BWW Interview: BULLETS OVER BROADWAY's Emma Stratton
BULLETS OVER BROADWAY opens it's Midwest premiere on the Ordway stage in Saint Paul on April 12 for a run through April 17. Emma Stratton plays Helen Sinclair in this 1920s-themed show adapted from the Woody Allen movie of the same name. She took time to let us get to know more about her in this 6 Questions & a Plug:
Let's start with the plot of BULLETS OVER BROADWAY -- from your character's perspective! What happens to and around Helen Sinclair?
A lot! Helen is an aging Broadway veteran (some would say "diva") who has been in nothing but flops for the past few years, so this show is her ticket to jump starting her career again. She is an independent woman who knows what she wants, and will do anything to get it; and if that means manipulating, seducing, throwing a tantrum, or anything in between, she'll do it. (If it isn't clear already... she is so much fun to play every night.)
Since this is a Midwest premiere, and most area theatre-goers probably did not see it on Broadway, can you describe the show's aesthetic and tell more about what people can expect from the production from dancing to costumes?
Our show takes place in 1929 New York City... we open the show with this fast-paced speakeasy dance number with our chorus girls (the Atta Girls), and from there it's non-stop! Aesthetically, there are a lot of contrasts in the show - the dark classic pin-striped suits that all of the gangsters wear next to the bright flapper/chorus girl costumes gives you a real sense that the audience is truly transported to 1929. Our costume designer William Ivey Long (Hairspray, Young Frankenstein, Cinderella, etc.) is an absolute genius (not to mention six-time Tony Award Winner!) Choreographically, Susan has done the most stunning job with incorporating snapshots of the 1920s and '30s into the movement, often incorporating art deco-inspired images and shapes into the dancers bodies to get the feel of how people moved in 1929. Both the costume and choreography have influenced all of our performances a great amount.
Is the production influenced by the film at all -- in that, did your cast watch or use the film when working on the show, or is the musical theatre version quite different, and if so, how?
The musical is based on the film, however we never used it in rehearsal. Woody Allen wrote the script for the musical as well as chose every song specifically to enhance and further the story, but both the musical and movie are very similar. The plot line is the same, characters the same... the biggest difference is that we sing and dance!
The music of the show is all from the period's existing music. Does this make the show feel more authentic in some way? And, what's your favorite number?
Absolutely! I saw the show on Broadway and was immediately transported into the time period. Already the Broadway production had such an untouchable cast, but then to add the costumes, choreography, and music felt like you were sitting in a theatre in 1929. My favorite number is probably the opening number, "Tiger Rag," because it immediately puts all of us into the world of the show. It's quick, lots of fun, and HARD! Those girls deserve gold medals every night for that number alone.
Tell our readers more about your background -- where did you train and what have been your most significant roles or those you are particularly proud of?
I trained at Penn State University and got my BFA in Musical Theatre in 2014. As luck would have it, on my last day of classes I got the call that I had gotten Reno Sweeney on the National Tour of ANYTHING GOES, so last year was a bit of a whirlwind (in the best possible way) not only because it was a dream role, but because I met some of my best friends in the world. It was a life changing experience for me. However, I think I'm most proud of Mrs. Lovett in SWEENEY TODD. My teacher and now mentor Susan Schulman (who directed the first revival on Broadway as well as LITTLE WOMEN, SECRET GARDEN, etc.) was directing it at Penn State and I was terrified of the role... and to have her direct it! But I worked day and night just for the callback and when I got it... I don't think I slept the entire rehearsal process. But it showed me how much hard work can pay off. I could have done that show forever.
You were born in Minnesota but grew up elsewhere -- do you have any ties to Minnesota now, or memories of it from childhood?
Yes! I grew up in Mahtomedi before moving to San Diego when I was young, but I have so many memories here because we come back multiple times a year. My family actually owns a home in Mahtomedi because my whole extended family is here (my dad has seven brothers and sisters, all with kids), so I grew up going to the lake every summer, seeing shows at the Ordway and Guthrie, eating at Sebastian Joe's (fun fact: my siblings and I received Sebastian Joe's t-shirts for Christmas this year because we love their Raspberry Chocolate Chip ice cream so much). We call Minnesota our "happy place" - especially in the summer!
Now for a plug: What will be next for you post-tour?
Can't quite tell yet... you'll have to stay tuned at emmastratton.com! ;)
BULLETS OVER BROADWAY plays the Ordway stage April 12-17, 2016. Tickets are available at www.ordway.org/bullets-broadway.
Photo: Emma Stratton, courtesy of Ordway Center for Performing Arts