Monday, January 26, 2015

Interview: Rachelle Rak Part 2! Sas Talks Mentors, EVERY LITTLE STEP, Valuable Lessons, and More

Broadway gypsy Rachelle Rak will take the stage once again at 54 Below on Thursday, January 29, singing her way through personal stories from almost 30 years of performing. I interviewed her recently for BroadwayWorld* regarding her show, and let me tell you, she has had so many awesome and raw experiences! She told even more stories in Part 1 of the interview, "Rachelle "SAS" Rak Opens Up About Fierce Perseverance Through an Extensive Gypsy Career." 

You might have seen her in Every Little Step, a documentary ironically about casting the revival of A Chorus Line. As heartbreaking as that musical is to begin with, the documentary was actually harder to watch because of situations like Rachelle's.  Below, check out what Rak has to say about mentors and harsh lessons learned in the theatre! 
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Who are some people that you've learned from on your journey?

I would say Ann Reinking and Gwen Verdon gave me the greatest opportunities in [the original Broadway cast of] Fosse. I did not start as a featured dancer in anything. I was in three numbers in three and a half hours. And pretty much, when we were in LA, they were firing people, and I thought I was definitely on the roster, because I was not in the show. I was not a Fosse dancer, I hadn’t done a workshop, nobody knew me. They made fun of me, because I came in the first day in a leopard outfit and everyone else was in black. 

But I was so willing to learn the Fosse style just to be in the ensemble. So I stayed for every dance rehearsal and learned every number.  I wasn’t in many, but I learned how to do it. But then, for some reason, an opportunity came about, and I was the understudy. Somehow Ann kept seeing me work in the corner. And every time a female left the show, they moved me up. And it was a gift. I understudied Valerie Pettiford who was a class act to understudy.

I mean, it was life-changing, and it changed the way I danced forever.

So after years of doing [ensemble work], then I wanted to do other things. And then I got some other opportunities. But I’d have two shows in one year, and then nothing. Sweet Smell of Success and Thou Shalt Not were the same year, and I had done two workshops, and I chose [to go to Broadway with] Thou Shalt Not because I’d never worked with Susan Stroman. So I wasn’t the understudy for anything, because she told me I wasn’t innocent enough to play Therese Raquin. 

So begrudgingly, I accepted that news, you know, because I wanted to keep growing. And then something happened. One of the understudies was injured, one of them lost her voice, and [Stroman] said to me on 9th Avenue, “Do you think you could learn the part?” and I was like, “I thought I wasn’t innocent enough…” And in nine days, I learned the entire part of Therese Raquin with the New Orleans accent and went on. I mean, I had a stage manager at every wing telling me my cue line. 

It was crazy! But it was live. Like, you want to talk about feeling alive? That was all fear. 

And let’s talk about Every Little Step. That’s the first place I saw you. It was an amazing documentary, but oh my goodness, so incredibly heartbreaking.

Yeah, They spread the audition process out over this 8-month period, which they don’t usually do. Usually it’s tighter, but after four months of auditioning, I felt like I got the part. I mean, the buzz from people was all about me. My friend [Broadway lyricist] Scott Wittman said, “Oh yeah, I heard that Bob Avian really likes this ‘Rachel Rak.’” [laughs] 

And you know, I was doing Dirty Rotten Scoundrels at the time.

I wanted this part, I lived the part, I was the part. This was it. Like, for me, I put every egg in that basket, and I was getting that part. 

And what they liked about me at my first audition, when I came back, they had asked me to change. And I remember coming back to the final, and they were like, “We’d like you to change that, and could you maybe pull your hair up?” and then it was, “We want you to do what you did last summer.” And I was like, “Honey, I don’t know what I did yesterday.” And that was the truth. 

And anyone that asks you that, now, without sounding disrespectful, it just sounds ridiculous, because the whole point of being in the moment is creating where you are that day. 

Unless you’re just blasting through  lines every night, you have to touch something personal when you’re talking about monologues, or you’re talking about playing Sheila, or whoever you’re playing. So that was a big let-down.

And then, I wasn’t invited to the premiere of the film Every Little Step, because I wasn’t cast, so I kept getting texts that night from friends who were in the cast who were like, “Sass, you’ve got to see this documentary.” And I was like, “Oh, well what did I say? Oh no…” 

So then all of a sudden, because of the buzz of this documentary, I did all these interviews with the New York Times. I mean, it was amazing, the LA Times did this whole story. 

And you know Sally, the one thing I will say about fate and irony, is it ended up the part that I didn’t get that I wanted, that was everything to me at the time, ended up giving me more respect, or just people understanding what I went through. 

I mean, everybody goes through that every day of their lives, but the notes that I got on Facebook from the gypsies saying, “Thank God somebody finally spoke up. Somebody finally said, ‘No, that’s not good enough. I need an answer today.’”

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Also on Singular Sensation...

Interview: Rachelle "SAS" Rak Opens Up About Fierce Perseverance Through an Extensive Gypsy Career

Interview: Lorna Luft Talks 54 Below Debut, New York at Christmas, and More


Sally Henry www.BroadwayWorld.com/author/Sally-Henry // Twitter: www.twitter.com/bwayginger // Facebook: www.facebook.com/singularsensationbway

*Note: Italicized content was published on BroadwayWorld.com here while un-italicized content is exclusively on Singular Sensation!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Top 10 INTO THE WOODS Criticisms Every Theatre Fan is [Not-So] Secretly Thinking

Ever since a certain Best Score Tony Award-winning musical was adapted for the screen, everyone and their GBF has been expressing their opinion on the piece. And yeah, no I'm not talking about the Annie remake. In fact, no one is talking about the Annie remake. I'm talking about the movie musical we actually care about. (Wow, I'm on a roll with these Annie zingers...)

After seeing Into the Woods with #TwitterlessTwin, who's a total Sondheim junkie, as well as some more Broadway-loving BFFs, of course we had to be typical theatre fans and discuss the film, venting about the parts that were omitted, changed, etc. Since the film's release, I've seen discussion after discussion about its flaws, and at this point, the responses are getting to be completely predictable! So I've compiled a list of my favorite and frequently-voiced criticisms, in no particular order.

Top 10 Into the Woods Criticisms Every Theatre Fan is [Not-So] Secretly Thinking



  1. "Like, how could they cut 'No More'?" Let's be real guys, who doesn't skip that song when you're listening to the album? Yeah, thought not.  I've loved seeing people's least-favorite song all of a sudden turn into hallowed ground.
  2. "What was up with how they cut songs but played the instrumentals in the background at the parts where they should have been sung?" YOU'RE NOT FOOLING ME DISNEY! But seriously, I thought that was a great nod to fans. Let's keep in mind that the musical is like 5 billion hours long, so they had to cut songs, and I say if you must cut the song, at least acknowledge it.
  3. "How could you keep Rapunzel alive?" Her fate was admittedly ambiguous, but very "Disney"-fied, in that rather than having her die, they had her make a poor decision and disappear. However, I think there was no doubt in the audience's mind that her story didn't end well.
  4. "Who do you think you are, cutting 'Agony (Reprise)'?!" Ok, the main issue I had with cutting the song in which Cinderella and Rapunzel's princes sing about loving Sleeping Beauty and Snow White was that it made Cinderella's Prince the only cheating sleaze. The original version made it less a spotlight and more an overall commentary on princes in general, saying that they're not all you wish them to be- none of them. Also, that song has my favorite reprisal line from the show, "Ah well, back to my wife..."
  5. "Why was there no narrator character?" I really can't see how that would have flowed in the movie version. But the part where the Narrator gets killed by the giant is one of my favorites, and it furthers the idea that nothing about fairy tales is certain, not even the safety of the storyteller himself.
  6. "What about the mysterious man?" As much as they had to cut from the show, I thought this was actually a good choice.
  7. "What happened to Cinderella's dad?" Oh wait, nevermind... No one's even pretending to care.
  8. "Did it seem just... Darker?" I totally agree with this one. Like for real, they cut so much that they had no room for the comic relief! Do y'all remember how humorous the entire show is on stage? There were a few funny moments in the movie, but only moments, as opposed to an overarching tone like the stage version has.
  9. "Why couldn't Lilla Crawford play all the roles?" Ok, maybe I'm the only one who said it, but this former Annie star (ironic, right?) was so powerful as Little Red. From the first moment she was on screen, she captured the Sondheim tone of the piece, as well as my heart.
  10. "Those pants, tho..." It's true. I'd say Rapunzel's prince's (played by Billy Magnussen) black leather pants rival the famous white Fiyero pants from Wicked  
Which parts of the Broadway show did you miss? And more importantly, does Meryl Streep deserve the Oscar nod?

Sally Henry www.BroadwayWorld.com/author/Sally-Henry // Twitter: @BwayGinger // Facebook: www.facebook.com/singularsensationbway

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Monday, January 12, 2015

New Year, New Musicals! Top 5 New Musicals to Listen to as You Start 2015

As we say goodbye to 2014, there are various ways we measure the year. (Unintentional Rent reference there...) Frequently, we gage a year by what we just couldn't get enough of.

We say something like, "This was the year when I was obsessed with [name that musical/song/movie/actor, etc]." I think we can all safely say that 2012 was the year that, like it or not, we were obsessed with "Call Me Maybe," for at least some period of time.

So right about now might be the point at which you are completely tired of that song/musical of 2014 and are ready to scream if you hear it. It's time for something new!

Below, check out my top 5 list of new musicals to try, listed in chronological order. By "new," I'm referring to both shows that opened this past season, as well as a recent show that got pushed under the rug way too quickly.

And remember, you have the whole year to listen to them, so be careful how soon you put things on repeat. Don't pull a Sally and listen to the entire Ragtime album for the first time three times IN A ROW. That kind of behavior produces musical theatre comas. And epic-ness overdoses.

Top 5 New(ish) Musicals to Listen to in 2015

The Bridges of Madison County- 2014
If you're a die-hard theatre fan, there's a good chance you've already heard the Tony Award-winning album, which garnered composer Jason Robert Brown his second and third Tony Awards for Original Score and Original Orchestrations. Kelli O'Hara has the voice of an angel (and, by the way, needs a Tony). Steven Pasquale, aka, Laura Benanti's ex-husband, is brilliant as well. Jason Robert Brown fans will love this one.


A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder- 2013
This past season's Best Musical Tony Award-winner, Gentleman's Guide has a very old-fashioned sound to it. It's honestly refreshing to have a musical go back to old Cole Porter-like roots (though, of course no one can match the lyrical genius that is Porter), especially in light of the proliferation of rock musicals. So bravo, Robert L. Freedman and Steven Lutvak!


Rocky- 2014
These musical resolutions are totally for me too, because I'll be honest, I didn't even realize the Rocky cast had made a cast recording until this week. On paper, it should be a pretty good show, despite the fact that it closed quickly. After all, the songs are written by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, who did Ragtime (you know I love me some Ragtime!) and 20th Century Fox's animated movie Anastasia. So join me, won't you? Let me know what you think, and I'm sure I'll share my opinions at some point.


Bullets Over Broadway- 2014
Another show from this past season, Bullets is that one that starred Zach Braff, one of the many Hollywood stars on Broadway, and folded within four months. It used a series of old songs with lyrics adapted somewhat to fit the show. I believe I'd call this one a genuine jukebox musical. I'll have to admit that I only listened to this album once, so I have some homework to do!


Bonnie & Clyde- 2011
Ok, so I'll just say that Bonnie & Clyde's Broadway run (33 previews, 36 performances) makes Rocky look like a smash hit, but seriously, it wasn't bad. Starring Jeremy Jordan and Laura Osnes, the music has some very catchy, upbeat songs. It's interesting for a Frank Wildhorn show, because I suppose if you slowed the songs down, they'd sound like all of his other stuff, but the way he adapted them to fit the genre is interesting.


Which musicals did you wear out in 2014? Which shows have you been meaning to listen to but just keep forgetting about?

Sally Henry www.BroadwayWorld.com/author/Sally-Henry // Twitter: @BwayGinger // Facebook: www.facebook.com/singularsensationbway

You might also like...
-Interview: Rachelle "SAS" Rak Opens Up About Fierce Perseverance Through an Extensive Gypsy Career
-The 5 Modern Broadway Albums to Listen to This Week
-Why the 5 Essential Components of a High School Musical Have Made Me Hate The Sound of Music
-3 Classic Broadway Musicals that Need to Return to Broadway... Yesterday

Monday, January 5, 2015

Interview: Rachelle "SAS" Rak Opens Up About Fierce Perseverance Through an Extensive Gypsy Career

Last week, I got to talk to my favorite Broadway gypsy, Rachelle Rak for BroadwayWorld.com* regarding her show at 54 Below this month. Below, check out our conversation in which she really opens up and pulls out all the stops regarding the business of Broadway, the affects of Hollywood stars, and more. I highly recommend sharing this segment with anyone who wants to be in the Broadway industry!

You’re a seasoned triple-threat with lots of Broadway credits, national tours, and pretty much everything, and along the way, you’ve worked with some big names in show business. So what are some things that you’ve really learned from on your journey?

Oh let’s see, where to begin?! Well first of all, I was in Starlight Express in 1988 or 1989 when I was 18, and I remember this, that Arlene Phillips came up to me- and this is a harsh lesson- and grabbed my waistline and said, “What’s this?” I’m telling you, 18 years old, that stuff sticks with you. But first of all, it’s not a negative. Arlene Phillips kind of toughened me up to know, “Oh, ok, you have to be fit.” I feel like doing Cats and doing Starlight Express, those Lloyd Webber shows very early, I had a resilience that just, I could do anything. That’s what I thought, because I had such stamina. And I’m grateful for that.
And this business is always about, “Me! Pick me! Am I good enough? Am I pretty enough?" It’s exhausting. And I say that with tone, because after 25 years, you’re like, “I like me. It’s ok if you don’t.”  
It takes the resilience and discipline to get good and then to get great. And for me, I’m still not there. I’m like, I just want to keep getting better. 
Every step I take, I’m trying to grow. Even if I fall, even if I embarrass myself, I’m going to laugh at it, and move forward. That’s where I’m at.
And then after being featured in the original Broadway cast of Fosse, I remember people saying, “Well you’re not going to go back into the chorus, are you?” And I was like, “I like to work! I want to be a part of the show.”

And then you have all the movie stars stepping into leading roles on Broadway. But thank God we have the Sutton Fosters who went up from Broadway, which is wonderful! But it’s getting harder and harder to get those parts, because Hollywood is on Broadway a lot more. And it’s like, if there’s not a star, is it going to sell? And it’s sad to me.

For sure. You’ve been in a few shows that were considered flops, like your most recent one Catch Me If You Can.

Oh, so heartbreaking! I mean, people think once you’re in a Broadway show, it’s “What show are you doing next?” It’s very hard. And I’m not looking for empathy, but just because you’re in one show does not mean you get the next one.
Life works that way, where you work really hard, you get a promotion. Broadway does not work that way. 
Last week I saw my friends in Side Show. And I thought it was a fantastic show, and it just shows me, I’m like, “What is Broadway doing wrong that they can’t keep these amazing shows open?”

And with so many different choreographers, they all have their groups, and to break into that group it can be tricky. So when you do, you better ride it out and enjoy it. I always feel for the underdogs, because somebody gave me a shot when I was 17 years old, had no resume. I was in high school. So when new people are coming to New York, I always hope that someone takes a shot on someone new with nothing on their resume, but with a lot of guts and a lot of heart, because that’s how I started.
There’s a lot of students who are not learning to dance, sing, and act and do all three well, because they want to be the one singing the solo. I wanted to be in the game. I wanted to be in the show. 
My husband still can’t understand that you go into auditions, maybe for your fourth audition, and sometimes they don’t call you that you didn’t get it. It’s just done. They don’t say, “Thank you for the four times and 27 trips that you made.” 
And if I write a book, and I’m working on it, it’s going to be called, It is Personal, because it is personal. It is everything about who you are.
Check Singular Sensation in the coming weeks for more from Rachelle Rak!

Rachelle Rak in Sas with one 'S'™ plays 54 Below (254 West 54th Street) on Sunday, January 4, 2015 and Thursday, January 29, 2015. There is a $30-40 cover charge and $25 food and beverage minimum. Tickets and information are available at www.54Below.com. Tickets on the day of performance after 4:00 are only available by calling (646) 476-3551.

Sally Henry www.BroadwayWorld.com/author/Sally-Henry // Twitter: @BwayGinger // Facebook: www.facebook.com/singularsensationbway

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*Italicized content was published on BroadwayWorld.com here while un-italicized content is exclusively on Singular Sensation!

Make sure to read the whole interview on BroadwayWorld.com* here

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