When you’re trying to make it on Broadway, your dream becomes an obsession. Dance, voice and acting classes, auditions and workshops consume your days. In the Ordway’s production of A Chorus Line, the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winning musical, audiences see the grueling audition process that will lead to the break of a lifetime for a lucky few.
Earlier this week Molly Tynes, who plays Cassie, sat down with me to discuss the show, Broadway and her unconventional road to a life in theater.
How did you first become interested in theatre?
I grew up dancing and singing from a young age, but I didn’t really get interested in theater until high school. I joined the after school drama club and met a wonderful friend, Henry Velasco. He was an avid Broadway fan and shared all his knowledge with me. I remember staying up for hours on the phone with him listening to full cast albums of Sondheim shows. But the big moment was when he showed me the movie of Cabaret. I absolutely fell in love – to this day Cabaret is still my favorite musical of all time. I became obsessed with all things Fosse. It would still be almost another decade before it occurred to me to pursue Broadway as a career, but that was the moment when I became a lover of theater.
Every performer has that moment where it just “clicks” and they know performing is what they want to do for a living. What was that moment for you?
I’m not sure I actually had that one moment. I was a bit late to the party in terms of deciding to pursue performing as a career. I danced at a really terrible “Dolly Dingles” style studio until I was teenager. I then transferred to a very serious pre-professional ballet company, but at that point my technique was so behind everyone else that I never thought I’d be good enough to dance for a living. I had a lot of “potential,” as they say, but a lot of catching up to do as well. I did excel at the more jazzy and theatrical styles of dance, but I certainly did not have a future as a prima ballerina.
When I went to college I sort of planned to give up dancing all together – in fact I got my degree in 19th Century Russian Literature (so random, I know). After just one semester I missed performing so terribly though. I started taking dance classes and auditioning for musicals at the other colleges in the consortium. My freshmen year I got to play one of the two ladies in Cabaret, and my love for theater was reignited. I became dear friends with the actor who played the Emcee (Brian Clowdus – now the artistic director of the Serenbe Playhouse in Georgia). When we graduated, the two of us decided to take a job together performing on a cruise ship.
I did a couple of cruise ship contracts, and only after that did it occur to me that I might be able to make a real living as a performer. I owe a huge thank you to one of my song and dance partners on the ship, Brannon Chase. He really encouraged me and helped me build up the confidence to give the NYC audition scene a try. It was a really scary decision. I had no idea what I was doing or if I had what it takes to make it. I didn’t have an MFA from some prestigious musical theater program. I knew nothing about the business or the technique of auditioning. I showed up with nothing but a headshot, an empty resume, and a lot of passion. I had to work really hard, but somehow everything worked out!
You’ve been on Broadway, toured the country in First National Tours and spent time in regional theatre; what do you like about the gypsy lifestyle being a working actor provides? What do you dislike?
I love how every new show brings with it a new family. My husband (who is not in show business) is always amazed at how many people I know and how many “dear friends” I have. I explain to him that every time you start a new show, you are thrown into a new group of people and immediately expected to create something really personal and intimate with them. There is no time for breaking down boundaries or gently getting to know each other. It could be on the very first day of rehearsal that you must trust a dance partner you just met to do some crazy over-head lift with you. Or maybe you have to read through a powerful breakup scene with an actor you have never spoken to before. This creates some really powerful connections and friendships. Even though every show must close, those bonds persist. You may not see a cast mate again for years, but when you finally do, that connection is still there.
As for the downside, the obvious answer is the uncertainty of work. There is no guarantee you will have a job tomorrow. Every show must close, and every time that happens, you have to start from scratch all over again. No matter how successful you are or how consistently you work, you still have to audition for that next show and hope and pray you get it. I think every actor secretly fears they’ll never work again every time their show closes. You just have to keep pounding the pavement and hope for the best.
You were in both the Broadway and First National Tour of the recent revival of Pippin. How would you describe the differences between doing the show on Broadway at the Music Box Theatre eight shows a week versus traveling the country?
I mean, obviously Broadway is the dream, right? That’s why we’re all here scrambling through auditions and unemployment and heartache – to be on Broadway. Being in the original company of Pippin on Broadway was this Fosse girl’s dream come true! I will cherish that experience for the rest of my life. Sappy stuff aside though, working on Broadway is great because you get to stay at home in NYC – no living out of suitcases, no schlepping from city to city, no separation from your friends and family. At the end of the day you come home to your own bed.
Touring with Pippin was exciting for me too though because I got to play one of the most fabulous Fosse roles ever – Fastrada. I had understudied the role and performed it quite a bit on Broadway, but getting to play the role for myself on the tour and make it my own added a whole new layer to the experience. I was really proud of my work doing that role. And I got to see so many friends and family members in the cities we played. Sharing my performance with them was very special. I’m very thankful I got that opportunity.
You play Cassie, how would you describe your character?
Wow, that’s a tough question! She’s a complicated but very relatable character. She experienced a lot of early success in her career and sort of had stardom and greatness thrust upon her. She also had a very passionate but complicated relationship with Zach, the director/choreographer who brought her to stardom. At the time of the show, both her stardom and relationship have fizzled. She has been through a really rough time trying “to make it” as an actor. She has hit rock bottom, but has somehow saved herself from the depression and darkness and is ready to start over. You get the sense that she has done a lot of soul searching and has really come to peace with who she is and what she really wants out of life. She is passionate and strong, but full of love and humility. I think we can all relate to her experience of struggling to overcome failure.
What do you hope the audience takes away from A Chorus Line?
I think every show I do I hope for the same thing – whether it’s a really serious, thought-provoking show or just a light musical comedy. I hope that something we do on that stage touches the audience in some way – that we move them, affect them. Maybe something in the show relates to their personal lives. Maybe they just need an emotional release. Maybe they just like some good old-fashioned song and dance. Who knows? I just hope that we reach them in some way. That makes all the hard work worth it.