DIVA TALK: Chatting with The Toxic Avenger's Celina Carvajal Plus Chess in Concert on CD

News   DIVA TALK: Chatting with The Toxic Avenger's Celina Carvajal Plus Chess in Concert on CD News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.
Celina Carvajal
Celina Carvajal

CELINA CARVAJAL
Although Celina Carvajal — who, at age seven, sang for Pope John Paul II — has appeared on Broadway in Tarzan, Dracula, 42nd Street and Cats, she may best be known for a musical that she was not a part of, Legally Blonde. The young singing actress was one of the contestants on the MTV reality television program, "Legally Blonde, The Search for the Next Elle Woods." Although Carvajal did not win that casting competition, the exposure has helped the triple threat land several jobs, including her current role in the new musical The Toxic Avenger at New World Stages: Carvajal recently succeeded Sara Chase in the role of Sarah, "the sexy blind librarian," in the musical penned by Joe DiPietro (I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change) and Bon Jovi founding member David Bryan. Earlier this week I had the pleasure of chatting with the talented Carvajal, who spoke about the Blonde competition, her current role Off-Broadway and her work as a producer; that brief interview follows:

Question: I heard you had a bit of drama this past weekend at Toxic Avenger.
Celina Carvajal: We did! [Laughs.]

Question: What happened?
Carvajal: There's a point where Nick Cordero as Toxie goes out into the audience. One of the patrons put their bag on the barrel that [Nick] jumps off of. He tripped on the barrel and smashed his shin and just cracked open his shin basically. There were pools of blood on the stage for the rest of the show. He toughed it out and got through the rest of the show, but his shoe was full of blood. It was gross. [Laughs.] But he's fine, he just had to get four stitches.

Question: But he was able to finish the show?
Carvajal: He finished the show and then we cancelled the night show and the Monday show so his stitches could heal, but he's back on Wednesday.

Question: How did this role come about for you?
Carvajal: Well, I auditioned like everybody else! [Laughs.] I had seen it. I was in Rooms across the way. I was Leslie Kritzer's understudy. I had gotten to see one of [the Avenger] previews, and I knew a bunch of people at the show. When Sara put her notice in, everybody gave me a call. They were like, "You need to come in for this. You're perfect for this role." So I went in and I rocked it out, and I got the job! [Laughs.] Question: What's it like stepping into a production that's already running?
Carvajal: You know what, it's nice because you don't have to deal with going through tech and all the crazy hell of that. But it can also be hard because everyone is already friends and already kind of close-knit. It's almost like you're breaking into the cool crowd. It can feel really daunting and a little scary. It was very scary for me at first. This is my first time in a big, big role. I've been an understudy before doing big roles, but it's different. This is mine to have, so I was really nervous.

Question: A lot of times you don't get that much rehearsal when you're going in.
Carvajal: I rehearsed for about a week. I was so freaked out that I was pretty much ready. By the time we got to my fourth rehearsal, I was just like, "Yeah, I'm ready. Let's do this!" [Laughs.]

Question: How would you describe the character you're playing?
Carvajal: She's extremely kind-hearted and a very, very good person. She's strong in her morals. Outwardly she's very sweet, but on the inside she's just a sex kitten and knows what she wants and will do anything to get it. And, she's also blind. [Laughs.]

Question: What it like playing someone who can't see?
Carvajal: It's actually really fun. It's a really good acting exercise because you basically have to be hyper aware of what you're hearing instead of what you see. So if you just forget about what you see and just go on what you hear, there is so much to play with as far as the actors changing the inflections of the way they say a line. It really informs you a lot if you listen. It's really cool.

Question: Do you have a favorite moment in the show for her?
Carvajal: Of course I do! My favorite moment is when we sing "Hot Toxic Love," and I get to play with whipped cream. There's nothing better than playing with whipped cream onstage. It's so fun! [Laughs.]

Question: How have audiences been responding to the show?
Carvajal: They love it. They eat it up — they think it's hilarious. If they know what they're seeing, if they know they're coming in to see a farce, a ridiculous comedy, something that's just over the top. The minute you introduce a nun and the nun is saying "bitch" and all that kind of stuff, you understand that it's this over-the-top comedy from the very get go. As long as the audience understands that, they love it. They eat it up. They're so responsive — they yell and scream! It's the ones who really rock out that are our favorite.

Question: Since we haven't spoken before, I wanted to go back a bit. Where were you born and raised.
Carvajal: San Francisco, California, in the Haight-Ashbury.

Question: When did you start performing?
Carvajal: I started performing when I was two years old. I was in ballet. My father's a choreographer, my mother was a prima ballerina, and we had a ballet company. So I started dancing ballet when I was really, really little. I started performing at a young age, and I even toured in Japan when I was nine.

Question: In what show?
Carvajal: It was a review of all these dances. It was called The Ballet Celeste.

Question: Did you like performing at that age?
Carvajal: Oh, of course. I loved it. My God, I was such a ham. My parents would turn on the radio in the living room, and their friends would all sit down on the couches, and I would just dance around and make things up for hours on end. You couldn't stop me.

Celina Carvajal as Anytime Annie in Broadway's 42nd Street

Question: At what point do you think you knew it would be your career?
Carvajal: It was never something that crossed my mind. It just was something that ended up developing. I found musical theatre when I was 13 because of my sister. I really liked it a lot. I think because my family is so creative and is already in the creative world and that's just a way of life, it was never a question of a hobby. It was always just what you loved to do. Question: Were there any artists that you particularly admired as a young performer?
Carvajal: I loved Madeline Kahn. And, really recently, Nancy Opel is quite inspiring to me. She is so incredible, and I love working with her. She's such a great person, too. Now I have a new inspiration in my life. [Laughs.]

Question: When did you get to New York?
Carvajal: I got here in May of 1999. I was doing the tour of Cats, and they transferred me over to the Broadway production.

Question: Do you remember your first night on a Broadway stage?
Carvajal: I must have cried intensely. I don't remember. It's one of those things. Sometimes the biggest moments in your life are just such a blur because you're running on high adrenaline. I do remember when I got the call I was screaming and crying and jumping up and down and hyperventilating. [Laughs.]

Celina Carvajal (center) with "Woods" hopefuls Emma and Lauren
photo by © 2009 MTV Networks

Question: You were also in the Legally Blonde reality casting series. How did you get involved in that?
Carvajal: I got a phone call from my agent saying that Jerry Mitchell wanted me to come in for it. Originally I had been in for the show a million times, and they were like, "Well, you're just not one or the other. We can't figure out where to put you in the show. We really like you." And then I got the call to be on the reality show. I milled it over for a while. I was like, "I don't know…" And then I decided to do it because I thought it would be a really fun experience. It ended up being extremely rewarding in a weird way, and I'm so happy I did it. To this day I'm so happy I did it. Question: In what way would you say it was rewarding?
Carvajal: It really gave me a chance to sit outside of myself and watch myself as an auditioner. We got to see every audition on camera. It was all posted online, so we got to see our whole audition. It was amazing to watch me and go, "What the hell am I singing? What are you doing?" [Laughs.] I met some amazing people. Bailey [Hanks] and I are still really good friends. And, also it's been helpful in a weird way for my career because people can look at that and say, "Oh, my God, I remember her! She was in that show." It helps in some strange way. It takes you a little bit further out of obscurity. Even though I didn't win and I didn't get the winner's edit — they edited me so I looked really bad on the show — it still was helpful.

Question: Do you think the clips they showed portrayed you fairly?
Carvajal: Oh, good God no. The way they edited it for MTV, and I was fully aware of that, was they edited it so you wanted Bailey to win. They don't show the good parts. They'll show the bad parts so people want you to leave. You know what I mean? Editing is done to make the audience feel the way they want them to feel.

Question: If there were a similar casting show for a big Broadway role, would you do it again?
Carvajal: I would only do it again if it was a part that I was right for. I was not right for Elle Woods at all in any way, shape or form. That's the one thing I look at and go, "What was I thinking?" I was not right for that part. I should have gone in with blonde hair and been all tan and everything. Why I went in with my red hair . . . . If they did something where they were casting a role that I was right for, then I'd do it again if I knew I had a really good shot at it.

Question: Where would you like to see your career go from here?
Carvajal: Well, I did a movie called "The Big Gay Musical." We're doing an album release in July. I would love to do movie musicals. I would love to be a recording artist as well. I just want to keep doing new projects. As far as Broadway is concerned, I want to do new projects and actually bring new projects, so I'm also producing some things.

Question: Tell me about those if you can.
Carvajal: I wrote a musical with all the music of Heart. Actually just my friend [and I] were like, "Alright we're doing a reading. . . I'm gonna produce a reading." So I produced the reading, and it was a real success. Right now we're pursuing the rights. I was handed [another] project by my friend Maggie Levin, who is Tony Levin's daughter. Tony Levin is a very famous bass player— he's Peter Gabriel's bass player. I had booked this reading over a year ago to star in this new Peter Gabriel musical, and the funding had dropped out. The writer and I had become really good friends because I had asked her to help me write the Heart musical. Finally I was just like, "Look, I'll produce the reading of your Peter Gabriel musical because it needs to happen because it's really good." So I produced that reading, and it went really, really well. We're actually talking to bigger producers. I'm just a baby producer. I'll do readings and stuff like that and get things going. Question: That's great. You're getting projects together as well as being in them.
Carvajal: I hope to be someone like Sarah Jessica Parker who produces the things that she loves and also is in them. Why can't an actor on Broadway also help produce the show? I'm kind of trying to be in all aspects of it.

[New World Stages is located in Manhattan at 340 West 50th Street. For tickets visit www.telecharge.com; for more information visit www.TheToxicAvengerMusical.com.]

Idina Menzel (center) with Josh Groban and Adam Pascal in "Chess"
photo by Tristram Kenton

FOR THE RECORD: "Chess in Concert" (Reprise Records)
The history of Chess may be as complicated as the evolution of the game itself: Following a hit 1984 concept album, the musical had a respectable run in London in 1986 despite a change in directors (the late Michael Bennett became ill during rehearsals and was succeeded by Trevor Nunn), but New York critics were mostly underwhelmed, and the show ran just 17 previews and 68 regular performances at the Imperial Theatre in 1988. Yet, what has always been evident is the strength of the Chess score, which was penned by ABBA's Benny Anderson and Björn Ulvaeus (music) and Evita 's Tim Rice (lyrics). Perhaps this is why the musical may work best in concert format: The Actors Fund offered a wonderful concert in 2003 that featured Julia Murney, Adam Pascal and Josh Groban as, respectively, Florence Vassy, Frederick Trumper and Anatoly Sergievsky. And, Pascal and Groban — joined by Tony Award winner Idina Menzel — repeated their work for London audiences in May 2008. Those concerts at the Royal Albert Hall were recorded and recently released on both DVD and CD. If anyone doubts that Pascal — of Broadway's Rent and Aida — possesses one of the great rock tenors of his generation, just listen to his passionate rendition of "Pity the Child" and the ease in which he sings the rangy, powerful ballad. Groban also boasts one of the richest voices around, and the theatre newcomer does exceedingly well as the conflicted Russian chess champion: His version of "Anthem" is especially thrilling. Menzel, who is best known for her touching (and award-winning) performance as the green-faced, misunderstood Elphaba in Stephen Schwartz and Winnie Holzman's Wicked, may not be perfectly suited for the role — it's hard to forget the golden tones of original London Chess star Elaine Paige or the silvery vibrato of her Broadway counterpart, Judy Kuhn — yet much of Menzel's singing is exciting it its own way. She is at her best in the plaintive ballad "Heaven Help My Heart" near the very end of the show's first act. Menzel and Kerry Ellis, playing the role of Svetlana, also score with the well-known duet, "I Know Him So Well," and Ellis brings her own powerful belt to "Someone Else's Story," the ballad added to the show for its Broadway debut. Among the other highlights of Chess in Concert are Pascal's "One Night in Bangkok" and the reprise of "You and I" (Menzel and Groban).

The concert also boasted the 50-piece City of London Philharmonic, led by David Firman, and the 100-voice West End Chorus. David Bedella was Molokov with Clarke Peters as Walter and Marti Pellow as The Arbiter.

The two-CD set — on the Reprise Records label — features liners notes and synopsis by co-creator Tim Rice.

Kate Baldwin

DIVA TIDBITS
Casting has been announced for the upcoming production of the Tony Award-winning Meredith Willson musical The Music Man, which begins performances July 20 at the St. Louis Muny, the nation's oldest and largest outdoor theatre. Directed by Marc Bruni with choreography by Liza Gennaro, the cast will be headed by James Clow as Harold Hill and Kate Baldwin as Marian Paroo with Anthony Cummings as Charlie Cowell, James Anthony as Mayor Shinn, Rich Knight as Ewart Dunlop, Eric Dalbey as Oliver Hix, Chris Hallam as Olin Britt, Tim Waurick as Jacey Squires, Jeb Brown as Marcellus Washburn, Drew Humphrey as Tommy Djilas, Donna English as Eulalie MacKecknie Shinn, Parker Donovan as Winthrop Paroo, Lora Lee Gayer as Ethel Toffelmier, Nicole Hren as Zanetta Shinn, Olivia Prosser as Amarylis, Georgia Engel as Mrs. Paroo and Alyssa Wolf as Gracie Shinn. For more information call (314) 361-1900, ext. 550 or visit www.muny.org. The line-up for the 20th Annual Cabaret Convention — which will be held Oct. 7-9 at Jazz at Lincoln Center in Manhattan — has been announced. The three-day convention, which salutes the best of New York cabaret, will kick off Oct. 7 with Celebrate! Celebrate! Celebrate! The evening, which will include the presentation of the Dick Gallagher Award to Eric Michael Gillett, will feature the talents of Lucie Arnaz, Barbara Carroll, Matt Cavenaugh, Simon Green, LaTanya Hall, Mary Cleere Haran, Nicolas King, Andrea Marcovicci, Karen Mason, Amanda McBroom, Sidney Myer, Marian Seldes, Elaine Stritch, Wesla Whitfield and award recipient Gillett. All in the Family is the title of the Oct. 8 performance, which will boast the talents of Adam, Batyah, Kerry and Sheera Ben-David; Ann Hampton, Liz and Shirley Callaway; Eric Comstock; Tony DeSare; Kevin Dozier; Tim Draxl; Christine Ebersole; Barbara Fasano; Nicole Henry; Beckie Menzie; Tom Michael; Mark Nadler; Will and Anthony Nunziata; Elizabeth, Stacy and KT Sullivan; and Maria Teece. Sheera Ben-David will receive the Julie Wilson Award during the Family night. The convention will conclude Oct. 9 with Music Heals. In addition to the presentation of the Mabel Mercer Award to "A Very Special Artist," the concert will feature the vocals of Karen Akers, Baby Jane Dexter, Natalie Douglas, Jeff Harnar, Marilyn Maye, Phillip Officer, Barbara Rosene, Craig Rubano, Catherine Russell, Daryl Sherman, Billy Stritch, Marlene VerPlanck and Julie Wilson. All shows begin at 6 PM. Tickets are priced $20, $50 and $100. The Rose Theater is located at Frederick P. Rose Hall within Jazz at Lincoln Center at Broadway and 60th Street. For more information about the upcoming convention, visit www.mabelmercer.org or call (212) 980-3026.

Kristin Scott Thomas, the Academy Award-nominated actress who was seen on Broadway last season in a revival of The Seagull, will play Swedish actress Desiree Armfeldt in a new Paris production of A Little Night Music. The production of the classic Stephen Sondheim-Hugh Wheeler musical will play Paris' Théâtre du Châtelet Feb. 15-20, 2010, according to the theatre's official website. Scott Thomas previously told the New York Daily News that the production would be in English. The award-winning actress will sing "Send in the Clowns" in the haunting musical that was inspired by Ingmar Bergman's film "Smiles of a Summer Night." Directed by Jonathan Stockhammer with choreography by Andrew George, the cast will also feature David Curry as Henrik Egerman, Rebecca Bottone as Anne Egerman, Lambert Wilson as Fredrik Egerman, Francesca Jackson as Petra, Nicholas Garrett as Count Carl-Magnus Malclom, Deanne Meek as Countess Charlotte Malcolm, Celeste de Veazey as Fredrika Armfeldt, Leslie Caron as Madame Armfeldt, Damian Thantrey as Mr. Lindquist, Kate Valentine as Mrs. Nordstrom, James Edwards as Mr. Erlanson and Daphné Touchais as Mrs. Segstrom.

The annual The 24 Hour Plays Off-Broadway — featuring six new plays created in one day's time — will be held July 13 at the Atlantic Theater. Nikki Blonsky, who played Tracy Turnblad in the movie musical "Hairspray," will host the event, which will feature Laura Breckenridge ("Gossip Girl"), Joey Slotnick ("Nip/Tuck"), Julie Halston (Hairspray, "Sex and the City"), Patrick Heusinger (Next Fall, "Gossip Girl"), Max Casella ("The Sopranos") and Russell Jones (Ruined) as well as the At Play ensemble. The Atlantic Theater is located in Manhattan at 48 West 20th Street. For tickets call (212) 868-4444 or visit www.smarttix.com. For more information go to www.atplayproductions.com.

Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.

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