Damon Bradley Jang and Mary Littlejohn
Vancouver Onstage Blog writers Damon Bradley Jang (interviewing Mallory James on her role as Ella in Cinderella) and Mary Littlejohn (interviewing Blake Sartin on his role as Bobby in 42nd Street) speak to the leading players of the 2018 Theatre Under The Stars Vancouver Season offerings.
OSB: Hi Mallory, so what’s it like to literally step into the shoes of such an iconic character?
MJ: It is definitely a dream come true. I feel like a real life Cinderella. This is my first show at TUTS so I felt a little out of my element but it is really exciting. The cast and crew are incredible and I look forward to every show we do. When Sarah Rodgers cast me as Cinderella I felt like she was my real life fairy Godmother (the hot kind, not the old one from the Disney movie) making all my dreams come true.
OSB: There has been several incarnations of Cinderella seen in mainstream media. What makes this “Ella” different from the others?
MJ: What I love about this “Ella” is that she is concerned with more than just finding a husband. Don’t get me wrong; it is a beautiful story about love at first sight but there is so much more to the Prince and Ella, they have a real cause. Above all, Ella wants to make the world a better place. She had no intention of falling in love with the Prince, but I think that’s what makes the story more beautiful. Love means more when it isn’t part of the plan.
OSB: Do you share any similar traits to your character?
MJ: One of the main things that holds Ella back is her lack of self-confidence which is something most of us can relate to. Ella’s bravery is something that I aspire to and not allowing my doubts to prevent me doing things that are important.
OSB: How did you find the director’s (Sarah Rodgers) vision help take a modern spin on this classic story.
MJ: I love working with Sarah. She has this unique ability to really see the whole picture and know exactly what the audience is going to take from it. She has this magical power of informing me so much about my character and the story we are telling simply by how she stages the scene.
OSB: Ok, just because I know the show so well, I have to ask...”how did you dance in glass shoes?” Haha, no but really the real question is, how was It dancing in the iconic glass slippers designed by Chistina Sinosish and team.
OSB: Further to that, without giving too much away, how did you find those dress transformations?
MJ: They were a bit stressful at the beginning of the run since they are such an integral part of the plot but thanks to the amazing cast and crew they’ve been getting smoother each show.
OSB: Did you have much dance training before jumping into choreographer’s Nicole Spinola’s slick dance steps?
MJ: I had some dance training prior to this show, mostly in tap and jazz. I hadn’t done a lot of waltz but Nicol is a story teller and did an amazing job of ensuring I was comfortable with the choreography so that I was able to stay in the story and not worry about steps. The ball is where the Prince and Ella fall in love, not where they do a technically perfect waltz.
OSB: Why is this version of Cinderella so important as a role model for young women and girls in today’s society.
MJ: This version of Cinderella is way more empowering than in any other version I am familiar with. She takes matters into her own hands and she doesn’t just wait around for the Prince to find her.
OSB: What is your favorite number in the show? Either to perform, or that was performed by another actor.
MJ: My favorite number to perform is “Lovely Night” with Charlotte (Amanda Lourenco), Gabrielle (Vanessa Merenda) and Madame (Caitlin Clugston). We always have so much fun and it’s one of the only times in the show where you get to see the family in a really positive light all together.
I also love “Do I Love You”, which is a duet I get to do with Tre Cotten. He’s so dreamy and has a voice as smooth as butter, sometimes I forget that I have to sing because I’m enjoying listening to his sultry tones too much.
My favorite number to watch is “The Prince Is Giving a Ball”. The ensemble is made up of some truly astounding singers and dancers and you can’t help but be filled with glee when you watch that number.
OSB: “Ella” talks of kindness and forgiveness, even in the face of absolute adversity. How better would the world be if we adopted this philosophy?
MJ: I think we can all learn a lot from Ella, she leaves her pride aside and knows the most important thing is treating others with kindness and respect.
Mary Littlejohn interviews Blake Sartin on his role in 42nd street, playing in rep with Cinderella.
OSB: When did you know you wanted to be a musical theatre performer?
BS: I started doing musical theatre in middle school, but I was initially planning on a career in sciences. After my last musical in grade 12 I realized that I enjoyed it so much that I no longer wanted to pursue a career path that I didn't truly enjoy. At that point I decided to audition for Capilano University Musical Theatre program and the rest is history.
OSB: What was the first show you ever did?
BS: The first show I did was Annie Junior in middle school, I played Warbucks.
OSB: How do you feel tackling such an iconic role? What is your take on Billy that makes him dynamic and fresh? (Follow up - How does Robert McQueen’s directorial vision differ from previous versions of 42nd Street?)
BS: Taking on a role like this was daunting to say the least. Billy is a role known for his singing chops, so I really wanted to do that justice, and make sure that I was staying true to the style of the music. Robert McQueen was a godsend when it came to building the character. He really pushed me to make Billy into a character that had more to him then a charming grin and a womanizing personality. He saw Billy as someone who truly cared for the people around him, and would do anything to help them succeed, especially Peggy. This made his relationship with her more than a crush. He sees a headstrong talented women and cant help but want her to succeed.
OSB: Why do you think this show still remains so popular? What draws audiences to it?
Bs: I believe that audiences come to see shows in general to escape the day to day. 42nd Street creates a world of wonder with beautiful dance numbers and sweet lullabies that, partnered with a classic rags to riches story line, does exactly that. It takes you away from the negativity of our lives and lets you live in a world where everything works out, and the end is truly happy.
OSB: What is your favourite part about performing at TUTS?
BS: My favorite part about performing at TUTS is the people you get to work with. This will be my third summer at TUTS and every year I have gotten the chance to work with amazingly talented performers and directors, and at the end of the day that is always how I have grown the most as an artist. When I get to spend these months with these examples of professionalism and talent, I cant help but grow myself.
OSB: What has been the most challenging aspect?
BS: The mosquitoes!! But in all seriousness, everyone puts a lot of time and effort into these shows, and striving to be at the same level as many people that I work with as far as energy and devotion to the craft, is a challenge. They set the bar high so it is a challenge that I definitely enjoy.
OSB: What’s your favourite number in the show?
BS: Lullaby of Broadway is one of my favorites for sure. It’s the number where I get to hit the money note that I love so much. It's a guilty pleasure for sure, but I can't help but enjoy myself.
OSB: What have you learned from doing this show?
BS: I have learned what it really takes physically and mentally to play a role like this. It takes a lot of dedication to give something like this all you've got while still being able to stay healthy. This involves taking care of yourself when you are not doing shows to prevent injury, and putting the work in to be able to perform something well, in a way that is sustainable for two months.
OSB: What’s a dream show or role you’d like to tackle one day?
BS: I would love to play the Phantom eventually. It's such an iconic role with a lot of depth to the character, so you can really make it your own, and if done right, you can really leave your mark in the theatre world.
Theatre Under the Stars has been extended to Aug 25th. Visit tuts.ca for more details.