Lowe Taylor.
Remember that name.  In a matter of just a few short years, the Maryland native has become one of L.A.’s brightest musical theater stars.  Her performances at the Chance Theater in Anaheim Hills have won her three “Chancie” Awards, including Best Actress for her performance as Dot/Marie in Sunday In The Park With George. 

Lowe accepting her Chancie

Then came her two-year stint with The Marvelous Wonderettes at the El Portal, becoming the first and only actress to play all four roles, covering all four again in The Winter Wonderettes, and taking over the role of Suzy in the Laguna Beach Playhouse production last summer.  

Having put her own stamp on Marty (Grease), Babe (The Pajama Game), Miss Adelaide (Guys And Dolls), and Princess Winnifred (Once Upon A Mattress), Lowe achieved ever actor’s dream this year by originating a leading role in a musical—Penny in the World Premiere (smash hit) Divorce! The Musical, continuing its run at the Hudson Mainstage Theatre in Hollywood.

About to take three weeks off from Divorce! (for a long-planned trip to Kenya), Lowe still found time to sit down and answer questions this inquiring mind wanted to know.

Lowe, it doesn’t seem all that long ago that I first met you following a performance of Grease at Fullerton CLO in May 2006, yet so much has happened since then. A pair of starring roles at the Chance Theater, becoming the first actress to play all four of The Marvelous Wonderettes, and now creating the role of Penny in  Divorce! The Musical. So my first question is:

What was Lowe Taylor doing before our paths crossed? What were you up to pre-Marty in Grease?
Hmm, how far back shall I go?  (Lowe smiles.) I grew up in Maryland where I started doing theater around the age of 10.  I absolutely loved it from a young age. When I moved to L.A., I had been doing so much theater that I really wanted to experience other sides of the art form and pursue film and television. But it wasn’t long before I did a show for fun and was once again hooked.  The theater truly is the best bug you’ll ever get. I did some shows around town in small nonunion venues mainly, Glendale Centre Theatre, different readings or recordings, whatever I could get my hands on to be creative. I then booked a show called Pilgrim which had a very short run at the Ricardo Montalban. That is where I met great friends of mine like Bets Malone, Eric Anderson, Bobby Pieranunzi, Sam Zeller, and Nick DeGruccio.  The show may not have lasted but the amazing friendships that were formed absolutely have.  Once Pilgrim closed before its time, many of us in that show really just wanted to do a show that was silly and fun, so we all went to the Grease audition and many of us ended up doing the show.  The people at FCLO were lovely and it was a welcoming environment and the show was just a blast!   

At the Chance Theater you had the chance (no pun intended) to play two of the best roles Stephen Sondheim ever wrote for women—The Baker’s Wife in Into The Woods and Dot/Mariet in Sunday In The Park With George. What made those two roles exciting for you to play?

With Bob Simpson in Into The Woods  and as Dot in Sunday In The Park

Well both of those roles have been on my list since I was very young.  I grew up listening to musicals and was very attracted to Sondheim’s melodies and twists and turns since I first heard his work.  There is something about interpreting a song that is so musically challenging that, once you do it, you feel like you’ve climbed a mountain or tamed some wild beast. It’s invigorating. I auditioned at the Chance for Into The Woods on a whim during the run of Grease.  I didn’t know anything about that particular theater, but I was available and loved the show, so I gave it a shot. The moment I stepped into the Chance, it felt like home.  Everyone was so friendly and open and when you spoke to company members, they were really focused on doing great, interesting, risky work and that was very appealing to me. When I was offered the role of the Baker’s Wife, I was thrilled.  She is such an interesting character, wanting a normal life on the surface, but there is so much more bubbling underneath.  So much longing, so much desire, so much insecurity. When I was offered the role of Dot/Marie the following year, that same feeling swept over me. And to play two such interesting women was a double whammy.   Dot is so flawed, so very insecure. She makes choices that she feels are best, but always doubts and always second guesses. To me, she really wears her heart on her sleeve and lost some things because of it. But her heart is so big, I don’t think Dot would change if she had the choice, because she loves so deeply. Then to turn around and discover Marie in the second act, wow!  What a wise woman!  To me, Marie has so many of Dot’s qualities (as Dot is her mother), the wide, open heart, the playfulness, but she has seen life. She has seen it, lived it and knows it.  Discovering and portraying all three of those women was an absolute dream come true.

Are there any other Sondheim roles you’d love to take on?

Other Sondheim roles?  Well, frankly, any of them.  They are all such interesting characters and each one comes with its own delightful musical challenges that I would love to tackle.  But as I get older, the Witch is definitely on the top of my list.  (Another smile.)

Both Into The Woods and Sunday In The Park With George were directed by Oanh Nguyen, certainly one of the most brilliant of our young directors. What is it like working with a genius like Oanh and how did he help you shape your performances?

Oanh is truly a storyteller. The way he deconstructs and then reconstructs a story is fascinating.  I couldn’t have achieved any of those performances without his expert direction and guidance. There were many times working with Oanh that maybe I hit a wall with an emotion or the “want” of a scene, and he has a way of really helping you break it down so the intention is there, clear as a bell and the story moves flawlessly forward.  I feel so very privileged to have worked with him and I hope to work with him again soon.

You’re still a member of the Chance Theater despite a very long commute down to Anaheim Hills. What is it about the Chance that makes actors willing to spend hours in their cars to and from rehearsals and performances?

It’s a couple of things. One is the common goal that we all share as a company, which is to achieve evocative, poignant, interesting work that makes you think.  There are many theater groups and companies that just like to put up a show and do it as similarly as everyone else has done it before, but at the Chance we approach every piece as if it’s the very first time it’s been produced.  No copycatting, but original concepts and ideas.  And we as actors are allowed to do the same thing with our characters. I certainly wasn’t cast as Dot because I’m anything like Bernadette Peters. I was cast as Dot because Oanh appreciated my interpretation of the character at the audition and thought that this was something he could work with to achieve his vision of the piece. 

Then came The Marvelous Wonderettes at the El Portal and your being hired as the very first “Wonderstudy.” How did that bit of casting come about? Were you at all concerned about moving from leading lady to understudy?

Wonderettes came about for me truly because of the wonderful Bets Malone.  She knew I was a quick study and recommended me to Roger Bean, the writer/director of the show. He had seen me in Pilgrim and he called me to discuss the possibility of covering the show.  The idea of moving from leading lady to understudy never actually entered my mind as I was just so in awe of the amazing talent involved in the show—Bets, of course, Julie Dixon Jackson, Kirsten Chandler & Kim Huber. I just knew I that I would learn an immense amount from these amazing women. And to attempt to learn four tracks of a four-girl, four-part harmony, no-one-ever-leaves-the-stage sort of show was a challenge that I knew would help me grow as an artist and a musician. I am always wanting to study and grow.  I don’t feel like you ever reach your peak where you’re the best you’ll ever be.  There is always room for improvement.

I was there for your very first performance as Betty Jean, and later saw you as Suzy twice. (You were great in both roles, by the way.) How difficult was it for you to memorize, internalize, and perform all four characters? 

Betty Jean

Learning all four roles at once was, frankly, insane. As soon as you begin to memorize one, you realize you are neglecting the others. So I worked tirelessly.  I took a lot of notes and recordings and my living room became my personal rehearsal studio.  I would run a number over and over again until my body couldn’t take it and I’d go to bed.  In the early stages, I would also go to Bets’ house a lot and she’d teach me things and watch me run numbers and give me notes. Then I’d switch to another character and we’d do it all again. The harmonies were interesting to learn. I always tell people that it really reminded me of a math puzzle. Once you memorize who generally sings which part in a number, you find the place you fit.  And you just drill the harmonies until they are a part of you. It’s now been eight months since the show ended in Laguna and I could still jump in to any role right this moment. Those harmonies will be in my body and brain forever.  And happily so. I love that show.

Did you have a favorite among them? 

It’s hard to say if I had a favorite.  My favorite was generally whichever role I went on for last.  They all have their quirks and idiosyncrasies.

Character wise, I really enjoyed playing Missy the best as I really relate to her nerdy retentiveness. That hits home, if you know what I mean.

But I probably enjoyed playing Suzy the most.  She’s such a sweet character; it was a joy to live in her for a couple of hours a night.  The only bad part about going on as Suzy is that I wouldn’t get to share the stage with my good friend Bets.  

Which of the girls was the biggest challenge for you?

Cindy Lou

The biggest challenge for me was probably Cindy Lou. Not so much vocally, but character wise.  I am such a silly goofball and to have portray an uber-confident, super sexy gal is always a challenge for me. I tend to feel like a sheep in wolf’s clothing.
What is it about the Marvelous Wonderettes that’s made it such a monster hit, here in Southern California and now Off-Broadway? 

I think there are a few reasons why the Marvelous Wonderettes is a hit.  I think the music is absolutely iconic.  Even if that’s not your generation, you know most of the songs.  Also, we are all at least one of those characters.  Its just so relatable.  And you really want the best for those girls and you’re invested in their journey.

Can we expect to see you back to being a Wonderette any time soon?

I think I will always be a part of the Wonderettes family. I adore everyone involved.  Right now, I am so busy with Divorce! that my schedule is a bit hard to maneuver, but in the future, I hope you see me donning the prom dress at least a few more times.  

That’s something to look forward to! And now, having become the Wonderstudy extraordinaire, you’ve had the chance to originate the role of Penny in Divorce! The Musical. Has it been easier to create a role from scratch than to take over roles which have been closely identified with other actresses?
With Rick Segall in Divorce! The Musical

Not necessarily easier to create the role, but very different. In The Marvelous Wonderettes, I was certainly given the opportunity to make each role “my own” but you are definitely working in the confines of rules and the history someone else has created for these characters. With Penny in Divorce!, I created her, I wrote her history, I improvised with my lovely costar Rick Segall about how we met. She feels so very personal to me.  I was given so much to work with as well with the brilliant script and our amazing director Rick Sparks who is another genius storyteller.  We as an ensemble were made to feel so safe that we could take risks and take chances in the rehearsal process.  It was really a creative dream to get to originate this role.

Divorce! The Musical has been greeted with unanimous critical acclaim. What do you think are the keys to the production’s success with both reviewers and audiences alike?

Well I think the idea of Divorce! is absolutely relatable. I think everyone has either been through one or knows someone close to them who has been through it. But I think the real key with this production is its production team.  Erin Kamler, the writer, is so smart and so musically gifted and was so willing to collaborate and try things, even rewriting an entire number just a few days before our first preview because the old number wasn’t working. There is no ego there, just a very smart and gifted woman with a story to tell.  And Rick Sparks, our director, worked so hard with all of us. He is all about the intention of a scene and storytelling.  I think there are some directors that “block” musical theater pieces rather than really direct. Rick got in there, down and dirty, and really pushed us to our limits, then pulled as back.  I feel like I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish any of this without that brilliant man. And everyone else, David O, our genius music director who makes you feel like you can do anything! And the entire cast and crew.  The commitment of everyone involved really translates onto that stage. And it’s a joy to be on stage with that cast night after night.  An absolute joy!

Now, you’re about to give your own understudy, Kerri-Ann Lavin,  a chance to go on as Penny for several weeks while you vacation in Kenya. What’s behind this African adventure?

I’m going to Kenya for a friend’s wedding and the bride’s father owns a safari company, so we will be going on a few safaris while we are there as well.  It’s coming right up and I still haven’t completely wrapped my head around it.  But I promise to take a ton of pictures.

I’d imagine that this trip has been planned for quite a while, or you wouldn’t be taking time off from a hit.

Yes, it has been planned since long before the audition in 2008. I am having anxiety over leaving!  I love the show and I would never leave under any other circumstance.  But I am very happy to give my understudy a chance to go on.  As someone who did it for two years with The Marvelous Wonderettes, getting a little consistent run like that can make all the difference in your confidence in the role.  And Kerri is wonderful!  I’m very lucky.

You made your first Musical Theater Guild appearance last year in See Saw. How was it to put together a nearly fully-staged musical in the mere twenty-five hours allowed by Actors’ Equity? 

My experience in See Saw was really great. They aren’t kidding when they say it feels like being shot out of a cannon. But frankly, it’s exciting and there is no time to second guess yourself, you just go for it.  Not to mention that everyone involved with Musical Theater Guild is so professional and incredibly kind and supportive.  It really felt like family. 

Can we expect to see you in more MTG productions?

I will definitely audition for anything with MTG whenever I’m invited and I plan to volunteer and help them out in any way I can as I think they are a wonderful organization.

As an L.A.-based actress, is TV/Film a major goal for you or do you see yourself as moving towards an even bigger career in musicals, perhaps on Broadway?

That’s an interesting question.  I do still participate in film and TV work wherever I can. But that side of the industry is really struggling right now, especially with everyone being so nervous about a possible SAG strike. But I do love to act in front of the camera. It’s a completely different style than being on stage, so I like that diversity.  I am sort of a “follow my path and see where it takes me” sort of gal, so if I ended up in New York one day, I would be thrilled.  But right now I just feel blessed to be working and I feel incredibly creatively fulfilled.

Thanks Lowe for taking time to answer our questions. We’ll be seeing you after your return from Kenya! Have a safe trip!

Thanks, Steven!



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