Godspell Talk Back - Uzo Aduba



The hit revival production of Stephen Schwartz's Godspell is enjoying a run at Circle in the Square, where the theatre-in-the-round set up helps engender a sense of community. Furthering that sense is a series of talk backs after the show on Tuesday nights. I recently had the chance to see the peppy musical again, staying for a talk back with Uzo Aduba. After the talk back, the good folks behind Godspell arranged for me to have an email interview with Uzo, and very I'm excited to share that "chat" with you. Read on to learn more about the talented Uzo, including the lovely and inspiring meaning behind her name!

It’s been noted that during the audition process, actors were asked to improvise so producers and the director could get to know their personalities. (During the talk back, you said of the experience, “I love the inventiveness of art.” I love that!) Once the show was cast, these personalities were woven into the production. Can you talk about what parts of Uzo are in your character, and how you developed and influenced the development of your character and her costume?

I think there are a lot of flashes of me in the character I play in GODSPELL. I'm always trying to make my friends laugh, and I love to have a good time.

But, I think the elements of loyalty and friendship are huge parts of me used in the development of my character. I am fiercely protective and loyal to my close friends and family, and would do almost anything to keep those relationships intact. It hurts so much to learn of Judas's betrayal. Not only because of the consequence Jesus will suffer for this deception, but also because I loved and trusted Judas, the most loyal of us all, to stand by this man teaching us. Breaks my heart every night.

As far as my costume is concerned, all of that is our costume designer, Miranda Hoffman. She presented her designs of our two looks on the first day, and I thought they were loaded with so much information. Our first looks felt to me a bit more symbolic of things the outside world had put on us, the people we were supposed to be, but once “Prepare Ye” starts and we get wet, it's like we've been washed free of the people we think we should be, and are free to be who we are. We as the characters choose these second looks. So, what I saw was a woman who is strong, who wants to own her power. I originally had a man's dress coat with tails (it's since been changed to a man's vest) and that REALLY added this layer of androgyny and masculinity to my thinking. She's a bit of an outsider, living on the fringes of society. So, with that in mind, I wanted to try my best to represent those people living in a 2012 GODSPELL world who still need to be accepted into our "Beautiful City."

There are several shows about Jesus and/or faith, in addition to Godspell, currently treading (or about to tread) the boards. (Jesus Christ Super Star, The Book of Mormon, Leap of Faith, et al.)

  • Why do you think that is? Is there something in the zeitgeist right now that makes audiences want these kinds of stories? (Or is it merely a coincidence of theatres being available and producers backing shows?)
  • What distinguishes Godspell from other shows grappling with similar subject matter?
You know I don't think the timing of all these shows is by strict coincidence. If you look at the war most people are battling in their daily lives—keeping their homes, the financial crisis, paying for their kids to go to college, finding a job—I think it's during these tough times people need something—anything—to believe in. They need some reprieve from their worries, their doubt. [I] think what a show like GODSPELL does is [offer] just that. It brings nothing but pure joy to your heart in such a magnificent way. So often as adults, we get bogged down with so much stress and worry, and rightly so. But, when people come to see GODSPELL they are often reminded of an innocence long forgotten, and they are also reminded of the things that matter most: love and hope. There is always hope. I know GODSPELL [reminds] me of that, and it is my desire to do the same for our audiences every night.

During the talk back, you mentioned you are a classically trained soprano. What attracted you to musical theatre rather than opera? Also, given your training and therefore your range, what are some of your dream roles?

I still enjoy opera and its purity, but what I love about musical theater is the value placed on words. I love words. I really, really do. I also love the range of sounds musical theater offers. Musical theater's not particularly interested in only hearing good singing, there are so many character voices and instruments, and ways of storytelling—I just love that!

I have such a bizarre list of roles (not all musicals) I think would be fun to do, and most of them are usually played by men but here we go:
  • Judas in JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR
  • Leading Player in PIPPIN
  • Tevye in FIDDLER ON THE ROOF
  • Eliza Doolittle in MY FAIR LADY
  • Lady M in The Scottish Play
  • Salima in RUINED

Your song, “By My Side,” is certainly one of the more somber songs in the score. Can you discuss: your approach to the song; how you transition to and from the song, when such jovial and silly bits precede and follow it; and how the “strong roots” upon which you’re built (something you mentioned in the talkback) have informed your performance?

Well, the bones of the song come out of the preceding scene, having to do with the Mary Magdalene figure and her condemnation from the crowd, and how Jesus not only stops the stoning but does not condemn her. The song is about devotion. My devotion to Him; the devotion we all have for Him and for each other; and the lack of devotion from Judas at this point. I wanted to try and convey some of the commitment and love Mary seemed to show Jesus biblically. It just seemed like such powerful ground for a friendship.

The desire to leave it can be hard, but I think Hunter (Parrish) [who plays Jesus] and [I] challenge ourselves nightly to push against that in order to drive the parables forward. We usually share a silent conversation together right before we start [delving] fully into the sheep bit, to release the previous event and the entire company presses forward. I don't think that idea is far from the practices of [my] parents during their migration to the States.

After surviving the Biafran Civil War in 1960s Nigeria, where my tribe, region and family suffered constant attack and starvation from the Northern Region, my parents moved to the United States. As trying and difficult a chapter as that was in their lives, they knew they could not wade in the tragedy of what had happened but instead, they had to overcome it and press onward. It is that same will, focus, strength and determination that they instilled in all of their children, and absolutely the place from which I try to infuse some strength for my character in GODSPELL.

So many people find this score to be inspiring. What music inspires you?
I find all music inspiring! If the words make me feel like I can press on, then I can listen to it on repeat. One song in particular that does that for me is Yolanda Adams's “Never Give Up.”

Bonus question: I thought my last name was long and difficult to pronounce (Riegelhaupt), but you may take the cake. Tell readers your full name, please.

My full name is Uzoamaka Nwaneka Aduba. It is Igbo, and my first name is actually a sentence meaning "the road is good"(Uzo a maka). Igbo names have meaning and are done with purpose and intention for their children. My parents named me Uzoamaka because despite any trial in whatever stage of their lives, "the road is good" because it caused them to eventually meet, marry and have me. I now apply that to life. No matter what the journey might bring, no matter how hard the journey, I know Uzo a maka.


Visit Godspell.com to learn more about the show and to purchase tickets.

Many thanks to Uzo Aduba for her time and thoughtful answers, and for the passionate folks at Godspell, particularly Jennifer Ashley Tepper, for arranging this interview.

(All photos of Uzo Aduba are taken from the Meet the Cast section of the Godspell website.)

Comments

  1. This woman is fugly. She plays "crazy eyes" and shames her culture. Have some self respect, everything is not about money.

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    Replies
    1. I'm sorry but I don't understand how she's "shaming her culture" by portraying a character on a TV show. In my opinion, Uzo Aduba is a brilliantly talented actress and a beautiful woman. I'm so happy she was nominated for an Emmy.

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