She is a bona fide Broadway star with a Drama Desk Award and a Tony Award nomination to her credit. She fronts a rock band. And, oh, yeah, this native Texan also sings some opera.
“I guess I am a little ADD. I like to keep it exciting,” says Lauren Worsham, who will be featured in the Fort Worth Opera’s presentation of the contemporary opera Dog Days, which begins a six-performance run at Scott Theatre on Sunday as part of the opera’s 2015 festival.
Worsham’s journey to an opera stage here has been an astonishing trek that has taken her through Yale University, performances with the New York City Opera and, most recently, a major role in the Broadway smash A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, a hilarious musical that won seven Drama Desk Awards (including best musical and a best featured actress in a musical award for Worsham).
It also garnered 10 Tony nominations last year (including a best featured actress nod for Worsham). The show ultimately won four Tonys, including the award for best musical.
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But it all began for the 33-year-old Worsham right here in the Lone Star State.
“I was born and raised in Austin. Both sides of my family have been in Texas since the 1700s. My family has a ranch near Star. I feel kind of guilty about leaving and living in New York,” said Worsham, who now lives in Brooklyn with her husband, musician and composer Kyle Jarrow.
The petite (5-foot-1), brunette actress made it from Austin to New York by way of New Haven, Conn. She attended Yale, where she studied Spanish Literature (not music or theater), graduating cum laude.
But because she had always been a singer-actress (“I went to Texas all-state choir three years in a row,” she says proudly), she went to New York to conquer Broadway.
“I thought it was not going to happen, and I started doing more opera and new music,” said Worsham, who performed in operas such as Leonard Bernstein’s Candide and Benjamin Britten’s Turn of the Screw.
But then Gentleman’s Guide came along and gave Worsham one of the best starts on the Great White Way any actress could hope for.
“To be recognized in that way in my Broadway debut felt like an affirmation that I was doing the right thing,” says Worsham, who was absolutely radiant in the role of Phoebe D’Ysquith in Gentleman’s Guide.
But that is not to say it was easy.
“Doing eight shows a week for a year is a test,” said Worsham, who left the show recently to return to her work on opera and rock stages. “But I would love to go back to Gentleman’s Guide, if they needed somebody.
“Otherwise, the next Broadway show I do, I want it to be the right one. I want it to be an interesting character.”
Back to opera
In the meantime, we will be able to see her as Lisa, the role she created in Dog Days, an edgy, new opera with music by David T. Little and a libretto by Royce Vavrek.
“I met Royce when I first moved to New York after college. We hit it off and became really good friends,” says Worsham, who also performs in the highly theatrical pop-rock band, Sky-Pony, with Jarrow.
“And when he was developing this opera with David Little, he kind of had me in mind,” she says. “So I was one of the first people to sing anything written for Lisa. I guess I have kind of been involved with it since the beginning.”
Dog Days, a post-apocalyptic drama that debuted in Montclair, N.J., in 2012, is a far cry from the Gilbert & Sullivan-esque Gentleman’s Guide. In this new opera, Worsham portrays the adolescent daughter in a family that is struggling to survive in a world where starvation is a constant threat.
“I especially connected with the youthful energy of the character. Lisa represents hope in this story, and I have a lot of that, too,” explains Worsham, when asked how she is able to play a character as young as Lisa.
“And my husband would say I am like a 13-year-old. I like the Harry Potter books and things like that,” she says. “So, in a lot of ways, I am a 13-year-old girl. So that part of it is not so hard.”
But Little’s score does present her with some welcome challenges.
“I would say [Little] pushed me in the rhythm department. He started as a heavy metal drummer. So his rhythms are sometimes rockin’. He switches meter and switches time,” says Worsham, who knows her way around a pop song as well as she does a show tune.
“He is not one of those new composers who writes difficult music just to write difficult music. He is pulling from all these different resources: pop, heavy metal, classical, all over the board. So, it is not your regular opera.”
The opera’s musical director sees this work in a similar light.
“It is a piece that draws on a lot of influences. It reflects rock influences as well as musical theater and opera traditions. It has a rich genealogy. But it is so well fused together. It doesn’t feel at all like a hodgepodge. It feels very organic,” says Alan Pierson, who was also part of the creative team in that earlier production of Dog Days.
“The connection between the band and the singers is very intricate and very clear. There definitely are identifiable arias and duets that have very clear [thematic] material.”
Pierson is also a Worsham fan.
“Lauren so deeply inhabits the role of Lisa. It is always amazing to watch what she does with that role,” said Pierson, who will be conducting an ensemble of percussion, keyboards, electric guitar and bass, strings, and a clarinet for this production.
While praising its musical aspects, Pierson and Worsham also stress the power of the narrative of the opera, which is based on a short story by Judy Budnitz.
“Audiences [at the first production] tended to respond to the piece as a whole, rather than one particular element. It is a very emotional, visceral kind of journey that this opera takes you on. It is deeply affecting,” Pierson says.
“I would say that it is unlike any opera you have ever seen, and I would go so far as to say it is unlike any piece of theater you have ever seen. I think it will blow your mind,” Worsham says.
“Anyone who steps into that theater is going to be carried along for the ride. It is just so powerful,” she says. “I feel like I am putting my heart on the stage every night. There’s no way that you are not going to end up being moved in some way.”
So, since Worsham is obviously talented enough to do about anything she wants, what is her first choice among all these different stages she can play?
“In my ideal world, I would keep doing all of them. I did Gentleman’s Guide for a year. Right now I’m doing this opera,” says Worsham, who will perform in Dog Days again in a Los Angeles production in June. “And when I come back, I hope to record an album with my band, so that will be my focus.”
Voices of Lauren Worsham
If you would like to see and hear Lauren Worsham working in her non-opera areas of musical success, here are links to two examples.
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder