A chat with Carolyn on the role of Nellie and her future roll wish list.
- What is your favorite R and H show?
Honestly, I didn’t grow up on Rogers and Hammerstein the way a lot of musical theatre performers did. My mom is the person who got me into performing, and she was a young (and I would go so far as to say cool) mom and loved the rock musicals of the 70s along with the current epic musicals of my childhood; so it was a lot of Hair, Godspell,and Les Miz in my house. However, some of my fondest memories growing up are of enacting the “cuckoo” portion of The Sound of Music in the living room with my siblings, so I would have to call that my favorite for nostalgic reasons.
- How is this production bringing something new to the story?
I think Kirsten is really smartly balancing the origins of South Pacific with the current socio-political climate to bring out the beauty of South Pacific. Historically, we tend to think of these golden age musicals as big showy theatre with huge dance numbers and lush romantic ballads, and that’s all still there for the most part, but we are really focusing on the stories and following these very specific character through this really unique period of their lives. The zoomed in realness really blends with the Pulitzer Prize winning script and the intimate venue offered by the Horton Grand to bring these characters into full 3D in a way I don’t think is usually seen with this piece.
- What do you like most about this story?
I love the layers to South Pacific. On one level – you can watch it and it’s just a sweet love story, and if that’s all you get from it – that’s fine. But if you want more, there are so many more discoveries to be made – so many parts that hold up a mirror to the best and worst of ourselves and make us acknowledge our common humanity and the challenges and triumphs of our collective past.
- What in the character of Nellie do you most identify with?
In my heart of hearts, I would love to say I connect most with her eternal optimism, but I think I’m more of a realist than she is. I do, however, connect with her ability to desire to see the good in everyone around her. It’s probably my absolute favorite thing about her as a character too. She is flawed, in a very real way, and I like that about her. Not necessarily WHAT her flaw is, but that she isn’t just this perfect ingenue that flits through the show – she is complicated, she is dealing with her own demons – and that is something else I greatly identify with. I imagine most people would.
- What is the biggest challenge about taking on this role?
There is a two-fold challenge for me with this role. First, it is iconic. I am grateful that my experience with the show prior to beginning this process was very limited so I don’t feel like I have too much ingrained about the character that I have to overcome from previous encounters. But, I am very aware that most people coming to this production will have very specific images, actors, and voices in mind when they think of Nellie – and I want to honor that, while also being true to my interpretation of the character and our version of this story. The second challenge for me is her bred in racial biases. I grew up in a very different time and community, so it’s not something I find easy to empathize with, but as I said before, I believe we all have demons we struggle with, we all have things that come out of our mouths that are reflections of our parents, our upbringing, our individual ways of looking at the world – and some of those thoughts are ugly. Part of the struggle of being human and growing in this world is deciding what of your beliefs stay part of your core moral structure, and what must evolve and grow with each new experience. This is the crossroads Nellie finds herself at, and it’s challenging for me to not judge her, to honor who she is and what experiences led her here, but also honor that she is struggling with how to move forward.
- What is your favorite song in the show?
I would have to say “Younger Than Springtime.” Again – it so perfectly illustrates the complexity of this piece. It’s this soaring beautiful tenor solo, but it’s got some wonderful unexpected harmonics in it – and the words are the most perfect illustration of an all consuming and unexpected love. But then, if you think about WHO he is singing it to – a 17 (ish) year old girl who’s mother just pawned her off on this guy – it takes on a darker undertone. And maybe selfishly, it’s also this beautiful song that I don’t have to sing or worry about acting through – I just get to sit backstage and enjoy!
- When you are not on stage how do you like to spend your time?
I’ve only lived here for three years, and I still spend most of my spare time relishing in all the things that make San Diego great: walking my dog, going to the beach, getting the most out of my Zoo membership, checking out breweries, watching sports (Go Eagles!!). My guilty pleasure is playing super nerdy board games (like Betrayal at House on the Hill and Pandemic), I’m hyper competitive!
- What is your dream role and why?
What a question!! I feel like every actor has a list – a top 5 if you will – so if you will indulge me, I will name them all, but I promise I can tie the “why” through all of them. (and I will keep it just to Musical Theatre roles for this audience!) They are: Violet in Violet, Sally Bowles in Cabaret, Clara Johnson in The Light in the Piazza, Cinderella in Into the Woods, and Alice Murphy in Bright Star. My thru line for all these characters is similar to why I love playing Nellie – they are complex women with interesting story lines and growth. They each have a strong central pulse that drives them and are hard pressed to stray from it. And of course, they are all ridiculously fun to sing, which doesn’t hurt!