DIVA TALK: Chatting With Carrie Star Molly Ranson

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

Molly Ranson
Molly Ranson

MOLLY RANSON
Molly Ranson, the young actress seen on Broadway in the award-winning August: Osage County and Jerusalem, is currently offering a breakthrough performance in MCC's revised revival of the cult classic Carrie, the pop musical based on Stephen King's novel about a young woman with telekinetic powers, which continues through April 8 at Off-Broadway's Lucille Lortel Theatre. Ranson, who delivers a thrilling, show-stopping performance of the title tune, also paints a moving, vivid portrait of a teenage girl bullied by her peers to the brink of hysteria, whose home life with a religious zealot of a mother (three-time Tony nominee Marin Mazzie) is as equally unforgiving as her school environment. About two weeks ago I had the pleasure of chatting with this gifted performer, who spoke about her work in the Stafford Arima-directed Carrie, her co-star and more; that interview follows.

Question: Since we've never spoken before, I thought we'd go back to the beginning. Can you tell me where you were born and raised?
Molly Ranson: Yes, I was born and raised in New York City on the Upper West Side, where I still live.

Question: When did you start performing?
Ranson: I started performing when I was in elementary school. I did a lot of musicals in elementary school, and I did a lot of ballet as a kid. I was in the School of American Ballet, so I did all those ballets... Then, that kind of morphed into musical theatre. I went to LaGuardia High School on the Upper West Side as a drama major, and that's when I really got into acting.

 

Ranson and Marin Mazzie in Carrie.
Photo by Joan Marcus

Question: At that point, where there any actors or singers that you particularly admired? Anyone who influenced you?
Ranson: Well, I mean I really admired Marin. [Laughs.] I weirdly played the role of Mother in Ragtime in my high school production. [Laughs.] I've always loved Barbra Streisand, of course, and Bernadette Peters. I grew up on a lot of movie musicals, so anybody in a movie musical, I really looked up to them. Question: Was there ever a time when it clicked that performing would be your career or did you always know that?
Ranson: I don't know. I don't think there was ever a specific moment. I think I always kind of knew that performing was what I loved more than anything, particularly theatre.

Ranson in August: Osage County.
photo by Joan Marcus

Question: How did your Broadway debut come about?
Ranson: I was six weeks into my freshman year at NYU, and I had an audition for August: Osage County, and I got the role of the understudy. And, I wasn't sure at first because people were like, "Well, it's just the understudy. You don't know if you're ever going to get to go on, so I don't know if you should take it." But I ended up doing it, and I'm really, really glad I did. I got to take over [the role], and then I got to travel to London, to Sydney, Australia… It was just, I mean, an incredible group of people to be working with and learning from. The Steppenwolf people are just all so incredible.

Question: That's a pretty amazing way to start your Broadway career.
Ranson: Yeah, I was really lucky.

Question: How did you originally get involved with Carrie?
Ranson: I had an audition for the original reading in 2009 — November 2009 — and I didn't know anything about the original [production]. I had watched the movie like a day before I found out about my audition, weirdly, because it was around Halloween, and I love scary movies, particularly "Carrie." But I didn't really know much about the musical; I just loved the movie, and I loved the character of Carrie.

Question: How much has changed from those readings to what we see on the stage today?
Ranson: A lot. [Laughs.] A lot, a lot, a lot has changed! I mean, obviously, from the original to now, it's come such a long way, and it's just a completely different tone. And, from the original reading, I happened to listen to the "In" that we did — the version of the song "In" that we did [in that first reading] — on YouTube. I just was like, "What did it used to sound like?" And, I listened to it the other day, and it's so different [from what it is now]… We have AnnMarie Milazzo, who worked on Spring Awakening and Next to Normal, and Mary-Mitchell Campbell, the music director, and everybody involved has really helped it change into what it is now. Even from when we started previews — we had a very long preview process — which I think we needed, and we used very well. From previews, it's changed drastically to where it is now, just with tone and unwanted laughs… You know, when you get in front of an audience, you start to realize, "Okay, this isn't landing in the way we want it to." It's been great seeing the piece change in that way.

Question: Tell me a little bit about working with Stafford Arima as a director.
Ranson: Stafford's great! He's just so nice. He never loses his temper, but he gets things done. He really just inspires everyone around him to do the best work they can do. And, he's really been adamant from the beginning about telling the human story of Carrie and really encouraged everyone to find that and go back to those feelings of being an outsider in their own lives. He's just amazing. He's really dealt well, I think, with all the aspects that could be turned into campiness. He's brought it to a very realistic, artistic place, I think.

Ranson in Carrie.
photo by Joan Marcus

Question: How would you describe Carrie?
Ranson: Carrie is an outsider… I think she's just a normal high school teenage girl, who wants, more than anything, to be loved and respected and accepted—to be accepted by her peer group and have a loving relationship with her mother. But things don't really work out for her very well. [Laughs.]

Question: What would you say are the challenges of the role?
Ranson: It's the most challenging role I've ever performed before. It's vocally very demanding. Emotionally, very exhausting. The character is so physically tense that whenever I'm not on stage, I'm really trying to just relax and do things to kind of align my body… It's a very challenging role to perform, but it's also thrilling because she goes from being this meek, walked-on person to really finding her power in a really thrilling way. It's a very exciting role to play, as challenging as it is.

Question: Do you have a favorite moment for her in the show or anything that you look forward to particularly?
Ranson: Hmm… I do love doing the destruction every night. [Laughs.] I really do! I mean, the whole show I'm kind of playing this nervous kind of person, and then, in the destruction, I get to unleash all of that and kind of go crazy. [Laughs.] It is a big release to do that. Vocally, it's really thrilling, and acting wise, it's so exciting to kind of go through all of those different emotions that she experiences in that moment.

Question: I just spoke to Marin, who said she loves working with you. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about working with her.
Ranson: It's been absolutely amazing. Marin is just the most warm, wonderful, generous person you could know, and we are sharing a teeny-tiny dressing room together. The two of us are sharing like a closet-sized room. [Laughs.] And, I couldn't think of a better person to share with. I've learned so much from her — from everything — from like vocal-hygiene and how to do eight shows a week … She's just amazing and the perfect example of a really great leading lady. She's fantastic, and I love her.

Question: What has been audience reaction to you and the show? What do you hear when you leave the stage door each night?
Ranson: Well, it's been wonderful because people are leaving feeling really moved by the story, and we've had lots of high school-aged kids coming. People of all ages are coming up to us after the show and saying that they really cried through it and are just feeling so moved. The story is really relatable. You wouldn't hear of Carrie the musical and think that it's a moving story and that you're going to be touched, but people are really feeling that way, which I think is what Stafford always intended with this, so that's been pretty fulfilling and exciting. Question: Do you think the show has a message or does it say something in particular to you?
Ranson: I do think that, obviously, there is the issue of bullying. It deals with the issue of bullying a lot, which is an issue that's important to me. And, it is the story about treating your fellow humans well, and I think that is a really important story to be telling, and I think now more than ever. Now more than even when Stephen King wrote the book and when the original musical was done. We're hearing all about bullying on the news every day and kids who are just tortured...I think that people are seeing that, and people are really realizing that, now more than ever, the issue is important to be discussed.

 

Ranson on opening night
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Question: I'm wondering if you've heard from Linzi Hateley, who played the part of Carrie in the original Broadway production…
Ranson: I haven't heard from her, no. But Betty Buckley came to the show, which was very cool. She came and so did [film star] Piper Laurie. She came to the first preview that we had, and that was really exciting because no one expected her to show up, especially not to the first one, but she loved it, and she was also very moved, which is great.

Question: Is there talk of a recording of this score?
Ranson: I think we are probably going to do a recording. I mean, all of the right people have been coming to see it to make that happen. And, since there isn't one of the original, I think we really have to do one! [Laughs.]

Question: Do you have a favorite part of the score?
Ranson: I love everything that I do with Marin. That stuff has been beautiful from the original. I think everybody kind of agreed on that, that the stuff between Carrie and the mother is just gorgeous, and that Marin is just a dream to sing with. All of that music is really fun to perform.

Question: Do you have any other projects in the works or are you just focusing on Carrie at the moment?
Ranson: I'm just focusing on Carrie. I filmed a movie in November, so I don't know when that's coming out, but hopefully soon. It's called "Franny," and it's an independent film directed by Ash Christian. Yeah, just kind of going on the ride of Carrie.

[Tickets for Carrie begin at $89. The runs ends April 8. Visit mcctheater.org. The Lucille Lortel Theatre is located at 121 Christopher Street.]

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