why that is happening, that's for the audience, as they're following that character. I like to offer as many layers as I can, not to elongate the scene, but it's my job to layer it. You don't have a lot of time. In a way, it's kind of like television.
You have to jump right in. Let's look back at your illustrious career onstage on Broadway. What was your favorite role?
RS: I started in theatre at Ithaca College, thinking I would do a little writing for broadcast journalism, and then they found out I could sing. I ended up a music major and I graduated from Ithaca with a classical degree. I started auditioning and did Jekyll & Hyde. I have a long history with Jekyll & Hyde. Versatility was how I was brought up. I think that's what's helped me survive transitioning as an actress. I created a role in Jekyll & Hyde and 7 years later when it came to New York, I was the swing. At the same time that was happening in New York, I had just come off the workshop of Ragtime I did the very first cast album of Ragtime. I turned down the role in Ragtime in Toronto, which ultimately would have been my Broadway debut. Instead I did Jekyll & Hyde on Broadway because I wanted to see something come full circle.
And you stayed with Jekyll & Hyde?
RS: Six months into it as the swing, I was going to leave ... but I was thrown on to do Emma, the role I created. This time it was with a duet "In His Eyes" with Linda Eder. I was given a week and a half notice. Christiane Noll was doing a recording and needed to get out. It was kind of beautiful that I did get to step in for the role I created. The night I went on, Frank Wildhorn was conducting. They were still in rehearsals for The Scarlet Pimpernel down the street. They all came in for the second act when I did the big Lucy/ Emma duet with Linda. To sing against a powerhouse like Linda, I didn't have to hold back at all. At the end of my journey with Jekyll & Hyde as a swing, I had learned about directing, which is what I wanted to do because it makes you a better actor. I moved up to understudy. Then I assumed the roles and got billing out front. I hung up the ingenue dress and became a character woman.
Do you have an example that stands out in your mind of really connecting to your audience?
RS: The great thing was that when I was doing Jekyll & Hyde a stock group from my high school in Pennsylvania Neshaminy High School came up. It was a night to raise money for Equity Fights Aids, so a couple of castmates and I came out and talked to my old high school. The kids were whole generations later, but they all had that dream. We could relate because we had that in common. Someone in that audience had the same dream I once had.
For tix and info for Catch Me If You Can at MTW, go to: