DIVA TALK: Chatting With How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying's Rose Hemingway

Diva Talk   DIVA TALK: Chatting With How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying's Rose Hemingway
News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.

Rose Hemingway
Rose Hemingway

It's been quite an exciting few months for Rose Hemingway, who, in 2009, was seen in the Donmar Warehouse production of Jason Robert Brown's Parade at the Mark Taper Forum. This past November the singing actress married Geoff Hemingway, an actor she met during the national tour of Mamma Mia!, and now she is making her Broadway debut opposite Daniel Radcliffe in the 50th anniversary revival of the Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre. Hemingway, the sixth of nine children — only her younger brother, she says, has the show-biz bug — is cast as Rosemary Pilkington, the part created by Bonnie Scott in 1961 and later played by Emmy winner Megan Mullally in the 1995 revival. Earlier this week I had the pleasure of chatting with the charming Hemingway, who spoke about making her Broadway bow in a revival directed and choreographed by Tony winner Rob Ashford; that interview follows.

Question: Since we've never spoken before, why don't we start at the very beginning? Tell me where you were born and raised.
Hemingway: I was born in Philadelphia and raised right there, too.

Question: When did you start performing?
Hemingway: I guess I was seven or eight [when] I started doing community theatre.

Question: What were some of the roles you performed as a kid?
Hemingway: Well, I was a gymnast when I was a little girl. The woman who ran the children's theatre company at the community center was looking for girls who could play flipping pirates in Peter Pan. She wanted the pirates to flip across the stage, so she recruited some of us girls that were in the gymnastics classes. So that was where I got my start, as a flipping pirate! And, I did lots of little children's theatre roles in that community theatre. There was Alice in Wonderland and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and that was sort of how I started out.

Question: When do you think performing changed from being a hobby to when you knew it would be your career?
Hemingway: There's a youth theatre company in Philadelphia called The Rainbow Company, and they had scouts that looked around, and I ended up going in to audition for them and getting into the company. We did a lot of singing gigs. They also had a program where they had inner-city schools write musicals, and then our company would perform them, so it brought the arts to these urban areas. I was a member of that company for most of my high school years, and I think it was there that I realized that I really wanted to pursue it professionally. I hadn't thought about it being a way to make a living until then — until the first time I actually got paid to do it. [Laughs.]

Hemingway in rehearsal for How to Succeed...
photo by Ari Mintz

Question: Were there any actors or singers that you particularly admired around that age?
Hemingway: Oh, God! I don't know. I remember going to see Andrea McArdle as Eponine in Les Miz when they toured to Philadelphia, and I remember we waited at the stage door and got to say hi to her, and I remember thinking that was exactly what I wanted to do when I grew up. [Laughs.] I mean, that was just one instance, but she does stand out. That memory stands out, anyway.

Question: You went to Catholic University and majored in music there…
Hemingway: I did. I majored in musical theatre, and I got a Bachelor of Music at the School of Music.

Question: What was your first production after school?
Hemingway: My first production after school was Junie B. Jones, the TheatreWorks tour. So that's how I got my Equity card, and yeah, it was really fun. [Laughs.]

Question: Your name's been attached to How to Succeed for a while. How did it come about for you?
Hemingway: I did the musical Parade with Rob Ashford [directing] in 2009 in L.A., and so when that production was finishing up, I guess when we first got back to New York, I got a call to come in and audition for the reading of How to Succeed.... I went on an audition. I didn't think it went very well. I remember leaving and praying that they would call me in again because I really wanted it, but I didn't think the audition went that great. And, [the creative team] ended up just offering me the reading, so that was awesome. [Laughs.] And, then, it went really well. The reading, I think, was really well-received, and it was a lot of fun. It was where I first met Dan [Radcliffe], and Mary Faber was there as well. First, we spent a few days and worked on the material and then did the reading, and that was where it all started.

There was a lot of rumblings about whether or not I was going to get to play the role in the [Broadway] production, and I was really trying hard not to get my hopes up about it, because doing a reading is definitely not a guarantee that you're going to do the Broadway show. So I just sort of waited patiently and kept my fingers crossed, and then over the summer, I had one last audition for the [Frank Loesser and Abe Burrows] estate folks — Jo Loesser, Frank Loesser's widow, and then Jimmy Burrows, Abe Burrows' son. And, they approved me, so that was the last hoop I had to jump through. They approved me, and then I was offered the role that evening. So, it was June or July that I finally got the actual call, which was really, really exciting. We danced around the apartment a little bit. [Laughs.]

Question: How has Broadway lived up to your idea of how it would be?
Hemingway: I think I've been a little bit spoiled, I have to say. It's just been unbelievable. It's completely surreal, every second of it, from the first day we walked into the theatre, during our tech rehearsals. I couldn't stop crying that day. I was a little bit overwhelmed at how real it was, and everybody in the company and the crew is just so giving and wonderful and supportive and sweet. It's just such a great company, and we have had such an amazing response from the audiences for this show that I think I'm getting a little bit spoiled, from what I've heard from some of the veteran performers. They are like, "This is something particularly special for you to cut your teeth on, so make sure you're aware of that." I have just been trying to take every day one day at a time, and take it all in and enjoy it and make sure that I don't miss a second of it because it's just a dream come true. It really, really is.

Hemingway as "Rosemary Pilkington"
photo by Chris Callis

Question: How would you describe Rosemary?
Hemingway: Rosemary is really an interesting character because she is the ingénue in the show, but she's a little bit more sassy than other ingénues. She's definitely got an agenda. She parallels Finch throughout the show because she has that same sort of ambition that he has, that same drive and one-track mind, except her ambition is to marry him and to get a better life for herself. And, she's really strong-willed. She's really motivated for this goal, and it helps keep her from being this cliché ingénue that wants a married life and wants to be taken care of. She's definitely more than that. She knows what she wants. She fancies herself a very independent woman. She says in the show that she has $85 in the bank and a savings bond, and she is a working woman. She really thinks of herself that way, and it definitely helps to know that she's so ambitious and driven and goal-oriented. And, it's really a sweet story between the two of them because they're both so focused on their goals [laughs] and so, when they meet up in the middle, it's, I think, really charming.

Question: Do you have a favorite moment for her in the show?
Hemingway: I think it must be "Rosemary," and that's so kind of silly, but that's when, for her, everything comes to fruition. That's all she's wanted the whole show, and then she goes to confront Finch in the office, thinking he's been fooling around with Hedy, and he proposes to her. And, I think that, for Rosemary, is the epitome. It's everything she's ever wanted, and it sort of just slaps her across the face. I think that's the most exciting part of the show for her, the character.

Question: Tell me about working with Daniel Radcliffe.
Hemingway: It's been wonderful. He's just such a great guy, such a hard worker. He's so talented, and he's just a lot of fun to be around. He keeps everybody on their toes. He's always working so hard. He has endless energy — endless energy [laughs] — and he's a delight. He really is. I couldn't think of a bad thing to say about him. Everything you expect to see from somebody who's been such a huge superstar, and has been in the limelight since they were ten, he's the opposite. He's just so gracious, and he's so down-to-earth, and he's really easy to talk to and approachable, and it's made working with him a lot easier. We definitely were able to connect right away because he's that sort of person. He's a great guy. It's been wonderful.

Question: You mentioned Parade earlier. Since this is now your second production with Rob Ashford, tell me a little bit about how he works as a director and choreographer.
Hemingway: He's such a wonderful guy. He's such a great director, and obviously, choreographer. He has this incredible way of working with his actors and his dancers because he's been in our shoes, so he's very giving. He's very open as a director, and it's really wonderful to work for him in that way because you can feel very free to put your spin on things, and he's always there to ring you in if it's not right, but he's very open. I think he looks at his work through a performer's eyes, because he's been there, and I think that's really special. And, he's just the nicest guy. I mean, you rarely hear him raise his voice or get annoyed in all of the process. He's just so calm and friendly and nice and just a pleasant person to work with. He's great, and I owe him so much. … I'm a lucky girl that Rob Ashford likes me, you know? [Laughs.]

Question: Has there been talk of a cast recording?
Hemingway: Yes, we just found out we're going to be doing it in April, so that's really exciting. Question: I know there were some rumors, too, that Craig Zadan and Neil Meron might make the show into a movie or a TV movie. Have you heard anything about that?
Hemingway: I've just heard the same rumors, I think, that you have. Nothing official, just talk! [Laughs.] That'd be cool, though.

Hemingway with husband and co-star Geoffrey Hemingway in Mamma Mia!
photo by Joan Marcus

Question: Just going back a bit, I'm curious whether anyone else in your family is a performer. Are you the first?
Hemingway: I'm one of nine kids, and I'm the only one who [performs professionally]. My younger brother, actually — he's 19, and he did all of his high school musicals, and he's definitely got that same interest in the arts. But up until me, it was just me for a while. Now, I think [my brother is] really headed toward film editing and that sort of thing since he's been in college, but I'm sort of the black sheep. … I have seven sisters and one brother, and all my sisters are very studious and a little bit shy. [Laughs.]

Question: Where do you fall among them?
Hemingway: I am the sixth, the sixth of nine.

Question: What was that like growing up with nine of you?
Hemingway: It was great. It was a ton of fun. My parents were very strict Catholics, and we were only allowed to watch certain television programs, and we always watched movie musicals. That was one of the things we could watch. [Laughs.] So, growing up, we used to put on little skits and do performances on the coffee table to imitate the movies we'd been watching, and then, I was the only one that actually took it seriously. The rest of them would probably be mortified to remember it. [Laughs.]

Question: Are you related to Ernest Hemingway?
Hemingway: I'm not. Well, Hemingway is my married name. I just got married in November.

Question: Congratulations!
Hemingway: Thank you! My husband — I think his grandfather is a distant cousin of Ernest's. There's some bloodline in there somewhere, but it's pretty distant.

Question: How is married life?
Hemingway: It's wonderful. It's the greatest thing ever. We met a few years ago doing the national tour of Mamma Mia!, and it's just been great. We got married in November in Philadelphia, and it's amazing. He's wonderful.

Question: So, a pretty good year for you, getting married and making your Broadway debut.
Hemingway: Yeah, it's been kind of a crazy year, I have to say. A good one! [Laughs.]

[For tickets, priced $52-$132, phone (212) 239-6200 or visit Telecharge. The Al Hirschfeld Theatre is located at 302 West 45th Street.]

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

Hemingway in rehearsal with Daniel Radcliffe.
Hemingway in rehearsal with Daniel Radcliffe. Photo by Ari Mintz
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