Merle Perkins is a versatile actress/singer who is fast becoming a most welcome fixture on the Boston theater scene. She has played a variety of roles for numerous regional theaters, including Merrimack Rep, North Shore Music Theater, Vineyard Playhouse, The Jewish Theatre of New England, and Wheelock Family Theatre. Her recent roles include Queen Esther in The Orphan Queen, Our Lady of the Spa in Nine, and Julia in Avenue X. Merle's dazzling vocal chops are often on display at city events, not to mention at the sacrosanct Fenway Park. And her most fulfilling job is as a performer and director for an innovative arts program for young people, Urban Improv. She opens on April 21st at the Lyric Stage Company in Kander & Ebb's And the World Goes Round.
You recently finished a run in Avenue X at Merrimack Repertory Theater, the only Boston actor in a cast of eight. Are you on your way to New York?
I don't think so. While I enjoyed working with all the (New York-based) actors, I got a glimpse of what their lives are like: a lot of traveling, no time at home. I like being near my husband.
You're opening soon in And the World Goes Round at the Lyric Stage Company. That's quite a switch in style, from doo-wop to Kander & Ebb. But I understand you come to musical theater from a classical background.
I studied voice at Boston University in an intensely serious program, but I've loved show music since I was a child. I grew up in Philly, and I saw Pippin, The Wiz, A Little Night Music, almost all the pre-Broadway try-outs. What's interesting and fun for me now is the opportunity to exercise my vocal range. In And the World Goes Round, I get to sing high soprano with the ensemble as well as big belty numbers.
You've been quite busy over the past few years developing your range in a variety of styles, most notably as a member of a band and an opera lab.
I sang with The Medicine Band, which was directed by Steve Cummings. The group was made up of people from diverse cultural backgrounds and the [repertoire] was very eclectic. We did some world music and some gospel, but R&B was finally our calling card. That's when I started to cut my gospel chops. Like many African-Americans, I was exposed to gospel in church when I was a child. [Working with the band] helped me become a more versatile performer. I was also a member of Roland Tec's New Opera Theatre Ensemble, an opera improv troupe. In opera everything is usually very set and specific. This was a bridge for me, between [the rigidity] of classical training and the freedom there is in show music and pop styles.
What role in a musical would you like to play, but probably never will?
Sweeney Todd or Tevye.
If you wrote an autobiography, what would its title be?
I'm simple; I would just say Merle.
What's the scariest experience you ever had on stage?
I had food poisoning during Avenue X. I was as sick as a dog. My husband literally had to pick me up and take me to the show. I could hardly stand up, but adrenaline took over. Fortunately I could leave the stage from time to time.
What are your favorite books?
I really like self-help books, especially those that are more spiritually based. I read a lot about how to maintain my body and my spirit in the most healthful way. Maryann Williamson's A Course in Miracles and Deepack Chopra's books, for example. Right now I'm trying to find interesting books about finances.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
My marriage. It's the most important part of my life.
You're granted three wishes by a genie that arises from your morning cup of coffee. What do you wish for?
I would wish for contentment and peace of mind around every issue. And I would wish for money. I feel my life is fulfilled in so many ways, but a little money would be great. I would wish for balance in my financial life so we can raise a family.
If you were to be reincarnated as an animal, what would it be?
Some kind of predator bird that soars high--a condor or an eagle. I also love dolphins.
What one thing would you change about yourself?
I would change my organizational habits. I have to figure out how to get more organized.
Who are your heroes?
My grandmother, Mary Perkins. She was a person who brought people together. As far as performers, I'm a big old Streisand fan.
What's your biggest extravagance?
I spend money on entertainment: CDs, movies, and shows. If Steisand came to town, I would buy a ticket even if I didn't have the money.
Would you rather be trekking in the Himalayas or swimming in the Carribbean?
I think I'd definitely be in the water.
What's your favorite ice cream?
Believe it or not, I like vanilla ice cream, but lately I'm really partial to Ben and Jerry's Cherries Garcia frozen yogurt.
What's your favorite pizza topping?
If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?
I think it would be ideal if we all woke up with loving others as our most important agenda for the day.
How do you relax?
Meditation and massage.
If you could snap your fingers and be an expert in anything, what would it be?
I would like to be a triple threat: able to dance like Astaire, sing like Streisand or Jessye Norman, and act like Uta Hagen.
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