Every few seasons a new voice of singular beauty graces the Broadway stage, and this year theatre fans are being treated to the glorious sounds of Lauren Worsham, whose soaring soprano is one of the many highlights of the new musical comedy A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder, which plays the Walter Kerr Theatre. Worsham, who is making her Broadway debut, plays the role of Phoebe D'Ysquith in a cast that also features Tony winner Jefferson Mays, Bryce Pinkham, Lisa O'Hare and Jane Carr. A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of chatting with the singing actress, whose theatrical credits also include the New York City Opera production of Candide, the Goodspeed staging of Carnival and the national tour of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Worsham spoke about her road to Broadway, her role in the Robert L. Freedman-Steven Lutvak musical and more; that interview follows.
Question: Since we haven’t spoken before, let’s go back a bit. Can you tell me where you were born and raised?
Lauren Worsham: Austin, Texas
Question: When did you start performing? What is your earliest memory?
Lauren Worsham: I played Jonathan Livingston Seagull in a musical version of Jonathan Livingston Seagull in Austin, TX. It was pretty special. [Laughs.]
Question: What grade was that?
Lauren Worsham: I think I was probably eight. Before that I sang at home a lot. I was actually tone deaf until I had tumors in my ears — I had very small ear canals — removed. Once they fixed that I was actually able to sing in a pleasant manner.
Question: Do either of your parents sing?
Lauren Worsham: No, they’re in real estate. [Laughs.] My brother sings. My brother is a singer-songwriter. His name is Parker Ainsworth. He changed his last name to his middle name. Question: When you were growing up, were there any singers or actors that you admired or inspired you?
Lauren Worsham: Absolutely. Austin is a big music town, so growing up I had a lot of local heroes. Toni Price I was very, very into; she was one of the first people I tried to emulate. She’s a local Austin blues artist. Marsha Paul I was also a very big fan of. And, in the larger sense, of course, Beverly Sills… She’s a legend and what she did with the New York City Opera was pretty amazing. And, Maria Callas… In theatre, Barbra Streisand. I mean, who doesn’t? She’s amazing. The list goes on. I’m particularly enamored these days with Laura Benanti. I’ve seen her perform live before… but she was just so amazing in [the "Sound of Music Live!"] broadcast… I mean she just stole the show in a part that should not necessarily be stealing the show. She was so amazing, and her voice was so crystal clear and conversational and just wonderful.
Question: Was there ever a point when performing changed from a hobby to when you knew it would be your career?
Lauren Worsham: Yes. When I first went to Yale, I thought to myself, “Okay, I’m going to Yale, I should do something sensible. I should major in something, and I should have a back-up plan." Everyone always told me it’s a really hard way to make a living, which it is. But, of course, when I got there, I started auditioning for musicals, and even though I didn’t major in it, it was kind of the first step towards it. I just couldn’t get away from it. Really, I think the defining moment was when I went to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival my freshman summer, and we were basically playing there for a month, [and] sometimes there would only be two people in the audience. And, I thought, if I was still enjoying this and doing it every night for one dude, even if it was just our producer, then I thought that I could do this for a living!
|Photo by Joan Marcus|
Question: What was your first professional job?
Lauren Worsham: I did theatre in Austin. There was a wonderful company there called Broadway Texas, and before that it was Austin Musical Theater. They did a lot of professional things and brought people in, New York actors to play the leads, and I started doing chorus roles. They brought me back my sophomore year in Yale to play Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, which we toured around Texas a little bit. And, I was with John Bolton, Paul Ainsley…. It was just a fantastic company. So, at a young age, I was able to meet people who did that for a living, New York theatre actors.
Question: When did you get to New York?
Lauren Worsham: I moved to New York right after I graduated, which was in 2005. I came here and worked four jobs — I was a line monitor at Spamalot. I would get there at 7 AM and tell people, “Standing-room tickets are only $29, you can only buy two at a time, you need an ID." [Laughs.] I did that, so I saw Spamalot a lot. I also played fake patients for medical schools. And then I sang for Bill Finn, who teaches at the Tisch Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program, and he asked me to audition for Spelling Bee and then I booked the tour, and I guess that was my first big job.
Question: How and when did you get involved with Gentleman’s Guide?
Lauren Worsham: I did a production of Carnival at the Goodspeed Opera House — it must have been three-and-a-half years ago — that Darko [Tresnjak] directed, and it was fantastic, and we had a great time. And, about a year-and-a-half ago, or two years now, he called me and said, “Hey, we’re doing this workshop of a musical with the artistic director of Hartford Stage, and I really want you to play this role of Phoebe." So I came out, and we were in Hartford doing the workshop. The other people who are carryovers from that are Lisa O’Hare, who plays Sibella; Price Waldman, who is in the ensemble; and, of course, Jefferson. And, we had a great time. Unfortunately I was unable to do the out-of-town thing because of scheduling — I wasn’t even able to go in for it because I was doing Turn of the Screw at the NYC Opera and Dog Days, which is another opera piece. Then when they came back, they wanted me to come back in, and now I’m in the show. [Laughs.]
Question: What was your first night on Broadway like? How did it live up to what you expected it to be or how was it different?
Lauren Worsham: I’d say, honestly, the biggest moment for me was not even the first night on Broadway, but walking into the theatre for the first time and realizing that I was in a Broadway theatre and Jordan Roth introducing everybody in the theatre and saying, "Welcome to your new home." That was a very, very different feeling than I’ve ever felt before. I started crying a little, I’m not gonna lie. … It's been a long journey of wanting this for a really long time. And, the first preview was insane because it was mostly friends. It was a crazy house, just floating on air. And then it’s a job, and you’re doing theatre, it’s just it’s in New York. The crazy thing is that more people than have ever come to see me in anything else in New York [have come to see me in this]. People are just coming out of the woodwork because, I guess, it’s just such higher profile. My English teacher from sixth grade showed up, which blew my mind. Things like that. It’s still pretty special to be able to work on Broadway and go to the theatre. It really feels like a little family.
Question: How would you describe Phoebe?
Lauren Worsham: I would describe Phoebe as a beautiful, delicate doll with a quirky, bizarre center. [Laughs.] She seems just like a delicate perfume, a breath of fresh air, and then she’s obsessed with poverty and working men. She finds that very sexy, and she also is, at the very end – I don’t want to give it away – but she accepts that her husband may not be that perfect man that she thought he was.
|Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN|
Question: Do you have a favorite moment in the show for her? Is there something you look forward to each night?
Lauren Worsham: Yes. I particularly love the dinner scene because there is so much going on, and every single night I feel like we add new things.… There’s not a lot of singing, there’s not a lot of intense, dramatic sentimental moments — it’s just chaos and it’s a really, really fun scene to be in.
Question: I love the trio between you, Bryce and Lisa O’Hare…
Lauren Worsham: People love that. [Laughs.]
Question: What is that like to play?
Lauren Worsham: Oh man, it’s a lot of making sure I’m doing the exact right thing at the exact right time! All of our minds are constantly running, and our heart rate is up really high, trying to remind ourselves to breathe, and by the end, we’re all breathing really heavily, and, of course, I have to kiss Bryce at the end of that scene, and he is pretty sweaty. So that is pleasant… but he’s wonderful. It’s heart-racing but a lot of fun.
Question: Tell me a little bit about working with your two leading men, with Jefferson and Bryce.
Lauren Worsham: Jefferson and I hardly have any scenes together, just that one where he smacks me on the ass with the riding crop, but other than that we don’t have a lot of stuff together. But he’s an amazing person to watch. He’s such a hard worker; he’s completely dedicated at every single moment, and really invested in the whole piece, not just what he is doing. He’s a big advocate for the piece, and he’s wonderful to watch while he’s working every night. His consistency and how he takes and can gage the temperature of an audience and work with them. And, I should also mention that Jane Carr is the same way. She was telling me this trick about how when [audiences are] restless, she tries to get them to listen up and how she has different tricks for different audiences, which was very interesting. And, Bryce is wonderful. He is such a wonderful person. We did a reading of Kiss Me, Kate up at Yale. It was an alumni reading of Kiss Me, Kate, and it was the place where Christopher Durang ended up messing up his knee because he was playing one of the gangsters. That’s how we first met, and then a year later we ended up playing opposite each other. He’s a very, very giving actor on stage. He’s always with you, and I feel very supported. And, Lisa O’Hare is also wonderful. She’s a delight.
|photo by Diane Sobolewski|
Question: What was it like for you all when the rave reviews came out? Were you surprised?
Lauren Worsham: I don’t think anyone was surprised. I think we all felt that we were in something special. We felt that way, so it was more gratifying to see that other people agreed, but we never were surprised that it got great reviews because it’s such a wonderful piece, and it’s so well-crafted.… I don’t really read reviews. I did read the Times, but I try not to read reviews because it can make you go crazy. But we did know that they were all amazing because everyone kept sending us things. But I didn’t read them. It's been fantastic. We’re really hoping that those reviews can carry us through the icy doldrums of [the winter], so we’ll see. It was pretty exciting and it made us all feel very buoyed! Question: Are you able to work on anything else while you’re doing this or are you just working on the show?
Lauren Worsham: I absolutely work on other things. The life of a freelance actor, which we all are unless you’re in a company, you constantly have to be creating your own opportunities, and I’m certainly not going to let all of that drop just because I have a wonderful gig now. [Laughs.] Now my gig is my day job… I have a band with my husband called Sky-Pony. We perform about once a month… I’ve already done two readings of new things, and I also have an opera theatre company called the Coterie School, so I’ll probably be doing a fundraiser next year.
Question: What type of music do you and your husband perform?
Lauren Worsham: It’s kind of like indy rock. Indy glam rock? You can check us out at www.sky-pony.com. It’s a lot of fun, and it’s pretty different from what I do on [the Broadway] stage. We performed at Joe’s Pub… and a lot of people from the show came, and we had a great time.
[For tickets to Gentleman's Guide, visit Telecharge.com. The Walter Kerr Theatre is located at 219 W. 48th Street.]
Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to email@example.com.
Diva Talk runs every other week on Playbill.com. Senior editor Andrew Gans also pens the weekly columns Their Favorite Things and Stage Views.
PHOTO EXCLUSIVE: A Killer Two-Show Day at A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder with Leading Lady Lauren Worsham