Sarah Doreen MacPhee on Playing Brenda Strong in ‘Catch Me If You Can’ at Montgomery College’s Summer Dinner Theatre

Sarah Doreen MacPhee tells us about playing Brenda Strong, who falls in love with a con artist in Montgomery College Summer Dinner Theatre’s Catch Me If You Can. 

Joel: Please introduce yourself and tell our readers where they may have seen you perform on our local stages and what roles you have played.

Sarah: Hello! My name is Sarah Doreen MacPhee, I’m 16 years old, and I’m a rising Senior at Quince Orchard High School. At my school I’ve played Ms. Casewell in The Mousetrap, Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker, and Raja Englanderova in I Never Saw Another Butterfly.

Who do you play in the show and how do you relate to her? Why did you want to perform this role? Do you share any similar traits or experiences?

Sarah Doreen MacPhee.
Sarah Doreen MacPhee.

In the show I play Brenda Strong, a nurse Frank Jr. meets in Atlanta and falls in love with. Brenda and I have a lot of similarities, and I infuse a lot of my own quirks into playing her. We are both very shy when it comes to relationships and rather awkward when being put in romantic situations, yet we are both very headstrong and ambitious about our work.

I was initially drawn to this character from the song she sings at the end of the second act. The lyrics are very poignant and honest, and I felt like they painted her in a way most ingénues aren’t. It is typical for writers, especially in musicals, to write flimsy and one-dimensional female love interests. However, Brenda is a very complex character with genuine motivation, something I hope comes across in my acting. Brenda sticks up for her lover, and fights through her insecurities and doubts to take a chance at love. I really admire that.

What did you perform at your audition?

I sang “Unexpected Song” from Song and Dance by Andrew Loyd Weber. The song is beast, and is constantly jumping up and down and everywhere, and takes a lot of agility. It starts in the chest, moves to the mix, and the goes into soprano territory all the in space of 36 bars. It’s a very tough song, by my voice teacher and I felt like it highlighted my voice very well. I feel like it was the perfect song to audition for Brenda with, because the song is a realistic love song that contrasts nervous insecurities with hope and determination. It’s really a lovely song, and it won Bernadette Peters and Tony!

How much of yourself is in this character and the way you play her?

Whenever I play a character, I always put little pieces of myself into them in order to make them my own. And in part, little pieces of them are put into myself. Brenda and I share many of the same nervous ticks (i.e. wringing of the hands), and we also share many of the same insecurities in dealing with relationships. I’ve grown to love this character very deeply, and I very much hope that comes across in stage.

What do we learn about your character during your ‘big’ solos?

Through her part in “Seven Wonders” we watch her warm up to Frank Jr in a very honest and realistic way, and we can see he sense of humor. In “Fly, Fly Away” we watch her come to the realization that she would do anything for the man she loves, even if it means she won’t get a happy ending in the here and now.

How has your director and musical director helped you in molding your performance?

Our creative team is brutally honest with us, and I very much appreciate that. They will call me out when I’m in my head too much, which is one of my tendencies when it comes to performance. Our Music Director, Doug, has helped me be able to perform in a way as easy as breathing, especially when it comes to “Fly, Fly Away” which is a bear of a song. Similarly, Patrick, our director, has gotten me to work through my own insecurities of physical contact (which there is a lot of in the show), and has taught me to leave behind my own psyche when I’m on the stage, and develop a new one that fits my character.

What was the most difficult scene and song to learn and why?

Definitely the scene before “Seven Wonders” and the song itself. I’ve never played a love interest before, and wasn’t use to all that playing a part like that entailed. Alex, who plays Frank Jr., is a great actor and guy and was patient and 100% professional with me, which is something I really appreciate. It was slow trying to break though my own barriers at first. I’m not a very touchy-felt person, and will get extremely uncomfortable it physical contact, in in the most accidental and innocent way of I do not know the person well enough. Overcoming that was very hard, though I believe it has made me a better actor for it.

What was the best advice your Director Patrick Pearson and Musical Director Doug Bowles gave you about performing your role and performing your solos?

The best thing Doug said to me was that I get too in my head about vocal technique. He told me that at the climax of a song, the audience will be in the palm of my hands, and to focus on being honest with my acting instead of being in my head. Patrick told me this trick when I was dealing with the acting on “Fly, Fly Away,” that what makes people cry isn’t a person crying, but someone fighting not to cry. That has really resonated with me.

What are some of the themes of Catch Me If You Can that today’s audiences can relate to?

I feel like Catch Me If You Can is a huge allegory for saying goodbye. There’s even a song at the end of the show called “Goodbye” in which Frank Jr. frantically tries to stop the show in order to “end on top”. When the song is over, Hanratty tells him “You don’t just get to walk out on your life. It doesn’t just end because you say so.” This really spoke to me, and I feel like it speaks to many people as well. We all have had people walk out on us or leave too soon, never to know the impact that they continuously leave on us. It’s a very universal statement.

Why does Brenda admire Frank, Jr?

My personal theory is that Frank Jr. is the first man in Brenda’s life that loves her for who she is and doesn’t want her to be anyone else. It very universal, and when we all find that person who feels that way about us, none of us are ever the same after that. It’s a big moment for her when she realizes that.

L to R: Katie Gerard Fanning, Alex Sebastian Stone, Sarah Doreen, and Francisco Borja. Photo by
L to R: Katie Gerard Fanning, Alex Sebastian Stone, Sarah Doreen, and Francisco Borja. Photo by James Nelson.

If you could change the ending of the show, what would happen to your character and to Frank, Jr.?

Honestly, I wouldn’t change the show. I feel like the ending is more realistic and genuine the way that it is. It left me duster aged when I first saw the show on Broadway, but it’s what actually happened. I think it wouldn’t be right to change it.

What have you learned about yourself – the actor and singer and person -from being part of this year’s Summer Dinner program at Montgomery College?

Personally, I’ve learned a lot of new technical skills that I’m eager to try out myself. I’ve also discovered a personal endurance that I didn’t know I possessed. The rehearsal process is grueling, and I’m glad that I’ve proven to myself that I can make it through and preserver.

What do you want audiences to take with them after seeing you perform in Catch Me If You Can?

In all honesty, I hope that they enjoy my performance and all the other performances my this lovely cast, and that they have fun. That’s the most any of us actors can hope for!

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Catch Me If You Can continues its run tonight Friday, July 29th at 6 PM (Dinner) and 7:30 PM (Show), Saturday, July 30th at 6 PM (Dinner) and 7:30 PM (Show), and Sunday, July 31st at 12:30 PM (Lunch Buffet) and 2 PM (Show) at Montgomery College’s Summer Dinner Theatre –  51 Mannakee Street, in Rockville, MD. Purchase tickets online.

LINK: He’s Back: Alex Stone on Playing The Con Man Again-in Montgomery College’s Summer Dinner Theatre’s ‘Catch Me If You Can.’

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Joel Markowitz
Joel Markowitz is the Publisher and Editor of DCMetroTheaterArts. He founded the site with his brother Bruce to help promote the vast riches of theatre and the arts in the DC Metro area that includes Maryland, Virginia, and DC theater and music venues, universities, schools, Children's theaters, professional, and community theatres. Joel is an advocate for promoting the 'stars of the future' in his popular 'Scene Stealers' articles. He wrote a column for 5 years called ‘Theatre Schmooze’ and recorded podcast interviews for DC Theatre Scene. His work can also be seen and read on BroadwayStars. Joel also wrote a monthly preview of what was about to open in DC area theatres for BroadwayWorld. He is an avid film and theater goer, and a suffering Buffalo Bills and Sabres fan. Joel was a regular guest on 'The Lunch and Judy Show' radio program starring Judy Stadt in NYC. Joel founded The Ushers Theatre Going Group in the DC area in 1990, which had a 25-year run when it took its final curtain call last year. Joel is a proud member of The American Critics Association.