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BWW Interviews: BROADWAY SONGBOOK's Kersten Rodau, PhD in Twin Cities Theatre?

Kersten Rodau is a well-known performer in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul theatre scene with countless shows to her credit, but perhaps she's earned her PhD in musical theatre by being a cast member of seven of the Ordway Center's BROADWAY SONGBOOK series. Ordway Vice President of Programming and Producing Artistic Director James Rocco directs, performs and co-writes these virtual musical theatre master classes that are a part of the Ordway's musical theatre season.

The series brings you the stories behind the musical theatre songs you love. Every show is filled with humorous and intimate portraits of the writers, producers and performers who created the greatest musicals of all time. Previous shows have covered the songwriting team of Comden & Green, George Gershwin and the First 100 Years of Broadway, to name a few.

BroadwayWorld Minneapolis-Saint Paul got to know Rodau, one of the many talented performers who grace the stage in this next Songbook-- ROCK & ROLL ON BROADWAY -- in this edition of 6 Questions & a Plug (a new BWW Interviews feature from this writer).

This is your seventh BROADWAY SONGBOOK at the Ordway... do you feel like you've earned a degree in musical theatre from the school of James Rocco?

I feel like I've earned my doctorate now! I can't begin to tell you how much interesting and fascinating information I've learned about each composer and genre BROADWAY SONGBOOK that I've had the honor to be a part of. For instance, just when I thought I knew everything there is to know about Stephen Sondheim, James still came back with some amusing anecdotes, stories and facts about him and certain songs that I had never heard before. It's obvious how deep James researches for each of these songbooks and his passion and knowledge for the subject.

BROADWAY SONGBOOK is such a delightful series for audiences; is performing in this cabaret format as much fun as it looks? And, what has been your favorite of the series so far?

Yes! These BROADWAY SONGBOOKS have been some of the most fun, rewarding and challenging projects I've ever been a part of! I've been able to meet new people that I've always wanted to work with before, learn new audition material and perform songs I'd never get the chance to anywhere else. Sometimes we go out in the audience to perform or they sing back with us. It's a very friendly, laid back environment and entertaining for everyone! I've loved all the songbooks, but I do think this Rock & Roll Broadway Songbook is my favorite so far. There are so many group numbers than in the previous ones, so it's really a very cohesive piece and group. Plus, we've never had a band before (piano, bass, guitar and drums) so I think that adds an exciting element to it, as well as being able to perform in the newly finished Ordway Concert Hall!

Your bio (see below) is an amazing list of some of the best musicals in the Twin Cities over the past years. What's it like being a well-employed performer here? Do you feel like there's always plenty of work or is it getting harder to find parts with the increased competition with so many excellent people in town?

I pinch myself that even after 18 years after moving to the Twin Cities I'm able to raise my children and still keep busy with theater work, doing what I absolutely love for a living. I'm very grateful to not only have performed in some Midwest premier productions, but in some of my dream roles and shows, as well. I'm often asked why I never tried to make it in New York, but I had no reason to go when I'm constantly employed here. I love living and working in the Twin Cities, and I'm proud to be a part of this incredibly rich with talent theater community. I do feel like there's always plenty of work, even with the increased competition of new graduates and transfers. Our metro has one of the highest theater seats per capita outside of New York. We have the internationally acclaimed Guthrie Theater and Minnesota Orchestra in Minneapolis and the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in St. Paul, as well as Chanhassen Dinner Theatres, the nation's largest professional dinner theater. If I don't get cast in a particular show with a certain theater, another audition and opportunity always seems to be right around the corner.

Where are you from and did you train (get a degree, etc.) in musical theatre?

I grew up in a small southern town of Wisconsin called Elkhorn. My high school choir director persuaded me to go into music, so I attended the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire, as they're known for having an excellent music program. At that time there wasn't such a thing as a musical theatre degree, so I went into vocal performance to become an opera singer. However, during my senior year of college the theater department and music department did a joint production of INTO THE WOODS where I was cast as Cinderella. I fell in love with musical theater and decided it's what I wanted to pursue as a career. I graduated with a Bachelors of Music in Vocal Performance and moved to the Twin Cities to find work. I'm very grateful for my classical background though, as I feel it's helped me stay versatile in both contemporary and classic musical theater, as well as concert work.

Which composer or genre would you like to see the Ordway do in the next BROADWAY SONGBOOK series? And which song would you most like to perform in it?

I'd have to say Kander and Ebb, which is actually already on the Ordway's programming for next June of 2016. That amazing duo has many hit songs I love from CABARET, CHICAGO and KISS OF THE SPIDERWOMAN, but I'd love to perform "Colored Lights" from THE RINK or "How Lucky Can you Get" from FUNNY LADY.

What is it like working with James Rocco?

It's absolutely wonderful! I respect and admire him greatly, not only as a director, but as a producer, writer, choreographer and fellow actor on stage. I completely trust him and love that he always knows how to gently push me past what I think are my limitations. He supports me, encourages me and makes me want to become a better performer. He's one of my favorite directors and I'll always jump at the chance to work with him on any project.

Now for the plug: Where can audiences see you next? What other Ordway shows are you scheduled to do?

Following the Rock & Roll On Broadway Songbook, I'll be part of Theater Latté Da's "Next: New Musicals in the Making," workshopping the musical STU FOR SILVERTON. Then I'll be back at the Ordway all summer as Gloria Thorpe in DAMN YANKEES and as Ruth in THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE.

More info

Rock & Roll influenced pop culture and changed the modern musical as we know it. Rock musicals traded traditional song and dance for rebellious energy that tackled the social issues of a new generation. BROADWAY SONGBOOK: ROCK & ROLL ON BROADWAY takes the audience on a ride through the decades with songs from iconic musicals such as HAIR, MAMMA MIA, JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, DREAMGIRLS, RENT, SPRING AWAKENING, NEXT TO NORMAL and more.

The Ordway Center presents BROADWAY SONGBOOK: ROCK & ROLL ON BROADWAY April 17-18, 2015 at the new concert hall that opened in March. More information and tickets are available at http://www.ordway.org/performances/14-15/broadway-songbook-rock-n-roll-on-broadway/#sthash.QGAaU2NC.dpuf

Kersten Rodau bio

ORDWAY: A Christmas Story, the Musical, Disney's Beauty and the Beast, A Grand Night for Singing, Broadway Songbook: Irving Berlin / Johnny Mercer / Stephen Sondheim / George Gershwin / Cole Porter / Musicals of the 1950s; Park Square Theater: Ragtime, Side Show; Guthrie Theater: H.M.S. Pinafore, She Loves Me, The Pirates of Penzance, A Christmas Carol, Sweeney Todd; Chanhassen Dinner Theatres: Hello Dolly, Disney's The Little Mermaid, Xanadu, Jesus Christ Superstar, LES MISERABLES, Nunset Boulevard, The Musical of Musicals, Forbidden Broadway, Oklahoma!, The Sound of Music; Jungle Theater: Urinetown; Minnesota Orchestra: Carousel, Springtime in Paris, Peer Gynt, Mass; Nautilus Music Theater: Ordinary Days (Ivey Award), John and Jen; Bloomington Civic Theatre: Funny Girl; Skylark Opera: Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris; Illusion Theater: The Cocoanuts; Buffalo Gal Productions: Broadway's Legendary Ladies; Plymouth Playhouse: How to Talk Minnesotan.

Photo: Kersten Rodau, provided by the Ordway Center for Performing Arts.


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