Today we are pleased to present an Exclusive Interview with Catherine Charlebois. Ms. Charlebois is currently playing Nessarose in the Second National Tour of WICKED, and previously, she was a universal swing for the show. Check out our interview with her below!
What was your first professional acting job, and how did you get it?
My first professional job was WICKED!
How did you come to audition for WICKED? How long was the audition process, and what did you have to do?
I initially auditioned from an agent appointment for a Swing/Nessarose understudy track for the First National tour and went through an extensive series of vocal, acting and dance auditions over the course of about a week. I found out following the audition that I did not get the job that time, but I knew the audition had gone well and I had a lot of fun! A couple of months later, my agents called me asking if I would be interested in doing the job of the Universal Swing for the show-it sounded really exciting and challenging and I told them I would be. I went into the Gershwin later that week and sang a bit with our music supervisor and did a quick dance review with our associate choreographer before I found out I had the job! It was the first time I really understood that so much more goes into getting a job than how talented you are-you need to fit into a very specific set of requirements, and this time, I was exactly what they were looking for.
What was your reaction when you found out you had been cast in the show?
When I found out I was cast in the show I was so thrilled! I remember getting the phone call from my agents! My good friend Kate was in the next room, and could hear me excited on the phone and ran in to give me a big hug! My next thought was to call my parents to tell them the news!
What was it like being a universal swing and constantly moving between companies?
Being a Universal Swing was the best introduction to professional theatre that I could possibly have had. It is an unbelievably challenging job, requiring a lot of rehearsal, organization, focus and flexibility. For those of you who may not completely understand what this job entails, let me do a super quick explanation. As a swing, this company member knows multiple ensemble parts, and can be thrown into the show at a moment’s notice or even in the middle of the show if someone becomes sick or injured during the show. So as a Universal Swing, I was able to do this in all three of the WICKED companies. I knew at least five ensemble parts in each company, and traveled around the country to meet up with them at different times when I was most needed. By the time I finished learning all my tracks, I knew nineteen! The show is slightly different in each company-nothing that an audience member would notice-but just different enough that you have to always be on your toes and remember what the specifics are in each company. I kept a big binder with me always, filled with detailed notes of every track in the three companies, down to the specifics of which boot to take off first in a quick change! You really learn how a show runs, and how many people it takes for it all to run smoothly. You understand the importance of teamwork and how important every person’s job is to make the machine work successfully. And in WICKED, specifically, the ensemble is such a vital part to telling the story, so I am thrilled that I was able to be a part of that and play so many different characters through my time as a swing. I also got to work with all the fantastic performers in all three of the companies and meet some of my best friends!
We seem to find that each swing has a slightly different rehearsal process. What was yours like?
My rehearsal process started on the Second National tour where I first learned all of the female vocal parts, and then went track by track to learn the five female singers in the ensemble. I was taught by our amazing dance captains (a job that is truly the unsung hero!) and then eventually went on for all of the tracks I covered before moving to the First National tour and the Broadway Company and following the same pattern! Learning the show for the first time took the longest, because it was introducing me to the staging and choreography for the first time, but before long, I could learn one or two tracks in an afternoon of rehearsal! That way, I could watch the show from backstage, to really solidify what I had learned and make any notes in my binder to help me remember specifics that would help me whenever I would go on.
What as your first performance in the show like? What track were you in? How did you feel throughout the show?
My first night on in the show was in Charlotte, NC with the Second National tour as the Midwife. I was really excited to make my debut, and to be on stage with the whole cast for the first time. I was super nervous to pick up the green baby in the opening number, but after that happened (thankfully, easier than I had feared!) I had a great time! The company went above and beyond my expectations-I felt so welcomed and supported by everyone both onstage and off. And my then boyfriend, who is now my fiancé, was in the audience that night, which made it even more special.
How did your promotion as an understudy for Nessarose come about?
I became a Nessarose understudy after I had learned all of my ensemble tracks in all three companies. Since I had been seen doing the Nessarose material at my very first audition, I think they decided to add it to my covers so that they would always have another backup ready just in case whenever I was in the show.
How did you feel when you were offered the role of Nessarose full-time on the role?
I was over the moon when I was offered the role of Nessa. I just continually feel so lucky to have the chance to tell her story every night. I think she goes through such a great journey in the story, and is very much a catalyst that helps push Elphaba’s story forward.
What has been your favorite city that you have performed WICKED on tour in? Why?
My favorite city that I have performed in (besides performing at home in New York, of course!) is Austin, TX. I lived in a really funky apartment downtown while we played there with my friend Stephanie and our dogs. We were close to a lot of great shopping and restaurants and I loved to take my dog for long walks and explore new areas of the city!
Have you witnessed – or perhaps been involved in – any onstage bloopers or mishaps that you’d like to share?
One blooper I can remember took place while I was still the Universal swing, and I was spending some time with the First National tour in Washington D.C. playing the beautiful Kennedy Center. One night, the bubble was tired and decided to stop moving! One of our Glinda understudies was on and when she was supposed to make her grand entrance in the opening number, the bubble stopped and all we could see were her feet! The crew was working to try and reset the bubble quickly, but we ended up having to stop the show briefly to reset it and try again. Needless to say, when she finally appeared with, “It’s good to see me, isn’t it?!” the audience went wild!
Are there any dream roles that you’d like to one day perform?
There are so many wonderful roles that would be a dream to play! I am a huge fan of both contemporary musicals and all the classics, so there is a huge range of shows that I love; truly everything from Rodgers and Hammerstein to Jason Robert Brown. Some that I can think of right now are Nellie in SOUTH PACIFIC, Eliza Doolittle in MY FAIR LADY, Queenie in THE WILD PARTY and Jo March in LITTLE WOMEN. Right now on Broadway, I would love to play Katherine Plumber in NEWSIES. I think she is a fantastic, strong female character with an important story to tell, and it would be really exciting to work on the same show as my fiancé!
Is there any other role in WICKED that you could see yourself in?
I often get asked if there are other parts in WICKED that I can see myself playing, and for a long time, I could see myself playing either Glinda or Elphaba. They both have really great material to work with in the show, and I find things that I connect on with both of those characters. But now, after playing Nessarose, it is harder to imagine!
What advice would you give to aspiring performers?
I would tell aspiring performers to always be yourself and work hard. It is not an easy business to get into, but if it is the only thing you can imagine your self doing and being happy, then get to work! That means both pushing yourself as a performer to be better today than you were yesterday, and as a person, to learn as much about yourself and others as you can. The more you know about yourself and the more you learn about the world and the things that inspire you, the better performer you will become. And being YOU is what makes you different than everyone else. Don’t feel like you need to fit into a mold of what the “right” choice looks like. Be true to the person you are, always, first and foremost.