DIVA TALK: Chatting With NYMF Stars Jenna Leigh Green, Karen Mason, Jane Summerhays and Lynn Wintersteller

By Andrew Gans
July 12, 2013

News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.



This week's column spotlights four of the women featured in the 2013 New York Musical Theatre Festival, which runs through July 28 at various venues around the city. Diva Talk posed the same set of questions to each talented artist; their answers, via email, follow.

Jenna Leigh Green
Standby at The Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre; July 19-28

How did you get involved with this production?
I received a lovely email from Daryl Eisenberg, the show's casting director on behalf of the creative team. As actors we are always putting ourselves out there, audition after audition hoping for the "right fit." It will never get old to have someone actually bring a project to you, without having to go through that process. I hadn't worked with this team before, so I was extremly flattered that they thought I would be that right fit.

What other NYMF productions have you been a part of?
This is my second year in a row being a part of the festival, and I couldn't be happier about it. Last year I was in a show called It's On as part of the staged reading series. I'm excited to move on to a full production this year.

How would you describe the character you're playing?
We are actually days away from starting rehearsals, so I have a lot to learn about her still. I love the process of working with the director and writers to fully discover who the character is. My initial feelings are that Cynthia is fragile. She is from a wealthy family and has been taken care of her whole life. She has an intense need to be needed and to feel like she has worth. Part of her journey is learning if she can stand on her own two feet.

Why do you think audiences should attend this particular production?
I think this is a story that everyone can relate to in some way. It's about five people who all need to come to terms with their past in order to move on towards their future. Oh, and the cast is made up of some really pretty people. Who doesn't like to look at pretty people?

Why do you think NYMF is so important?
NYMF celebrates new works, and that is something that is very important to me. We, as a community, need to be supporting up-and-coming writers, composers and performers. NYMF gives us the chance to be a part of these shows in their early stages and feel the creative energy flowing everywhere. It's invigorating and exciting!

Green and John Hill in the original Off-Broadway production of Bare.
photo by Joan Marcus

NYMF celebrates new musicals, but which role in a classic musical would you most like to perform and why?
Well, my ultimate dream would be to create a role that becomes a classic. However, if I could choose anything, Les Miz has always been my favorite show. I would pretty much do anything to get the chance to be in it in any capacity. Hair hag, Whore #1, or hell, I would sing a mean "Stars." We can gender bend, right?

What is your most memorable onstage mishap?
I was 17 or 18 playing Little Red in Into The Woods, still one of my favorite experiences to date. I suppose I was in a hurry to pin my wig on that particular day, because when the Baker went to rip my cape off my shoulders, the hook caught on one of my curls and ripped my wig right off my head. It went flying into the 2nd or 3rd row. I'm not kidding. The scream the audience got that day was a mixture of temper tantrum and total mortification. I had a 30-second crossover backstage for my big song, and there was no way to get it back and on my head, so the number was performed in just my wig cap. Not quite sure I will ever forget that….or live it down.

What was your most enjoyable theatrical experience of the season (as a member of the audience)?
There have been a few. Getting to watch long-time friend Lesli Margherita make her long overdue Broadway debut (and almost steal the show) in Matilda was definitely a huge one. I loved the show so much! Those children blew my mind!! I also lost my mind over the creativity of Pippin. Who wouldn't be impressed by performers putting on body suits and jumping through hoops. Literally. Lastly, I was unbelievably touched and so emotional when I saw Last 5 Years at Second Stage. Beautiful performances, beautiful material! If only I were a blonde…I would kill to sink my teeth into that role!

Do you have any other projects in the works?
I'm kinda working on a secret project with a long-time collaborator. I dont think I'm ready to talk about it yet, but it involves two things that scare me to death. Pop music and recording studios, and I couldn't be more excited about conquering my fears!

Karen Mason

Karen Mason
Nightmare Alley at The Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre; July 23-24

How did you get involved with this production?
My kind of audition!!! I was in NJ seeing Himself and Nora, checking out the theatre...and Jon Brielle, who I have known for a long time and who wrote the show we were seeing, came up to me and asked if I was available!!! Sounded like fun! So I said sure!

What other NYMF productions have you been a part of?
I did a one-woman musical a few years back about Dorothy Parker. It was a lot of work. And a lot of fun to work out!

How would you describe the character you're playing?
Um, I don't know! I haven't seen the script yet! Ooh, am I a bad actress?

Why do you think audiences should attend this particular production?
I think seeing any new production is important. And, knowing Jon B. and the director, Michael Bush, they are putting together a great group of people!!

Why do you think NYMF is so important?
As it gets more and more expensive and difficult to get a show produced, NYMF provides a way for new musical theatre writers and composers a chance to see and hear how it works with a NY cast (great talent!)..and in front of NY audiences. A real gift to the writers and composers!

NYMF celebrates new musicals, but which role in a classic musical would you most like to perform and why?
Ooh there are so many!!! Mame in Mame, Mrs. Lovett in Sweeny Todd, Miss Hannigan in Annie, and lots more! I would love to do Norma Desmond again!

What is your most memorable onstage mishap?
During Sunset Boulevard! It was my first time onstage shooting the gun and wearing the robe with the feather-lined sleeves. Well, the sleeves got in the way of the front of the gun, and when I fired it....well, it looked like one big exploding chicken!! Made everyone offstage watching laugh! Word of advice: always work with props in costume!!!!

What was your most enjoyable theatrical experience of the season (as a member of the audience)?
Seeing Penny Fuller in Thirteen Things About Ed Carpolotti, written by my friend Barry Kleinbort. I am in awe of Penny. She is a brilliant actor! And, Barry is a brilliant writer! And, he got the show produced! A Herculean feat! I was so proud of them!

Do you have any other projects in the works?
Well, as a matter of fact, I am working on a play I wrote called Unfinished Business. Barry Kleinbort and I have written this about my time with Brian Lasser, my friend and Music Director for 16 years. We are using Brian's music to help tell the story. I am so very proud of it. It is giving me a different appreciation of working on a new piece!

Jane Summerhays

Jane Summerhays
Marry Harry at The Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre at The Pershing Square Signature Center; July 19-28

How did you get involved with this production?
My agent called with an offer to play Francine in Marry Harry. Having served on the board of The National Music Theatre Network in the early days, I am very committed to the mission of the New York Musical Theatre Festival. I read the play, loved the character and thought the show would be great fun to do.

What other NYMF productions have you been a part of?
In September 2007, I appeared in Sympathy Jones, the Secret Agent Musical, conceived by composer and lyricist Masi Asare, with the book by Brooke Pierce. I filled in at the 11th hour for another actress, so it was a bit harrowing - but very exciting.

How would you describe the character you're playing?
Oh, she’s a hoot! She’s a society-conscious, suffocating, "mother knows best" sort of woman who does everything in her power to run her daughter’s life - which she does with the very best intentions. Fun!

Why do you think audiences should attend this particular production?
Marry Harry has great heart, while dealing with life issues we must all face and come to terms with. It is beautifully written, has a terrific cast and creative team, and it’s funny.

Why do you think NYMF is so important?
The musical theatre is one of America’s greatest art forms. I cannot imagine New York City without it. It is essential to the vibrancy and soul of this city and the American culture. But for it to thrive, it must be nurtured. NYMF exists to "revitalize musical theatre culture by discovering and promoting new musical theatre artists, producers and projects; nurturing a vibrant and innovative artistic community; and connecting one of America’s greatest art forms with a diverse, contemporary audience." That is its mission statement, and I believe it fulfills it.

NYMF celebrates new musicals, but which role in a classic musical would you most like to perform and why?
The King and I was my mother’s obsession. She must have seen the film 20 times. As a young child, I went with her. My mom has a gorgeous voice, and I grew up listening to her singing the songs from the score. So, I guess I have always wanted to play Anna - a challenging role with such gorgeous, soaring melodies.

What is your most memorable onstage mishap?
Oh, that’s an easy one. As the soubrette in Sugar Babies, I performed a number with 14 white doves. I was dressed as a Grecian statue and I sang a lovely ballad, "Warm and Willing." After singing the song once through, I turned toward the wings and motioned for the doves to make their entrance. The first four birds flew in one at a time and landed on various perches that were sewn into my costume. Then came the rest - in a deluge. I turned so that my back was to them and they landed all over my shoulders and arms, with one on my head. I then faced the audience, a statue covered in birds, to finish the song.

One particular night, as I was just about to sing the high note, the bird that was perched on my head deposited a calling card right on the tip of my nose. I slammed my mouth shut, unable to finish the number. I remember seeing the conductor’s baton fly through the air as he collapsed in hysterics over his music stand. The orchestra ceased playing and the curtain rang down to an audience that was convulsed in laughter. ("What, and leave show business?")

Lynne Wintersteller

Lynne Wintersteller
Castle Walk at PTC Performance Space; July 22-28

How did you get involved with this production?
Richard Stafford and I are friends - I worked with him as a choreographer a million years ago. And, Milton Granger and I recently worked together at The York Theatre. Richard and Milton sent me the script to Castle Walk, so I jumped at the chance to work with them both again! Of course I read the script, loved the role and immediately began pouring over any Vernon and Irene Castle research I could get my hands on once I agreed.

What other NYMF productions have you been a part of?
Castle Walk will be my fourth NYMF production.
Richard Cory, NYMF 2005 (Ed Dixon/A.R. Gurney – Jim Brennan, director - NYFM Best Actress Award)
The Mistress Cycle, NYMF 2005 (Jenny Giering/Beth Blatt – Joe Calarco, director)
Such Good Friends, NYMF 2007 (Noel Katz – Marc Bruni, director)

How would you describe the character you’re playing?
Well, Irene Castle was a real person, so there is a lot of historical information on her. Personally I’m not interested in playing a biographical character. There are definitely clues I can use from my research, but I don’t necessarily want to force any sort of imitation of her. What interests me in Milton’s storytelling is the aspect of a woman past her prime, who’s forced to deal with real life aging: jealousy, losing physical beauty and ability, finding renewed purpose, being heard when no one is listening or cares, dealing with the emotional ghosts in life both past and present. At the elegant turn-of-the-century era, Irene was a trendsetter straddling both the dance and fashion worlds. Unintentionally, she and her husband Vernon found themselves international stars, sought after, copied and revered. Now, 20 years later, RKO Pictures signs Irene on as technical advisor of her own life. She finds 20 years after her fame, that she’s basically forgotten. The universal appeal of Castle Walk (maybe not as dramatic) is learning how to tell your own authentic life story and choosing to gracefully handle all of life’s milestones as they come.

Why do you think audiences should attend this particular production?
For those historians who pour over history long forgotten, this is another forgotten love story. For those who love the Astaire/Rogers duo (similar appeal and notoriety as the Vernon/Irene Castle partnership), this was their comeback and last musical movie together. For those who love dance, especially ballroom dance, this is its homage. The songs are stunning, and the period costumes are elegant. Everything old is new again.

Why do you think NYMF is so important?
NYMF provides an avenue for young writers to produce fully realized productions in New York City, while exposing their work, names, as well as their talents to the New York theatre community. Energy flows from there!

Lynne Wintersteller in Light in the Piazza.
Maine State Music Theatre

NYMF celebrates new musicals, but which role in a classic musical would you most like to perform and why?
You mean my bucket list? HA. I’ve been extremely fortunate to have a diverse list of leading lady roles on my resume. My current classic musical wish list would be Desiree Armfeldt in A Little Night Music and Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd – for the diversity of these two roles and the brilliance of Sondheim; along with Auntie Mame in Mame – for the sheer magnitude of the role.

What is your most memorable onstage mishap?
Other than going blank for a second or a line flub here and there, my most memorable onstage mishap would have to be as Dorothy Brock in 42nd Street at Sacramento Music Circus. In the round, opening night, the spotlight hits me during the song "Shadow Waltz," which literally blinds me for a moment and I spin, as choreographed, and exit the stage (or in this case, run up an aisle). I have a two-minute quick change, and since I’ve run up the wrong aisle, my entourage of dressers can’t to be found. I panic, run furiously around the perimeter of the entire building, finally meeting my dressers head on because they’re frantically running to meet me; we quick change. I’m tying my belt while I sprint back onto the stage from another wrong aisle, run into a few dancers who aren’t expecting me to be on their side of the circle, knock them off their choreography, miss the timing of my song entrance, and winded from running, I open my mouth to sing. To this day I still couldn’t tell you what I sang - something along the lines of a deranged obligato from a completely made-up Aria. The reviews were spectacular, and I haven’t worked there since!

What was your most enjoyable theatrical experience of the season (as a member of the audience)?
I’m one of the easiest audience members to have at a show. I don’t want to sit there for two hours, pay good money and end up miserable. To be overly critical doesn’t serve our business or the process. Nor does it serve the courageous person(s) who put their creativity out there to be judged. With the end of out-of-town tryouts, internet blogging, instant social media chatter, there’s no place to fail. At the expense of being called Pollyanna, I can always find something positive and enjoyable - so to answer this question, I don’t have a "most enjoyable." I clearly need to work on discernment.

Do you have any other projects in the works?
I’m currently trying my hand at a stage adaptation from a novel that I’ve fallen in love with. The characters and the story are enchanting. I don’t consider myself a writer per se, but I’m challenging myself to see if I can tap into unchartered creative waters. And if it comes to Broadway, remember how I answered in the question above – BE KIND!

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