She may be looking for love in all the wrong places…or maybe she’s licking the wounds of her bruised heart. Either way, Lauren Schein has the scoop for us on what it’s like to be a part of this area premier musical, Five Course Love, at The Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre, and is prepared to dish it out nice and hot in Part Two of this Tasty Tidings interview series.
I’d like to start by thanking you for taking a moment to sit down and talk with us about your experience. Where might our readers have seen you in local theatre around the Baltimore/Washington area?
Lauren: This is only my second theatrical project in quite some time. I did The Last Five Years, also at Spotlighters last year and now this.
How did you get started back into theatre and what was the draw for this musical to bring you back to the stage?
Well I did do theatre growing up as a child. Other kids played sports and other recreational activities, while I did theatre. I went to a magnet middle school, and then a magnet high school. Hear me out, this is a weird analogy. But I went to an art-focused middle school, and then I went to Carver in Towson for high school, which is all about the performing arts. And at those schools that is all you would do. Theatre and performing arts. So by the time I got to college that was all I knew. I applied to every single big musical theatre college in the universe. I even got early acceptance to Marymount Manhattan. But by that point I think I was over it. I was burned out. I equate it to those kids that grow up in the south doing peewee football and it becomes the expectation. I was so over it and burned it because it was all I had known up until that point that I just pulled all my applications, didn’t even look at the school that had accepted me and just went to Marymount Manhattan. Now they don’t actually have musical theatre, they have an acting program. I did that for a year, was bummed out and unhappy with it and then I came home, transferred to Towson and got a degree in Communications and I’ve stayed in that industry ever since.
If I hadn’t pulled away when I did I don’t think I would have kept the passion for performing alive inside of me. I needed a break and I took it. It wasn’t until after I got married that I really felt the urge to return. I was bored; not with my life, but I’d just had this big giant wedding I’d finished planning and I needed something to keep me excited. I had actually seen something on Facebook about The Rocky Horror Show, which has always been one of my favorite shows. When I was 13 all my theatre friends would take me to see it at the Towson Dinner Theatre, and my all trusting parents said “Yes! Go with your new theatre friends; they’ll take care of you!” And I’ve just loved that show ever since.
So I went to the audition and the company sent me an email saying they really liked me but didn’t know what to do with me. They decided to make Riff-Raff a girl and cast me in that role. They raised the octaves of everything so I could belt out these man songs and they dressed me up like a hussy and it was awesome. Getting to have that fun again is what segued into Last Five Years, which was just my all-time favorite musical ever. I love Jason Robert Brown. That experience was incredible, so when Fuzz and Michael contacted me about Five Course Love, apparently they were having trouble casting it, I was thrilled to get involved. I actually felt really flattered. And it’s been a great experience. I do this for fun, and I love getting to be selective about which productions I do. I only do it once a year and I love getting to pick and choose something I’m really in love with, and this show has become a show that I’m really in love with. It’s my little secret; by day I work at a radio station, by night I’m in a rehearsal.
This is a relatively new musical, certainly new to this area. What was your impression and how do you think audiences are going to receive it?
The very first thing I did after Fuzz emailed me was I looked it up on Spotify. Lo and behold, it was there. I was surprised it was there, but I do love Spotify. I was in my kitchen, drinking some wine, and just listening along and not even a few songs in and already I was saying “Oh, this is really fun!” I had no idea what the story line was yet. Not knowing it I was a little confused because it does jump around a bit, but the more I listened to it, the more exciting it was. I was really drawn to it because it’s newer. Now, I have nothing against the classics, but I think I do gravitate more towards the edgier pop-quality musicals. I feel like they fit my voice.
It just drew me into it. After listening to it, I hit Wikipedia and started watching YouTube videos of it. I was pretty psyched to do it, the more I was learning about it. It seemed like a good fit for my voice, for me as a person, and that really sold me on it.
The original recording is done with just one performer playing all 5 female roles, so was that a concern going into rehearsals? How was that addressed once it was decided there would be two women in the show?
Fuzz was very up front in saying that he wanted those five roles split between two actors. It was actually a relief! Up until that point when I had been listening to it, roles that ended up not being mine, like Sophia, that was heavy operatic singing and I don’t really do that. I sing in the basement and she’s up in the rafters, so it took a huge weight off my shoulders when it was immediately explained that someone else would be responsible for those parts.
You ended up with two roles: Kitty and Gretchen. Tell us a little bit about these two women.
I’ll go in sequence of the show. Gretchen is a humungous stretch for me, being the German Dominatrix that she is. I am kind of a tomboy. I am not at all anything close to what she is. You can almost always find me in jeans and Chuck Taylors, just very casual. I have a sense of humor, so the lyrics right off the bat made me say “This is hilarious, I cannot wait to sing this.” I could see it playing out in my head how I would be pointing out different people in the audience and how I would go about making people around me uncomfortable, which I love to do. It’s so unlike me that it’s just good fun. I mean, I’m sure I can turn on the ‘sexy’ if I need to? But day to day? I’m one of the boys.
The second that they gave me that costume. Oh my God-that costume! It’s a corset that makes my boobs defy gravity, but trust me, there are two pairs of Spanx and tights underneath of it. I am so nipped and tucked into that thing, you have no idea! The second I take it off I can breathe again, and of course when I was initially being fitted into it, I just kept shaking my head thinking,“I have to train myself to sing in that thing?”
Kitty is the complete opposite. She’s adorable, sweet, and naïve. That’s fun too because she’s simple and again, a stretch for me, but in a different way. Actually, you mentioned this in your review, but you totally get the “Grease vibes” going for her character and scene. It’s pre-transformations Sandy, which is not me at all. I have a potty mouth, I’m the Chihuahua that thinks she’s a Doberman. I love the glasses! I put those glasses on and I think “I look so cute right now!” And those glasses really make the character, I feel all cute and darling, the pitch of my voice raises, and it just happens.
They’re both just so different, I mean they couldn’t be more different. We’ve had a couple of instances during dress rehearsals where I’m in Gretchen mode, because she’s the first character for me. I’ll be all done up in her costume, boobs pushed up to my chin, 17 pairs of Spanx holding me in, and Michael says “Let’s run the last number.” So suddenly I’m trying to be this demure innocent flower singing the last number in this leather bustier and five-inch spiked heels. There was some crossover in that sense, but otherwise they are totally completely different. I’ve always considered myself to be more of a singer and less of an actress. But these two women are such fun characters to play that I’m really embracing all of it, the acting that goes along with their personalities, and their crazy songs.
Do you prefer playing one over the other?
You know, it’s funny, I really don’t. I think that I initially was looking forward to being Gretchen more. But that was before I got into the Kitty character. Kitty’s songs initially were beautiful and it does make the whole story come full circle, but at first glance I was all about the Gretchen character. I think I literally said at one point, “Oh yeah, baby I want to do this!” But now that I’m in the thick of it and it’s all happening, I love them both. By the time the end of the German scene happens I slip backstage and I’m ready to put on my pedal pushers and be sweet.
If you could add one of the other three characters to your track, which one would you pick?
Oh my! It would be Barbie. I think that I was initially drawn to the sassiness of Barbie. The second that Michael said there was a Dolly Parton-esque character my eyes got huge and I leaned in a little closer. I like country music. I work for a country radio station, so I definitely have a soft spot in my heart for that. It’s a secret— don’t tell anyone that I love country music. I’ll talk about my boobs, but not my love for country music.
But Barbie looked like such a fun role. The second I saw Shani (Shani Hadjian, co-star) doing it, I couldn’t stop laughing. She’s so funny! It’s amazing. The first time she did that scene I just wanted to be an audience member because she does it so well. Her song “Jumpin’ the Gun” is so full of innuendo. I mean, the whole show is full of innuendo— it’s appealing to my 13-year-old boy humor and I love every minute of it. I love that other people are as entertained by it as we are, because we’ve been cracking up this entire process.
So the audiences seem to be on board with all the humor in this show?
Yes! Well, mostly yes. We had our preview night that really scared us. It was a small house, and the crowd was very quiet and when the show came down I was backstage just sort of shaking my head. I said “Oh my god, are we not funny? Have we thought we were funny this whole time and it’s not funny?” But we quickly got over that on opening night— the audience was a blast, they were laughing out loud, they were rolling in their chairs, and that sort of restored the faith for us. After opening night we were backstage cracking up at how successful it was. All sorts of stuff keeps it refreshing and hilarious.
I had a night where my riding crop snapped in half. I got a little over enthusiastic with one of my slap taps and I was just watching it flinging out toward the audience in slow motion, wondering where it was going to land. That was pretty funny. I mean, we think we’re funny. I like us.
Is there a musical number that just speaks to your heart or tickles your funny bone? I don’t want to say favorite because whenever I do it always throws my interviewee.
Not to be selfish and only talk about myself, but I have such a soft spot in my heart for a dramatic ballad. Like in Last Five Years, “Still Hurting” is my favorite song, hands down. So in this musical I love “Gretchen’s Lament” and I love, you know I don’t know what it’s called, I call it “Done With Love.” But it’s the last song that Kitty sings before she and Matt sing their duet. Isn’t that terrible, I sing the song and have no idea what it’s called. I think it might actually be called “Love Looking Back at Me.” I just love those dramatic songs. Those songs where it’s “oh! I’m just feeling so much and I want you to feel it all too!” I love the feelings. All the feels!
They aren’t the comedic show-stopping numbers in this show. But selfishly I love singing them because I love getting to that place where I have the audience in the palm of my hand, feeling all my feelings. I love making people experience that. I actually like that more than I like making people laugh. I love making them cry. Is that twisted? I enjoy feeling feelings. Those are my two favorites, hands down.
Is there a song in the show that if you could you’d just skip over it?
That’s a good question. Everything but Gretchen and Kitty’s songs. Just kidding. Oh! I know— I actually have a great answer for this. We ended up using the pre-recorded introduction to the show, the barbershop quartet taping. Sorry, Michael, I’m giving away all of our rehearsal secrets here…but we sounded like shit. There is no polite way to phrase that. Michael even said to us that Barbershop Quartet singing is an art form and it is something that people take years to perfect. And here we have four very different voices, and I’m sure all of us have a little bit of choral experience, it was very difficult to get those blends and harmonies.
We’re four solo singers. And I don’t blend. Let me rephrase that. I don’t blend, it’s not intentional but you can hear me no matter what I do. The tone of my voice just doesn’t hide well. We made a bunch of attempts to record it. You could see Michael just very patiently listening and the four of us are all sitting there with our heads in our hands, muttering that it’s embarrassing. Fuzz was just sitting there in the seats with this look on his face that just said, “When are you giving this up?” He was slouched down, staring at us, and then as we would listen to the recording everyone kept looking at me because my voice kept popping out. “There’s Lauren’s voice— and there’s Lauren’s voice again, and oh— wait— yep, that’s Lauren’s voice.” We all so ecstatic when Michael finally said we were just going to use the pre-recorded one. Because up to that point every time he said, “Let’s run the opening,” there was a wave of “Ughs” and “Oh no!s” and groans that would sweep through us. No one liked it. But that aside, there is not a single song in this show that does not belong and that we are not absolutely loving.
What has this overall experience of working in such a tight knit cast been like for you?
I think the boys and I definitely had more of an opportunity to get to bond with one other because we started with musical rehearsals. And Shani and I are not in a single scene together; it’s the nature of the show. All of our interactions have just been personal because we never interact on stage. Now over time we’ve definitely gotten goofier and gotten comfortable with each other but that’s all a backstage thing. I have so much fun with all of them. The guys and I just break out the bats and say. “Let’s just go for it!” I’m not shy, and they’re not shy. From the first day we just went at it, you know, “Touch me, spank me!” We’re singing these inappropriate songs and you have to be comfortable with one another in order to make that happen. And we found that really easily.
That’s another thing I loved about this musical. It is such an intimate cast so we really cultivate these relationships. We get to be incredibly personal and open with one another. It’s not 30 people backstage and everyone’s making small talk. It’s just four people and we all just get along and joke with each other. We’re goofy together and we have fun together and I love that. Of course I can’t forget Fuzz and Michael, even though they aren’t backstage. Working with them has been such a blast. Tying into what I said earlier, with this being something that I elect to do, I would not have come back to Spotlighters if my first experience with them had not been positive. And although I didn’t get to work with Michael for Last Five Years, I enjoyed working with Fuzz, and they have both made me feel so welcome and a part of this process for this musical.
This group has been such a pleasure to work with. We’re having fun, the audience is having fun, and I think the audience thinks we’re having fun. You can certainly have fun with something while still taking it seriously. No one is being disrespectful to the content, but we’re just rolling around up there. If someone’s mustache comes of, hello! That’s funny! And we’re just going to go with it. It’s hilarious. If a riding crop snaps in half, we’re going to laugh about it and then I’m going to start paddling people with my hands. We’re just having so much fun, I can’t stress that enough.
You guys cover 5 different restaurants in this musical. What is your favorite dish?
Mexican, easily. Mexican food is my favorite food in the universe. My husband and my friends get very annoyed whenever they ask where we should go out for dinner because I always say Mexican. I love going to Mexico. When in doubt we have Mexican food. I drive everybody nuts because I cook Mexican food. I’m such a weirdo because everything I eat is dependent on my mood. Mood Food. Not just food, but clothing, music, everything is based on how I’m feeling. And the more authentic the better. I’m that person who looks at what a restaurant has and ,“Oh, you have tongue tacos on your menu? I’ll order that.” The more authentic the better.
I know you’re about to ask if I have a favorite Mexican restaurant, and let me just stop you right there. Yes, I do. But there are a couple and of course they are dependent upon my mood. If you want ‘soak up the alcohol, cheesy, greasy Tex Mex food’ you go to Los Amigos in Hamilton up near Fuzz and Michael’s. If you want fancy upscale Mexican we go to Miguel’s in Silo Point. And then there is this place called La Sirenita. It’s past Patterson Park. Nobody there speaks English, it’s a full restaurant and the entire menu is nothing but pictures. They have the most amazing a la carte tacos, like authentic street tacos like double corn tortillas with weird meat and you have no idea what it is but you don’t care because it tastes so good. That is my go-to place. $12 gets you all the tacos in the world and their margaritas are strong. I love Nacho Mamma’s too, in Canton. That’s my quesadilla spot. Big quesadilla and a hubcap margarita? That’s the place. I love Mexican so much that I have all these different places for the different moods of Mexican that I’m in.
What is the absolute worst, most disgusting, no way you would eat it food for you?
Tomatoes. I hate tomatoes. Like I will eat salsa, but not if it has chunky tomatoes in it. It’s a texture thing. Membrane-y seeds. The seeds get on everything! And then they stick to it! They gross me out! I’ll cook with them. I love cooking with them. And my husband loves tomatoes. I will make him a giant batch of tomato soup, with seven pounds of tomatoes, but the entire time I’m sitting there slicing and making it I’m trying not to hurl. Dry heaving, slicing tomatoes for him; that’s love right there. If you handed me a tomato and told me to eat it like an apple you would have to put $1000 on the table first.
In my adult life I have yet to find a tomato that I can stand. I would like to get past this issue I have – I mean tomatoes are never going to be my best friend, but I would like to get past it. I’ve been in New Jersey and tried a beautiful heirloom tomato, and I just can’t do it. I can do fried green tomatoes at certain restaurants, like City Café where they cover it in crabmeat and cream sauce, that’s fine. Anything else, I will eat animal intestines – I’m adventurous. I like liver, I like tongue, but I cannot, cannot do tomato!
What would you say to people to get them interested in this new, mostly unheard of musical? What would you tell them to make them want to come see it?
That is a very good question because I have actually been doing a lot of that recently. And I haven’t just been telling all my friends to come see me because I’m in it, I promise. There has been a lot of sharing of pictures of the costumes and that has garnered a lot of interest in friends and co-workers, but mainly this show is just so much fun. When I put out the word around the office that our next show was sold out, they really seemed interested in that. All I can really say is that it’s hilarious, we’re good, come see it.
This is not the type of show where you can say to someone “My God, by the end of the second act you’re going to be in tears.” It’s not one of those, no one’s curing cancer, and this is not brain surgery. It’s just plain old fun. And that has proven to be true with every single audience except that one preview audience. They don’t count. We haven’t just gotten lucky with one super enthusiastic audience; every single person has loved this musical. It’s universal; everyone is sold on it. We were already sold on it because we knew it was funny, we knew we were doing good work, but now the audience is reinforcing that belief. Can’t say it enough: FUN. FUN. FUN. You can hear people from backstage when they laugh at us and we get so excited. We’re all a bunch of dorks, and we love that everyone is loving it. We’re wearing silly costumes, singing silly songs, and it’s great.
It is so rare that you see something where you aren’t comparing “what it’s supposed to sound like” in your head. This is so new, because you have nothing to compare it to, and we get to make it our own. We’re not imitating anyone. It’s been really fun to make these characters and let them enjoy it for what it is. People are enjoying it and no one is thinking, “Oh they’re good but they’re not so-n-so” like what happens with big popular Broadway musicals. We get to do this new fun thing and the audience is loving it. Did I mention it was fun?
Five Course Love plays through April 6, 2014 at The Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre— 817 North Saint Paul Street, in Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 752-1225, or purchase them online.
Review of Five Course Love on DCMetroTheaterArts.
Tasty Tidings Part 1: An Interview with Fuzz Roark and Michael Tan on Spotlighter’s Five Course Love.