Thank you for joining us. Can you tell us a little bit about what you were doing before you came to Spotlighters and joined the cast of Five Course Love?
Shani: Well, before this I was living in the city, New York City, and auditioning for shows. I was in a show Off-Broadway called Fancy Nancy, I was the mom. It was a great experience because it brought theatre to a younger aged audience. Normally I think theatre is aimed at ages 5 and up, and this was definitely targeted to younger children, older children still really enjoyed it but having those younger children be able to experience theatre was just really totally amazing. Before that I was doing the Beauty and the Beast tour as Madame de la Grande Bouche. The tour did stop through Baltimore, and we were here for two weeks and it was awesome. I love Baltimore. It was very cold when we were here, end of January beginning of February of 2013, so I guess I’m a little prepared for this crazy weather.
How I ended up back in Baltimore is a really simple story. My parents moved here in August and I hadn’t seen them in a while because I’d been traveling for so long. I thought maybe I’d come and spend February with them in Baltimore because the last time I was here I really liked it. I came in January for a visit and they were having auditions at Spotlighters, and the show was running in February and March and that’s exactly when I was planning to be in the city. I auditioned and I ended up getting into the show. It was just perfect timing. I get to be with my family, do this great show; and because the show is only on weekends I’m spending my week back in New York City auditioning. It’s been pretty awesome.
Was Five Course Love a show you were familiar with?
No, not at all! But I researched it. I wasn’t sure how they were going to cast it, because initially it was just one female playing all five of the women and then the two men playing all ten of the men. I thought it would be really challenging and really fun to play more than one role, which I’ve done in ensembles, but never as different main features all throughout the show. The more I researched it the more I fell in love with the humor of the show, but up until I saw the audition notice, I had never heard of it.
They did end up splitting the female roles; I play three characters and Lauren plays the other two, but it is still definitely a challenge for the both of us. Playing multiple roles is still hard, and these are stylistically and vocally very different from each other. I love that I get to have different accents for each one. So I’m really glad I became familiar with the show.
You do get to play three different women, so can you tell us a little bit about each of the women you play?
My first character is Barbie. She is a Texan woman who is on the prowl for Mr. Right. She’s just ready to go with the right man. So when she thinks that she finds him, it is him, game on, let’s go. My second character is Sofia. She’s like a New Jersey housewife who happens to be married to the mob boss. She is actually having an affair with his second-hand man, and this is just a night in their “encounter.” It’s a night between her and her lover, and the restaurant owner who happens to be her husband’s eyes— he reports back to Sofia’s husband whenever she and Gino show up at his restaurant. My third character is Rosalinda who is a Spanish maiden that is obviously very beautiful and wanted. I have two men fighting over me and I don’t know what to do. I don’t know who to choose. They have to kind of prove their love to me.
Which of these three characters is the most challenging for you to contend with?
I definitely think Barbie is. Her singing voice is low and so is her speaking voice. It’s a belting voice, in the music world we’d say her voice is more in her chest. The other two are more in my head. Head voice and singing higher is easier for me so it was definitely harder for me to pitch it lower. Even my normal speaking voice, you can hear it’s headier and higher. That is definitely the most difficult part of the three, working on getting Barbie to sound lower because that’s not natural to me.
Which one are you having the most fun with?
Ugh! Don’t ask that question, haha! It’s hard to say! Rosalinda is my last character so I might be the most relaxed by then? But I love that scene. I love when the men are fighting for me during “Pick Me.” It’s hard for me not to sing along in the song. Rosalinda doesn’t really do much of anything, she’s just there looking gorgeous in that number, but I love doing that number. I look forward to being on stage in that moment because the men are so great. But then I really like Sofia. She’s a strong woman and she doesn’t let men push her around. And Barbie is also fun. I mean they’re all fun. But I guess it’s Rosalinda? They’re all fun!
You mentioned you have three different sets of accents, one for each character. What was your process for getting yourself comfortable with those varying sounds?
Fuzz and Michael were both very helpful in that process. They gave me some recommendations. For the southern accent they told me to listen to Dolly and Reba, and to get the twang of both of their singing styles so that I could sing with a twang for Barbie. And then I watched “Mob Wives” to get that attitude and that New Jersey-New Yorkish dialect. I’m originally from Ohio, and I don’t think I have a Midwestern accent but a lot of people often ask if I have parents that don’t speak English as their main language. I don’t know why. But I must say some things that gives off the impression that I was not raised speaking English. I was born in California and I spent ages eight to 18 in Ohio.
The Spanish accent actually came easier than I thought it was going to. The two men, Tim and Brett, are both really good with dialects so I did a lot of listening to them for that as well. I’d say “OK, what are they doing,” and that’s how that one kind of came to be. The accents overall are still a work in progress.
The design team has found an interesting way to really make your characters stand out. You’re already quite tall and then they stick you in enormous wigs, and super high heels. Particularly in the Spotlighters space, what is that like?
I’m already 5’10” so when I first tried on these costumes I was laughing. For Sofia, I believe they are 5-inch heels. Sofia’s heels are leopard print. We were going to do a leopard print dress to match the shoes but eventually we went with a red dress. The wig is probably 3-4 inches tall, so the first day I put on the costumes with the heels and the wig, I wasn’t sure I was going to fit on the stage. That’s what, eight or nine extra inches on top of my almost six-foot height? So that makes my characters about 6’8”? I was definitely making sure that my hair wouldn’t burn on the lights.
The two men in the show, I’m taller than both of them in real life. I’m taller than the majority of men in real life. So with the shoes and the hair and everything it just makes it that much more comedic. That really helped me form my character. I can nestle him in my chest instead of the woman being in the man’s chest and it being awkward for me to stoop down and put my head on his chest. We reversed it and its comic genius that way. Just from my height alone, we’re getting a lot of laughs.
What’s your favorite number to sing?
I love “Nicky Knows.” It happened during the Italian scene as Sofia. It’s when we all find out that my husband might know about us. Sofia doesn’t do much until the very end, and this number is where her strength comes through. I’m not going to give it away, but this is where her moment of strength comes from.
If you were doing the other two parts, Kitty and Gretchen, what would that be like for you?
I really wanted to do Gretchen just because she’s a dominatrix. I read her part and said,“Oh my gosh! I’ve never played a part like that!” I love Kitty’s song at the end, “Love Looking Back at Me.” So Lauren is very lucky. But I really do love my characters. I sit backstage as the men are scrambling around costume changing because they are on stage at all times. And I’m sitting there watching and I’ll say “you guys look good,” as I’m just relaxing between numbers. So if I were doing all five parts I definitely think it would have a different stamina to it because I wouldn’t have any down time. It would definitely be fun, but I am learning a lot just from watching Lauren. It’s always nice to have other characters to learn from so I really like that. There are definitely things that she is doing that I would never have thought of and it fascinates me to watch her do them.
How does doing a show like this at a little community theatre in Baltimore, not to mention a tiny theatre in the round, compare to other shows you’ve done?
This is my first show in the round since college so it has definitely been a while. I have done one performance before where it was completely in the round, usually it was audience on three sides. This is definitely my first show with the poles in the corners. But I kind of like leaning up against those poles, so I don’t notice them as a distraction. For me, when you can see the audience that close it’s always a little bit scarier, especially when they say to interact with the audience.
The first thing that I do when I come out as Barbie is I’m looking for men in the audience. That’s what I’m doing. You can’t use that fourth wall as a protection. It’s definitely different, but I guess it’s also really no different because it’s a high level of commitment and that’s no different from any show I do. My goal is that if this is somebody’s first or last performance that they’ll see, I want to be meaningful and important to them. So no matter where I am, what theatre or show, that’s what I want to do. I guess the difference here is that it’s smaller audiences, and they’re closer to you because there’s not even a full foot between the edge of the stage and first row of seats.
I’ve performed for thousands of people but you can’t hear them all because they’re so far away. This is more intimate and even though it’s smaller audiences, they are right there and you really get to see them and hear them and know you’re doing your job right.
What’s the song that you want to sing but don’t get to sing?
The last song. Kitty’s song “Love Looking Back at Me.” I won’t talk too much about it, but I think I’m going to try to find someone to sing that with at a cabaret. It’s such a great song. I’ve actually found quite a few songs in this piece, that I do sing that I can take and use for auditions as I continue to line up work in my career. The music is just that great. Both of Barbie’s songs I could use for country comedy auditions for shows like 9 to 5 or Whorehouse. And then I might also steal “Gretchen’s Lament” as more of a ballad type audition piece.
What’s your all-time favorite go-to food?
Me and Lauren talk about Mexican food all the time and we agree on this fully, if I don’t know what I want or if I’m just craving something that I can’t quite figure out? If I eat Mexican I am happy. And then the majority of the time I’m also craving Mexican. I like any Mexican pretty much. Any burrito joint, any place that has Mexican food. Even Chipotle, I love. There’s this place in New York City called Blockheads which they have really cheap margaritas as well and that’s always a plus. But I love their food. They also have vegan options as well, they have vegan cheese and vegetarian chili and it’s delicious. I’m not vegan but when I’m out with my vegan friends we can split dishes there. It’s so good. Definitely Mexican food. Though I also like a good diner, because you can go in there and get anything. I also like breakfast food at all times. I never eat fast food, but I heard Taco Bell is rolling out breakfast food and I’m not going to lie, I’m very tempted to try something there from their breakfast menu. Because it’s breakfast and Mexican together! And that will be amazing.
Is there a food that you absolutely cannot or will not eat?
Actually my ‘can’t do it’ food falls into one of the five from the show. It’s German food. I don’t eat very much meat and they eat a lot of meat. It’s nothing but sausages and bratwursts. I don’t eat much meat, I’ve tried, but I don’t really like it. So I always ask “does it have meat in it?” And I mean it’s not the end of the world, but it becomes less appetizing. I do like sushi. I’ve never eaten pork. I love the smell of bacon, but it weirds me out too much to attempt to eat it.
What would you say to people to entice them to come see this mostly unheard of new musical?
They should do it! It’s so fun. It’s being really well received. You get to see two very attractive women, obviously. And you get two comic-gold men, who are also very attractive. There are only four of us so the audience feels really engaged and a part of it. I think they really like the fact that we play different characters. Upon me reentering as Sofia, my second character, I hear whispers of “Is that the same girl? Is that her?” That adds another layer of fun to the show. You don’t often get that sort of intentional double casting in this close proximity.
This show is just 90 minutes of fun. Literally it’s the perfect timing, it’s the perfect night. You don’t end too late, 9:30 and the show is done so you can still go out with your friends or whatever. Everybody leaves in really good moods, this show is very uplifting. The way it ends, folding everything together is just so perfect. I hope more theatres end up doing it, I just think it really is the perfect show.
Obviously part of the humor is part of the actors’ delivery but it’s in the writing. The writing is just so funny. So you really can’t go wrong with this show. The music is great. It’s so different all throughout. It’s never the same, it’s never boring and it’s always changing.
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.
Amanda Gunther’s Review for Five Course Love.
Tasty Tidings: Part 1: An interview with Director Fuzz Roark and Musical Director Michael Tan on Spotlighters’ ‘Five Course Love.’
Tasty Tidings Part 2: An Interview with Lauren Schein on Spotlighters’ ‘Five Course Love.’