Age & Hometown: 23; Libertyville, IL
Current Role: Natasha, a young, naive Russian debutante (pulled straight out of Tolstoy’s War and Peace) in the innovative musical Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812.
Shooting Star: Phillipa Soo’s career is taking off in front of your face—literally. “You’re sitting right next to people as you’re performing, and they catch everything,” she says of her role in the immersive musical Comet, which finds actors interacting with audience members in a faux Russian supper club. “Brushing my teeth before a show has become very important,” she adds with a laugh. Describing the show, however, remains a challenge: “I would tell people it’s an ‘immersive electropop opera,’ and they would bob their heads, so now I say, ‘Honestly, if I could describe it to you, I feel like it wouldn’t be as important for you to see it.’” Since originating the role of Natasha, Soo has even taken up reading War and Peace. (“I’ve read it up to the point of our play!”) So, has the high society Comet given her an appreciation for Russia’s favorite drink? “I’ve definitely grown fond of vodka, though I can’t say it’s my favorite. I’m more of a Scotch person myself.”
Chicago Culture: Soo grew up in a suburb north of Chicago and discovered theater at a young age thanks to her mother, a dramaturg-turned-English professor. “I grew up seeing Shakespeare and all of these awesome, modern plays at Steppenwolf,” she recalls, adding that she was spoiled by “some of the best theater out there.” Her earliest memory of the stage was The Tempest, “one of the most magical and beautiful things I’d ever seen. I realized that playing pretend was not just for the backyard.” Soo quickly got involved in dance lessons, which led to piano, improv and voice classes. “My first big role was Annie, which was fantastic even though I was tall and lanky and definitely didn’t look natural with red hair.” The silver lining: “My dog Tucker got to be Sandy! Weeks and week of training, and he only responded to the name Sandy, like, once.”
In the Big Leagues: At Juilliard, Soo was a self-proclaimed perfectionist at first. “I worked really hard to make things just right, but I discovered what it means to be an artist, which is to not be afraid of failure.” Not to worry: Soo received a Drama League Award nomination last spring for her first professional role. “On the morning of nominations, [Comet writer and co-star] Dave Malloy texted me, ‘You should Google yourself if you don’t know why people are congratulating you today. I just laughed because I imagined people looking at the nominations list and going, ‘Phillipa who? What is this Natasha, Pierre business?’” Needless to say, Comet has led to “so many open doors” for the young actress, including a role as a Hit List cast member on NBC’s Smash. “Now I’m just eager to develop a taste for the kind of work I want to do,” she muses. “There’s no right or wrong—it’s experience and it’s life, and I’m so excited.”