Karen Mason Plus Stars of Held Momentarily! and Manuel Discuss New Musicals, Stage Mishaps, Coveted Roles

Diva Talk   Karen Mason Plus Stars of Held Momentarily! and Manuel Discuss New Musicals, Stage Mishaps, Coveted Roles
 
News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.
Karen Mason
Karen Mason
India Carney
India Carney

This week's column spotlights four of the women featured in the 2015 New York Musical Theatre Festival, which runs through the end of the month at various venues around the city. Diva Talk posed the same set of questions to each talented artist; their answers, via email, follow. Click here for more information about the annual Festival.

India Carney
Held Momentarily!
July 20, 21, 23, 25, 26 and 27 at PTC Performance Space

How did you get involved with this production?
I got involved with this production after receiving a phone call last summer from my dear friend and LaGuardia Arts classmate, Oliver Houser, the composer and lyricist. Oliver and I, along with most of the LaGuardia cast members of the show, graduated in the Class of 2011. We worked closely together on LaG annual musicals (A Chorus Line, Hairspray) and the Rising Stars talent shows. We became close friends and kept in touch throughout college.  Oliver wanted me to be a part of the new musical that he and James Zebooker co-wrote. It was not difficult for me to say, “Yes! Of course!”  After meeting the director, Hunter Bird, a UCLA alum and my alma mater, I was more than willing to do it. After looking at the script and signature song ("If You See Something, Say Something"), I instantly fell in love with the music and connected with the character that I would later originate in Lilith. Now that my schedule has freed up a bit, I am ecstatic about performing for the show a second time and playing my new role, Asherah, to be performed at the New York Musical Theater Festival. 

What other NYMF productions have you been a part of?
Actually, Held Momentarily! will be my first NYMF production, and I am excited for this new experience!

How would you describe the character you’re playing?
The simple description of Asherah is that she is a homeless woman living on the trains of New York City.  She is confronted daily by people, mostly passengers, who shun her, often keeping their distance and not noticing that she is a person too with feelings. No one had ever taken the time to talk to Asherah or get to know the real story behind her homelessness until one day a crisis happens on the train she was riding.  As the story unfolds, we learn that Asherah was not always homeless. In fact, she was an average middle-class American woman with a family but tragically lost her son some years earlier. The traumatic experience surrounding his death threw her into deep depression, which eventually led her to homelessness. This musical is able to show the beauty of Asherah, a woman who passersby would otherwise never have the nerve to take the time to meet.

Why do you think audiences should attend this particular production?
Audiences should attend this particular production because Held Momentarily is a must-see for New Yorkers and non-New Yorkers who want to get a glimpse of a unique NYC encounter while riding the subway trains. It will allow audiences to channel their everyday lives while analyzing how they may navigate throughout their day, or how they may treat others along the way. This new musical tells a social message about humanity.  It has its fair share of laughter and its emotional moments, too.  If you are anything like me, you will want to take a tissue before you take your seat!

Why do you think NYMF is so important?
NYMF is so important because it facilitates the discovery of new work and encourages budding composers and lyricists to pursue their visions on a bigger scale.The musical theatre world, just like any other industry, looks for new, innovative productions that will help advance and maintain the integrity and beauty of that genre. NYMF is the place where people can go to experience that growth and professional development.

NYMF celebrates new musicals, but which role in a classic musical would you most like to perform and why?
I would love to play Dorothy in [NBC's live production of] The Wiz, or The Wizard of Oz if that show ever came back to the stage! Either production tells the story of a young girl whose dreams really do come true.  I've been fortunate to sing the songs from these musicals many times on stage, in recitals, and more recently as an Artist on Season 8 of NBC's "The Voice." I would also love to play the role of Aida. I played this role in high school, and now I am looking forward to the opportunity to play the role on a Broadway stage. Perhaps it will return someday soon?  To be part of a production like Aida would be great.  This musical is so strong, meaningful and deep. Additionally, the music is insanely beautiful.  It is definitely a singer’s score.

What is your most memorable onstage mishap?
I have been fortunate so far not to have experienced any mishaps of my own while onstage, but during a production years ago, when I was part of the props & costume stage crew, I rescued a wardrobe malfunction for one of our actors.  Halfway through the show, which had no intermission, the lead character had a wardrobe malfunction just before he had to make his grand exit off-stage. His red leather pants ripped at the seams as he was turning his back to the audience. Realizing this right away, he made a dash for the exit. Luckily, he was able to take a break backstage before his next entrance, giving the crew enough time to patch up the rip in his pants. It was quite the experience, and it made me so grateful for all of the work that stage crew do to keep onstage productions running smoothly. It was also a great lesson on teamwork! 

What was your most enjoyable theatrical experience of the season (as a member of the audience)?
As an audience member, my most enjoyable theatrical experience of the season was attending Audra McDonald in Concert, at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Everything about Audra's performance was theatrical and unique. Her stamina, technique, acting, readability, humor, tone, color and emotion scored the highest ratings on my chart of 10 out of 10.  She really inspired me to be the best I can be as a singer and actress, and demonstrated strong work ethics. She showed me through her dedication that hard work will definitely pay off as long as I stay focused.  It was one of the first times that I fan-girled and cried at least three different times — especially when she performed my all-time favorite song, "Somewhere Over The Rainbow."

If you could play any role in a currently running Broadway musical, what would it be and why?
I would play Elphaba in Wicked!  It’s one of the most iconic roles currently running especially for an alto/belter.  I saw Wicked at the Gershwin Theatre four times. I even had a chance to be part of a masterclass with Kristin Chenoweth while I was a student of the Broadway Artists Alliance. Ever since then, I have always wanted to play a witch and dress up in costume riding on a broom wearing green make-up painted all over my face belting gorgeous melodies. If I could play Elphaba, words couldn't explain how happy I would be!

Do you have any other projects in the works?
Yes!  Other projects in the works include auditioning for other musicals, being back in the recording studio, producing the new music I’m writing and collaborating with trusted musicians to help me launch my long-awaited EP. This summer, I will also be attending a music festival where I will be teaching a masterclass alongside some of the biggest names in the music industry. Once I return, I am scheduled to begin production on a Christmas musical to be aired on a major television network in NY!  

Karen Mason
Unfinished Business with Karen Mason
July 22 and 25 at Theater 3

How did you get involved with this production?
Well, I wrote it!  I wrote it with my friend Barry Kleinbort. And the amazing help of my friends, Christopher Denny and Frank Ventura.

What other NYMF productions have you been a part of?
A few years ago, I did a show about Dorothy Parker. It was an amazing experience!

Karen Mason
Karen Mason

How would you describe the character you're playing?
Me!

Why do you think audiences should attend this particular production?
I think they will enjoy the story, the music!  And maybe laugh a little; and cry a little; and maybe think about someone they loved.

Why do you think NYMF is so important?
New musicals need a place to be seen! I am happy to be seen!!

NYMF celebrates new musicals, but which role in a classic musical would you most like to perform and why?
Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd! All that great music!!

What is your most memorable onstage mishap?
I fell out of my tube top onstage. Of course, it was in the '80s...and I have recovered from the humiliation!

What was your most enjoyable theatrical experience of the season (as a member of the audience)?
The privilege of seeing a show is good for me!  I know that sounds like a "simpleton's" answer....but honestly, knowing what goes into creating a show (the time, the money, the passion...did I say "money"???!), gives me an appreciation of all that is on every stage! So if I get a chance to see a show...I appreciate that gift. At least I try!

If you could play any role in a currently running Broadway musical, what would it be and why?
Always happy to be working on Broadway....and just cuz, I am an optimist, I am waiting for Rebecca! Crossing everything I got!

Do you have any other projects in the works?
Right now, I am enjoying doing my show at Don't Tell Mama. We will be doing more shows in the fall! I have concerts in Palm Springs and Chicago and a few other towns! Also, I will be teaching, auditioning (hopefully getting hired!), singing...and enjoying my life with my friends, family and, of course, my husband!!

Shakina Nayfack
Manuel versus the Statue of Liberty
July 21, 22, 25, 26 and 27 at The Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre

How did you get involved with this production?
David Davila (the composer of Manuel versus The Statue Of Liberty) is a member of Musical Theatre Factory. He brought Noemi [de la Puente] to one of our Factory Salons, and I guess they had been talking about it because she just asked me straight up if I'd be interested in playing the Statue. I still had to audition, though, so I'm not that much of a diva. Yet.

What other NYMF productions have you been a part of?
In 2013 I produced and directed special event concerts of new music by two of my favorite composers, Nikko Benson and Josh Freilich, called Freilich and Benson Split the Keys.

Shakina Nayfack
Shakina Nayfack

How would you describe the character you're playing?
Well, she's The Statue of Liberty, an iconic figure of the American Dream. In our show she's sassy, brash and a staunch defender of the law. She's also been doing her job for so long that she's gone blind to the ways the country has changed around her. 

Why do you think audiences should attend this particular production?
First off, the music is really killer. Secondly, the subject matter is timely and ridiculously important. Immigration is one of the most hot-button issues in our country today. This show unpacks what it means to be an undocumented minor fighting for citizenship and the right to an education, and it does so with a lot of irreverence, humor and heart.

Why do you think NYMF is so important?
I'm a pretty big advocate of new musical theatre, and spend most of my time helping early-career writers and composers develop their work. New musicals need a platform to understand themselves in production. There's only so much information you can learn about a piece from a reading or showcase. NYMF gives these projects a framework to be fully realized, and the festival format consolidates production efforts and builds community at the same time.

NYMF celebrates new musicals, but which role in a classic musical would you most like to perform and why?
People keep saying I'd make a great Mama Rose, but I think I need another 10 years before I'm ready for her. 

What is your most memorable onstage mishap?
My freshman year of high school I was in the ensemble of The Pajama Game, and I fell off the stage when running out for my entrance in "Once-A-Year Day!"

What was your most enjoyable theatrical experience of the season (as a member of the audience)?
For me it's a tie between Big Love at the Signature and Hamilton at the Public. Tina Landau's direction of Big Love was breathtaking, and when my girl Rebecca Naomi Jones threw her wedding bouquet into the audience at the end of the show, I unabashedly ripped it from the hands of the woman sitting a few seats down from me! And Hamilton, well, it was like being present for the writing (and re-writing) of history. I think everyone who saw it felt that way.

If you could play any role in a currently running Broadway musical, what would it be and why?
Hedwig. (Duh.) I just think it would be really great to see a transgender woman in the role. I'd also be really bummed if it were any other trans woman than me, since I've sort of modeled my life on Hedwig for the last 15 years.

Do you have any other projects in the works?
I'm working on a new solo piece about my pilgrimage to Thailand to undergo gender confirmation surgery, and what it means to be a transsexual of faith. The working title is Post-Op. It features all new music by some incredible women/queer composers, and I think it will raise a lot of awareness (and eyebrows).

***

Noemi de la Puente
Manuel versus The Statue of Liberty
July 21, 22, 25, 26 and 27 at The Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre

How did you get involved with this production?
I went to a conference on Race Relations at Princeton University, and heard a professor mention offhandedly about a recent student who was undocumented and had won a scholarship to Oxford. At this panel discussion on the militarization of the border between the USA and Mexico, the professor made a joke about the USA being afraid of too many Ivy League scholars sneaking across the border, and I approached her afterwards, and she told me the basic story that inspired this piece. I was compelled to turn it into a musical comedy. The first incarnation was a bizarre collage of scenes and short songs where our hero goes off to Oxford at the end. The audience response was so overwhelmingly positive that I had to turn it into a full-length piece.

Noemi de la Puente
Noemi de la Puente

What other NYMF productions have you been a part of?
Reading series version of Manuel versus the Statue of Liberty, and I've seen tons of shows (musical binge watching!).

How would you describe the character you're playing?
I am the producer and the book/lyric writer.

Why do you think audiences should attend this particular production?
Because the cast is amazing! Because the story is outrageous, and inspiring. Because David's music is beautiful.

Why do you think NYMF is so important?
Because it is super hard to produce our own work, and NYMF gives us guidance (we're a Next Link project) and publicity and credibility. Because diverse voices must be heard, and NYMF is willing to take a chance on these voices. Because musical theatre is a powerful art form, and NYMF is breathing new life into it by encouraging diversity, and challenging themes. 

NYMF celebrates new musicals, but which role in a classic musical would you most like to perform and why?
I sing so poorly that it would have to be the mime in The Fantasticks. Haha! For the sake of all who are around me.

What is your most memorable onstage mishap?
I did a tour of Las Aventuras de Don Quixote in a bilingual theatre company, and I was one of two actors who did a little Spanish/English lesson in the middle of the show. I swear to God we stayed in a hotel in Illinois, but crossed the river into Iowa. So when I said, "Buenos dias Rock Island Illinois," people booed and were furious because the school was actually in Iowa.

What was your most enjoyable theatrical experience of the season (as a member of the audience)?
I have a bad sense of time, so I get the seasons kind of blurred together, but most recently I think the scenes of the old and young Claire in The Visit were the most powerful, poetic scenes I have ever experienced and gave me chills in terms of the truth they conveyed. Seeing the ship being built in The Last Ship was also pretty amazing.

If you could play any role in a currently running Broadway musical, what would it be and why?
This will make no sense, but I would love the role of playing all the D'Ysquiths in Gentleman's Guide - that looks like so much fun with all those bizarre personalities that make up that particular track.

Do you have any other projects in the works?
I have a play (The Legend of Suicide Jack), and I would like to write a great environmental musical one day — The Legend of Suicide Jack might make a good musical.....hmmm.

**

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

Diva Talk runs every other week on Playbill.com. Senior editor Andrew Gans also pens the columns Their Favorite Things and Best in Show.

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