Alli Mauzey is a Broadway actress known for her Theatre World Award-winning performance as Lenora in Cry Baby, Brenda in Hairspray as well as currently playing Ernestina in the Tony award-winning revival of musical Hello, Dolly! Here she tells Mandy News how she got into theatre, what a typical day working on Broadway is like and what actors can do to succeed.
Ali, tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into theatre?
As a kid, I just did it for fun. I also did it because my older sister was into theatre. My mum would take her to dance class and I would tag along. I was a very shy kid too so my mom thought it would be a good way for me to meet people and bring me out of my shell. I did it, had fun, made some friends, had some talent for it and eventually grew to like it. I did a lot of other things besides theatre too such as sports so it was another activity for me to do.
When I started high school, I took it a bit more seriously and I started to do stuff locally, in Southern California, where I grew up. I did a few things professionally in high school and that led me to finding a great voice teacher in Glendale, California, who, along with my parents help, guided me to find a college where I could study acting. That led me to NYU in New York City, which is a well-known hub for theatre with Broadway, and that set me on the path to do acting for a living.
I graduated from college, viewed some auditions and things like that. Then I got an agent, which led to an audition which then led me to a Broadway debut. That’s things in a very vague nutshell!
How did you become involved with this production of Hello, Dolly!?
It was such a quick process! Sometimes you audition for things and you hear about it ahead of time but it was different with this. I saw the original company of this revival of Hello, Dolly! because I had a really good friend on the ensemble and I loved the show and that was it.
Cut to almost a year later and I got a call from my agent about the part of Ernestina as Jennifer Simard was leaving the role. It’s a small part and I didn’t remember too much about it but I accepted. I went in to audition for it and there was a callback that day. It was back-to-back for the director and creative team and I found out shortly afterwards, over the weekend, that they wanted me to join the company and that I was starting in a couple of weeks.
It was all so fast. It wasn’t on my radar and the audition came out of nowhere. It was one of three that week. All of a sudden, I was gonna be in Hello, Dolly! on Broadway a few weeks later!
You mentioned you only had a couple of weeks to prepare and catch-up so how did the rehearsals and integration happen?
When I found out I got the role, I had around 1.5-2 weeks before I started rehearsals. It’s all very fuzzy at this point if I’m honest with you. I was originally going to see family in California and hang out with them for Easter but as soon as I found out I got Hello, Dolly! I had to scrap that original plan.
I got a quick flight to fit the trip in all the while negotiating a contract for Broadway. They wanted me to fly in for fittings for costumes but obviously I couldn’t as I was on the this trip. I was literally negotiating with them right up to my start date which was around a week and a half before my first show. It got fuzzy around there too as they weren’t sure my costume and wigs were going to be ready for the first show so they pushed the start date back. It turns out they could get them done in time and things got pushed. It changed every day!
You’ve also played Glinda the Good Witch in Wicked, Lenora in Cry-Baby and now Ernestina in Hello, Dolly!, how do you go about getting into the mindset of the character? Do you bring your own personality into the role?
With Lenora and Cry-Baby, I was involved from the very beginning and the first incarnation of the musical. It was adapted from the movie. The difference in being in Cry-Baby, as it was the first incarnation, was that the part was smaller and under-developed so I could bring my own suggestions to the role. It became a collaboration between me and the creative team. As opposed to a show like Wicked or Hello, Dolly! where it had been running for several years before I joined the company and I wasn’t the first actress to play the role.
As a result, there are things with the role that are already set. I can’t come in and start suggesting changes to the role or what she says - that’s not an option. I auditioned for all of those roles and I have to assume that I was cast based on what I did in my audition and what I brought to the table but of course, I have to then fit that in with what the director wants too.
When I started rehearsals for Hello, Dolly! it was very much like Wicked in that it was very technical at first. You’re not creating any of the blocking or choreography with anybody so they essentially tell you what and when to do something.
Does that mean that when these shows are running, you’re doing these rehearsals on your own?
Yes. When you’re replacing somebody in a part, it’s basically you in a rehearsal room with the stage manager and maybe the director, associate director and a choreographer. I wasn’t with any other actors right away.
Wow. Sounds difficult…
It can be difficult. With Hello, Dolly! it wasn’t as difficult as my scene only really involves one other actor - that’s Horace played by Victor Garber right now. There wasn’t a whole lot of material that they had to teach me that needed to involve another actor right away. Wicked was a little trickier as that part is so massive and the show is very technical with the flying in the bubble, moving scenery and stuff like that. You do get a chance to practice stepping out of the bubble as it’s a safety concern but for the first couple of shows, or week even, you’re in your head thinking about all the safety. You get a put-in rehearsal with the rest of the cast but at that point you’re the only one in costume and you’re not yet singing with the orchestra.
Basically, you don’t get to put everything together until you’re in front of an audience. It’s all in pieces to begin with and that’s the way it is on Broadway.
That sounds like a skill in itself! It’s almost a completely different skillset to performing in the show itself…
Yeah, I think you have to accept it for what it is. As a lot of the Broadway community have been through it themselves, they are there for you. So when you’re on stage for the first with them, they are very aware and supportive - we call it "shove with love." It’s a very supportive community and that goes a long way.
What is a typical show day like for you?
My show day now is very different from when I was doing Wicked because I have a kid now. It’s awesome but means I now wake up a lot earlier. I wake up, make breakfast, take my kid to a music class, or the park, my husband will go into the city to rehearse as he’s a improvisor and I’ll then take my kid to the city, pass him on to his dad who’ll take him home and then I’m off to my show.
My show is at 8pm tonight but I like to get there around 7:15pm and have 30 minutes to get into costume. Then it’s showtime. The part I have in Hello, Dolly! is a smaller part and I don’t have to sing too much in the show so it’s not too strenuous in the warm up. In a show like Wicked though, getting a little bit more sleep helps and taking a little more time to warm up my voice is necessary.
For how long are you involved in the show and how long is it set to run on Broadway?
It’s set to close on August 25 this year and I’m there until the very end. Bernadette Peters (Dolly) and Victor Garber (Horace) are both set to leave in mid-July and Bette Midler and David Hyde Pierce are coming back for the final six weeks and we all close the show on August 25. It’s a fun cast, the audiences are really great and I’m happy to be here still.
What advice would you give an up-and-coming actor wanting to get involved in theatre acting and forge a career in Broadway or the West End?
I can’t speak for the West End as I haven’t worked there yet but I have a lot of friends who have loved their time there. In terms of Broadway, I can only speak from what I did. I really tried to seek out some of the best teachers I could find, people who can show you the ropes and people who are at the top of the game.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help and ask how you can improve because it’s hard and there are a lot of us doing it so you’ve got to be at a certain level. You’ve also got to be honest with yourself, know your strengths and weaknesses and never stop studying. Finding the best teachers came down to college for me. I auditioned for a whole load of colleges and I didn’t get into all of them but I got into some great ones. It all took hard work.
I worked on my voice for a lot of years and did my best trying to catch up with some acting skills as that wasn’t my first skillset. Even today, I’m studying, meeting people and being honest figuring out where I could be better.
You mentioned you had friends in the West End, are they friends from college days? Do you still have friends from that period of time that came up in the industry at the same time as you?
Most of the friends who are working today, I have met through working myself. I went to school with Nikki James who won a Tony for The Book of Mormon right here on Broadway. Christina Bianco, who’s a YouTube star for her impressions and is so talented, has done a tonne of cabaret shows in London and NYC and we went to the same class. Of the 40 or so in my class, maybe 5-10 are working in the business and the rest went on to do other stuff. That’s how it goes.
Whether it’s the people you went to school with or those you have worked with professionally, it does sound very much like a close-knit family between all the performing arts…
I can only vouch for theatre here in NYC and the Broadway community but that’s exactly what it is, a community. You don’t necessarily know everybody but you always know someone who knows a certain person and it’s all connected in a way that’s supportive. It’s a very special community, I have to say.
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Cracking interview. What a lovely lady and insight.
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