Cry-Baby and Million Dollar Quartet star Elizabeth Stanley has had her share of ups and downs as a theatre actress, but right now her career is hitting a high note. Not only is she playing the lust-struck anthropologist Claire DeLoone in the upcoming Broadway revival of On the Town, but her summer line up reads like a Best Actress Tony Awards ballot. She started off the season at Barrington Stage Company (where she starred as Claire in their Broadway-bound production of On the Town last summer) playing the hard-to-get actress Lilli Vanessi in Kiss Me, Kate and from there Stanley traveled to Pittsburgh where she's currently playing the junkyard's washed up "Glamour Cat" Grizabella in the CLO's production of Cats, which she'll immediately follow up by playing the sassy aquatic showgirl Lady of the Lake in CLO's summer finale, Spamalot. Now that's what we call range!
In the first installment of Stars of Summer, Playbill contributor Whitney Spaner caught up with Stanley in between rehearsals for Cats to chat about spending her summer out of town.
The CLO production of Cats opened July 18, but Kiss Me, Kate didn't close until July 12. That's not much time to rehearse for Cats.
ES: Yeah, it was so crazy. I got here late. The rest of the cast started last Thursday [July 10], so they have had just over a week. I started rehearsals the Monday after, but that worked out because Grizabella is sort of separate from the rest of the cats anyways, by design.
ES: I had never seen Cats, to be honest, but when I was working [at Barrington] in Pittsfield, MA, there was a high school that was doing it there, so a bunch of us from the Kiss Me, Kate cast went to see that. I don't think I'll be stealing much from it, though they were very good! But, yes, I knew ["Memory"] and I had met with the director, Richard [Stafford] to learn a bit of the choreography that I do. He had also sent me a really detailed document with notes like, "You'll enter here and at the second count of eight, you'll do this," so I was able to mark it all into my music. And because everything is to music it's really set — as opposed to if you were doing a play, and you needed to block all the things to see what organically worked with your character. There's room for personal interpretation in that, but in terms of logistics and blocking it's all very choreographed.
I don't think I could do this with any other show. I just became friends with a couple of professional ballerinas this past year, and I was amazed that they would just fly to a city and do a ballet for a night. I was like, "How do you do that?" I feel like that's something I'd never be able to do, but I kind of get it now in that there are certain steps and everyone knows what they are.
But even though you hadn't seen the show you were familiar with the music?
ES: I used to listen to the double cassette back in the day. I would check it out from the library, so I knew it from that, but it's really interesting to see it come to life and see what the movement is. I love it; it's such a unique piece. It's so iconic in the landscape of musical theatre — there's nothing else like it. It's kind of avant garde, and it amazes me that it is such a popular phenomenon. I just feel like if I saw a breakdown that was like "Hey, we're going to set some poetry to music and everyone's going to dress as a cat," people would laugh, you know? It just amazes me that people love it. I feel really lucky to be a part of it, because dancing is not the thing that I spent my life studying, so Cats was never on my radar as a show I would one day do.
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