By Andrew Gans
20 Apr 2012
|Photo by Joan Marcus|
Jessica Phillips, who was recently seen as Marion in Priscilla Queen of the Desert, is back on Broadway in Leap of Faith, the new musical at the St. James Theatre about a con-man preacher who blows into a small Kansas town, where he spars with a lady sheriff. Based on the Steve Martin film of the same name, the Christopher Ashley-directed production boasts four-time Tony nominee Raúl Esparza as charismatic Jonas Nightingale and formidable singing actress Phillips as the sheriff, Marla McGowan. Last week I had the chance to chat with Phillips, whose Broadway resume also includes all three versions of The Scarlet Pimpernel as well as the Pulitzer Prize-winning Next to Normal and the 25th anniversary revival of Jesus Christ Superstar. The actress, who is the mom of two young boys, spoke about her road to Leap of Faith, which features music by Academy and Grammy Award winner Alan Menken, lyrics by Glenn Slater and libretto by Janus Cercone (screenwriter of the 1992 film) and Tony winner Warren Leight; that interview follows. (Read more about Jessica Phillips in the Playbill Vault.)
Question: Since we haven't spoken before, I thought we could go back to the beginning. Tell me where you were born and raised.
Jessica Phillips: Whoa! My whole life story? Do you have an hour or two? [Laughs.] Yeah, I'd be happy to. I was born in Nashville, TN. I am the oldest child — the first born of two educators. My dad was in graduate school getting his Ph.D. at Vanderbilt when I was born, and we lived there until I was eight. And then my dad took a job in Massachusetts at Holy Cross as a professor — a religion professor — and he moved the family up to Massachusetts. And so I spent the second half of my childhood in Central Mass.
Question: When did you start performing?
Phillips: Well, my mother would tell you I came out of the womb performing. [Laughs.] When I lived in Nashville, my parents took advantage of an arts program that the city offered, and I took tap lessons. I had performed in a Nashville ballet company. I took baton lessons and piano lessons. There was a large consortium of free and low-cost lessons in the arts in the city of Nashville at the time, and they just put me in everything that I was interested in and kept me very busy doing all kinds of things and singing in the choir, taking gymnastics. I was pretty active as a young child. Then, when we moved to Massachusetts, I started to pick and choose. I continued with gymnastics, and then, a few years later, after a few injuries, moved over into dance, and I studied dance intensely from about age ten on through college.