Here is a great interview with Broadway actress Cheryl Stern! Offering up advice not only both from an actor’s perspective, but as a writer as well!
BB: Can you talk about your Broadway experience?
CS: Having done the First National Tours of Evita, Les Miz and Grand Night For Singing, my Broadway Debut came not in a musical but in a play. I was cast in the 2001 Roundabout revival of The Women starring Cynthia Nixon, Jennifer Tilly, Jennifer Coolidge and Kristen Johnson. It was a star-studded cast of 27 and I was beyond thrilled to share the stage with this potpourri of powerful, funny and brilliant women. It was quite a ride onstage and off. We started rehearsals on Sept 10th and then the next day the world changed forever!! I remember calling Scott Elliott, the director, and asking if the show would be cancelled. He said, “ Are you kidding?? We are theatre people. We will do what Kurt Weil and Lotta Lenya and Bertholt Brecht did during World War II. We will go on. We’ll give people entertainment and allow them to laugh and cry and feel something outside of the fear. It’s our job, Cheryl.” We went back to rehearsal on Sept 13th and the show opened on schedule and played to full houses nightly!!
I did the long running Off Broadway hit, I Love You,You’re Perfect, Now Change for almost four years. It was a great gig and I made some very dear friends and enjoyed the time there immensely, but it is a challenge to keep a role fresh for four years. One night, I was out there singing Always a Bridesmaid and my mind was just somewhere other than the stage. I just stopped singing and starred at the audience. A few seconds later, I waved the pianist to stop and spoke to the audience. “ We are just going to start this over… OK? “ I bent over and touched my toes, as my coach had instructed me to do when concentration goes and I shook it off and started from the top. Somehow I reconnected in a new way to the song I had been doing for years and found new life in it. The audience went nuts!! I was able to go on after that but I always bent over and touched my toes before I entered the stage for good measure!!!
I try to stay healthy by eating very well. Small meals several times a day keeps my energy steady. I always do a physical and vocal warm-up before a performance and I try to exercise almost every day. Yoga and Pilates center me and I have to say probiotic yogurt is a miracle for immune defense!!! Jamie Leigh, you are on to something!!
Working on Broadway is so marvelous in so many ways. For me, because I live in the theatre district, it is such a treat and a joy to be able to walk to work and come home between shows to eat and nap. I am so very fortunate and never take that for granted. I never take working on Broadway for granted. Ever!! It is the supreme privilege in our industry and you are working with people at the top of their game. It’s what we aim for and, though there is excellent work being done all over the country, there is nothing like the thrill of being on a Broadway stage.
That being said, I love working in the regions. I love getting to stretch and hone my craft in roles that are a bit out of the box for me in a Broadway context. I am five feet tall. There are certain roles I am just not going to play on a big Broadway stage that I have had the opportunity to play in smaller settings with less conventional notions for the roles. I have worked with extraordinary directors and actors all over the country and I will continue to love to get out there and do the work wherever it takes me. You always have to remember to love the process and give 100%!! The audiences in Cleveland are just as eager to see your work as they are on Broadway and they deserve your very best.
BB: How did you branch off into a writing career??
CS: I began writing parody lyrics for Color War games at camp when I was 14. I always wanted to act but I had no idea that I would actually become a writer back then. I didn’t seriously start writing until I was 30. I had written parody material for Industrial shows in my 20’s and then the great Brain Lasser, who was my coach, inspired me to do a cabaret act in 1991. I wrote monologues and lyrics for my first show In The Cracks. Donna Murphy was in the audience and screamed out during my bows, “Keep Writing!”
When Donna speaks you listen!!!
I love writing with my husband Tom Kochan. We have a special language and system that seems to work for us. We are working on several projects right now including a new one-woman piece called Shoes and Baggage.
I think coaching became a natural extension of acting and writing. Being able to be on both sides of the table in an audition situation has given me a unique perspective on the process and I love having the opportunity to share what I have learned and continue to learn about the art of auditioning. I don’t have kids and teaching is my parenting. I love to help people grow from where they are and to move forward in a nurturing environment. It gives me great pleasure and I learn so much from my students!!
BB: As a coach can you give one piece of advice.
CS: Always remember that You are Enough. People behind the table are looking for you to solve their problem and they want to cast you!! Don’t second-guess what they are looking for. Do the work and feel confident that you are unique and that what you bring is special and all you need!!
BB: What inspires you?
CS: I love to write the truth. I love to tell true stories. I began writing my own observations and stories and I moved on to writing musicals that were based on true stories. This is what always interests me. I think we have so much drama in our real lives that if we can write it artfully, we can move people to see universal truths. There are people who write amazing fiction or adaptations. That has never been my thing. I am a storyteller and I am passionate about the form.
For me, writing and performing go hand in hand. I am happiest when telling my own stories. That’s why I am getting back to it, finally!! And humor is what really pushes my buttons. I think if you can tell a story with great humor and then allow the truth to emerge fully and land with unexpected impact, that’s the good stuff!!
They always say, “write what you know’. I believe your best work comes when you write straight from your heart without editing or second guessing its worth. When you write what you know to be true, you write well.
BB: What is the one thing you would pass along to others?
CS: Learn your craft. Keep doing the work and don’t try to make yourself into what you think other people want to see. Be your best, most skilled self!!
Take classes. Coach, study, observe and keep seeking the truth in every moment onstage. The work never ends and you never stop learning or growing. Above all, Enjoy the Ride!!!
Cheryl was most recently featured as Mme. Dindon in the National Tour of La Cage Aux Folles. She also starred as Frannie Weinberg the 2012 NYMF Most Promising New Musical Award winning production of A Letter To Harvey Milk. Other recent credits include Jack’s Mother in Into The Woods at Baltimore Center Stage/ Westport Playhouse and The Old Lady in Mary Zimmerman’s acclaimed production of Candide at the Huntington Theatre in Boston (IRNE Award - Best Supporting Actress).
Cheryl’s Broadway credits include the 2010 Tony Award Winning Revivial of La Cage Aux Folles, starring Kelsey Grammer, The Women with Cynthia Nixon, Jennifer Tilly and Kristen Johnston, (Roundabout; filmed for PBS), Candide (NY City Opera) and she was featured with Jackie Mason in Laughing Room Only.
Off Broadway, Cheryl starred as Claire in the Transport Group production of Being Audrey, as Alice B’ Toklas in 27 Rue de Fleurus and won critical acclaim as Mamie Eisenhower in the Drama Desk nominated First Lady Suite. Other Off Broadway credits include, Requiem for William (also at Transport Group), I Love You, You’re Perfect, Game Show, That’s Life! and The Immigrant. She has appeared in first national tours of A Grand Night for Singing, Les Miserables, Evita and Fiddler on the Roof.
Cheryl created the leading role of Maryanne in Hats! at the New Denver Civic Theatre and may be heard on the original cast recording. Other regional roles include Dr. Gorgeous in Sisters Rosensweig (Geva/Studio Arena), Bella in Lost in Yonkers (Tennessee Rep), Frances Black in Light Up the Sky (Seattle Rep.), Cordelia in Falsettos ( Barrington Stage), Flora in No Way to Treat a Lady (Theatreworks Hartford), The Model in The Times (Long Wharf) and Mrs. Meers in Thoroughly Modern Millie (Cape Playhouse).
Cheryl has been seen as a guest star on Guiding Light, All My Children, As the World Turns and Law and Order-Criminal Intent. She can be seen in Sondheim; a Celebration at Carnegie Hall, filmed for PBS and in the feature film, Brooklyn Lobster with Jane Curtin and Danny Aiello. This summer, Cheryl is shooting This is Where I Leave You starring Jane Fonda, Tina Fey and Jason Bateman.
Writing credits include the Jonathan Larsen Award winning Nor’mal at Transport Group, The Audience, Being Audrey, Famous, Are We There Yet, Buffalonia and the upcoming Shoes and Baggage. She is a graduate of Northwestern University.