Priscilla Cuellar on Appearing in ‘Working – A Musical’ at The Keegan Theatre by Joel Markowitz

She has one of the most thrilling voices I have ever heard on the stage and now audiences who come to see The Keegan Theatre’s production of Working are being treated to Priscilla Cuellar’s gorgeous voice. I asked Priscilla about appearing in Working, the two characters she plays, her ‘big number,’ and why Working is still so relevant today.

Joel: Why did you want to play the roles of Amanda and Theresa in The Keegan Theatre’s production of Working?

Priscilla: I was familiar with the show and all the music. I love all of the songs, so I didn’t have any particular role in mind. I would’ve been happy with any of the female roles. Of course, I was happy to learn I got Amanda and Theresa. The song I sing as Theresa is beautiful. And I was really able to relate to Amanda. I work full-time in an office and could really understand where she was coming from.

Priscilla Cuellar in 'Working - A Musical. Photo by Jim Coates.

What is Working about from the point of view of the characters you play?

I play several roles and each one has a different point of view and feeling toward their job. Amanda works in an office and has a bit of an advantage then my other characters due to her education and experience. But she is coming from a realistic point of view in the economy today -where layoffs are a common thing and she is ready to adapt to whatever she needs to. Theresa doesn’t neccesarily have that luxury. She has to do what she can with the skills she has simply to get by and make ends meet.

What did you sing at your audition? How long was it before you heard that you were hired, and where were you when you got the call?

Unfortunately, due to an injury I couldn’t make it to the initial audition. Luckily, Keegan was kind enough to let me go to the callbacks. They had me sing part of “If I Could’ve Been,” a song from the show and a monologue. It took a few weeks before I received an email at work saying I was cast. It’s always so exciting to get those calls and emails.

Now that you have performed the show for several weeks, what has surprised you about it, your characters, and the reaction from the audience?

It’s been really great hearing the response from the audience. I was a little worried about how the show would be received since it isn’t your typical musical. However, I was pleasantly surprised how well received the show has been. Audiences have really been able to relate to the piece and have come away with a new knowledge and admiration for all these job that they may have had no idea about.

What song or songs – that you do not sing – hits you in the heart and gut every time you hear them sung in the show.

“Fathers and Sons”  is one of my favorites in the show. It touches me every time I hear it. It doesn’t only to relate to fathers and sons, but to parents and children. How generation after generation parents strive to always make a life for their children that was better then their own. It makes me reflect and think about all the sacrifices my mother has made for me.

Have you ever performed in any other productions of Working? Who did you play, and how is this production different?

I have. This is my second time in Working. The first production I was in was directed by Michael Bobbitt at Montgomery College. I played Amanda as well. It was neat to go back and play her again, especially with some of the changes that had been made to this version. It was a wonderful experience, which is one of the reasons I wanted to do the show again. The show is written in a way where it can be done many very different ways. It was several years after Sept. 11 and Michael found a way to work that tragedy and the current events of the time into the show in a very strong powerful way.

When you began rehearsing for the show they were using a different book/version than the one you ultimately landed up with. Take us on that journey.

Up until about 3(ish) weeks before the show opened we were ready to go with the older version. We had learned all the music, most of the blocking and choreography. We technically had to almost re-learn a whole new show. Some things had stayed relatively close and some, completely different. Things were cut and different things had been added. The music in the newer version was a lot more different then we had anticipated. However, we had a GREAT group of people in the cast and staff that all worked tirelessly to get the changes into the show.

Tell us about your big number “A Very Good Day.’ How do relate to the song and what personal experiences did you bring to the song and to you performance?

In the number “A Very Good Day” I play Theresa, who is a nanny for a little girl. She lives in the US while her daughter still lives in her home country. In it I sing about all the duties I do for this little girl which her mother should be doing, and all the things I am unable to do for my own child. She is hoping to carve the path for a better life for her daughter eventually. I don’t personally relate to her story, but I can understand where she is coming from. I know several nannys and can ,as best I can, put myself into her shoes. Its a bittersweet song really, because I think she genuinely does enjoy her work, but wishes she could be with her child.

How relevant is this not-often-produced musical today?

I think the show resonates so well today because most of us are just happy to have a job in this economy. I also think we live in world where “What do you do?” holds much weight in your place in society. Most people, as my character says in one of my monologues, are defined by their jobs.  Most of us don’t necessarily work in the fields that we are most passionate about but one in which they can make a living and get by. I am fortunate to have a full-time day job and still get to work in a theatre as well

How did Director Shirley Serotsky help you with your performance?

She was great! I loved that she was very organic and talked through the songs and monologues with us allowing us to discover on our own who each person was. She allowed us to really collaborate on the piece together. She also has a great knack for storytelling which I think is so important to this piece.

Hairspray is being produced everywhere. Last week Carolyn Cole won a Helen Hayes Award for her performance as Tracy Turnblad at Signature Theatre (the production also won Outstanding Resident Musical), and you appeared as Tracy in a production at Riverside Center Dinner Theater in February 2011. How did you portray Tracy in that production and how did you relate to Tracy? Why is Hairspray so popular?

Director Mark Minnick really wanted her to be real and not a characature, so we worked on really getting to the heart of the story in the show. For all the high energy, fun music, bright costumes, and big hair the story being told is a very serious one. Tracy has such a big heart and just doesn’t see the world as most people do. She sees the good in people, she feels everyone is equal no matter their size, color or hair height! I think most people can relate to the show on many levels, and the creators really did write some incredible music.

What’s up next for you on the stage?

I will be playing Paulette in Legally Blonde at Toby’s Dinner Theatre in Columbia, and it’s directed and choreographed by Mark Minnick. I’m really excited about it. And I’m thrilled to be working with Mark again.

What do you want audiences to take with them after leaving Working?

It it hard for me to say really, because I think everyone will take something different from the show based on their personal experience. I find that to be one of the best parts of doing this show honestly. I do hope that people find that no matter what the job, a business executive or a delivery boy, we all can have an impact no matter how bit or small. Everyone has a story and through this story we are just cracking the tip of the ice berg!

Working – A Musical plays through May 13, 2012 at The Keegan Theatre at Church Street Theater- 1742 Church Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call (703) 892-0202, or purchase them online.

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