Today, we share an exclusive interview with Pamela Shandrow, who currently performs in the ensemble and is one of the understudies for Madame Morrible on the 1st National Tour of “Wicked”. If you have seen the show since December 2011, you will have most likely seen her as one of Glinda’s friends and singing the line “Like some terrible green blizzard, throughout the land she flies!” in the Act 2 opening. Check out her thoughts below!
What was your first professional acting job, and how did you get it? What did you learn from the experience?
My first real professional job was this resort on the border of Indiana and Ohio. I had auditioned at the NDTA’s (National Dinner Theatre Assoc.), which is a huge cattle call. You have 2 minutes to sing and do a monologue for about 30 different producers, and casting agents. It’s a bit intimidating because the auditions take place in front of the other auditioners as well. I heard from this place about a month later. They called to offer me 2 shows, the first of which was called “Now That’s Country”…not kidding! I didn’t have the greatest of experiences with this job (and that’s a bit of an understatement), but it did teach me humility, and also that no matter how small the performance is, you should still perform 150% every time. And also, that as bad as it seems when you’re in it… things always get better.
What are some favorite roles you have played thus far and why?
I played Mrs. Lovett in “Sweeney Todd”. It was wholly inappropriate for my age, but I loved the challenge of learning that role, and singing Sondheim is always fun! I’ve also played Ethel Toffelmeier in “Music Man” twice now, and really enjoy playing the comic relief!
How did you come to audition for “Wicked”? How long was the audition process, and what did you have to do?
I had only been in NYC for less than a year (I had been on the “Phantom” tour for 4 ½ years, and it ended in 2010) so I was working on creating relationships with the various casting agents, simply by going to as many auditions as I could. I believe through the musical supervisor we had in “Phantom”, I was called in to sing for “Evita”. I sang well, and was called back to dance (that didn’t go so well)… Skip to the following Monday, my mom wrote me an email saying that she and my sister had seen “Wicked” in Peoria, IL (I grew up in Bloomington, IL), and that they thought I’d be great in the chorus. The next day, my friend Trista told me that she had heard that they were auditioning my track (coincidence?). So, I dropped off my headshot and resume to the casting office, with a thank you for the “Evita” call, and a note showing my interest in “Wicked”. They called me that day with an audition for the next day, and an email with all the material I needed to learn. On Thursday, I went in with a belt song from my book (I ended up singing Gimme Gimme), and three different acting sides for Morrible, as well as the Blizzard solo from the second act. It went incredibly well, they were laughing at the way I read my sides, and after I finished I felt great! Then I was called back to dance on Friday. I won’t lie, I was very nervous, because dance is not my strong suit, and I hadn’t done very well the week before for “Evita”. BUT… the evening after the dance call, I got a phone call offering me the role!
What was your reaction when you found out you had been cast in the show?
I texted all my friends, and called my mom immediately. I found out at around 7:30pm, and was on the phone from then to about 11pm. I didn’t cry this time, but I felt very grateful, and still feel very blessed!
How long was your initial rehearsal process for the show? What was it like?
Not long. I had 2 weeks to learn Shen Shen (my ensemble track), which in actuality is only about a week and a half. Once I started performing that track, I had another week to learn Morrible before my put-in.
What was your first performance like? How did you feel throughout the show? What about as Madame Morrible?
I honestly don’t remember. Your mind is in so many places, and your adrenaline is pumping so hard, that by the curtain call, you’re just relieved that you got through it, and exhausted. Madame Morible was a little more memorable. We were in El Paso, TX, and it was Superbowl Sunday. We had finished the first show of the day, and were watching the game in the green room, when I got a call from the stage manager telling me I was on that night. I definitely had butterflies, but I have to say that all the other cast members are so supportive, and positive, so although it wasn’t a perfect show, I felt very good about it!
What is your favorite part of the show to perform in the ensemble? As Madame Morrible?
I love doing “What is This Feeling” (otherwise known as Loathing), and I get a kick out of being Shen Shen, the mean girl in Shiz. Ozdust is also pretty fun. As for Morrible, I actually really love giving the anti-Witch speech, “Citizens of Oz…”. She’s also fun, because she’s a villain. I like to play her mildy bi-polar. Where one second she’s smiling and happy, and then she flips
Have you had to change any daily habits to protect your voice and body while in the show?
I had been diagnosed as having an allergy to gluten, dairy, and soy a few years ago, but didn’t really do anything to change my lifestyle until recently. I just found I didn’t have the energy I needed to do the show. I also try to exercise with Cassie Okenka. She holds me accountable!
What have been some of your favorite cities to visit on tour and why?
There have been a few repeat cities for me, from my days with “Phantom”, so I’ll use my experience on that tour as well. I loved Los Angeles, Chicago (I lived there for a while as well), and Minneapolis. I liked Philly, and Pittsburgh, loved Seattle. Toronto was very cool. I’m sure there are more…
Have you witnessed – or perhaps been involved in – any onstage bloopers or mishaps that you’d like to share?
I was on for Morrible. We got to the second act Wizard’s chamber scene, where Glinda has been abandoned by Fiyero, and gives the Wizard and Madame Morrible the idea to make Elphaba believe her sister is in danger. Morrible is supposed to say, “A rumor won’t do it, Elphaba’s too smart”. Wizard: “Far too smart”. Morrible: “Perhaps a change in the weather”. Here’s how it went when I did it. Morrible: “A rumor won’t do it, Elphaba’s too smart”. Wizard: “Far too smart”. Morrible: “Perhaps a levitation spell…AND a change in the weather”. Then as the Wizard is escorting me offstage, he kept pointing to different things, saying, “yes, that’s levitating, oh and that has some levitation to it”. Not a huge mistake, but certainly funny for the rest of the cast.
How often do you have to rehearse the show?
It depends, but they try to do an understudy rehearsal at least once a week. If we have new people coming into the show, we will always do a spacing rehearsal, and a put-in rehearsal for them. And if the creative (directing, music, and dance supervisors) come to town, we’ll have a little more rehearsal than normal.
Are there any dream roles that you’d like to one day perform?
I’m asked this question a lot, and I’ve never really been able to answer it. I don’t think my role has been written yet, so I’ll be patient.
What advice would you give to aspiring performers?
Take chances, and be as prepared as you can be at all times. Auditions and callbacks crop up sometimes with no advance notice at all. Make sure if the sheet music is in your book, you know it backwards and forwards. And also, education doesn’t stop once you start working professionally. There is always room for improvement.