DIVA TALK: Chatting With Newsies Star Kara Lindsay

By Andrew Gans
September 30, 2011

News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.



KARA LINDSAY
Young singing actress Kara Lindsay has yet to make her Broadway debut, but that may change considering the buzz that seems to be drifting to New York from the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, NJ, where the new Disney stage musical Newsies, based on the cult favorite film of the same name, is currently playing a limited engagement through Oct. 16. Lindsay plays newspaper reporter Katherine Plumber, a role new to the story, which has been adapted for the stage by Tony winner Harvey Fierstein. The musical, which features direction by Tony nominee Jeff Calhoun and choreography by Tony nominee Christopher Gattelli, boasts a score by eight-time Academy Award-winning composer Alan Menken (Beauty and the Beast, Sister Act, The Little Mermaid) with lyrics by Jack Feldman. Earlier this week, I had the chance to chat with the enthusiastic Lindsay, who also starred as Laura Ingalls Wilder in the musical version of Little House on the Prairie, which began its national tour at Paper Mill. Lindsay, a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, spoke about her current role in Newsies and the possible realization of her Broadway dreams; that interview follows.

Question: Since we haven't spoken before, why don't you tell me where you were born and raised.
Kara Lindsay: I was born and raised in Rochester, New York.

Question: When did you start performing?
Lindsay: I started in sixth grade. I was a tapping cop in The Pirates of Penzance. I started off dancing and playing sports, and I joined the drama stuff, the theatre stuff in middle school because my friends were involved, and it was kind of the cool thing to do. [Laughs.] I was really shy, so I didn't really sing alone; I didn't want to. And then in seventh grade, I sang by myself very timidly in front of my music director, and he cast me as Nellie in George M! and kind of from there, I started getting the confidence to sing and dance, and I grew to love it.

Question: Were there any particular singers or actors who you admired at that point that influenced you at all?
Lindsay: Yeah, actually. I loved Judy Garland. I thought she was such a classic beauty. I thought she was so endearing and charming, and I loved her voice. She was such a dreamer, and I think I was, too— and I am. I think I saw similarities in her and me, before [her struggles began]. But, I loved "The Wizard of Oz," so I think I looked up to her. And, all of those Disney movies. I loved Belle in "Beauty and the Beast." I just wanted to be her. I'm a brunette, so I think I kind of cling to all those princesses that have brown hair. [Laughs.] I just wanted to be them.

Lindsay and Jeremy Jordan in Newsies.
photo by T. Charles Erickson

Question: When did performing change from a hobby to when you knew it was going to be your career?
Lindsay: I think in high school. I continued to do it through middle school and high school, and I was also doing sports and doing competition dance, so I had to decide what I wanted to do because it just got to be too much going from thing to thing. I wanted to be [soccer star] Mia Hamm, but I also wanted to be a Broadway star, and you can't be both. [Laughs.] So, I talked with my mom and just decided that I really wanted to put all my effort into theatre and dance, so I kept up with that, and when it came around to college audition time, I was talking with my music teacher in junior year of high school, and she said, "You know, you could do this for a living." And, I was like, "No I can't." [Laughs.] "Really?" And, she was like, "I think you should really give it a shot and audition at these schools." She helped me audition for eight colleges and universities, Carnegie Mellon being one of them, and I got in, and it was the only school I got into, really. I got into Fredonia State, but of my top choices, it was the only one I got into. It just seemed to be kind of fate that it's a great school, and I just felt so honored to be accepted there, and I think that's when I knew. I was like, "Oh, okay. I can do this." I think I just needed the confidence and the reassurance. I have the passion for it and the love for it. You always hear those stories — the starving-artist stories — and I so badly did not want to do that. [Laughs.] I mean, I had those moments. When I first moved to New York, I was working at a restaurant for a while. But, having a really supportive family and supportive friends who are also experiencing the same thing, it helps. I'm just so grateful that I had my family and those teachers and mentors who pushed me to really believe in myself and pursue my dream, rather than just pursue something that's normal. I'm really grateful because I don't think I could be any happier.

Question: How did this role in Newsies come about?
Lindsay: Well, it's an interesting story. I did Little House on the Prairie and I played Laura Ingalls. It started at Paper Mill Playhouse — the tour launched at Paper Mill Playhouse — so I got to know Mark Hoebee and Patrick Parker, who are the artistic directors — artistic and assistant — and I kept in touch with them, and they were like, "We would love for you to come work with us again." They are great people, and they are so fun. It's such a fun experience over there, and you get to live at home. It's really exciting. Great audiences. New Jersey is really supportive of Paper Mill and so is New York. So, they told me about Newsies and they're like, "You should come in for this. Tell your agents to submit you for this. There's this new girl role and she's feisty. I think you might like it and maybe want to try it out, and see what they think." Then from there on, it seemed to be a perfect fit. I have a lot of people to thank for that, especially Paper Mill. It's amazing how everything connects you to the next thing. That's what I'm learning the more that I do things. You get reconnected with people, and people get to know you. It's really nice.

Lindsay at an open rehearsal for Newsies.
photo by Krissie Fullerton. Photographed at New 42nd Street Studios.

Question: Tell me about the role of Katherine; I know she is new to the story.
Lindsay: [In the film] Bill Pullman plays the news reporter who writes the article about the newsboys strike, so instead of having that male role in the musical, they decided to make it a girl, so that there is a love interest and kind of a little twist. It just makes the story a little more interesting. In the movie, apparently originally they had had a bigger love interest role. The screenwriters have been around a lot, Bob [Tzudiker] and Noni [White], and they were explaining how originally they wanted a love story that was more prominent, but with rewrites and what people wanted, it just didn't turn out that way. There was a small little glimpse of it with Davey's sister, and it was hardly existent, but everybody loves a good love story. It just makes it more interesting, and you can sort of relate to it more.

So [Katherine] ends up writing the story about the newsboys strike, and she's 18 and kind of just starting out in the work force, and at that time, the turn of the century, women did not have those sorts of jobs. They weren't employed like that. It was very rare. They were employed like that, but it was very, very few people. So, she has to stand up for herself. It's a little bit of women's rights and the newsboys' rights, and it's an interesting time. There's a lot of risks she is taking by writing this article because she mainly gets assigned reviewing shows and fashion. It's not like hard news. She wants the job that the men have. It's not fair that they get that responsibility, that they don't trust her with it. So, she kind of goes behind people's backs and writes the article anyway. She's a tough cookie, and I kind of have based her on Nellie Bly. She was a news reporter from Philadelphia, and she had a similar journey in that she wasn't accepted by the men in the work force and had to really fight for those opportunities. She ended up taking them on, and they realized how exceptional she is, and that she is capable of those jobs and taking on those tasks. She was very young and driven, and she's famous for that now. Because Katherine is new, I had nothing to really pull from. She wasn't in the movie or anything — just what Harvey [Fierstein] has given me, which is wonderful. I looked back at the time period to see what women news reporters were like, and there were very few, and she came up a lot.

Question: Do you have a favorite moment in the show for Katherine?
Lindsay: I love the song that Alan [Menken] and Jack Feldman have provided. It's called "Watch What Happens." It's when she is writing the article. She puts on this front in front of the boys in the scene before. She's like, "Yeah. I can do this. You can totally trust me. I can do this for you." Then, during the song, she's like, "Shit. [Laughs.] I am so scared. This is like a huge responsibility. I can't screw up." It's a brainstorm out loud. It's verbal vomit. She's just like a stream of consciousness. It's so fun. Jack Feldman was a genius with these lyrics. I think that's really fun — it's like a private moment for her because nobody is on stage except for her, so it's just what's going on in her mind. She may be falling for Jack, and she talks about that randomly. It's just a very human moment, and I like that. You get to know who she is. She's not on stage a whole lot, so in that moment you really get to know her real self. In most of the scenes, she has to put on this "I can do anything" attitude. In that private moment, you see all of the colors of Katherine.

Jeremy Jordan and Kara Lindsay
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Question: Tell me about working with your co-star, Jeremy Jordan.
Lindsay: He is incredible. I was writing him a card on opening night, and I just didn't even know where to start. I said, "You're unreal." He can do anything. His voice — his vocal cords are made of steel. He's just absolutely incredible. He's a wonderful actor, and makes it so easy to share the stage with. He's really inviting, and he's just fantastic and very charming. You can't help but, as an audience member, fall in love with that character of Jack that he created. It's really phenomenal. He's leading the ship every night, every show. We couldn't ask for a better captain. He's fantastic.

Question: You mentioned Harvey before. How involved were Harvey Fierstein and Alan Menken in the rehearsal process? Were there a lot of changes that were being made?
Lindsay: Yeah, they did make a few changes. There were several cuts. They tried to work with us, the actors, in the show and to really allow us to shine, and to write things that are appropriate for us. They've just been really generous and really supportive and just excited for us. They've been amazing. What a crazy honor to be working with them! The first day of rehearsal, I said something stupid to Alan Menken because I just turn into a blubbering idiot when I'm faced with celebrities. [Laughs.] I don't even remember what I said, it was just not what I wanted to say, so I sent an email to his manager to forward to Alan to say what I wanted to say, and we talked about it later, and he just laughed. He was like, "I forget that people might be scared of me." I was like, "Yup. I am." [Laughs.] They've been fantastic and just wonderful supporters. They're brilliant. They're brilliant writers, and we're very lucky to be performing their material.

Question: What's it been like working with Jeff Calhoun as a director?
Lindsay: Jeff has been wonderful. He creates this really safe environment for all of us in the rehearsal space, which is an actor's dream. You want to be able to take risks or try things without falling on your face, or the risk of your director thinking you're a complete fool. He wants you to take risks and make choices, and he invites that. He doesn't come in with these preconceived ideas of what the character should be or what the scene should be. He lays out the groundwork, and he lets us play in that. I think that's so rewarding for us to feel like we took a part in it. He's so inviting and so kind, and whenever we're all together and he talks about the show, or the pre-show speech before opening, he always gets teary-eyed, and it just warms your heart. You kind of feel the love he has for us. That's just such a positive thing to have, and I think we couldn't be luckier.

Lindsay in Little House on the Prairie.
photo by Carol Rosegg

Question: What do you think the life will be for the show after Paper Mill? Is there talk of doing it elsewhere or bringing it into New York?
Lindsay: Well, I'm not quite sure. They have been very hush-hush about it. I'm not quite sure what their plan is. We hope for Broadway. Twitter has been blowing up with bringing it to Broadway. "Bring it to Broadway. Bring it to Broadway." We have high hopes, but I think we are all just happy to have had this opportunity now and this experience. It's like none other. You get to create something yourself and collaborate. It's just been wonderful. I think they're smart, smart in not saying, "We're definitely going to Broadway. We're definitely going to Broadway." I think they're very calculated on how they're planning it, and I respect that totally. They don't want to get our hopes up and then have to say, "We're not." I think that's smart. We're happy to be where we are right now. It's an experiment to see what the show can do, and so far it's been really successful. I have a feeling it'll do something. I think it has legs of some sort. I hope they're really sexy though! [Laughs.]

Question: It would be your Broadway debut, right?
Lindsay: Yeah. [Laughs.] I would die. I did Lone Star Love in 2007 with Randy Quaid, and that was supposed to come to Broadway at the Belasco and a marquee went up and everything… and it all fell apart, and that marquee came right down, and we got severance pay. And, it was very sad. It was like it was almost going to happen and it was in my hands, and then they took it away. ... But, yeah, I would be thrilled if it were to come to Broadway. I'd be thrilled!

Question: What about Little House? Is there any talk about that coming in?
Lindsay: Well, that was another one that said it was going to go to Broadway, and it didn't. That's why I feel that way towards the producers of this show — for Newsies — in that they are not saying anything, they're not getting our hopes up and potentially letting us down. I really respect that. You really do get your hopes up. It would be a lot of our Broadway debuts — a lot of us in the show. So, I think they are being very careful, and I totally respect that because twice now I've been in a show that said it was going to go to Broadway, and they definitely made it seem certain that it was going to happen and then it didn't… But, you also have to be realistic about this business. A lot of it relies on money…

Question: I wonder, too, if they want to wait until Jeremy is available after Bonnie and Clyde to bring Newsies in.
Lindsay: I'm sure we'd all be absolutely willing to wait. I saw him do Bonnie and Clyde because my boyfriend was doing the show at the time — one of the out-of-town tryouts — and I was like, "Who is this guy?" Jeremy Jordan is a force to be reckoned with. He's unreal. That show, he just makes it — him and Laura. Laura Osnes, she shines in that. I have the utmost respect for her. So, everybody should see Bonnie and Clyde. It's really good. Really good.

Question: Thanks for taking the time to talk. I hope you get to Broadway with the show.
Lindsay: Thank you! I do, too!

[Single tickets are on sale and range in price from $25-$96. Tickets may be purchased by calling (973) 376-4343, or at the Paper Mill Playhouse Box Office at 22 Brookside Drive in Millburn, or online at www.papermill.org.]

Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.