BWW Interview: Pounding the Pavement with Positivity: A Conversation with Lexi Rabadi
"As an actress I believe in pounding the pavement with positivity. One of my biggest things is knowing that I am a whole person with family, friends, and interests. Theatre is a passion and a life style, but it is one piece of the pie. My job is to make sure all the other pieces of the pie are just as delicious. So I keep a home for myself, surrounded by loved ones; yoga is a big thing for me in maintaining mental clarity and spiritual health, and I am a vegan because I feel that is a kinder way to eat. It may sound corny, but if you put out positive vibrations, they will come back to you."
One has only to spend a few minutes in the company of Lexi Rabadi to feel that energy and positivity! Rabadi is starring as Belle in Maine State Music Theatre's production of Disney's Beauty and the Beast, which opens this week on the Pickard Theater stage. For Rabadi, this is a nostalgic return to Maine and to MSMT. " I consider myself an outdoorsy, active sort of person, so being in Maine with hiking and water views, I feel as if I've hit the jackpot! During college, I had worked for a few summers at Quisisana Resort in Lovell. It was a gig where you worked on the resort during the day and then performed at night. And then two years ago, I spent the summer at MSMT doing Evita, Fiddler in the Roof, and Mamma Mia! So it is lovely to come back to play Belle:"
And, indeed, the Disney heroine holds a very special significance for Rabadi. "I grew up, of course, watching the movie. Then playing Belle in the Fulton production in 2016 was not only my first professional leading role contract, but it also gave me my Equity card, and, on top of all that, I met the man of my dreams and fell in love!" Rabadi is referring to Matt Farcher, who played Che Guevara in Evita at MSMT and then the Beast opposite her Belle in the Fulton production. She recounts how during the Beauty and the Beast rehearsals in Lancaster, cast mates noticed the pair were actually falling for each other. "Our relationship seemed to be mirroring the characters we were playing, and Matt was even hesitant to tell me, just as the Beast is in the show. It has been amazing! We both are now New York City based and enjoying what we do and our lives together."
In addition to the confluence of all these wonderful occurrences, Beauty and the Beast allowed Rabadi to grow her relationship with director/choreographer Marc Robin. In her MSMT summer in 2016, she worked with Robin, as well as director/choreographers Gary John La Rosa and Mark Martino. "Each gave me something different," she recalls. Gary John [for whom she played Chava in Fiddler n the Roof] worked slowly, taking lots of time with the scene work, and he had a gorgeous final vision for the show. Mark Martino directed just the way you'd imagine for Mamma Mia! He was bright, bubbly, energetic, and he had me - and I don't consider myself a dancer first- dancing my face off!"
" And then there was Marc Robin," Rabadi continues. "When I was in Evita [which Robin also directed/choreographed] I was in the ensemble, something I love because it is such a beautiful, tribal community. But I was the 'ensemblest' of all, in the back row, part of a huge cast. Just after that Marc was auditioning his Beauty and the Beast, and I sent him a self-tape made right here [she indicates MSMT's small rehearsal room], though I was afraid it would get lost among all the other applicants. Well, somehow it didn't," she says in modest amazement. Since then, Rabadi says she has been blessed to have her relationship with Robin blossom and she credits the director with teaching her so much. "Marc Robin creates this sense of family in his cast in a way no one else does. He is such a guiding force. He leads with love, and he leads with light, and he is an absolute genius. We work fast. There is no toe dipping; we all jump in at the deep end. We had this production on its feet in five days, and now we are going back to fill in and nuance with the help of co-director Curt Dale Clark."
Raised in Albany, Rabadi recalls that she was a bit of an anomaly in her family. "My two older brothers were athletes, and my parents suddenly realized they had on their hands this crazy theatre girl. They were fantastic in supporting me completely and learning along the way with me. They saw I was gifted and wanted to do this, so they would drive me to auditions and make sure I got voice and dance training and after school programs. I did lots of community theatre along the way, and that's where I gained experience and learned repertoire." Rabadi chose PACE University for her BFA in musical theatre with a minor in arts management. "I wanted to live in Manhattan, and I got a warm, fuzzy feeling the minute on walked on campus. They really nurture the individual there. There are amazing teachers, and it is never a cookie cutter approach to learning, and you get a liberal arts education as well."
Rabadi is putting that education to excellent use in this production of Beauty and the Beast, which she calls a "huge show, which so many people have worked so tirelessly to create." Asked what she thinks accounts for the enduring appeal of this "tale as old as time," she replies: " It is about falling in love, and this is a feeling everyone has either experienced or longs to experience. To watch two people fall in love first with themselves and then with each other is verysatisfying. To see my character grow on stage from an odd young woman into a confidant, beautiful one who makes no apologies for her quirks and takes ownership of her life with positivity is a remarkable thing! The Beast is transformed as well, and you watch them fall in love with flirtiness, and playfulness, and clumsiness."
That Belle is a princess ahead of her time is something that also fascinates Rabadi. "No matter what she looked like, she would still be the most beautiful person in the village because of her outlook on life and the way she treats others. She doesn't let anyone get in her way, not a misogynous dope like Gaston or even an intimidating beast. She is smart; she has overcome a great deal."
Rabadi explains how she sees the arc of Belle's development. "The first turning point is her father's telling her to love herself and be who she is, despite the fact that the whole town is whispering behind her back. Then when she stands up to the Beast and says 'Take me instead of my father,' this is a milestone for her in bravery, and she also teaches the Beast something because he has never seen anyone do a thing like that. Then, I think, reading the book with the Beast is the beginning of their falling in love. She gets to do what she loves most and share it with someone else who is actually interested; she sees how endearing he can be when he begins blushing." And from there, it all blossoms.
Rabadi is reprising her role in Marc Robin's vision of the show, but she says MSMT's production will share similar choreography and sentiments, but also highlight a number of new nuances. "Playing opposite a different Beast colors my performance," she notes. "Darick [Pead] is wonderful to play with. Marc sets the Beast up to be such a child. He is halted in his development at sixteen, and is a spoiled young boy who isn't learning any of life's lessons. Darick took to that concept right away, though he plays it as a very different kind of child. We have great on stage chemistry."
When Beauty and the Beast played at the Fulton in the 2016-2017 holiday season, it sold out and received warm acclaim. I ask Lexi Rabadi what she hopes for from the Maine audiences. Her eyes sparkle as she recalls the Maine summer of 2016. "I love the audiences here. They embrace a show. I remember in Mamma Mia! feeling the closest to being a rock star that I have ever gotten to feel."
"It may sound like a cliché, but what better show than this one to experience the magic of live theatre? There will be so many children for whom it is the first time and so many older people re-experiencing it, and that makes every show special for us. When the performance is live, there is a shared energy between audience and actors that creates that undeniable magic."
Photos courtesy of MSMT and the Fulton Theatre
Beauty and the Beast plays at MSMT's Pickard Theater, 1 Bath Rd., Brunswick, ME, from June 27 - July 14, 2018. www.msmt.org or 207-725-8769