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April 7, 2011

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From Mormon to Mom: Heidi Blickenstaff’s unpredictable Broadway season

by Jesse North

heidi blickenstaff head shot title of show addams family little mermaidHeidi Blickenstaff had planned to be a Mormon this Broadway season. For the past two and a half years, she had been playing Mother Price—Andrew Rannells’ character’s mother—in production workshops of The Book of Mormon. Yet the role that had started out with two songs gradually diminished as the show evolved. A torn calf muscle that sidelined Blickenstaff during the final workshop didn’t help. Soon after, Blickenstaff received a phone call from one of the show’s producers saying that the role was being made even smaller—Blickenstaff amicably decided to bow out. However, another maternal role was unexpectedly around the corner.

“I’m sure that had I been in my early twenties, I would have been devastated,” Blickenstaff said. “It worked out the way it was supposed to. I’ve learned to let go of that stuff. There’s a plan, there’s a road; just walk on it.” That road led to a last minute audition for the replacement cast in The Addams Family for the role of Alice Beineke—the mother of Wednesday’s love interest.

“Oddly, it was not on my radar at all,” Blickenstaff said. “I hadn’t seen the show. My agent said [the casting directors] had seen a lot of people for Alice Beineke and they couldn’t seem to find what they wanted. I knew Carolee Carmello had done the role, and we’re very different vocal types. I thought, ‘This probably isn’t going to go my way, but I’ll go in, say hi, and do my best.’” Fifteen seconds into the audition, Blickenstaff knew it was going well. Director Jerry Zaks walked her out and 20 minutes later, she received a phone call with the offer. “I had no plans to do this, but I was so thrilled for the job,” Blickenstaff said. “You know, times is tough right now [sic]. I couldn’t be more grateful to be here. It was the most wonderful surprise. I’m having a really good time. It’s a really fun role.”

In the show, Alice Beineke, a tightly wound conservative, visits the Addams mansion with her husband from Ohio to meet the family of the daughter with whom their son has fallen in love. Although appalled at what she sees upon her arrival, over the course of her stay, Alice loosens up—although the Addams’ make that decision for her. At the end of Act I, Alice sings a showcasing, belty number called “Waiting.” “It’s all over the place—it’s got everything from opera, to smoky jazz, to really standard musical theater. It’s super schizophrenic.”

heidi blickenstaff addams family musical scene costume

Photo: Jeremy Daniel

Yet Blickenstaff, who is used to playing more sultry women, admitted to feeling some shock when she attended her costume fitting. “She’s very covered up, and in a super duper conservative, from-another-time kind of way,” Blickenstaff said. “There’s a running gag of who I look like, and number one is Dorothy Michaels from Tootsie. The other one is Tom Hanks from Bosom Buddies; so apparently, I look like a man in drag.” However, Blickenstaff is embracing the nuances of the character. “I don’t know that I’ve ever worn a costume that has been so telling. There’s no other way to play her but like that costume.” The costume, however, seems to be revealing the differences between Blickenstaff and Beineke. Blickenstaff has been consistently tearing the dress in the same spot, and her dresser has asked her to mind what she’s doing to cause the damage. “I’m kind of a rough and tumble girl, and Alice is quite pristine.”

Never one to play the ingénue, Blickenstaff is happy to portray older females, even maternal ones, despite her young age. “When I was younger, I understudied the older ladies. Acting teachers in college would tell me that I was going to blow up when I turned 40. I was always good at the more brassy, ballsy, knowing women—the ones that had been through something. My voice is more tailored to it. I always coveted that lovely, airy soprano voice, but that was never mine. Those roles and my age are finally meeting.”

Blickenstaff bares the looks and voice of a leading lady, but one of her intrinsic qualities is often absent from those roles. “I’m funny! Not everybody’s funny, and I’m often lucky enough to go in for roles that know how to crack a joke. What can I say? I’m a chameleon!” Blickenstaff says with a hearty laugh.

VIDEO: Heidi Blickenstaff on Susan Blackwell’s naughtiest qualities and the most recent text message she’s received from a [title of show] cast member.

The California native got her start with ensemble and understudy roles in The Full Monty and The Little Mermaid, but Blickenstaff became a Broadway star by slaying audiences and touching hearts in the comedic cast of [title of show] in 2008. The beloved meta-musical about four friends writing a musical about each other not only launched stars Jeff Bowen, Hunter Bell, Susan Blackwell, and Blickenstaff with a passionate fan base, but also established the group as Broadway’s hippest new wiz kids.

Productions of [title of show] are being produced at regional theaters ad colleges around the country, and have even gone international. “Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think we’d be going to Australia to see a production of our show and I’d be meeting the actress playing Heidi,” Blickenstaff said. Although she called the idea of being played by other actresses “super trippy,” Blickenstaff acknowledged it as a notion from which she has to separate herself. “That girl is playing Heidi; she’s not playing Heidi Blickenstaff. When we were doing the show, it became much less like going on stage and being ourselves every night and more like playing a character.” Now Blickenstaff says that when she sees a Heidi, she is filled with pride.

heidi blickenstaff title of show scene jeff bowen hunter bell susan blackwellIn addition to their work being produced around the country, the [title of show] crew is ready to unveil their next collaboration. Previously billed as And Now This Is Happening, Blickenstaff said the title recently changed to NOW. HERE. THIS. Described as a “theatriconcert,” the show is a set of short stories interspersed with music, provided by a band—Larry Pressgrove, the lone keyboardist in [title of show] has got some company. NOW. HERE. THIS. uses Bowen, Bell, Blackwell, and Blickenstaff as the characters, but Blickenstaff said it is not a continuation of where [title of show] left off. Details of the story have yet to be released, but Blickenstaff said the piece was birthed out of a sketch the group presented two years ago at the Gypsy of the Year charity event, in which Bell and Blackwell discussed the first time they ever saw a Broadway show. NOW. HERE. THIS. will be presented in a workshop production at the Vineyard Theatre in late June.

“It’s really new, but the same family is together and that chemistry will never go away,” Blickenstaff said. She described the members of the [title of show] group as “genuinely best friends,” citing that they are constantly on the phone with each other and vacation together. Despite working unpaid for years on the show that would launch their careers, the team has now branched out to individual projects and collaboration now entails new obstacles.

“One of the things that we held paramount to the work was making sure that our friendship always came first, that it stayed intact,” Blickenstaff said. “I move through the world knowing that all things that spring from that collaboration are my favorite.”

Blickenstaff is true to her word. It is written into her Addams Family contract that she has approval to leave the show for two weeks in June to reunite with her [title of show] cast for their new show.

Are you surprised by Blickenstaff’s maternal roles, Rushers? Have you seen her in The Addams Family? What do you think about the [title of show] team’s next collaboration on NOW. HERE. THIS.? Leave your comments below, and see Heidi’s appearance in this week’s episode of Stage Rush TV!

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1 Comment Post a comment
  1. Amanda
    Apr 9 2011

    …..i *LOVE* her. So much. GO HEIDI!!! Hope I get to see her sometime soon :)

    Reply

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