Sheltering in place hasn’t kept actress/singer/songwriter Lauren Marcus from creating, performing, and entertaining audiences everywhere with her talent, passion, and commitment. Just in time for the New York primaries in June, her prescient socio-political protest anthem “What It Really Cost You” was just re-recorded for a new video release on April 2, for submission in the NPR Tiny Desk (Home) Contest, as a reminder of the importance and ramifications of voting.
Originally written and recorded in November 2016, immediately after the US presidential election, the song, with words and music by Marcus and arrangement by Danny Jonokuchi, features her increasingly fervent delivery of its momentous and deeply felt message. She is backed by Amara Brady, Katie Lee Hill, and Hana Slevin on vocals, and accompanied by a seven-piece band (Jonokuchi on trumpet, Mike Rosengarten on guitar, Rob Rokicki on piano, Jamie Eblen on percussion, Matt Scharfglass on bass, Josh Plotner on sax, and Becca Patterson on trombone) – all performing and taping their parts in isolation at home, which were then edited by Plotner – with additional support by Anthony Taylor and Paul Desmond Productions.
Most recently seen on the live stage as Audrey in the cult-classic sci-fi musical rom-com Little Shop of Horrors at the Pittsburgh Public Theater and as Miss Asp at New Jersey’s Two River Theater in Love in Hate Nation (with book, music, and lyrics by Joe Iconis), Marcus (who received her Bachelor’s degree from NYU and her Master’s from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow) made her Broadway debut in 2019, as Brooke Lohst in Be More Chill at the Lyceum Theatre – a role she originated at Two River and reprised Off-Broadway in the extended sold-out smash-hit production at Signature Theatre, which garnered her worldwide fame.
She is also a noted club performer, including her popular appearances at Rockwood Music Hall, Feinstein’s/54 Below in The Jonathan Larson Project and Joe Iconis & Family (Iconis is her real-life husband), and other NYC venues. Her 2016 debut EP, Never Really Done with You, is available for download and streaming on digital platforms, and her distinctive and affecting voice is also featured on Ghostlight Records’ original cast albums of Be More Chill and The Jonathan Larson Project.
Lauren graciously made time in her active schedule to speak with me remotely for some spirited questions and answers about her life, her work, and her feelings about the present situation.
- Is there anything you’re enjoying during this time in quarantine?
Lauren: Yes, watching so many movies! I don’t usually have the time, but I do now, and I’ve been learning a lot about writing by watching them
- What’s been the biggest challenge?
I really miss performing live in a huge way, but it has confirmed for me that I’m doing the right thing with my life, so that’s something positive!
- What three things are always on your shopping list so you never run out?
Bourbon, carbonated water, and peanut butter.
- What always makes you happy?
Dogs! And we don’t even have a dog, we have a cat. Diane makes me happy about 80% of the time, except for the 20% when she won’t accept my hugs.
- What do you find comforting?
Food, unfortunately, and it’s especially hard now, because eating is one of the main things there is to do in isolation. I have trouble stopping.
- What makes you angry?
Injustice, and stupid people online; two different things, but related.
- What would make the world a better place?
If people could just take three seconds to think about what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes. A lot of times, even if they think they are empathetic, they just don’t comprehend how other people feel or what their experience is.
- Which came first for you, singing or acting?
Ooooh, I was very dramatic, so acting – and singing was a natural progression. I would lip sync to emotional songs in the mirror and make myself cry, so those were my earliest acting lessons.
- What’s your favorite memory of Scotland?
I loved being with my friends in school and fun nights in pubs. It was different there; everyone in the cast would hang out after shows in the bars at the front of the theaters, instead of leaving the building right away. It was a very convivial atmosphere.
- Which character in Be More Chill were you most like in high school?
I was most like Christine Canigula; nowhere near as eloquent about my feelings, but definitely a theater nerd!
- What three emotions did you feel on your opening night on Broadway?
I was really grateful, proud, and happy.
- If you had a voracious man-eating plant, what would you name it?
Oh, that’s a good one! Boris; I don’t even have a reason.
- What is it about sci-fi?
I’m not sure it’s one of my favorite genres, but I have done a lot of it. It’s a world where anything can happen – even though it can’t really happen – and it’s fun! It also allows people to ask “what if” in a more free way. It feels easier to think about your own behavior in the context of a completely impossible situation, as opposed to a tricky realistic one.
- Is there anything your fans don’t know about you that you’d like to share with them now, or is there something people do know that you wish they didn’t?
I am so open, and I’ve never regretted it. But people might not know that I’m scared every time I express my opinion; I get really nervous. I think it’s been engrained in me not to upset anyone, but the older I get, I find it’s even worse not to speak out honestly. I’m better doing it in my songs than on the spot.
- Is achieving fame all that it’s cracked up to be?
I don’t think I would ever, ever say that I’m famous! It’s a niche theater group, but it’s amazing to have people respond to what we’re doing. It’s so sweet to have fans and to get to share it with them, and to have an impact.
Thanks, Lauren, for sharing a delightful and illuminating fifteen minutes of your rightful fame (I must insist that you are – and modest, too)! Can’t wait to see what you’ll be streaming next, and to see you back live on stage.