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BWW Interview: Theatre Life with Soara-Joye Ross and Corbin Bleu

BWW Interview: Theatre Life with Soara-Joye Ross and Corbin Bleu
Soara-Joye Ross and Corbin Bleu

With the holiday season fast approaching Arena Stage is readying their annual Gold Standard Musical. This year it's the classic ship shape Cole Porter musical from 1934, Anything Goes. The production begins performances on November 2nd and plays through December 23rd in the Fichandler space.

Today's subjects, Soara-Joye Ross and Corbin Bleu, are the production's two main leads playing Reno Sweeney and Billy Crocker, respectively.

Soara-Joye most recently performed Off- Broadway at Classic Stage Company in its critically acclaimed production of Carmen Jones, belting out "Beat Out Dat Rhythm in a Drum" as Frankie. She was last in DC with the National Tour of The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess at the National Theatre. Broadway credits include Les Misérables and the legendary Dance of the Vampires. Other Off-Broadway credits include Jerry Springer the Opera (Carnegie Hall, dir. Jason Moore), Dessa Rose (Lincoln Center), Tin Pan Alley Rag (Roundabout Theatre Company), Single Black Female (Playwrights Horizons & The Duke, dir. Colman Domingo), The First Noel (The Apollo, dir. Steve Broadnax), Disenchanted (Westside Theatre). She also appeared in Cross That River (Outstanding Individual Performance NYMF Award). Soara-Joye appeared in the film Garden State and you may have also seen her on television in Crashing on HBO. Her solo show is entitled This Is My Life, Gotta Fly!

Corbin Bleu comes from an extensive background in film, television, and theater. He is probably best known for playing Chad Danforth in Disney's Emmy Award-winning High School Musical franchise. Corbin was recently seen on Broadway as Ted Hanover in the Tony-nominated production of Holiday Inn, The New Irving Berlin Musical, winning the Chita Rivera Award for Outstanding Male Dancer in a Broadway Show. Additional Broadway credits include: Godspell (Jesus) and In the Heights (Usnavi). Other stage highlights include Hairspray (Seaweed) and Mamma Mia! (Sky), both at The Hollywood Bowl. Most recently Corbin starred as Don Lockwood, the role made famous by Gene Kelly, in The Muny's centennial season production of Singin' in the Rain. Also in 2018, Corbin was honored as Entertainer of the Year from the Tremaine National Gala honoring his work in the dance industry. His film credits include: To Write Love on Her Arms (starring opposite Kat Dennings), Nurse 3-D, and The Monkey's Paw, to name a few. Corbin's television credits include Franklin & Bash, Blue Bloods, Psych, Castle, The Fosters, and Chicago Med. In 2013, he partnered with Karina Smirnoff on the multi-Emmy Award-winning ABC hit Dancing with the Stars, placing a close second.

Anything Goes is one of those golden age musicals that is performed quite frequently, but Arena Stage's production is unique because it will be performed in the round. This will bring you even closer to the action and make you feel like you are on the luxury liner. Add to that the staging of Arena Stage's Artistic Director Molly Smith, the always fun to watch choreography of Parker Esse, and two powerhouse leads like Soara-Joye Ross and Corbin Bleu, and you have a delightful delicious de-lovely show for the holidays that's sure to be the top. The production promises to be a popular one so get your tickets, grab your family, and catch Anything Goes at Arena Stage. I guarantee you'll "Want to Row on the Crew..tra la" after seeing it.

What show got you hooked on working in the theatre?

Soara-Joye (SJ): I actually have a snippet of my debut cabaret performance of "This is My Life, Gotta Fly!" in New York City back in 2013, where I tell the story about how I fell in love with musical theater on YouTube!

Barbra Streisand as Fanny Brice in Funny Girl, the movie musical and Bernadette Peters as the Witch in Into the Woods on Broadway! I was in high school at the time in the "Academy of Music" program. There wasn't a drama program, but we performed several pieces from musicals. I would also go to the public library and borrow as many movie musicals on video and cassette tapes of all the Broadway soundtracks I could! I was in love with theater back then!

Corbin Bleu (CB): Well, I grew up in the theater. Both of my parents are performers, and growing up in Brooklyn, they took me to the theater pretty often. I remember seeing my first Broadway show, Phantom of The Opera, and the impact it had on me. I thought it was so magical. I first worked professionally Off-Broadway when I was six years old in a show called Tiny Tim Is Dead.

Where did you receive your training?

SJ: I've studied privately since I was twelve-years-old. My mom found an incredible voice teacher in Queens, not too far from where we lived, and I began my classical studies in English, Italian, and French early on while I was attending and performing in Junior High School. I then auditioned and got accepted into Bayside High School's Academy of Music program and studied Vocal Performance and Acting at Nassau Community College. I then auditioned and got into the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York City where I studied acting, singing and dancing. Several years later I studied the Meisner Technique at J. Beckson Studios in New York City. I take private voice lessons, have voice and acting coaches, and study many styles of dance at the Alvin Ailey Extension, all in New York.

CB: I started in dance and acting classes at two-years-old. In fourth grade I joined the choir. I eventually attended Debbie Allen's Dance Academy and was also in the theater department at The Los Angeles County High School for the Arts. A lot of my training, however, was just through experience. I began working in the entertainment industry as a child performer and continued to learn from the veteran actors I was surrounded by in film, television, and theater.

BWW Interview: Theatre Life with Soara-Joye Ross and Corbin Bleu
Lisa Helmi Johanson and Corbin Bleu in a pre production photo for Arena Stage's production of Anything Goes. Photo by Tony Powell.

For those that are not familiar with Anything Goes, can you please tell us a little something about your characters?

SJ: I play the incredibly audacious and brassy evangelist-turned-night-club singer from New York, Reno Sweeney! She cares a great deal about her friends, has a fantastic sense of humor, owns all of who she is and knows how powerful she is as an alpha female. She is also extremely accepting and absolutely loves performing. Honestly, playing her is a dream I never knew I had! Getting to know her/become her has been an incredible process and I look forward to allowing her to take me over even more during the rest of our rehearsal process and finally as we get into doing shows. She is a beautiful being and has aided in me embracing who Soara-Joye is even more. She's an amazing woman!

CB: I play Billy Crocker, an assistant to a wall street tycoon. He's a fun character to play as he's a bit of a con man and ends up in several different disguises throughout the show, which makes for lots of different voices and personas. Ultimately, he's a romantic at heart though, and all of his shenanigans are to win the heart of a woman who's out of his league and engaged to a wealthy Lord.

Arena Stage's production of Anything Goes will be performed in the round. What do you think is the biggest challenge in performing a show created for a proscenium stage in the round?

SJ: Oh, I don't even think about what "was," per sé... Recently, I played the role of Frankie in Classical Stage Company's Carmen Jones in New York, and what a fantastic experience it was in the round! You aren't limited to playing in one direction and so your entire playing space opens up! Playing in a round is a great deal of fun and is as "true to life" as it gets. I am always a fan of playing the piece as truthful as possible and I believe the audience is in for a real treat!

CB: Anything Goes takes place on a cruise ship, and this piece actually works wonderfully in the round as it's a bit like an episode of Scooby-Doo where all of the characters are constantly appearing and then reappearing in different parts of the ship. It allows the audience to have a bird's eye view of the happenings while still feeling like they're on the ship themselves. It's also breathtaking to see this talented ensemble tapping in the multi-dimensional space that is the round.

BWW Interview: Theatre Life with Soara-Joye Ross and Corbin Bleu
Corbin Bleu in the Broadway production of In the Heights. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Corbin, you went into In the Heights on Broadway after it had been running for a while. How much rehearsal time did you have before your opening in the show? How many onstage rehearsals did you have?

CB: Taking over a role in a show that is already running is like being added into a relay race. I had two weeks to the learn the show and then I had my put-in where I got the one-time opportunity to run the show full out with the rest of the cast, orchestra, costumes, the whole shebang, just without the audience. But then that's it, after that the baton has been passed and you are in! The great part about taking over a role though is that you get to sit in and watch the show every night until you're on. Otherwise you don't usually get to have that experience, you simply just see the show from an on-stage perspective.

BWW Interview: Theatre Life with Soara-Joye Ross and Corbin Bleu
Soara-Joye Ross and René Auberjonois in Dance of the Vampires. The costumes were designed by the Tony Award winning Ann Hould-Ward. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Soara-Joye, you were a part of the legendary Broadway musical known as Dance of the Vampires. Can you please talk about the experience of putting that show together and working with its star Michael Crawford?

SJ: Oh my goodness! Michael was a sweetheart! There was this one note in the show that he held out for sooooooooooooooooooo long, it was amazing! He was also my Secret Santa and gave me this heavy heart-shaped thing from Tiffany's as my final gift. I had no idea what to do with it and someone suggested I take it back to Tiffany's and trade it in for something else. I did and wound up trading it in for a fabulous Tiffany's bracelet! I was so excited to tell people about my gift from Michael Crawford. A few months later, the bracelet fell in one of those fancy automatic flushing toilets and into the sea it went at The Breakers Hotel in Florida! Ugh! Still hurts my feelings a little bit.

Anyway, the costumes! The set pieces! The make-up! Wowza! That show was epic! We had some die-hard fans and I don't think we were open more than six weeks. Oy! Everyone has to be in one Broadway flop, right? It was my first Broadway show and I was extremely grateful to be in it! One of my favorite memories was when we had the sitzprobe in the lobby of our theater, which was the Minskoff! That lobby is the best Broadway house lobby in New York! It overlooks all of Times Square! Our orchestra was enormous and the cast was too! To sing Jim Steinman's incredible music on mics with that orchestra in that lobby? Wow! What a thrilling and unforgettable experience!

BWW Interview: Theatre Life with Soara-Joye Ross and Corbin Bleu
L-R Nicholas Yenson, Soara-Joye Ross and Mickey Orange in a pre-production photo for Arena Stage's production of Anything Goes. Photo by Tony Powell.

Many Broadway musicals withstand the test of time for a variety of reasons. Why do you think Anything Goes falls into this category?

SJ: In this day and age, Anything Goes, truly! This show touches on female empowerment, self-identity, the haves and the have nots, love and romance, the fascination of being/becoming a celebrity and so much more! Sounds like everything we're dealing with now, wouldn't you say? Also, who doesn't love the infectious music of Cole Porter, who doesn't believe in love, and who doesn't want to tap their joy-filled feet when they hear thirty tapping feet?! This is a feel-good, silly musical that everyone will love!

CB: The easy answer is Cole Porter. What makes a musical so memorable is the tune that you walk out of the theater humming. We're lucky to be working with one fantastically beautiful and witty score. That, and a very funny book grounded with a dynamic story. And as long as we do our jobs as storytellers, hopefully the audience will walk away with Porter's music imprinted on them for a long time.

After Anything Goes, what do you have in store for 2019?

SJ: I have a few things brewing and have also booked a play that starts soon after Anything Goes closes. I am not at liberty to announce it yet, so let's just say, #ImBooked and #Grateful!

CB: Crazy enough, after this I'm doing Kiss Me Kate with the Roundabout Theatre Company at Studio 54, and I'm playing Bill Calhoun! One Cole Porter musical to another, playing a "Bill"! I'm very excited!

Special thanks to Arena Stage's Media Relations Associate Skye Lindberg for her assistance in coordinating this interview.

Theatre Life logo designed by Kevin Laughon.

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