Stephanie Rothenberg is one busy girl. At this time last year, she was a sophomore at New York University studying musical theatre at CAP21. Now she has an ensemble role and understudies the lead in the Broadway revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Her Campus NYU recently sat down with Stephanie to talk about her time at NYU (she’s on a leave of absence now), making her Broadway debut, and her plans for the future.
HC NYU: Tell me about the character you play in How to Succeed.
SR: Well I’m in the ensemble. My character is named Meredith and she is a secretary in the steno-pool which means that she’s not an executive secretary; she and the other five secretaries stay downstairs with their typewriters waiting until they get an assignment. It’s kind of neat and goes along well with the costume design too, because the lower people on the totem pole in the company, in terms of status, wear lighter colors. So I’m in lime green during the whole show! She’s just a young secretary. I saw her as from a middle-class background and the first in her family to start working and going to stenography school and getting to work at the World Wide Wicket Company; which is where we all work and where the show takes place. She’s fun!
HC NYU: Do you have a favorite moment in the show?
SR:The opening is my favorite! As tired as I am or can be on a given night, every time that the orchestra starts to play and the overture starts, you have all of the energy coming from everyone else on stage with you. The show starts and the stage is revealed in three different dimensions and I think that it is exciting for the audience to get to see more and go deeper into the company because that was the vision of the director and choreographer Rob Ashford. I start out in the back, and that is really exciting and you feel like you get shot out of a cannon every night, and to start off the bat right away like that is my favorite. Absolutely!
HC NYU: You also understudy the main female role of Rosemary. What was that like learning that role on top of your own? Have you ever had to understudy it yet?
SR: Well, it was the first time I had understudied, so it was a learning experience for me. Not only was it my first Broadway show, but also understudying another character. But I’ve learned so much, and I continue to learn so much every day. And I actually have a funny story, because we don’t start understudy rehearsals until after the show opens, but I went on before we opened. [Rose Hemingway] was ill, so I didn’t have any rehearsal, they just kind of had you learn the lines on your own, and give you the music and pluck it out for you and say learn it. So, somehow everybody bonded together that day. I got in at ten in the morning for the evening show and that night was a big learning experience. But somehow I was so thankful that it worked!
HC NYU:Have you ever seen the film version of How to Succeed before or the revival in the 1990s?
SR: I did not see the film version yet, but I did as part of my research for the original audition, as well as when I received the offer for the show, I watched a copy of the revival with Matthew Broderick. We’re really doing a very different take on it this time around at the fiftieth anniversary, but I just admire so much what they did and the choices that they made and we’re taking a fresh take on it now which is kind of neat.
HC NYU: Where you already a fan of the story and music of How to Succeed?
SR: I was! Frank Loesser’s music is so gorgeous and getting to work with lyrics that are so rich and multi-dimensional is a pleasure and a gift. And our music director David Chase takes the time and has the artistic integrity and passion to tell us what each chord means and the influences that Mr. Loesser got them from. It is interesting to know exactly what you are singing, why you are singing it, and the influences of the time in the 60s. I was always a fan of “Coffee Break,” one of the big numbers, and “Happy To Keep His Dinner Warm” that Rosemary sings was one of my favorite songs going in, and the fact that I get the opportunity to sing it is really exciting.
HC NYU: How did you get your start in musical theatre?
SR: Oh my goodness! I guess like everybody, when I was young, I had an affinity for it and my parents picked up on that and I had expressed interest in going to a summer camp and I did my first show The Wizat a YMCA and I loved it and started taking dance classes and singing. And we moved to Nashville when I was eight and I started to record, since Nashville is such a big recording and music city. That taught me a lot about my voice. Then I started doing community theatre and professional theatre and decided I wanted to pursue it as a profession pretty early on. So then I came to NYU to study musical theatre at CAP 21 at Tisch.
HC NYU: What made you decide to start auditioning for shows now as opposed to waiting until graduating?
SR: I like to say that I think it is really important and that I could never have done it without the training that I received. With that said, I think that it was a good supplement to my training, being in New York City, with the opportunities came along, and the people that had been mentors in my life from Nashville introduced me to people in the city who helped me become connected in the theatre community here. So when opportunities came up to audition for things up here, I thought that I would like to see what a professional audition was like, and I was ready and wanted to. Once you step out there, you start building your reputation. I was ready to present myself as this person ready to start my career and build my body of work. But it was a scary moment realizing that you are starting to create your professional identity. It was through casting directors remembering me to bring me into other auditions, and I didn’t skip classes and wait on long lines or anything. I always had the mentality, and my parents did too, that the right opportunity would come to you with you going for it in all of the right ways. And this is an example of how it did.
HC NYU: You obviously got your start in theatre young, but could you ever see yourself doing anything else?
SR: Not right now! If I could do anything else, I don’t know what it would be. I’m curious about a lot of different things. Like I love reading and cooking. So I’d love to be a chef later in my life. And to travel. That stuff really interests me and fuels me too. I think you have to have other things in your life too as an actor. It really is about learning about the world. As an actor, your work is never done. It is important to have other things in your life, but I can’t imagine trading this.
HC NYU:What is your favorite role you have ever played?
SR:I have not done many straight plays in my life, but I did do The Diary of Anne Frank when I was fourteen, which was Anne’s age when she wrote the diary. It was one of my first professional productions in Tennessee and I understudied Anne and went on a couple of times for her. It was one of my absolute favorite roles because I learned so much as an actor, and that character taught me so much about myself. You are growing up and going through the same things, and you can look at the script and her diary, which I had always loved years before that too, and draw similarities in your life and guide you through awkward times. The best characters are when they teach you something about yourself, too. With Rosemary I’m learning that I am a strong woman who clearly can go for things that I want. She is very driven and really parallels Finch in his journey and she knows the exact steps to take to get to the point in her life that she wants. She is not your average leading lady.
HC NYU: Do you have any dream roles or shows that you would love to be a part of?
SR:One of my dream roles is Millie in Thoroughly Modern Millie. She is one of those comic, gutsy women. And I love to tap dance, and dance in general. I would love to work on that role one day. There are many of course, but that is the one that really pops out of my mind.
HC NYU: Do you only have an interest in musical theatre or would you ever want to branch out into movies, TV, etc. as well?
SR: I would love to. I have a background in recording, and I was the voice of an animated character when I was young, so I would absolutely love to continue that through. And I would love to do film or television. I think that my heart, as of now, is with live theatre and musical theatre because there is an energy that you get from the audience every night and it is different every day, and that is the beauty of live theatre. I haven’t yet worked in film and television, but I think that it expands who you are as an actor.
HC NYU: Who do you consider to be your professional influences?
SR:Bernadette Peters. Ever since I was young. I saw her in Annie and Cinderella when I was young. And then when I came to New York City for a class I went to Lincoln Center and watched a video of her in Into the Woods and then I had the pleasure of seeing her in A Little Night Music. I think that her commitment to each character is thrilling. It is like a raw need that she has in each character that is so human and vulnerable, and yet she is seemingly a tough lady that can be gritty. You can relate to each of her characters. I think that she is fascinating and riveting to watch in every role I have ever seen her do. And she has always been one of my professional idols, so it was really cool to see her in the audience opening night of How to Succeed!!