BWW Interview: ISA BRIONES Opens Up About NEXT TO NORMAL

ISA BRIONES was born Isabella Camille Briones in London, England. Her parents, Jon Jon Briones and Megan Johnson Briones are both actors and singers, and her younger brother, Teo Briones is also an actor. She began modeling in New York at the age of 3, and started acting when her family moved to Los Angeles in 2006. She is best known for her role in the film Takers, playing Matt Dillon's daughter. Isa is entering her senior year of high school, and is excited to be making her professional theater debut in this production of Next to Normal. School theater credits include: Velma in Hairspray, Brooke in Legally Blonde and Abigail in The Crucible. TV and film: "Takers," "Cutthroat", "Lonely Boy".

Isa is currently playing the role of 'Natalie' in Next To Normal, a contemporary rock musical with book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey and music by Tom Kitt, featuring a live five-piece band. Next to Normal explores how one suburban household is torn apart by mental illness and fights to stay together. Next to Normal, a guest production at The Pico Playhouse, runs August 19 - September 25, and is produced by Triage Productions and SRO Productions.

You were born into a musical theater family and grew up surrounded by performers, what was that life like as small child?

Being brought up in that world of performers was truly an amazing experience. It was definitely not your usual childhood but that's what made it so great. My fondest memories are trick-or-treating backstage during Miss Saigon around the dressing rooms and birthdays surrounded by the cast and all the amazing countries I was fortunate enough to visit. I was immersed in this world of people pursuing their dreams and that really inspired me to do the same.

Did you happen to travel with your parents when they were on the road doing a show? If so, was there a country, city or town you liked exploring or have pleasant memories of that you would visit again, and why?

I was born in London when my dad was closing the original West End production of Miss Saigon and I was there for all of the Saigon tours my parents did after my birth: Asian, US, and UK. One place that I would love to visit soon is the Philippines. Almost all of my family on my dad's side lives there and I haven't seen them in over ten years. I was so young the last time I visited so my memories are just short flashes here and there of the beautiful beaches and playing with my cousins.

When did you first consider becoming a performer?

I think performing has pretty much always been a part of me. I remember performing one-man reenactments of Miss Saigon for my grandmother on her fireplace or dancing to Gwen Stefani in our hotel in the Philippines. However, I didn't start professionally acting until we settled down in LA when I was eight and I pursued film and TV. But I think I decided to really commit to pursuing musical theater two summers ago when my dad was living in London doing the West End revival of Miss Saigon. I got to see so much fantastic theater and I had such an emotional response to watching the shows, not because they told emotional stories but because I couldn't help but think of what it would be like if I was up there on stage. That made me realize how urgent my need to perform was.

Was or is there a teacher or coach, or someone who encouraged you along the way whom you might call a mentor.

It's cheesy but my parents have been my coaches my whole life. I only recently started taking voice lessons with a teacher, before that it was always my mom. Everything I know about singing, acting, and life is because of her. She's a truly amazing woman because she puts our family first and works so hard to make sure we have every opportunity possible and on top of that, she's unbelievably talented. And my Dad is such an inspiration too because he came from a very poor area in Manila, Philippines. The fact that he was even able to get out of that situation at all is impressive, but to know he achieved that solely on his talent is a huge inspiration. He has worked so hard for so long to get to where he is now, making his Broadway debut at 50. They are both such hardworking, dedicated people that inspire me every single day.

Tell us a bit about your character, Natalie. What you do you feel the character is there to communicate through song and text to the audience?

Natalie is a teenage girl whose entire life has revolved around her mother. It has made her feel "invisible", as the song says. Her mother's inability to let go of her son leaves Natalie feeling unloved, motivating her to throw herself into anything that will distract from her pain. Most of what you hear come out of Natalie's mouth is snarky comments calling everyone out but as you see later in the show, deep down, she's just a girl who needs her parents; she needs her mom. That basic, universal need for love and family is what makes Natalie such a relatable character.

Is there anything you'd like us to know about your experience with NEXT TO NORMAL, whether it is the musical itself or the creative process, and/or people involved?

The thing that is so great about the show is how real it is. The story doesn't end with some sugar coated happy ending because that's just not how life goes. It so perfectly follows every character's journey from chaos to a very realistic, bittersweet resolution. And even though the play is specifically centered on mental illness it's a story about family, which makes it so relatable to any audience. We've got such a great cast and a fantastic director, Thomas James O'Leary. That has made this experience so great.

Do have a favorite musical or play that you'd like to be in?

Well, my old answer to this question used to be Next to Normal! I guess I have to find a new answer. Shows I would love to do one day are definitely In the Heights and Spring Awakening, with Nina and Wendla, respectively, as my top dream roles.

Next to Normal, garnered three 2009 Tony Awards, and the 2010 Pulitzer Prize. August 19 - September 25, 2016. Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, Saturdays and Sundays at 2 pm. Tickets: $32 - 36.99.

For tickets: http://n2nmusicalla.brownpapertickets.com
Information: www.n2nmusicalla.com or 310-204-4440
The Pico Playhouse, 10508 West Pico Blvd., Los Angeles

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