Broadway Connection Teaching Artist Leah Hofmann is a St. Louis native who currently resides in New York City when she’s not touring with Something Rotten! She’s a former Rockette who’s now performed on Broadway and across the country in various productions.
Dancing in the ensemble of Something Rotten!, Hofmann plays a part in presenting the much-loved musical numbers that led to the production being nominated for 10 Tony Awards. Set in the 1590s, the show tells the story of Nick and Nigel Bottom, two brothers who are eager to write their own successful play while the “rock star” William Shakespeare keeps stealing the spotlight. Soon the duo sets out to pen the world’s very first musical.
Something Rotten! will next visit Las Vegas, NV; San Francisco, CA; and another 25 locations through May 20, 2018. Hear more from Hofmann about her career thus far, what the tour has been like and how she seeks to inspire young artists in her Broadway Connection classes.
Leah, to first introduce yourself, can you share a bit about your background in the performing arts?
“I began dancing at age four and continued in St. Louis throughout my high school years, learning ballet, tap, jazz and modern. I jumped into choir and community theater during elementary, middle and high school, always working on my singing and acting skills, as well as dancing.
However, growing up into the 5ʼ10” female that I am today, I often found myself in the dance chorus of shows, dreaming of the opportunity to one day work with Susan Stroman, who always appreciates a tall dancer on stage.
After high school, I opted for a bachelors/masters degree in physical therapy from the University of Missouri-Columbia. Throughout my college studies, I continued to take dance, acting and voice classes and auditioned at every opportunity. Alas, I became a Radio City Rockette during my last year of school (and with the universityʼs cooperation was able to finish my degree), and I moved to New York following college graduation.
Since arriving in New York City, I still explore several modes of storytelling through acting, dance, singing, puppetry, writing and Etch-A-Sketch artwork. A few projects in my performance repertoire include the national tour of Young Frankenstein (with Susan Stroman!), the Broadway productions of War Horse and Big Fish, the Metropolitan Operaʼs The Merry Widow, Hagoromo at BAM (a puppetry/dance piece featuring Wendy Whelan), puppetry shows at St. Annʼs Warehouse, a couple shows at the Salzburg Opera Festival in Austria and, most recently, Something Rotten! on Broadway at the iconic St. James Theater.”
So what do you consider your ‘big break’?
“I venture to say I have had two ‘big breaks’ in my career, for which I am continually grateful. Besides performing professionally in regional theater at the St. Louis Muny Opera, my first big break occurred in 2007, when cast as a Radio City Rockette for the Radio City Christmas Spectacular at the Grand Ole Opry. I performed there in Nashville as a Rockette for two subsequent Christmas seasons, and I appreciated the sisterhood of Rockettes even more so upon moving to New York in January 2009.
And in 2011, I returned to New York from the National Tour of Young Frankenstein, and I craved exploring a new mode of storytelling. I didn’t know what that even meant at the time, but I knew I needed to switch it up a bit. Within a few months, my agent called to ask if I would like to be submitted for an audition seeking puppeteers for the Broadway show War Horse, which had recently achieved critical acclaim here in the states and had won several Tony Awards. Now, at this point, I enjoyed puppets, but I had zero professional experience puppeteering. But something in me said, ‘Sure, why not?’ Immediately, I felt this connection to the idea of puppeteering, and I had not even seen the show at that point. Sure enough, I received the audition appointment, and I showed up at Lincoln where I was the only female auditioning in this round of workshop-based auditions. Long story short, I proceeded through the auditions, each time gaining confidence and excitement for this new art form and mode of storytelling in my life. It was the first time I truly felt like the creative team took a risk on me as an artist and believed that I could achieve something deeper than I ever imagined.”
You are currently cast in the Something Rotten! National Tour. What’s your favorite scene to perform in the show? Why?
“I truly love the opening number, ‘Welcome to the Renaissance’. Except for short cameos by Shakespeare, Portia and Brother Jeremiah, it is the ensembleʼs responsibility for introducing the story and inviting the audience into the Renaissance. Something Rotten! offers a vital role for its ensemble to create the tone of the entire piece. I mean, how cool that we are the first thing the audience sees and hears?”
For this production, you are performing choreography by Tony Award nominee Casey Nicholaw. What’s it like performing his movement numerous times a week? How do you keep it ‘fresh’?
“Well, who doesn’t love a show full of classic tap dancing and a whole lot of Renaissance Zumba? In fact, we receive a lot of praise as a show for having so much tap dancing, something not a lot of shows indulge in these days. I would be lying if I said I wasnʼt exhausted during a five-show weekend, but what always picks me back up are my fellow castmates. This is an incredible group of creative, inventive performers who are all comedians in their own unique way. Without a doubt, someone makes me giggle and brightens my show each night, and I hope to do the same for others – without being distracting or neglecting to tell the story, of course.
The other aspect to remember is that each performance is the first time this audience is seeing this show. In fact, especially on a national tour, there are people in the audience who have never seen a live theatrical event prior to this. Donʼt we owe them the best experience we are able give?”
Based on your experience, what does it take to stay strong and always be at your best when on a national tour?
“I cannot stress enough the importance of listening to your body and tending to it as needed. With my degree in Physical Therapy, I am a strong advocate for injury prevention. I try to strengthen and stretch the areas of my body that need the most attention. I have to face my weaknesses and address them before they become an issue! Also, getting enough rest is not only beneficial to my muscles, bones and nerves, but it is also essential for supporting my mind and spirit.
In terms of mindset, I love taking advantage of this tour life to explore our country and all it has to offer. I truly enjoy appreciating the local food, unique landscapes and the tourist activities. Iʼm always a supporter of achieving a goal in each city, whether it is finding the art museum or collecting a sticker from each stop on tour. This also helps the endeavor of keeping the show fresh. If every day is different, filled with new activities, then you arrive at the theater a new person filled with new experiences every night.”
What’s one aspect of this tour that’s different from anything you’ve done in your career thus far?
“As Something Rotten! is an original story with original music, we have the thrill of sharing this production with our audience who have no idea what they are getting into each night. This is the first time they are hearing these jokes and appreciating the cleverness of the music and lyrics. We get to hear their response and appreciate the fact that they donʼt know how it is going to end. I have never before toured an original piece, not one based on a movie or book or an iconic stage production such as the Rockettes.
Also, we are thrilled on tour to enjoy the frequent visits of our writers and composer, Karey Kirkpatrick, Wayne Kirkpatrick and John OʼFarrell. This is their first collaboration on a theatrical piece, and they love hanging out with us and appreciating the entire company. Itʼs an honor to get to know them, their families, and it truly makes this a unique experience in my career.”
As a Broadway Connection Teaching Artist, how do you seek to inspire young artists?
“As a teacher, I encourage musicality, stage presence and the importance of telling a story. Yes, performing on stage is gratifying, and we actors achieve a thrill from it, but it is essentially not about us. It is about engaging with the audience and portraying the message the authors originally intended.
In my Broadway Connection classes, I encourage students to take into account all of the interactions on and off stage, whether it is with your fellow actor, the stagehand in the wing, the conductor or the audience member in the third balcony. All of these interactions shape the experience of the show each night, which makes every performance unique and is essentially why we love live theater.”
Do you have any advice you’d like to share with young artists and their teachers? For students who dream of being on Broadway or in a national tour?
“I will always and forever continue to encourage everyone to never stop learning. Always stay curious about the world and all it has to offer. You never know when a new skill will take you and your art to a new level. Even if it doesnʼt directly influence your work on stage, it will keep your mind active, your spirit joyful and your heart engaged.
This especially helps with dealing with rejection, which we actors know all too well. It helps alleviate the weight of each audition and only helps develop artists into well-rounded human beings.”
Lastly, why should everyone come see Something Rotten! on tour?
“Because you are bound to laugh and have a good time. I guarantee the show will bring a smile to your face and add a skip to your step. And during this time in our lives when we hear continuous disheartening news stories from our nation and world, who could ask for anything more?”
For more information on Something Rotten!, visit www.rottenbroadway.com. To learn more about Broadway Connection, head to www.broadwayconnection.net.
By Chelsea Thomas of Dance Informa.
All photos courtesy of Leah Hofmann.