WPCNR BACK STAGE. Interview with Jeannie Shubitz, the Lead in WBT’S Kiss Me Kate. October 13, 2013:
Forever to be remembered as the ”Peggy Sawyer” of Westchester Broadway Theatre, Jeannie Shubitz, turned the plot of the famous musical 42nd Street into theatre magic for real two weeks ago when she took over the lead in the Westchester Broadway Theatre production of Kiss Me Kate, on three days of rehearsal.
For those of you who do not know 42nd Street, in that show the leading lady is injured, and just before opening night, they need a replacement. Peggy Sawyer is a character who auditioned for the chorus and is about to go back to Allentown, because she didn’t make the show, is playing opposite Jerry Ohrbach the producer (loosely modeled on David Merrick). Sawyer is asked by Orbach will she take over the lead, and she says “I’ll do it.”
That’s the situation Ms. Shubitz faced 3 weeks ago in mid-September when WBT’s director, James Brennan contacted her and asked her “to do it.”
Ms. Shubitz said, “I’ll do it!” too!
After last Wednesday’s matinee of Kiss Me, Kate at WBT, The CitizeNetReporter talked with Ms. Shubitz about her miracle on stage
WPCNR: When did it begin?
Jeannie: “I got the call around the 16th or 17th of September and they told me at that point I was going to be going on September 29, and my put-in would be on the 28th, put-in meaning a rehearsal where we all get together and I get to run it from the stage with costumes and all that. That was late that night (16th). Then a couple of days later I came up here and saw the show for the first time. Then after that I was able to rehearse with the stage manager(Victor Lukas) who gave me all the blocking
“Blocking is the precise movement and positioning of actors in all the scenes of the show. I came here and stayed after the show and went over all the blocking with him. It was quite the process, it was very very quick but everybody in the cast was really wonderful, and very present for me and very available to help me to learn the show as quickly as possible.
WPCNR:You were familiar with the show, right?
Jeannie: I had seen Kiss Me Kate before, I had not done it before.
WPCNR: How were you on that first night you went on?
Jeannie: It felt a little like being shot out of a cannon. It was a little scary. You almost can’t stop to think about it. You just go through it and trust that the work you’ve done is going to serve you and follow your actors you’re sharing the stage with who are wonderfully supportive and they’ll help you out if you go up on a line or not in the right place on stage. You don’t think about it. Then you get to the end of the line and complete exhaustion sets in.
You kind of look back on what you did and think Oh God I can’t believe I just did that whole show, I don’t remember it at all (laughs).
WPCNR: Did you study your lines overnight?
Jeannie: I spent pretty much every day once I got the blocking. Until I got the script, I spent all my time listening to the music and learning that. Once I got the script I spent all my time working on the script.
Once I got the blocking, I spent hours in my living room, just walking the blocking, setting the stage trying to learn that for myself. There were days I spent a solid 12 hours working on the show.
Probably not a whole lot more than that because you kind of reach critical mass . Your brain can only hold so much. You just get to that point where you kind of need to take a break, and walk and do something else, then I’ll come back to this a half hour later and run my show again.
WPCNR: What was the connection that the Director James Brennan thought of you, just like the 42nd Street script?
Jeannie: I had actually auditioned for them in the city when they were holding the initial auditions for the show.
I auditioned, went through the callback process (a second audition for a part) and they knew me from that, and I and the director, James Brennan had worked together before.
They could not get me ready fast enough and get my costumes ready so the show had to be covered for three days.
It’s been an adventure. Never a dull moment here.
WPCNR: What was the toughest process of the show you had to master?
Jeannie: The most difficult thing, it was kind of a toss-up between the fight choreography, so getting all of that, making sure that everything is safe and controlled, while still creating a believable fight (Critic note: Ms. Shubitz is very believable! Just ask Mr. Michals, her male lead in the show) , so all the hits, and the lifts, and the carries and the kicks, making sure those look real, while still being safe for the actors
WPCNR: Have you ever acted fight scenes on stage before?
Jeannie: No, I haven’t. This is my first. It’s really fun!
WPCNR: You’re not a kick boxer as a hobby?
Jeannie (laughing): I’m not. I’m not. I go to the gym. That’s all I do.
WPCNR: Where to from here?
Jeannie: That’s a good question. Back to the auditioning process and all of that. Nothing specific lined up on the docket. A couple of things kind of off in the distance next spring. Until then just back to the (audition) grind.
WPCNR: Where do you want to go in show business?
Jeannie: Goodness. Like every single one of us here: getting that crown jewel :the Broadway contract or production contract would be brilliant. If someone else offered that to me, I sure wouldn’t say no.
WPCNR: Was there any thought that you wouldn’t take the Kate Role here?
Jeannie: No. When they called me for it, it’s a role I haven’t done before that I’ve wanted to do for awhile, so I decided really quick.
WPCNR: This is 42nd Street!
Jeannie: It is. It is. A similar thing.It’s been a wonderful experience and a lot of fun. Once all that initial first couple of shows got out of the way
WPCNR: Talk about your leading man (William Michals , below with Ms. Shubitz ), he was a big help?
Jeannie: He was a lot of fun. He really was. He was very supportive and very patient in the learning process. I was learning my choreography and all of that. Our energies are very well matched on staged.
I was very fortunate that I did get to work with the director for a couple of days. That was a huge help . It has been a really fun thing to build. The challenge was a little bit intimidating, stepping into an existing show. But everybody has been wonderful and I am having such a good time with it now and I’m really starting to feel much more comfortable in the role and really be able to play with it, and William Michals is able to play with it. So there’s always this back and forth crackle going on.
WPCNR: How did you work things out with the orchestra on such short notice, given your voice is deeper than your predecessor’s?
Jeannie: I think actually it was pretty seamless. I was a little bit concerned, but the first time I worked with the full band was my first night on in the show. I didn’t know what to expect. I had worked with Leo (Carusone) the Musical Director and we had gone through the score a couple of times together, so I knew what to expect of him and he knew what I was going to do, so we had already created a good working relationship. The orchestra here is fantastic. The band is really wonderful, and Leo is really very sensitive . This afternoon (Wednesday’s matinee performance), I did something that was a little bit of a change, and he stepped right in and followed me. I was endlessly grateful.
WPCNR: What’s your back story? Always wanted to go into show business?
JEANNIE: I’ve always loved performing. I wasn’t quite sure where it would lead me. I kind of left myself open, usually it ends up being some place more interesting and better than I thought it would be. I’ve always loved performing and started taking piano when I was five. Even after my recitals I would be so jazzed after performing in front of a live audience that I started doing theatre and choir concerts and things like that.
WPCNR: What was your first role ever?
Jeannie: It was in a church Christmas pageant, The Littlest Elf. It was the lead and I was very excited. (Laughs)
WPCNR: First professional role?
JEANNIE:In the musical theatre realm: Magnolia Hawkes ( in Showboat, Editor’s Note: also The Lead). It was a very pivotal show for me. At the time I was pursuing the more classical end of things and I wasn’t entirely sure how I felt about it and I wasn’t committed to classical singing and opera and everything and I did my first musical, Showboat, and I was sold.
That was it. It was a hundred percent, oh this is where I am supposed to be is doing musical theatre as opposed to classical music.
Incidentally, I met some of my nearest and dearest friends there, and I also met my husband in that show. (Laughs) I will carry it (Showboat) with me always.
Ms. Shubitz is from Tucson Arizona. She did her undergraduate work at the University of Arizona, and Masters at Arizona State. Right at the end of the Masters, she was cast in Showboat and moved to New York City.
WPCNR: Do you like New York?
Jeannie: I love it. I love it. My husband and I moved back to Arizona for a period of time, thinking we were ready to move back. But it just didn’t take. We figured nope, we’ve given it (Arizona) a fair shot and we sold the house and moved back here.
Ms. Shubitz stepped on stage and did it. She’s running through November 3 as Lily Vanessi and Kate behind the footlights. The CitizeNetReporter recommends you check her out now because with heart and talent like hers, her name will be on a big marquee before she can say “I’ll do it!”
Need I say the box office is at 914-592-2222 or go to www.BroadwayTheatre.com
Tell them John Bailey sent you.
And Casting Directors, she does leads.
If I can speak for Cole Porter, the composer of Kiss Me, Kate, if Cole saw her last week, he’d say, “You’re the top!”