BY CARY GINELL
Another example of “local-girl-makes-good” occurred this summer when Jonalyn Saxer, who had just graduated from the theater program at Syracuse University, made her Broadway debut in the Woody Allen comedy musical, Bullets Over Broadway. The show, which closed August 24, played at the St. James Theatre in New York. After the show closed, Jonalyn came home to spend part of the summer with her family, all of whom have theater experience and who have grown up on Ventura County stages. We spent a little time with Jonalyn talking about her experience.
VCOS: How long were you with Bullets Over Broadway?
JONALYN: I got the job a week-and-a-half after I graduated. I got it on May 22nd and was in rehearsals for a couple of weeks and then was technically “on call” the Tuesday after Tony weekend.
VCOS: Your timing couldn’t have been better.
JONALYN: Yeah, I know!
VCOS: So how did you get the job?
JONALYN: It was actually through something else. I did a showcase at the end of my senior year. Most colleges do it, but at Syracuse you had to audition for it because our program is so big. So I was in our showcase and we invite industry people, casting agents, and agents to come see us. Musical theater students do a song and a scene while acting students do two scenes. So I did “I Want to Be a Rockette” and I sang and I danced; I did a double-pirouette and I kicked – and from that showcase I got an appointment to go in for The Merry Widow at the Met for Susan Stroman, who was choreographing a part for one of the can-can dancers. I went in for that the Friday before the weekend of my graduation. So I was graduating on Saturday and had to be in New York on Friday. So I did the audition, and on my way home, I found out that I was going to be offered a swing position for The Merry Widow. About a week later, I was called by the same casting director, who said, “We’re sending you on an appointment for an immediate replacement for Bullets Over Broadway. We know that it conflicts with The Merry Widow, but Stro wants you to come in anyway.” So I had that audition on a Tuesday, and they danced us and they sang us, then we came back later in the day and danced for Stro. That Friday, I had my first rehearsal.
VCOS: Did you have to make a choice between the two shows?
JONALYN: Well, they wanted me to do Bullets and it was immediate, so they said, “We’ll handle Merry Widow. It’s fine.” But then Bullets got their closing notice. I had gotten my track back for Merry Widow to be a swing, but I’ve had some other things come up since then, and I’m not at liberty to say, but I’m not doing The Merry Widow anymore!
VCOS: So were you level-headed about all this or were you a little girl jumping up and down, yelling “Yippee!”
JONALYN: I was jumping up and down! The casting director was Lindsey Levine from Tara Rubin Casting, a big casting agency in New York. She had come to our showcase and she was the only reason I got to come do these auditions. She called me the night after the audition and said, “It’s not official yet, but we are pretty positive about you getting an offer to be in Bullets Over Broadway.” I was so excited that I said, “Lindsey, you’re my fairy godmother! You’ve made my dreams come true!”
VCOS: Were you living in New York at the time?
JONALYN: Yeah. In Syracuse’s last semester of your senior year they have a program in New York City, so I’ve been living there since January and taking classes there. So it was nice to already be settled.
VCOS: So here’s Jonalyn, the small-town girl from Thousand Oaks, coming to her first rehearsal in the Big Apple. What was that like?
JONALYN: My rehearsal process was interesting because I was a replacement. So I show up at this rehearsal studio, and it’s me, our associate choreographer, James Gray, and an accompanist. And he said, “Welcome to Broadway. Let’s start from the top.” So we started with the first number. Usually in dance rehearsals, there are other people dancing with you, but it was just me and James, and the whole two weeks was like that. He would make me run through entire numbers, singing and dancing full out by myself. After two-and-a-half weeks, I still hadn’t learned everything for all the tracks, because I was covering eight different girls. I was never taught what somebody did during a scene, I just had to watch them and learn that way. In the show, there are eight girls and two swings, so I had four primaries. I ended up going on for what I call three-and-a-half. There were two primaries, for girls who had taken vacations. One girl called out for a night show; she was not one of my primaries. Then we had a day where there were three girls out and the two swings had to switch between girls mid-number, mid-show.
VCOS: How much advance notice do you get before you go on?
JONALYN: They have to tell us by a half-hour before curtain. But usually, the girls in the show are good. I had two different times where I got called at about ten or eleven in the morning of a two-show day, so our half-hour is at 1:30. And I was told, “You’re on, today!” People can get hurt mid-show and you’d have to go on halfway through the show.
VCOS: So you’re ready at any time.
VCOS: What do you do during the show if you’re not in it?
JONALYN: That depends. At the beginning of my process, I was making my notes and following the girls back stage so I knew what they did there as well as on stage. There are a bunch of quick changes during the show; some girls step into their costume right foot, left foot – and another girl steps into her costume left foot, right foot. The dressers are set up accordingly with the foot hole opened, so I have to step in the same way that the other girl stepped in. So I have to know that back stage stuff. In the beginning I watched the show three to four times a week, then it was one to two times a week. On Sunday matinees, all the swings would watch a movie, spend a lot of time on Facebook, or reading. I even brought in coloring books.
Our interview with Jonalyn Saxer will continue later this week.