Cue & A: Hunchback Leading Lady Ciara Renée on Esmeralda, Elaine Stritch and Talking to Animals

News   Cue & A: Hunchback Leading Lady Ciara Renée on Esmeralda, Elaine Stritch and Talking to Animals Ciara Renée, starring as Esmeralda in The Hunchback of Notre Dame at the Paper Mill Playhouse, fills out Playbill.com's questionnaire of random facts, backstage trivia and pop-culture tidbits.

Ciara Renée
Ciara Renée

Renée has appeared on Broadway as The Witch in Big Fish and Leading Player in Pippin.

Regional work includes Sondheim on Sondheim, Chess, Passing Strange, Carousel and Les Miz.

Full given name: Ciara Renée
Where you were born/where you were raised: I was born and raised in Harrisburg, PA.
Zodiac Sign: I'm a Libra/Scorpio cusp with a rising sign of Scorpio. If you don't know your rising sign, I suggest you find someone who can calculate it for you. It's very eye-opening!
What your parents did/do for a living: My mother is a Senior Casualty Claims Specialist I, which in layman's terms means the head insurance adjuster!
Siblings: I have several half-siblings whom I don't see often, and one full older brother who lives in North Carolina with my two beautiful and extremely intelligent nieces, Lili and Aura!
Who were you main mentors/inspirations when first starting out? I've had many helpful teachers along my path including my elementary music teacher Ms. Mohn, my high school musical director and teacher Mr. Diehl, and of course Vicky and Scott at BW. It's been a true joy growing with and because of these valuable mentors.
Current audition song/monologue: My general audition song is almost always "Man That Got Away." Monologues are always so very specific, I have 5 or so I can cycle through (and brush up on) any time I need one.
Special skills: My favorite special skill on my resume is "excellent monkey noises." I'm thinking of adding some impressions I've been working on soon!
First Broadway show you ever saw: I believe it was Mary Poppins, but it may have been Pirate Queen. i saw them both on a high school trip to NYC and I was so blown away by how cool Mary Poppins was. I think that was the first time I really yearned to be a Broadway performer.
If you could go back in time and catch any show, what would it be? That would probably be a close tie between the original Chicago with Gwen and Chita and the original Sweeney Todd!
Current show other than your own you have been recommending to friends: Hamilton. For obvious reasons. I got my fingers crossed for everyone to get lotto ticks!
Favorite showtune(s) of all time:

“Everybody Say Don’t” performed by Barbra Streisand

“I Don't Care Much” from Cabaret (also love Barbra's version)

“No Good Deed” from Wicked

Some favorite modern musicals: Wicked, Hamilton, Fun Home, Light in the Piazza
Some favorite classic musicals: Pippin, Chicago, Cabaret, Sweeney Todd, and Gypsy
Broadway or screen stars of the past you would have most loved to perform with: Elaine Stritch! I feel her crazy was like the matured version of my crazy and I love her passion and timing! I'd also love to work with Ben Vereen. He's a true star in every sense of the word and a joy to meet! That smile is undeniable!
Your personal vocal idols, living or dead:

Whitney Houston and Ella Fitzgerald are my musical mothers. I learned everything I know about true R&B, pop and jazz singing from these stunning performers and unparalleled musicians.

I'm also obsessed with Bobby McFerrin. No one has ears or voices that just don't quit like those three.

The one performance – attended that you will never forget:

Back in college I went to a regional production of a show called Blue Door by Tanya Barfield, and was so moved I couldn't speak through the sobs wracking my body. My boyfriend of the time was one of the two actors in the piece and I remember being so proud of how thorough his work was as he swept back and forth between characters, ages, and eras.

And I remember weeping for the idea that assimilation is required in this society and yet it leaves many people with ethnic backgrounds that differ from the majority feeling lost, ungrounded, ashamed, and at times, unglued. It was one of my first straight plays, and I'll always remember being blown away.

Music that makes you cry, any genre: Jazz. It's my heart song. It makes my heart leap out of my chest, swell, weep, and fall to the pit of my stomach. Something about that genre of music will always moves me.
MAC or PC? I always loved my PC's and understood them, but MAC has taken over and it’s far easier to have a MAC and have everything be compatible!
Most played song on your iPod: Of all time? Might be “Angel Eyes” by Ella Fitzgerald. Currently: “Molasses” by Hiatus Kaiyote. That chick got some serious funk!
Most-visited websites: Facebook, obvi! And I've started blogging a bit for my own good, so Tumblr now too. Also, Upworthy and Buzzfeed!
Favorite Tweeters: Lin and Fuzion!
Last book you read: “Jane Eyre.” I've got like 5 other books I've just started or I'm half-way through.
Must-see TV show(s): “Downton Abbey” and “Game of Thrones”
Last good movie you saw: “Imitation Game” was really interesting, and “Grand Budapest Hotel” had me in stitches. It was so beautifully and skillfully done!
Some films you consider classics: “Mrs. Doubtfire,” “Lion King” and “Groundhog Day”
Performer you would drop everything to go see: Bobby McFerrin!
Pop culture guilty pleasure: Buzzfeed. I'm obsessed with Buzzfeed.
Three favorite cities: New York, San Francisco and London! The big beautiful ones for me!
Favorite sport/team/player: Does not compute. lol
First CD/Tape/LP you owned: “Mariah Carey Christmas”! We still play that sucker every Christmas!
First stage kiss: I think my first stage kiss was in Rent when I did it locally during high school. Stage love is always a teeny bit awkward at the start, but once you work with and get to know your partner it becomes just like any other part of the show!
Favorite or most memorable onstage role as a child/teenager: Probably Mimi. I was 17-18 when I did it and at that point it was the juiciest role I had ever done. Looking back I think the production was a mess, but I had the most fun during that show!
Moment you knew you wanted to perform for a living: I came out of the womb singing. I don't think there was ever a question of whether I'd be a performer or not.
Favorite pre-/post- show meal: Lucky Burger! I ate SOOOO much of that during Pippin. My soul and my body needed a lift after that show and Lucky Burger was everything I needed!
Favorite liquid refreshment: I really love Juice Gen! Pressed greens are the best!
Pre-show rituals or warm-ups: Whatever I need that day! Generally stretching, vocal warmups, often a hot shower or steam. The usual.
Most challenging role you have ever played: Leading Player, for sure. Not only was it the most physically demanding role I've ever taken on, it was also emotionally very draining. Reality blurs a bit under the tent.
What drew you to this new project and what has been the biggest challenge so far?

I've always loved “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”! Esmeralda was my first costume as a kindergartener! She's strong, passionate, open, honest, understanding, and a little rough around the edges.

But beyond playing Esmeralda I am always so stoked to play amongst such creative and powerful performers, and to tell a story about love and compassion shining through the dark and sinister world in which we live is so important to me. The question of how do we accept one another for our differences instead of in spite of them is an incredible idea to pose every night.

Worst flubbed line/missed cue/onstage mishap: I completely missed a scene in Pippin once. It was my first or second week and I completely mixed up what my next entrance was so I went upstairs to play with Barnum and was dragged outta my room only to have already missed the whole scene. I can never apologize enough to Kyle and Bethanny!
Worst costume ever: I remember crying about these heinous flowy black pants I wore during my high school's production of Smokey Joe's. I couldn’t stand them and how old-lady they made me look!
Craziest audition story: My auditions are almost always crazy! I love letting loose in an audition. I often throw my papers around, jump on the furniture in the room, or fall to the floor. I mean, obviously within reason of the show/style/character, but it's fun when its a bit of a whirlwind!
Leading lady role you've been dying to play: Elphie or Gypsy!
Leading man role you wish you could play: Sweeney Todd!
Something about you that surprises people: I'm a video game, cartoon and anime freak. Less so now that I haven’t got the time to spend on it, but I used to play FF and WOW with the best of 'em!
Something you are incredibly proud of: My niece! She's so smart, like Mensa smart. And she's turning into quite the little tomboy, which is exactly how I was when I was young. But thankfully she's also very much into music, dancing, and performance. When she came to see me in Pippin, her first Broadway show, I couldn't have been happier.
Something you're embarrassed to admit: I used to sit in the woods behind my house as a kid and wait for animals to approach me. I thought maybe if I waited long enough they'd talk to me. I also confided in my fido for many years, really thinking he could understand me!
Career you would want if not a performer: I'd want to be an activist of some kind or a psychologist. I want to help people grow and help society keep moving forward.
Three things you can't live without: My phone, my stretching/PT equipment and yoga!
"I'll never understand why…" … cats don't normally like me. They're always so mean to me!
Words of advice for aspiring performers: Be honest to who you are and be open with everyone you work with. It's exhausting being available all the time, and you won't always be. But you must try. It's worth it in the end.
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