In Part 1 of a series of interviews with the cast of Ruthless! The Musical at Creative Cauldron, meet Kathy Halenda.
Joel: Please introduce yourself and tell our readers where they may have seen you appear on local stages and roles you have played.
Kathy: Kathy Halenda has been performing professionally for about 35 years and has over 200 productions under her bedazzled belt. Her local roles include; Riverside Center for the Performing Arts in Fredericksburg: Aunt Eller in Oklahoma, Vera in Mame, Sister Mary Lazarus in Sister Act, Rose in Gypsy, Miss Mona in Best Lil Whorehouse in Texas, Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes. THEATRE IV in Richmond- Queen in Croaker, Mame Dennis in Mame, Martha in White Christmas. VIRGINIA MUSICAL THEATRE- Mama Rose in Gypsy
Who do you play in Ruthless and how do you relate to your character?
I play the theatre critic, Lita Encore, and I definitely can relate to her strong and opinionated personality! I would like to think I have a gentler heart but I do like her ballsy attitude.
What is it about Ruthless that made you want to be part of this show and cast?
Since moving back to VA two years ago, I have been trying to break into the DC area theatre scene and this show gets my “pump” in the door. I loved the audition process and, from that, could tell that Matt and Laura were good, fun people…so I was very pleased when they cast me! We are all having a blast…
There are so many references to other classic musicals in the show. Which of these shows really epitomize your character and why and how?
I think Gypsy is referred to the most…a lot of the lines are direct quotes from this classic musical. And I think Lita is a lot like Mama Rose…strong, domineering and determined to keep her daughter moldable and in her place. She is obviously NOT the motherly sort but she truly believes that she has been a great one. I think she and Sylvia St. Croix both share this Mama Rose style of parenting.
You all have great solos-your time in the spotlight. What are the name of your solos and what do we learn about your character while singing these solos?
“I Hate Musicals” is Lita’s “Rose’s Turn”. From it, we learn that some theatre critics are bitter, frustrated actors that didn’t make it, so they create scathing and sometimes unfair reviews of the “lower art” of musical theatre. Of course, this doesn’t apply to you, dear Joel! Lita wants to be the only star in the family and she enjoys the power and fear that she instills as a critic, that she would never have as an actress.
You perform in a lot of musicals. You get to sing “I Hate Musicals,” in Ruthless – which is a showstopper. Are there any musicals that you just don’t like and would never appear in? Any roles in musicals they couldn’t pay you to perform? It’s OK to be ruthless about this.
I have been very lucky to have always been able to find the joy and power in any role I’ve ever played. The only show I didn’t really care for was City of Angels, but that was probably due to the fact that I understudied Oolie and the Angel City Four, Soprano and Alto…it was a lot of work and stress on the road…and the script was a little weak to me. And Pajama Game is very dated and sometimes sexist, although I had a ball playing Mabel on that tour! I rarely say no to a show, especially now that I’m older and not quite as marketable…
What song that you don’t sing is your favorite and why?
Well, of course, my solo is my favorite because it’s mine! If I had to choose a second choice, it would be Sylvia’s “I Want the Girl,” because that is even written like “Rose’s Turn” and has so much passion and desperation in it.
If you could write another ending for the show and for your character what would it be?
Lita would kill everyone, move to Europe and become a big star at the Moulin Rouge, performing only Shakespeare monologues.
What have you learned about yourself-the actor-while preparing for your role in Ruthless?
That it’s really difficult to learn a show while commuting 2 hours a day and having to do other jobs to make ends meet. I am used to just rehearsing and doing a show. Now that I’m a “local” actor, I sometimes have 3 other jobs that I do while trying to learn lines, songs and dances…I have a whole new respect for how hard local actors have to work to be able to do what they love!
What is the best suggestion or advice that Director Matt Conner offered you in shaping your performance? How would you describe Matt’s directing style?
Matt is like Peter Pan in a pinball machine…his brain turns on a dime and he has incredible humor, passion and creativity! His directing style is very organic an we’re still finding new things every day. From the beginning, his advice was to be as large and ridiculous as possible and let him pull us back and shape the show…he’s a joy to work with and he makes me laugh all the time!
What do you want audiences to take with them after seeing you in Ruthless?
That life is short and you have to do what you love in it.
When was the last time when you were ruthless? What happened?
I’m not a ruthless person, but I will defend the weak or innocent like a tigress. When I was 28, I cursed at a director and stormed out of rehearsal because he was being so nasty to a young, unsure chorus girl. Oddly enough, the director loved my “balls” and treated me like a queen ever since. Ah, the theatre…
What are you doing next on the stage?
I will be back at the Creative Cauldron, playing Aunt Izzie in Christmas Carol Memory!