Lauren Molina in ROCK OF AGES
Wearing a pink bra and thong and dancing like a stripper has been quite a departure!
About the author:
Broadway’s Lauren Molina has lived something of a bipolar career on the Great White Way. The young actress made a splashy Broadway debut opposite Patti LuPone and Michael Cerveris as ingenue Johanna in the acclaimed 2005 revival of Sweeney Todd, showing off a soaring soprano voice and cello-playing skills in the process. Then, after a trip around the country with the Sweeney national tour, Molina made her way back to Broadway via the most unlikely of off-Broadway vehicles: '80s arena rock comedy Rock of Ages. Trading her cello and Sondheim for a pink thong and Twisted Sister, Molina is now rocking eight shows a week as wild hippie-activist Regina (pronounce Raj-eye-nah) in the show’s hit Broadway transfer. She’s also been exercising comedic chops as a mock-umentarian, lending her improv and writing skills to “Rock of Ages Productions,” a series of hilarious behind-the-scenes viral videos released by the Rock of Ages cast. Below, Molina reflects on her Broadway journey, her new role as a comedienne and the origins of her Internet comedy career.
In 2005, I made my Broadway debut in John Doyle’s Broadway revival of Sweeney Todd as the cello-playing Johanna. On the first day of rehearsal, Patti LuPone leaned over her bells (one of her three instruments) and said to me, “Lauren, it doesn’t get any better than this.” Michael Cerveris then added, “Yep, it’s pretty much all downhill from here.”
Excited and scared sh*tless, I practiced my cello, memorized the difficult score, learned my lines, songs and blocking, and took in all the intricacies of the production. It was definitely an adrenaline rush, one that engaged artistic inspiration and got the creative juices to flow.
As an actor and musician, I remained onstage for the duration of the play and was able to explore a dark side, a wounded side, a vulnerable side and an innocent side of Johanna. John Doyle’s direction was amazing in its simplicity, and it was surreal to rehearse with Steve Sondheim in the room, making changes to his already brilliant score. “Green Finch and Linnet Bird” will always be one of my favorite songs!
After the Broadway production closed, I returned to the role in the Sweeney Todd international tour. It was a wonderfully comfortable feeling to be able to slip into Johanna’s skin every night—but I wondered, after such a life-changing, emotionally crazy role, singing high C’s eight shows a week, what would be next. I was scared that I’d be pigeonholed as the girl who can only act and sing with a cello.
My first audition back from the Sweeney tour was to play Regina in the off-Broadway production of Rock of Ages. I channeled my one my favorite comediennes, Kristin Wiig, dressed in a hideous skirt and blazer and belted out Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me with Your Best Shot.” I got the part.
I feel most free playing funny, awkward, quirky characters who have something just a little “off.” Regina’s spastic, socially awkward ways were delicious to create. Protesting to “save the Sunset Strip,” Regina encourages others to do the right thing; to follow their dreams. Regina has the potential to be a caricature of the ultra-femme, Berkeley hippie, but Kristin Hanggi has directed me to find truth in such a bizarre character.
SPOILER ALERT: I also play a tranny stripper named Candi in Rock of Ages. Wearing a pink bra and thong and dancing like a stripper has also been quite a departure! I never considered myself a dancer, but choreographers Kelly Devine and Robert Tatad have found the dancer in me.
Playing Regina on Broadway could not possibly be more different than Sweeney Todd. Rock of Ages isn’t high art, nor does it pretend to be. I don’t go into a severely emotional state nor sing operatic songs with artful, deep lyrics. But the pure joy and uninhibited fun I get from my castmates and our audiences makes Rock of Ages just as special an experience. Performing in this show makes us feel like total rock stars. I have never experienced audiences so moved by the music that they get up and start dancing, singing along, cheering and laughing. It is a celebration every night.
A week before ROA closed off-Broadway, the incredible Nova Bergeron and Will Swenson left the production to do Wicked and Hair, respectively. I decided to make a short film about the sadness and chaos that would ensue backstage due to their departure. Soon after I began filming the hilarious mock-umentary, [co-star] Mitch Jarvis jumped onboard to help create what would become the first “Rock of Ages Productions” episode.
Similar to the creative inspiration I felt doing Sweeney, the cast of Rock of Ages is the comedic inspiration that helps us constantly brew up new episodes. Each is created in a very loose, improvisational way. Once we come up with a structure of the story, we start shooting scenes—not scripted but outlined. We try to blend reality with fiction…and by fiction, I mean absurdity. Our storylines have included everything from a ghost of the Brooks Atkinson Theatre who murders cast members of Spring Awakening and abducts Wesley Taylor like the Phantom of the Opera, to a chorus girl claiming Hugh Jackman impregnated her at intermission, then giving birth after the show.
The episodes have gotten progressively better in production value. We’ve used every kind of recording device from a digital camera to the built-in iSight on a Mac. Mitch and I edit everything on iMovie, and do it on zero budget. We’ve had celebrity cameos from Neil Patrick Harris, Hugh Jackman and even Paris Hilton. We now have 12 episodes posted on You Tube. Check it out www.youtube.com/user/rockofagesprod.
So, I guess I can say for the record: Patti LuPone and Michael Cerveris were wrong.