Film buffs enjoy playing Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, but Broadway fans might want to try Six Degrees of Carolee Carmello, for the latter may be the artist who thoroughly links the 2023-2024 Broadway season together.
Not only has the three-time Tony nominee played leading roles in two separate Broadway productions this season, she also created the role of devoted wife Lucille Frank in the original 1998 Lincoln Center Theater production of Parade—now enjoying a Broadway revival at the Jacobs co-starring Ben Platt and Micaela Diamond following an acclaimed City Center engagement. Carmello also played the meat-pie making Mrs. Lovett in the Off-Broadway staging of Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd, now back on Broadway this season at the Lunt-Fontanne co-starring Josh Groban and Annaleigh Ashford.
As for her own work this season, Carmello was first seen as Pennsylvania holdout John Dickinson in the recent Broadway revival of 1776 that opened in October 2023—it featured a cast composed entirely of performers who identify as female, transgender, and non-binary. Carmello's spirited delivery of “Cool, Cool Conservative Men” was one of the standouts in Jeffrey L. Page and Diane Paulus' production of the Tony-winning Sherman Edwards-Peter Stone musical about the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
And, now, Carmello has gone "Bad" in her 16th Broadway musical, playing the Stepmother in Bad Cinderella—the newest offering from composer Andrew Lloyd Webber—at the Imperial Theatre. The new musical, featuring a book by Oscar-winning screenwriter Emerald Fennell, music by Lloyd Webber, and lyrics by Tony winner David Zippel, reimagines the classic fairytale to center around a damsel—but this one is not in distress. Linedy Genao stars in the title role of the London import, scheduled to officially open March 23.
In the brief interview below, Carmello chats about her busy Broadway season and looks back at her time in the original Broadway staging of Parade, which she calls the "greatest gift" of her career.
What is your typical day like now?
Well, right now we're in previews for Bad Cinderella, which means we rehearse most days before we do the show at night.
In the morning before rehearsal, I have breakfast and try to get a little exercise, if I have the energy, and I pack myself a meal for the dinner break.
Between rehearsal and the show, I eat and rest (sometimes nap) in my dressing room and then start getting ready for the show. Afterwards, I sign some programs at the stage door, drive home to New Jersey, and have my comforting bowl of cereal before bed. (I have a lot of meals in that description—I think about food more than I should.)
This has been a busy time for you. Are you enjoying the chance to play such different characters in one season? Can you share one memory that stands out from your experience in 1776?
Yes! I feel very lucky to have been cast in these two roles and to be involved with two different Broadway shows in one season! It's a rare privilege. 1776 has been one of my favorite shows since I was a girl watching the movie version on TV. I was so fortunate to play Abigail Adams in the last Broadway revival, and also thrilled to play John Adams in a concert version at 54 Below a few years back, so to revisit the piece in yet another role was so fun!
Are there any parts of the role of the Stepmother or Bad Cinderella that seem particularly poignant given the events of the last few years?
For me the most poignant line comes at the end of our story when Prince Sebastian says to Cinderella, "No one should have to live in a place where they can't be themselves." I think so many people have come to that conclusion during the pandemic and have made changes to their lives as a result.
This season Parade has also returned to Broadway. What was it like working on the original Broadway production and sharing the stage with the late Brent Carver?
Working on Parade was the greatest gift of my career! I am grateful for every moment of it. Brent Carver was a brilliant and unique actor. Hal Prince was a wonderful director. Jason Robert Brown and Alfred Uhry wrote a beautiful, masterful, and heart-breaking show. I will always be thankful for that opportunity and that experience. It was so very special!
What, if anything, did you learn about yourself during the past few years that you didn't already know?
I learned that I'm OK being alone for long stretches of time.
Bad Cinderella marks your 16th Broadway musical. When you look back at your career, is there any show that stands out as a particular favorite?
Well, Parade, of course. Lucille was the first original role I created. I also loved playing Mrs. Lovett in the Off-Broadway Sweeney Todd a few years ago. That was such a fun and creative version of the show. (I can't wait to see the new revival down the street from us!) And, I only got to play her for one week out in Sacramento, but Rose in Gypsy is a dream role that I'd like to have another shot at someday.
Bad Cinderella also marks your first Andrew Lloyd Webber musical on Broadway. Are there any other roles in his shows you would like to tackle?
I did get to play Evita in a dinner theatre when I was in my 20s—what an absolute thrill that was! I think I'm probably too old for most of his female characters now, but I can always sing the songs in a concert!
What organization would you recommend people learn more about or donate to during this time of change?
Gosh, I'm not going to tell people where to donate their money. That's such a personal choice. For me, I love the work that Chef Andrés does with World Central Kitchen. The organization seems to be at each disaster and war zone when the need is the greatest. I also donate to Broadway Cares and The Entertainment Community Fund because I've seen firsthand how they've helped people around me.
During this time of reflection and re-education regarding BIPOC artists and artistry, particularly in the theatre, what do you want people (those in power, fellow artists, audiences) to be aware of? What do you want them to consider further?
I think it's important for the people on stage to fairly represent the community. And I believe that a good story can be told by people of any color or size or age or gender—we need to keep our minds open and keep telling great stories. Live theatre brings people together, which is more essential than ever!