by Franck Mercurio
What is the appeal of performing with a symphony orchestra? How is it different from performing in a Broadway production?
The lushness and fullness of sound, from the strings, brass and woodwinds to the timpani, are unmatched.
The biggest difference for me between performing with a full symphony orchestra and on Broadway is the size of the ensemble of musicians. Most of the shows I’ve done have a pit ranging from eight to 14 chairs, sometimes without live strings. Also, with a symphony orchestra I can hear myself because I’m able to wear in-ear monitors during the shows; on Broadway, however, while we have wedges (monitors), there are usually so many live mics that it’s impossible to put enough of the vocals into the mix for every individual performer to be satisfied. I gave up long ago relying on the monitors to hear myself. Faith, trust and pixie dust (or an inner sense of sound) get me through most Broadway shows.
Can you describe your attraction to Whitney Houston? Which of her songs do you love best? And what’s the greatest challenge of performing her songs?
I actually talk about this a little bit in the show, but the first song my mom heard me sing, and how she found out I could sing, was “The Greatest Love of All.” Something about Whitney’s ability to tell a story through song really spoke to 3- or 4-year-old me.
I’d say the greatest challenge is living up to Whitney’s legacy and being compared to her. I always try to give the disclaimer that in no way am I ever trying to imitate her. Her gift comes once in a lifetime. I consider it my privilege to pay homage to her voice, highlight all of our happy memories of her in her prime, and lead everyone through a celebration of her legacy.
You’ve been in so many great Broadway productions. Do you have a favorite one? And if so, why is it your favorite?
The show I’m about to open now, Ain’t Too Proud (by the time of the April concert we will have been open for almost a month), is probably one of my most exciting, because I get to work with many people I’ve admired and been connected to, in some ways, for years. It’s exciting to hear audiences root and cheer for them, and for me to have the opportunity to showcase myself as an actress and singer in ways I haven’t yet been able to in New York.
Of my past shows, I think Sister Act is probably my favorite. I’m still in touch with, and friends with, so many people from that show. Our director, Jerry Zaks, created such a safe, loving and supportive environment that we truly became a family. It was also a treat to occasionally step in to the role of the leading lady. I learned a lot about myself as a performer and a person. It forced me out of my comfort zone in many ways that surprised even me.