“If I move back to Iowa, I’ll feel satisfied,” Elizabeth Stanley remembers feeling when she made her Broadway debut in the 2006 Company. She didn’t go back to Iowa, of course—14 years and three Broadway shows later, she’s starring as MJ in Jagged Little Pill.
But back to Company. Directed by John Doyle, the production had all of the performers playing the instruments (as April, Stanley was in charge of the oboe, tuba, and alto sax) and what began as a Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park show was fast-tracked to Broadway. “I didn’t even know how amazing it was until it happened,” Stanley says. “When I was auditioning for the Cincinnati production, they were like, ‘I think it might go to Broadway,’ and I was like, ‘...OK, guys.’”
But transfer it did, to Tony-winning effect. A year after it closed in 2007, Stanley was back on Broadway—after an out-of-town tryout in La Jolla—as the lead in Cry-Baby.
Based on the John Waters film with a book by the librettists of Hairspray, Cry-Baby lasted just 68 performances. “Cry-Baby was so many things, right?” Stanley says. “Ultimately, it was this wonderful, humbling lesson in how hard it is to create a Broadway show and how hard you work on something... but it’s not what the public or the press wants. But I’m really grateful for that experience because it taught me so much about this industry: Don’t go to the chat rooms and don’t pay attention to reviews. And don’t have any kind of expectations, no matter what. You just have to do it for you. And I think I always knew that, but it was a real lesson in that.”
After Cry-Baby came the tour of Xanadu, where Stanley starred as Kira opposite Max von Essen as Sonny—including a month in Tokyo (where the show’s program was wild; check out Stanley’s pics of it in the gallery below). “If given the chance to do any role again, I would choose that one because it was so much fun!” Stanley says. “I became really good friends with Max, and we had a great great time. And Olivia Newton-John was a fun person to sing in the style of.”
To continue an already eclectic career, Stanley next appeared on Broadway in Million Dollar Quartet, did an Off-Broadway revival of Michael John LaChiusa’s Hello Again with the Transport Group, transferred with the Barrington Stage Company production of golden age–classic On the Town to Broadway, and toured the country in Jason Robert Brown’s The Bridges of Madison County.
“I feel very very fortunate to have gotten the chance to do so many things,” Stanley says. “It’s been lucky for me that a lot of the things I’ve done have not been super high, high profile.” She laughs. “So just fly low, is my advice.”
You’d be hard-pressed to get more high-profile than a stage adaptation of Alanis Morisette’s seminal, much-loved album Jagged Little Pill, though. Featuring a book by Oscar winner Diablo Cody, Stanley stars as a wife and mother whose seemingly perfect life is always a few minutes away from crumbling.
“It’s been a dream from the start,” she says. “Diane Paulus is extraordinary and really game for creativity and what each individual person brings to it, and Diablo Cody could have come in with such a big ego, and instead she’s the most humble and constantly complimenting theatre actors and the process, and recognizing how hard it is. And our choreographer, Larbi [Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui], is easily my favorite choreographer I’ve gotten to work with. Dance is not my forte. I’m a strong mover. I’m not their muse, OK? So Larbi was really refreshing because he’s interested in the storytelling and acting of the movement, so I never felt like he viewed me as a handicap.”
Stanley points to a constant throughout her career, something she says she never takes for granted, especially now: “the community that is Broadway.”
“I certainly remember what it felt like before I was cast in a Broadway show: It feels like this club you want to get into,” Stanley says. “And actually, I think there’s a lot of room for people regardless of whether you’re in a Broadway show or not. I just didn’t realize there are all these volunteer opportunities.”
With Broadway shuttered for the time being, now is the time to embrace every chance to be part of the community offstage, while we all wait for the chance for the stage lights to come up again.