You may have seen Sarah Lasko perform on our local DC area stages, but now you can see her in Oz when she returns home to appear as Dorothy on the National Theatre stage in the eye-popping tour of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s spectacular The Wizard of Oz. Sarah fills us in on her journey from Montgomery College and Keegan Theatre to the Emerald City.
Joel: So nice to have you home! Tell us about your local theatre and vocal training and shows you appeared in.
Sarah: I grew up in a house where musicals were always playing, so I was passionate about musical theatre from an early age. My parents put me in dance classes with Rockville Civic Ballet at age six, and I studied there through high school. I was in my first community theater production when I was thirteen, a play called Kindertransport with Sandy Spring Theater Group. That six-person show was an ideal introduction to the world of acting. I played the show’s young protagonist, and most of the other roles were played by adult actors who also worked as teaching artists in Maryland. They became my mentors and guides through rehearsal and through every performance. Every moment of that process was new and thrilling–I was hooked from then on. I also began voice lessons at age fifteen through Montgomery College.
In DC, I’ve worked with the Keegan Theatre, The Kennedy Center, Imagination Stage, and Artists’ Initiative.
When I graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park, I moved to New York, signed with an agency, and made my city debut in the New York City Children’s Theater production of Dear Albert Einstein (Off-Broadway Alliance nom.).
I’ve continued training in NYC and have studied at William Esper Studio, Barrow Group, Broadway Dance Center, and Alvin Ailey, as well as ongoing acting and voice with Ken Schatz, Nomi Tichman, and Amy Marie Stewart.
How did your training at Montgomery College and U of MD prepare you for this production of The Wizard of Oz?
I basically grew up in the theatre department at Montgomery College. From my first year of Summer Dinner Theater at age fourteen through nine other productions by my sophomore year at the college, the faculty there gave me so many opportunities to grow as a performer through experience onstage.
When I transferred to UMCP, one class that particularly impacted me was the musical theatre practicum, taught by Professor Scot Reese. In class, Scot always emphasized the importance of being truthful in performance, and he encouraged me to continue to work toward honesty in every moment onstage. Being present and being an active listener has been a huge motivator for me on tour. It makes doing the same show every night exciting and challenging.
What were your favorite roles that you performed locally. Which of the many characters that you played on our stages were most like you?
I loved getting to work at the Keegan Theater in Dupont Circle. I was Abigail Williams in their 2011 Ireland tour production of The Crucible, and Fraulein Kost in their production of Cabaret in 2013. Every time I go see a show at Keegan, it feels like coming home. Their company is full of generous, dedicated actors, and that is clear in the work they put onstage. I also really enjoyed playing Juliet in the Artists’ Initiative production of Romeo and Juliet, also in 2011. The rehearsal period was only two weeks long and it was only my second time doing Shakespeare in a full production, so I was terrified and exhilarated from the first day of rehearsal to closing night. I learned so much in a very short time and made some incredible friends in the process.
Regarding characters I’ve played most like me, playing Juliet in 2011 was very appropriate, because at that time I was in transition in a lot of ways, and I really related to her anxiety and self-doubt. More recently, I played one of the twins at Imagination Stage in their musical adaptation of The Parent Trap, and I loved getting to be a bratty tween. I think one of the fun parts about acting is exploring those parts of you that you censor in your every day life.
How did you get involved with this Wizard of Oz tour?
My manager got me an audition appointment for Dorothy back in May of 2015. Five callbacks later, I got the role!
Talk about your audition process. What did you perform at your audition and when were you offered the role? How long was it after you auditioned that you were given the offer to play Dorothy?
The audition process was the most intensive audition experience I’ve had in New York so far. For my first audition, I was asked to prepare “Over the Rainbow.” The only people there were the music director, David Andrews Rogers (who is currently conducting the tour every night), and the main casting director. After I sang, DAR gave me a page of notes to work on for when I came back next. After that, for every callback I was in and out of different audition rooms working with over forty pages of sides and songs.
I had two days of dance callbacks (which included “skip camp” where they taught the “Judy Garland” skip from the film), and I sang “Over the Rainbow” about a dozen times for members of the casting and production team. The final callback was filmed and sent to London for final approval from Andrew Lloyd Webber. At that point, I felt that I’d done my best, and if it was meant to be, then that was that.
I waited an agonizing three weeks before finding out. I was actually sitting in music rehearsal at Imagination Stage in Bethesda when my manager’s name popped up on my phone. When he told me I got the part, I screamed and started jumping up and down the halls of their building.
What is different and unique about this production? Is the music different or similar than the iconic movie? Is the story the same or different?
This production pulls a lot of dialogue straight from the movie and has most of the original songs as well, but in order to adapt it for the stage, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice wrote four new songs. There’s a song that opens the show and introduces Kansas, and then the other songs are given to characters who, in the film, don’t really have songs of their own. The wicked witch has a great song, Glinda gets a beautiful song, and Professor Marvel has a fun song as well. The story remains the same, just with a spectacular update for the stage that really takes your breath away.
How would you describe Dorothy in this production versus the Judy Garland Dorothy in the film? How do you relate to Dorothy?
I think Judy Garland’s portrayal of Dorothy is untouchable, and I have so much respect and love for the legacy she created with the film. What makes the Dorothy of this production different is that I think she is tangible to the audience in a different way than in the movie. Dorothy is a real young woman, who is relatable even in 2016. When playing her, I tried to find the humor in the outrageous situation in which she has found herself. What I love about the character is that she is so universal. She has big dreams and she is daring, but she also comes to learn how deeply important her family and community are to her. Those are character traits and lessons that anyone can relate to.
How would you describe the design of the show: What impresses you the most about the design?
I think the design brings the story to life in a truly fabulous way. Down to the fluorescent glowing flowers on the bushes in Munchkinland and the feathered, bedazzled shoes of the citizens of Oz, every detail is meticulously executed. The first time I saw the tornado sequence, I was mesmerized–it’s vividly real! Oz glitters and glows and feels otherworldly, which is exactly the kind of experience I would want in seeing the story come to life onstage.
Introduce us to your Lion, Tinman, and Scarecrow. What do you admire most about their performances?
The traveling sequence where Dorothy meets the three friends is probably my favorite part of the show. When I first saw our Scarecrow, Morgan Reynolds, tumble his way through “If I Only Had a Brain” in rehearsals, he was so charming to watch, I knew immediately that audiences would fall in love with him. (And in every city, they have!) Our Tin Man, Jay McGill, tap dances through “If I Only Had a Heart” and brings a gorgeous baritone and a dashing Superman-like quality to his character. Aaron Fried plays the Cowardly Lion, and I think he has found the perfect balance between nodding to the legendary Bert Lahr, and surprising the audience with his own lovable version of the Lion. When he arrives onstage, the audience really starts roaring with laughter. They each bring such variety to the story and play the characters with incredible humor and heart–it’s easy for me to adore them as Dorothy does.
What are some of the challenges being on the road and what are some of the things you love being on the road?
Being in a new city each week is both wonderful and challenging. I love getting to perform on stages across the country in front of new audiences all the time, and I love getting to see national landmarks and experience different cultures across North America. But traveling and being in a totally different environment every week can definitely take a toll on your body. I have to be vigilant about getting plenty of rest, constantly hydrating and steaming my voice, and warming up my body appropriately so I stay healthy.
What are you most looking forward to when you appear on the National Theatrestage?
Having friends and family in the audience! I’m so excited to bring this show to the DC community. I know the message of the show is really going to sink in for me when I’m here.
Why do you think The Wizard of Oz is still so popular with theatregoers of all ages? What does this show have to say to today’s audiences?
The movie is timeless and tugs at that bit of childhood nostalgia in all of us. It’s one of the first great films you watch as a kid, and its themes are resonant to every generation. You never stop yearning for understanding, for community, for home. You never stop feeling grateful for the people who love you no matter what. Dorothy finds those people in Oz and finds them again back in Kansas, and the audience is right there with her through every moment.
What advice do you have for DC area young actors who are considering making theatre or music their careers?
Never get comfortable. The most successful artists are the ones who are always learning, always working harder at their craft. It comes down to doing the work, to being in class every week, and to finding the teachers who inspire you and help you to grow. It’s a very personal process. Find your mentors, because they’re out there, and you can learn so much from people who have been in the business longer than you. And above all, be a good person, because it’s a small world and everyone knows everyone, so your reputation will precede you when it comes time to hire you for your next job.
Any other musical theatre roles you are dying to play?
I have a list a mile long! I’ve yet to do a Sondheim show, and he’s one of my all-time favorite composers, so maybe Johanna in Sweeney Todd or Anne in A Little Night Music. There’s a lot of classic ingenue roles that I’d really like to explore–Lili in Carnival, for instance. But I also really love dark comedies, so if anyone is doing The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Rosa Bud is high on my bucket list as well…I could go on and on! ;)
The Wizard of Oz plays from May 3-15, 2016 at The National Theatre – 1321 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW in Washington, DC. For tickets call the box office at 800-514-3849, or purchase them online.
Sarah Lasko’s website.