“Being prepared, knowing the material well enough – whether it’s your own song or something they give you – the only thing you can do is prepare as an actor” – Lisa Howard
Howard, who originated her role when it premiered at the George Street Playhouse back in 2011, has appeared in a handful of Broadway shows, including Priscilla Queen of the Desert and 9 to 5, and won a Drama Desk Award for her work in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, but It Shoulda Been You is her first big time lead role and she’s killing it.
Directed by David Hyde Pierce and also starring Tyne Daly, Harriet Harris, Sierra Boggess and Montego Glover, the show revolves around a wedding, the bride and groom, their mothers and all of the craziness that comes with the special day.
I talked to Howard about the show, working with David Hyde Pierce, moving the show to Broadway, survival jobs, nightmare auditions and more!
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Congrats on the show, I hear it’s great.
Lisa Howard: Thank you. Thanks.
Can you tell me about the show and your role in it?
Lisa Howard: Sure. I play Jenny Steinberg. It’s a show revolving around a wedding, the day of the wedding. And I am the co-maid of honor and the older sister of the bride. And basically, it’s been my job to throw this whirlwind wedding together with my mother’s help, or in spite of my mother’s help and nagging. I’m happy for my sister, probably a little jealous that’s it not me being the older sister. And of course I hear it from my mother. Without giving too much away, as the day progresses things start going wrong and the ex-boyfriend shows up and you know, mayhem ensues. It’s a lot of fun.
You have the greatest cast. I mean Tyne Daly and Harriet Harris alone would be fantastic to work with I think.
Lisa Howard: Oh yeah. I feel like it’s been like a training master class to kind of just watch how they work and their timing and generosity. All of that. Just to have the opportunity to be in the room with them to see them do what they do.
And David Hyde Pierce, who is directing the show, is also a wonderful actor. Can you tell me the difference between being a directed by someone who is also an actor as opposed to someone who’s acted at all?
Lisa Howard: I think the difference is… and it could just be his personality as well but he is a very kind person so he doesn’t use intimidation or shame [laughs]to try and get his actors to do what he wants. Does that make sense? Because some directors will yell, like, “What was that?” You know, he’ll approach you in a way… he’ll pull you aside and say, “Let’s try this.” Finding the way to get you where you need to be. So like, taking direction from him, I’m game for anything because I feel safe in his hands and in the world he’s created. And sometimes you try stuff and he’d be like, “Ok, ignore that note I gave you. Let’s do something else.” He just creates a very creative atmosphere. You’re not afraid to try anything because he’s just created that working environment. You just do what you do and if it doesn’t work you try something else.
Maybe because he knows how to communicate well. With some people it doesn’t always come across the right way and then they get frustrated and then you can tell they’re annoyed and so then you’re like, “Ahhh…” And then as an actor, that’s like the worst thing. Then you’re just paralyzed.
He just creates a great environment to work in. And obviously I can only speak for myself but I’m pretty sure if you ask anybody else in the cast, they probably feel the same way but yeah, it’s been awesome.
He’s also such a fantastic comedic actor that I’d assume he has your back comedically.
Lisa Howard: Totally. And he’s that funny in person too. The funny thing is, what makes a great comedian is someone who so knows people and their humanity. And so, what I think he’s the best at is helping you find those really intense or vulnerable moments. Yes, he’s good with the comedy but the comedy is often in the writing. So, of course he helps with that but I think he’s really interested in all aspects of it. So, I think to be a good comedian you have to be a good actor in general.
You were in the original run of this show back in 2011. Has anything major changed with moving the show to Broadway?
Lisa Howard: Well, quite a bit of the cast is new. That’s always unfortunate for people who do an out-of-town run. But it happens, they want to find new people. I’m just grateful that they still wanted me to be Jenny.
There are a couple new songs. Little things here and there have been trimmed. Some reordering of how events take place. I mean, it’s basically the same. It’s the same story. There’s a sequence of events of what happens has shifted a little bit.
It’s funny, especially when you’re in previews, it’s like no show you do is ever the same twice because you rehearse during the day and put changes… little words here and there. And sometimes, you’re thinking, “What version is this? Which lyrics should come out? Well, something will come out.” And at least people will know because they’ll have at least heard that version before so they’ll know what to do. [laughs]Because a lot of times it’s so hard to keep straight in your head because you’ve been having so many tweaks here and there but eventually it’ll settle into what it’s gonna be and then you can just run and play. It keeps you on your toes.
Did you have any idea that this would eventually come to Broadway?
Lisa Howard: Most definitely. I loved the show at George Street. And we had been doing readings there for a long time and it’s a great role for me and, you know, I think I’ve always had very high hopes that it most definitely would. And I think the writing, obviously they keep improving it and working on it, the foundation of what they had has always been a great story.
Once you have a product or story, you know that it could go, then it all depends on other factors; money, producers, theaters, timing with actors, all that stuff that either makes or breaks it. Because it could be a great show but if the backing is not there, it won’t happen. Or the right timing. Because they were a couple starts and stops of when they thought it might come in. Like, they were thinking of it coming in on 2012, and that didn’t happen and then it got pushed back another year and that didn’t happen.
I also think it happens when it’s supposed to. Last year, I had my second son and I had heard that we were gonna start rehearsing in November of 2014. And I was like, “No. No, no, no. That’s when I’m due. It can’t happen then. Please no, it can’t happen then.” And then it ended up not. So, like, “Thank goodness.” It ended up a year later. So, I feel like things are supposed to work out the way they’re meant too. Sometimes it’s disappointing in the moment but you gotta think if it’s gonna happen, it’s gonna happen at the right time.
You grew up in Ohio. Did you always want to become an actress?
Lisa Howard: Well, I sang a lot as a kid. I loved musical theater shows. I did show choir which is big in my area. I loved performing. I did my high school shows. I didn’t go to a performing arts high school or anything but I did my high school musicals, I was doing show choir. Taking voice lessons. And in high school, I started taking dance.
And then I think it was about my junior year, my voice teacher said, “If you want to do this, you have to take it seriously.” Because I didn’t like to practice. And I didn’t know whether I wanted to go into voice, maybe opera or musical theater. So, I studied both and when I auditioned for colleges, I auditioned for both departments at quite a few places. But when I came down to it, it was really musical theater that I love. So, I ultimately choose that.
When you first moved to New York, what were your survival jobs?
Lisa Howard: My very first job, I got as a waitress at Café Mozart, this coffee shop/restaurant on the Upper West Side. I was the toy demonstrator FAO Schwarz for a brief amount of time.
That would have been fun.
Lisa Howard: You would think. You would think it would be fun. The fun wore off quickly. The parents are worse than the kids.
I was a cocktail waitress at a bar on the Lower East Side. I sold Clinique make-up. I passed out flyers, I temped. You do anything and everything that you can because you have to have a somewhat temporary job or a job at night or something with flexible hours so that you can audition. So, you end having to find lots of different jobs.
What was your first professional job after moving to New York?
Lisa Howard: Actually, after I graduated college, I got my Equity card working at the St. Louis Muny. So I worked there and I worked there several summers so I had summer stock work, and that’s professional work. Especially at big houses like that, you get paid well.
My first production contract, my first big job, I had been in New York almost 2 years. So, I had had a couple summers of jobs but then I got the national tour of Les Miz. That was my first big one. I was 24 when I got that.
What was your worst audition?
Lisa Howard: I don’t know if I necessarily know if I have a worst audition, like something where I like completely bombed, you know, like where I forgot my words or whatever. But there have definitely been times when you leave the room and say, “Oof. I wouldn’t hire me.” Because it just wasn’t good.
There was one pretty recently, like in the past couple of years. What was it for? I can’t remember the name of show but it was Jason Robert Brown and Mary-Mitchell Campbell, the music director who I know and have worked with. Oh, Big Fish. I auditioned for Big Fish and really bombed.
Oh, and there was another one. It was for James Lapine for an Encores reading of Merrily We Roll Along? Yeah, that one I was like, “Ooof. That was terrible.”
I doubt that.
Lisa Howard: No. No, it was pretty terrible. [laughs]
Sometimes you’re just not as prepared as you’d like to be. I teach voice and I do vocal coaching and I do master class for aspiring students and the most important thing for an audition is preparation. And being prepared, knowing the material well enough – whether it’s your own song or something they give you – the only thing you can do is prepare as an actor. And you know, life happens and sometimes you’re not as prepared as you’d like to be. If I can heed my own advice…sometimes life happens.
Sometimes there’s just not enough time to prepare but you do your best. And sometimes you do knock it out of the park and you’re like, “Yeah.” And you still don’t get the job but at least you know, “Hey, I did the best I could.”