Stories & Cast Interviews

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Darien Crago as Ginger Rogers

Posted by: Pia Haas on Wednesday, August 19, 2015 at 12:00:00 am Comments (0)


I'm from Columbus, Ohio (O-H ... )  (My dad trained us to say that from a young age...the proper response is I-O!!!) 

I started dance at a young age -- ballet at age 3, tap at 6 years-old. *(Please see embarrassing pictures) It immediately clicked with me -- I just loved it.  My appreciation for the classics also started young -- thankfully my mom introduced us to the iconic song-and-dance films when we were little.  I loved Singin' in the Rain and 42nd Street (where Ginger Rogers makes a cameo as Anytime Annie ...complete with a monocle!)  I did my first musical when I was 10, playing little-orphan-Annie, as most out-going curly-haired girls do!  Thus began many years of living room musicals with my patient cousins and siblings until I decided to try and pursue it as a career and study musical theatre in college -- I went to Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio and have lived in NYC ever since graduation about four years ago!

I was certainly enchanted by some of the young actors and dancers in the old movies I would watch.  I can remember watching Shirley Temple sing and dance and thinking "Oh, I want to do that!"  Same thing with Ann Margaret, Lucille Ball, Ruby Keeler, Gwen Verdon, and of course, Ginger Rogers.  I was inspired by something from each of their performances -- whether it was the dancing, the costumes, the funny line or joke they told -- they just made performing seem so magical.  Once I got a taste of that on my own -- I was hooked.  

I'm also extremely appreciative for the many great teachers I've had in my life.  Starting with all my dance teachers -- who always expressed that movement was about telling a story first and foremost--everything should have a purpose and mean something to you.  This single lesson is vital for dancers -- that's what sets you apart as an actor, and why Ginger was so captivating onstage and on film.   

Getting the chance to portray this beloved and celebrated woman is one of my greatest honors! It's both intimidating and inspiring.  I would say slightly intimidating only because I want to do my very best paying homage to these iconic movie moments we've recreated within our musical.  But, also that's what is so inspiring -- here I am GETTING the chance to recreate the same dance sequences that motivated and encouraged me to pursue my dance and acting career.  This is a dream!  Jeremy Benton, our director,  did an incredible job of creating choreography that fit this style effortlessly, while still keeping the movements similar enough to the exact Fred-and-Ginger choreography.  True fans will not be disappointed and are in for a real treat!  

I've also learned so much about Ginger's life and early career.  I didn't think I could have admired her more, but after delving in and getting a better sense of the strong, confident, passionate woman she was -- I was wrong! In fact, often when rehearsals seemed overwhelming during our quick ten day process, I would remind myself: "How would Ginger handle this?" And the answer would be with poise, professionalism, and probably humor. So, that's what I tried to do! She is role model both in her demeanor and success, and it's and honor to pretend I'm her for a few hours each day.   

This is my first show at WBT! (Although I was a guest a few years back -- I saw Jeremy Benton in White Christmas!) But, this is my first time on the stage! I've really enjoyed the community so far -- one thing that is fun as a performer is to see and hear audience reactions, I think.  And with Westchester's intimate theater, you can really feel connected to the audience.  I enjoy being able to see faces and speak directly to people as we sing and dance -- it makes it feel a little more special!

I've been very lucky that I've gotten a chance to play some of my dream roles already!! Some favorites: Peggy Sawyer in 42nd Street, Judy Haynes in White Christmas, Logainne in The 25th Annual...Spelling Bee, and Beth March in Little Women.  But, I also love Fosse's work and one role I hope to play someday is Charity in Sweet Charity! I'm also dying to play Kathy in Singin' in the Rain and Louise in Gypsy

I'm a sucker for crafts...specifically paper related ones.  I love making stationery...and will gladly be pen pals with fellow snail mail lovers! I also really enjoy being outside (as long as I have my SPF 1,000 and a large hat) playing Frisbee, riding bikes, reading, playing Bananagrams -- you name it! 

Music I listen to? You probably guessed it.. lots of 50's-60's classics.  I love listening to my "Chordettes" Pandora station when I have things to get done around my apartment! I've also been listening to Fun Home non stop -- I can't get enough.  I also have a slight obsession with Disney's Pocahontas that started in, of course "Colors of The Wind" is on there. 


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Meet Erika Amato as Lela Rogers in Backwards In High Heels.

Posted by: Pia Haas on Tuesday, August 18, 2015 at 12:00:00 am Comments (2)

Erika Amato plays Leila Rogers, Ginger's mother in our production of Backwards In High Heels. Pictured here with Darien Crago (as Ginger.) Read about how this Jersey girl got her start!  







I grew up in Mountainside, NJ and went to the all-girls Kent Place School, in Summit. I was an only child with   an  extremely active imagination, constantly acting out the adventures of Robin Hood in my backyard or singing impromptu improvised operas in my bedroom. (My parents were extremely understanding.)  I acted and sang all throughout my primary and secondary school years, and then attended Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY, where I was a Drama major (general        honors and honors in Drama). After graduation, I moved to Los Angeles to pursue TV and film. While there, I met my husband, Jeff Stacy, with whom I formed a successful indie rock band called Velvet Chain. I lived there for 17 years (doing TV, film and theatre work in addition to the "rock star" stuff) until we moved back East a few years ago so I could better pursue a career in musical theatre.

I've always wanted to be an actor and a singer. I started singing at 3 years old, and played my first lead at age 8. (I was the "Little Peasant" in the play THE LITTLE PEASANT at a summer drama camp that year.) When we filled out our little "What do you want to be when you grow up?" questionnaires in primary school, my answer was, "An actress or a veterinarian." (My allergies put the kibosh on any plans to be a vet!) As for mentors, my first mentor was certainly the drama teacher at Kent Place, Bob Pridham, who still teaches there. He's truly an excellent educator who doesn't treat school plays like anything less than "real" productions. He always encourages all his students to do real, truthful work - not just "hamming it up." Professionally, I'd say my mentor is the wonderful Betty Buckley, who I had the pleasure of meeting and performing with at the Hollywood Bowl back in 2006 and have taken master classes from (and become friends with) since. She is a genius at communicating with an audience (besides that marvelous voice), and I aspire to achieve some of that same effect on people.

I'd heard of the show a couple of years back, having seen a casting notice for it, but really didn't know anything about it until I got the audition appointment for this production. I think it's a great piece, and Lela Rogers is a very interesting, multi-faceted character to play.

One of my favorite shows in Stephen Sondheim's INTO THE WOODS, which I just got to do this past spring up at Ocean State Theatre in RI. I played the Witch, which also happens to be one of my dream roles. I've been very fortunate to have already played quite a few of my dream roles, but a couple of the ones that I haven't had a chance to do yet are Mama Rose in GYPSY and Mrs. Lovett in SWEENEY TODD.

When not on stage, If it's the summer, I adore going to the beach - or just being near the water. I love to read, and of course I enjoy spending time with my husband and our fabulous dog, Buddy.

Right now, I'm listening to a lot of 80s New Wave/punk (the Smiths, Violent Femmes, the Police, Tears for Fears, U2, the Cure, etc.), as well as more current stuff like Radiohead and the Killers. And of course, the Beatles. Nobody beats the Beatles.