Time Out New York says STUFFED is “equally HILARIOUS and HEARTBREAKING!”
The New York Times says “Now that Joan Rivers is gone, no one in #comedy is stomping on sensitivities as consistently as Lisa Lampanelli.”
ANN HARADA (Stacey) Ann Harada originated the role of Christmas Eve in Avenue Q on Broadway and the West End. Other Broadway includes Cinderella, 9 to 5, M Butterfly, Seussical, Les Miserables (revival). Recent Off-Broadway includes Brooklynite (Vineyard Theatre) and Love, Loss, and What I Wore (Westside Theatre). Regionally: 42nd Street and Mamma Mia (MUNY), and God of Carnage (George Street Playhouse). Film: Youth in Oregon, Sisters, Trouble, Admission, Hope Springs, and The Art of Getting By. TV: “The Jim Gaffigan Show,” “The Good Wife,” “SMASH,” “30 Rock,” “House of Cards,” “Master of None.”
ZAINAB JAH (Katey) Recent credits include: Maima, Eclipsed (Broadway); title role of Hamlet (The Wilma Theatre); A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Romeo N Juliet, Trojan Women (Classical Theatre of Harlem); The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (Atlantic Theater, NYC), Prudence in The Convert, Josephine in Ruined, A Doll’s House (Williamstown Theatre Festival); In Darfur (The Public Theatre /NYSF), Peter Sellars’ Children Of Herakles (European Tour). Film/TV credits: New York, I Love You (Short), “Law & Order SVU,” Outliving Emily (with Andre Braugher and Philicia Rashad). Awards: OBIE Award (Eclipsed), Philadelphia Critics’ Circle Best Actress Award (Hamlet); Los Angeles Stage Alliance Ovation Award Best Featured Actress (The Convert); San Francisco Bay Area Critics’ Circle – Outstanding Performance Female Featured Role (Ruined); and Best Featured Actress, Philadelphia Critics’ Circle Featured Actress Award (The Convert).
JESSICA LUCK (Britney) Jessica is thrilled to be making her off-Broadway debut in Stuffed! Select NY Theater: The Digger (La MaMa), The Blood Brothers (The Brick), The Quake (Ideal Glass), Our Town (The Gene Frankel), and The Disembodied Soul (NY Fringe). Web Series: Down Dog and Carolers. Jessica is a Yale graduate and a recent Rockwell scholar at ESPA/ Primary Stages. She is a member of the rock band My Dear Mycroft and the improv team The Jessicas.
LISA LAMPANELLI (Playwright/Lisa) Lisa Lampanelli shot her fifth stand-up special, “Back to the Drawing Board,” which premiered June 26, 2015 on EPIX and was nominated for a 2015 Grammy Award for “Best Comedy Album.” In the special, Comedy’s Lovable Queen of Mean showed off her radically different look after having lost more than 100 pounds. That weight loss, which she has maintained for over four years, inspired her to write Stuffed since, having been every size from 2 to 26, she has firsthand knowledge of the food and body-image struggle.
Lisa became a household name when she joined 17 other celebrities on the fifth season of NBC’s “Celebrity Apprentice,” where she advanced to the final four in the competition, raising $130,000 for her chosen charity, the Gay Men’s Health Crisis. She also starred as a regular on “Bounty Hunters,” CMT’s first-ever animated series, and recently stole the show on an episode of CBS’s “2 Broke Girls,” helmed by “Sex and The City” creator, Michael Patrick King.
Lampanelli joined the ranks of comedy greats with her 2009 HBO comedy special, “Long Live the Queen,” and that same year, released her autobiography, Chocolate, Please:
My Adventures in Food, Fat and Freaks (Harper Collins). Lisa was also a monthly writer for the Women column in Playboy Magazine and is a contributor to the blog for Kripalu, the world-renowned yoga and meditation retreat center.
Photographs by Carol Rosegg
As Lisa Lampanelli, the comedy favorite, prepares to make her playwriting debut, Theatermania stopped by WP Theater to interview Lisa, director Jackson Gay, and the cast of STUFFED.
Starring as Katey in Stuffed, award-winning actress Zainab Jah‘s recent credits include: Maima, Eclipsed, Broadway; title role of Hamlet, (The Wilma Theatre), A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Romeo N Juliet (Classical Theatre of Harlem), The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, (Atlantic Theater, NYC), Prudence The Convert, Josephine, Ruined, A Doll’s House ( Williamstown Theatre Festival), Helen of Troy, Trojan Women, (Classical Theatre of Harlem), In Darfur, (The Public Theatre /NYSF), Peter Sellars’ Children Of Herakles, ( European Tour). Film / TV credits: New York, I Love You (Short), “Law & Order SVU,” Outliving Emily (with Andre Braugher and Philicia Rashad), Along Came Love, with Vanessa Williams. Awards: Philadelphia Critcs’ Circle Best actress Award (Hamlet ) Los Angeles Stage Alliance Ovation Award Best Featured Actress (The Convert); San Francisco Bay Area Critics’ Circle – Outstanding Performance Female Featured Role (Ruined); and Best Featured Actress, Philadelphia Critics’ Circle Featured Actress Award (The Convert).
Zainab Jah, ‘Eclipsed’ Star, Is Ready for Battle
By ALEXIS SOLOSKIFEB. 17, 2016
In “Eclipsed,” which begins previews Feb. 23 at the Golden Theater,Zainab Jah plays Maima, an AK-47-toting soldier who has given herself the name Disgruntled. But one evening at a South Brooklyn bistro, plates of oysters arrayed before her, Ms. Jah seemed content. “I’m greedy,” she said, with enthusiasm and without apology.
A self-described “fitness fanatic” who declined to give her age (“I don’t tell; I’m a lady,” she said), Ms. Jah is slim and not quite 5-foot-2, but with her plumb line posture, coiled braids and forceful energy, she looms larger. Especially when she’s holding a machine gun. Onstage, in Danai Gurira’s play about women entangled in a civil war in Liberia, she is incandescent, fierce and gentle, moving with tenacious grace. Offstage, the wattage is only a little dimmer. She even manages to slurp oysters with poise.
Born in England, she spent her first 10 years with a grandmother in Sierra Leone before joining her parents, both doctors, in England. It was that grandmother who first introduced her to theater, recruiting her for a church troupe called Christ’s Little Band.
Despite pressure from her parents to pursue medicine or law, she trained as a dancer and worked happily for several years before she began craving another form of expression. “I just sat up in bed and said, ‘I want to be an actor,’” she said.
Initially, directors would cast her only in Greek tragedies or Shakespeare. But she expanded her repertoire with a number of plays set in Africa, like Lynn Nottage’s “Ruined” and Ms. Gurira’s “The Convert.”
She first played Maima in 2009, rejoining the play Off Broadway last year, just after wrapping the title role of “Hamlet” at the Wilma Theater in Philadelphia. (Word of warning: For her art, Ms. Jah has learned to fire an automatic weapon and wield a sword. Stay on her good side.)
Her approach to character is rigorous and largely physical, a holdover of the dance training. “It’s always instinctive before it becomes intellectual,” she said. She thinks of Maima as a little Yorkshire terrier. “They’re always the first to attack the big dogs in the street,” she said.
While working on the play, she can’t let Maima go. After a rehearsal, she’ll get dressed, go home and watch documentaries about Liberia. “I don’t know whether it’s because I’m African myself, but I have to give such a completeness to these characters,” she explained. “I feel I will do them a disservice by not living in them full time.”
© 2016 The New York Times Company
Starring as Britney in Stuffed, Jessica Luck‘s New York Theatre credits include: The Digger (La MaMa), The Blood Brothers (The Brick), The Quake (Ideal Glass), The Disembodied Soul and Buddy Becker’s Uncut Flick(NY Fringe). Web Series: Down Dog and Carolers. Jessica is a Yale graduate and a recent Rockwell scholar at ESPA/ Primary Stages. She is a member of the rock band My Dear Mycroft and the improv team The Jessica’s. Jessica is thrilled to be making her Off-Broadway debut in Stuffed!
Ann Harada originated the role of Christmas Eve in Avenue Q on Broadway and the West End. Other Broadway includes Cinderella, 9 to 5, M Butterfly, Seussical, Les Miserables (revival). Recent Off – Broadway includes Brooklynite (Vineyard Theatre) and Love, Loss, and What I Wore (Westside Theatre). Regionally: 42nd Street and Mamma Mia (MUNY), and God of Carnage (George Street Playhouse) FILM: Youth in Oregon, Sisters, Trouble, Admission, Hope Springs, and The Art of Getting By. TV: “The Jim Gaffigan Show,” “The Good Wife,” “SMASH,” “30 Rock,” “House of Cards,” “Master of None.”
Read an interview at NPR with Ann Harada:
February 5, 2013
Ann Harada is that rare Asian-American musical theater actress who’s never starred in The King and I or Miss Saigon. After a few summer stock stints as Bloody Mary in South Pacific, Harada realized if she was going to make it in theater, it would be as a character actor. In 2003, she originated the role of Christmas Eve in the irreverent puppet musical Avenue Q, a part she played on and off for six years. She’s been busy ever since, including a six-month run as Madame Thenardier in the Broadway revival of Les Miserables.
Tonight, Harada’s first regular TV character, the long-suffering stage manager Linda, returns to the NBC series Smash. After filming nine episodes for season 2, Harada left behind Katharine McPhee, Megan Hilty and the rest of the cast so she could originate the role of stepsister Charlotte in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella. The show is now running in previews; it opens on Broadway March 3.
Before heading to the theater recently, Harada carved out some time to talk about her career, from her start in summer stock to her star turns as not-so-stock characters.
As a young actress, did you envision yourself playing roles in The King and I or Miss Saigon or South Pacific?
I always wanted to play these roles in the repertory, but I found I had a hard time getting cast in typically Asian parts, because for whatever reason, people were like, “You’re too American,” “You’re too funny,” or, “You’re so not right for this.” That just wasn’t going to be where my path was, and I just had to get over that.
Did that shift happen pretty quickly for you?
When you are a minority actor, you figure out right away that so much of the game is what people expect you to be, or think that you could be, based on how you look. When you don’t fit that mold, you have to figure out other ways to be seen. I had to start working on ways that I wasn’t being cast traditionally.
And by “traditionally” you mean?
There are a lot of actresses out there playing Tuptim who might be jealous of that.
Believe me, there was nothing I wanted more when I was younger than to be that ingenue. But that’s not who I was. And I’m a character actor. And when you are a young character actor, there is pretty much nothing out there for you, especially if you are Asian. Oh, my God. I am such a late bloomer in terms of my career.
On NBC’s Smash, returning for a second season, Harada plays the much-put-upon stage manager Linda, charged with keeping the chaos at the show-within-a-show more or less under control.
So how old were you when you realized that you were destined to be a character actor?
I’ll put it this way: When I saw Cinderella as a young girl, it never really crossed my mind that I wanted to play Cinderella. I was thinking, “I could be a stepsister.” I have always gravitated more towards those parts.
So is that how you got cast as Christmas Eve?
No. That was a complete stroke of fate. When Bobby Lopez and Jeff Marx were developing [Avenue Q], they were literally looking for an Asian actress to come in and say, like, two sentences in “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist.” I went, and I was Christmas Eve from then on.
How were you able to take playing such an idiosyncratic character — a heavily accented Japanese therapist engaged to an unemployed puppet — and use the role as a steppingstone?
It’s always nice to be affiliated with a hit. When I went to auditions, people knew who I was.
Before you auditioned for Smash, did you ask any stage managers for advice?
No. It was only 10 minutes. It’s not like I did very much method work going into that first audition. But when I went back, I thought about a lot of stage managers that I’ve worked with, and I do kind of model myself after one of them.
Have you had good relationships with your stage managers over the years? Or are you a problem child?
Yes. I’m happy to say that I have. But I have been written up for laughing onstage.
In rehearsals for Bombshell, the show-within-a-show on Smash, whose side is Linda on? The actors? Or the creative team?
I would have to say she’s on the creative team’s side, but looking out for the welfare of the actors. Stage management is such a delicate row to hoe. You have to deal with everyone’s personal issues, as well as the crew.
In that sense, Smash seems pretty accurate. Linda knows who’s fooling around with who in the dressing rooms, but at the same time she’s trying to help hang the lights.
Absolutely. The only time I put my foot down was when we were shooting a scene in tech, and they had given me a yellow blouse to wear, and I was like, “No. C’mon. We’re in tech. I would be wearing black.”
Have there been many moments when they’ve turned to the theater people on set and, and asked you, “What would really happen here?”
Smash has been, for the most part, very good about listening to the people who have a lot of stage experience. There was one time when they had the stage manager’s console facing the wrong way. And I was like, “Please, for the love of God, don’t shoot it like that. We will get so much flak.”
Can you give us any hints about what’s in store for Linda? Any more break-out scenes, like dancing at the Indian wedding?
Nothing like that. There will be no singing or dancing for me, but there are some great moments in Linda history coming up, in terms of stage manager breakdowns.
Were you eager to get back onstage yourself?
Oh yes. I mean, it was bittersweet, but hopefully it won’t be goodbye forever.
You had to go fulfill your childhood dream of playing a stepsister.
Of course. And to be in a Rodgers & Hammerstein musical that has never been on Broadway.
Is it really Broadway material though? Their Cinderella was a made-for-TV movie that came out in 1957, and there’s a version licensed to elementary schools.
We have an entirely new book by Douglas Carter Beane [the playwright who wrote The Little Dog Laughed and Xanadu]. It’s more cheeky and edgy. The dialogue is much punchier. It’s very funny, and there’s a contemporary feel to the humor, but there are no Justin Bieber jokes.
How would you describe your character, the stepsister Charlotte?
She is just pure id. She is that girl who tries just way too hard. Just wants to be liked, and is so unsuccessful at it. Everything about her is so over the top. All of my dresses are various shades of hot pink. You cannot miss me. She is just too-too. But she’s not evil; she’s overeager.
And you like that, that she’s not the stereotypical evil stepsister?
Of course, because what’s there to be evil about? You can resent a perfect person without being evil. I resent perfect people all the time.
So she’s the girl you feel sorry for at the dance?
Oh, yes. I would feel very sorry for her.
Is it fun, being back onstage and singing again, instead of herding singing divas for television?
It is the most fun you could ever have, to be in a show like Cinderella, with the funniest people. … I’m playing in the major leagues, with the best people there are. And I’m doing what I love to do. There is just not a better feeling in the world.