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Elizabeth Stanley's Merry Plans

The Broadway actress discusses her upcoming performances at the John W. Engeman Theater and the forthcoming Encores! production of Merrily We Roll Along.

By New York City
Elizabeth Stanley
(© Tristan Fuge)
Elizabeth Stanley
(© Tristan Fuge)
While speaking with Elizabeth Stanley, one of this generation's beloved Broadway darlings, it's easy to see that she is very much unlike the girly and glamorous women she has played on stage. The star of Company (2006 revival), Cry-Baby, and Million Dollar Quartet, is actually an outdoorsy type with a penchant for camping. This month she's packing away her hiking boots for a Broadway Highlights performance at John W. Engeman Theater (November 12), where she'll revisit some of her past performances while spreading the word about her upcoming take on Gussie in the Encores! production of Merrily We Roll Along (February 8-12). She recently chatted with TheaterMania about her exciting season.

THEATERMANIA: Merrily We Roll Along is going to be your second Sondheim vehicle. Is that why you wanted to work on it?
ELIZABETH STANLEY: It's one of those auditions I got where I was like, "I really, really want this. Not because it's a job, but because my soul wants this job."

TM: What about the famous musical appealed to your soul?
ES: Any time you get to do a Sondheim piece it feels special. Especially in New York and knowing that he'll hopefully see it! The book is by George Furth, who also wrote the book to Company, and so it felt sort of like kismet in that it was the same composer and the same book writer as my Broadway debut. Plus, all the other cast members are peers of mine that I haven't gotten to work with but that I really admired from afar.

TM: On paper your Merrily character, Gussie, doesn't seem to be much of a stretch for you. She's the star of a Broadway musical!
ES: (Laughs) There are things about her that are a stretch, like the fact that she's been married multiple times! There are some similarities in that she's kind of a nobody from a really small town, and she waits tables when she moves here. I can certainly relate to that. I didn't go to a fancy conservatory program; I didn't know a lot about a lot of things when I moved here. By the time I was in high school, I still had never even heard of Sondheim! But Gussie sort of sells out, or she doesn't believe in herself enough, so we're different in that way too. I think that under that is a fear that's she's not good enough and that people won't like her, and any of us can relate to that. I'll be drawing a lot from that when I'm working on her, I'm sure.

TM: When Merrily first opened it struggled. What makes it right for a revival now?
ES: I think a lot of great art is ahead of its time. It really depends on the climate of the industry and the economy when it comes out. Sometimes things that are awesome don't do well because people aren't interested in seeing that kind of show right then. I think it's appealing now in that it's about the choices we make, and why we make them, and how they affect us. I think people are thinking about that in a different way right now. The economy is in a certain place, and people are starting to make choices not just for money. Perhaps that will be a reason that people are more moved by it.

TM: Many of your fans know and love you from the short-lived Cry-Baby. If you could pick any other cult film to make into a musical, which would it be?
ES: I'm not a gigantic movie buff. In fact, I've hardly seen any movies at all! But I loved Adventures in Babysitting; that would be really fun. I've always liked Elisabeth Shue. Oh my gosh, Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, all of those would be great!

TM: Has your lack of movie knowledge ever gotten you into trouble?
ES: My parents weren't into TV, and we lived far away from the movie theater. There are a lot of classic films where I'll have to nod and go along with the conversation about them. I was recently at the concert at Town Hall, and the first half was honoring dancing in movie musicals. I was talking to a friend of mine about a number, and I was like, "That was so great, I've never seen that, I love that choreography." It was from Singin' in the Rain. We had a good laugh. I've never seen that movie. It's my worst nightmare to play Trivial Pursuit.

TM: What do you expect to be performing when you visit the John W. Engeman Theatre?
ES: I think I'll do something from Million Dollar Quartet. Bradley Dean is performing and we did Company together, so maybe something from that. I've got a few things up my sleeve…

TM: What would we find you doing on your day off?
ES: I've been taking an acting class which I'm loving. I try to go to yoga, and work out and run errands. I'm a crafter, so I've been trying to keep up with different projects. I've been working on a quilt, and I'm working on knitting myself a hat now that it's getting colder. My older brother just had a baby, so I made his son some booties and I was very proud of them! I took a million pictures of them from every angle.


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