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Starting Off With a Bang!

Blithe Spirit's Susan Louise O'Connor, Joe Turner's Andre Holland, and Rock of Ages' Wesley Taylor discuss their smashing Broadway debuts. logo
Angela Lansbury and Susan Louise O'Connor
in Blithe Spirit
(© Robert J. Saferstein)
With so much attention focused on the megastars who stormed Broadway this year, it can be easy to overlook those equally talented performers who made their Broadway debuts this season. TheaterMania spoke recently with three of them: Off-Broadway veteran Susan Louise O'Connor, who earned a Theatre World Award and an Outer Critics Circle Award nomination for her scene-stealing work as daffy maid Edith in Blithe Spirit; Andre Holland who plays the fast-talking Jeremy in Lincoln Center Theater's acclaimed revival of August Wilson's Joe Turner's Come And Gone; and Wesley Taylor, another 2009 Theatre World winner and Outer Critics Circle nominee, who serves up a crowd-pleasing turn as reluctant developer Franz in the Tony Award-nominated musical Rock of Ages.

THEATERMANIA: Susan, when did your Broadway debut feel real to you?
SUSAN LOUISE O'CONNOR: It's still kind of unreal to tell you the truth. I'm reminded of it every time we do the curtain call but not until Angela Lansbury and Rupert Everett come out and the crowd roars. I realize "Oh my goodness, I'm on stage on Broadway with these people!" Every night it's like that's a new burst of information.

TM: What one word would you use to describe the experience of working with Angela Lansbury?
SLO: I'm going to say inspirational. Just watching her professional demeanor and her kindness and her class. This woman is so classy. I've learned a lot from all of them though. Normal people aren't even this classy.

TM: Are you comfortable being called a scene stealer?
SLO: I find that hard to believe. I hear that from the audience sometimes after the show, but I don't believe anyone on that stage can have their scenes stolen! I like all positive adjectives -- so sure, I'll take it! It's not conscious. I'm only serving the play.

TM: You have to work comically with many props. Have there been any mishaps?
SLO: As of late when I am throwing the dishes on the tray they are just breaking with all kinds of consistency now. Like, every night something breaks and that didn't used to happen. It's not that I'm throwing them harder. I don't think china is intended to be slammed down against a silver tray, surprisingly. The first thing I do is walk on with that tray of drinks and wouldn't you know it hadn't fallen before, but the other day one bottle hit another bottle and then a glass, it was this crazy domino effect, falling to the floor. The first moment in the play! Jayne Atkinson was wonderful and picked some stuff up. The accidents keep it fresh.

TM: Was it challenging to adjust to playing big enough to fill The Shubert Theatre?
SLO: It was a lot easier than I thought it would be. I knew that a lot of my work would happen once we got into the theater. The size of it allowed me to really embrace a bigger choice and not worry that it wouldn't look right. As long as the objective is what's running any of this physical behavior, and not the physical behavior happening to get a laugh, then I think things can be big and still believable. And I do obnoxiously large things in my real life all the time that could fill 3000-seat auditoriums.


Aunjanue Ellis and Andre Holland
in Joe Turner's Come and Gone
(© T. Charles Erickson)
THEATERMANIA: Andre, what has surprised you most about your first Broadway experience?
ANDRE HOLLAND: It's definitely a lot of work and not nearly as glamorous as I imagined. Eight shows a week is a hard schedule particularly with a play like this that demands so much physically and emotionally. But it's a wonderful ride.

TM: How would you describe Jeremy?
AH: He has an enormous appetite for life. He's moved from a small town in the South to the North looking for a better life for himself, full of hope. He just has so much inside him. To me, he has an undefeatable spirit and if he were alive today he might end up being Barack Obama.

TM: Did you know this play before you took the job?
AH: Yes, I did a scene from this play for my showcase when I graduated from NYU. August Wilson is what attracted to me to the theater in the first place. I read Fences in high school and I couldn't put it down. It was the first time I had read characters in a play who sounded like people I knew. As I got to college and then graduate school, I used it as my touchstone as proof that there is a place for me in the American theater. I was in my second year of grad school at NYU when August passed away. One of my most vivid and deeply moving experiences was going to Pittsburgh to the funeral services and being in the room with all these people who had worked with him for so long. Even though I had never met him, I felt like he had given me so much: the license to be an artist, the license to be an actor.

TM: Why do you think the members of this cast work so well together as an ensemble?
AH: It's an interesting ensemble in that there are a lot of different types of actors and different types of people, but we have a shared history and a shared memory of the blood and that what helps us work together. There are people like Roger Robinson, LaTanya Richardson Jackson and Ernie Hudson, all of whom come from a different kind of training than me -- they worked all the time, worked with the best people and learned on the job. And then people like myself and Marsha Stephanie Blake, Aunjanue Ellis and Danai Gurira, all of whom came from undergraduate programs. Before a show you'll often see the four of us lying on the floor doing vocal exercises -- and then you see Roger and everyone else standing around having a cup of tea, being in themselves until the lights come on. I often find myself watching Roger and thinking: "Man, he is so good, and I didn't see him rolling around on the ground doing vocal exercises!"


Wesley Taylor and Paul Schoeffler
in Rock of Ages
(© Joan Marcus)
THEATERMANIA: Wesley, are you surprised you made it to Broadway so soon in your career?
WESLEY TAYLOR: I like to be humble and I want to say "I never would have expected it," but in order to get there, you have to set a goal for yourself and go for it. I've never really told anyone this, but when I graduated college I thought, "Okay, I need to be on Broadway by the end of a year." And I am. It couldn't be a better debut for me with a better cast or a more outrageously fun show and I'm completely blessed and honored.

TM: Is the show as tough on your voice as it seems?
WT: I sing enough, but it's not been particularly demanding vocally. I have to give props to my co-stars, Constantine Maroulis, James Carpinello, and Mitchell Jarvis. The responsibilities they have musically are far harder than mine. What they have to sing eight times a week is nothing short of ridiculous -- all of these classic rock ballads in their original keys. Even the rock stars of the 1980s who made them famous didn't have to do these songs eight times a week.

TM: Why do you think the audience has so much affection for Franz?
WT: Everyone loves the guy who makes the transformation -- who starts at one place and ends at another. He's so infectious as a character on paper and I think it translates on stage. Also I feel that audiences a lot of times fall in love with the positive characters, the ones who always have the positive incentives. Franz is always thinking positively.

TM: Are you surprised by how well both critics and audiences have responded to the show?
WT: I was a little nervous about how they were going to receive the show on Broadway. I wondered if they were going to come in with their arms crossed. But people walk in with their stuffiness and they leave dancing. We're accomplishing what we set out to do!

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