Isabel Santiago (#isabeltressmixtress) and Making Friends in Musical Theatre

As a writer, it is very difficult to try and find actors who are not only interested in your work but are interested in you as a person. Being that I'm recently single, there are moments of weakness, moments when I long for a little bit of companionship, and here is my lesson (#lessont or #liiistenooohnooo) of the day. Sometimes we are blessed with meeting new friends and old friends. When you come from the place of a fan of musical theatre, you should branch out into the world of singing new musical theatre (#thetreeshavefeelstoo) and land in a place where you are able to share the story of a person who grows from friend to family to a kindred soul right before your very eyes. Step into the vortex (#vortrexius) and meet Isabel Santiago (#santiagrrl #nightingale) and her boyf Justin Gregory Lopez. (#lopeyahhs!) 

#Isabel Santiago (#isabeltressmixtress) and #Justin Gregory Lopez

This is a story of a fangirl whose dreams were made real through circumstance and some small world realness. And of course, that fangirl is me. 

When I was a sophomore (#thrrdsemester), I snagged the lead as Horton the Elephant in the first BFA Musical presented at AMDA. Of course. I had no problem with that because I did a great production of it and knew the musical really well. Well, not that well apparently because I realized that I had worked on a Junior version that ran a lot smoother as far as cutting the fat from the story. It's the kind of moment where you think you know a show and until you are in a full production with so much talent (#chykkahhjahhhcksoooon! #waitingforliife #mb2), you realize how monumental working with a great director can be and then how he can pave the way for you to be standing in New York at the Public… Getting ahead of myself. #putthosepiecestogethrr 

That Cahllback Tho… #sweatingfordinah (I think that's her name…)

Let's start by saying this. Everyone wanted to be The Cat in the Hat and everyone wanted to work with Michael Sartor. So, it was pretty much down to me and a handful of people in my grade and some higher semesters. I wouldn't call what I had “confidence,” I would call it unafraid of tackling something that I lost in myself. As a kid who grew up with too big of a sweet tooth, I turned to theatre as a crutch. And that crutch was putting on a perforrrmaahnce. I was the kind of kid who knew every word to every song playing on the radio or on a cassette tape. I even have the most busted of takes on The Hunchback of Notre Dame. You know the ones that are like The Hunchback Under The Bells and it's like a little fuzzy? Well, fuzzy was he, oh screw it. 

So, in that callback, not only did I have to sing with all the JoJos of the world. I had to dance and give you OHRIGINALLL “What you Think About Seuss”-ography and all I wanted to be was the elephant under the tree. Those paddle turns (#tooturntforwords) that I learned in Quidom were not the business here. Bitches were coming for me. And why do I have to stand in the middle of the entire cahllbacked group of peers and pretend that I was posing in a jungle? Was this method acting? I don't know. All I can remember (or #remembert) is that I showed up in a gray long sleeved shirt that was tucked into my ratchet khakhis with awful shoes that I got at a K-mart. For the dance call, it was probably something colorful so I could be hang out and be one of The Wickhersham Brothers. (Side note – Who in my busted production of Seussical were the Wickersham… Sisters. #thankyoumry.) Probably the ratchet green V-neck that I always wore. Moving on. And there's that CAHST LIST!

That CAHST LIST tho… (#snoopers, losers, #haters #measurethatliiifetobegintt)

So. It was me. I was Horton The Elephant. I was in. Except for when that one crackhead said she was gonna fight me if I didn't sing louder. I remember you Miss Crackhead. You tried it. For real. She did that. And the rehearsal process became such a blur because suddenly there were lists and there was a stage manager and then a student stage manager and then Michael Sartor was creating harmonies for me and we were rehearsing non-stop. And I also made Dance Twerkshop… Oof, I mean Workshop, where I then got bumped from one of the dances that I was a lead in by my mahsterful teacher Simeon Den… (#dent #noshittinginthewoods #nopoopinginthewoods #sitzbones #movingupindahnnce) but I got to work with Chryssie Whitehead. Then she punched me in the nuts. Ooh wait, that was confidential. She totally said sorry. Lol. 

And the rehearsal process really was everything. I made sure to give the performance of my life. I met Tippie Hedron, I got to chat with her about all of the animals she took care of on Michael Jackson's ranch. (#haveyouseenmychildhood #nohaveyouseentmrbrgesssingdaht?) I got more praise from that performance than anything I've ever gotten in my life. 

And that's how I met Kirsten Sanderson. Ugh. This woman truly changed my life. 

Invited Cahllback – Matt Lemp (#hesmybud)

Okay, so after I did the first BFA Musical at AMDA as Horton the Elephant, I was asked by a fahhncy lady of the theatre, Kirsten Sanderson, to audition for her production of Serious Money. By none other than Matt Lemp, who does something still for AMDA LA, I hope. He was kind of the main AV person, I guess in addition to working on all the shows. Who really knows how that works? “Not I,” said the one who tried it. 

P.S.S. We also rehearsed Seussical with rehearsal tracks, which were constantly interrupting me when I was trying to connect with my inner animal guide. #dumboo. So it would constantly interrupt us in the middle of all our moments. Thanks, Jerome. 

So, I was given the pages to Serious Money and I had no idea how the #ESTUARY I was going to be able to make this happen and that's when I got bumped to a different voice teacher. And guess who I got to play? The daaaaad. It was rough for me to learn how to Method act when people were playing Stock Market stuff and I don't really care about that, so how did I learn how to play a dad? Well, I imitated my new voice teacher, who was this British dude (#owweerss #ohhhnweers) who taught me how to screlt for the Gods by pretending that I was holding my nose and singing through a straw. That West End approach to singing has saved my life and made me so interested in dialect work. However, at the time, everyone knew that I was imitating my voice teacher and he saw me in the musical and felt like it was a good representation of him as a voice teacher. So there you go. Still can't take a quaver from a #crackkrt. But my sight singing has gotten a lot better, thanks Michael Brill. Ohh… I was in Sight Singing 1. K. You're welcome. Where that circle of fifths ahht? 

Now, we would spend our time working on all of my rep stuff even though he was supposed to be helping me with my legit training. I never would quite pass the Classical Voice stuff but as long as I was letting him know how I was feeling, my schedule could be changed around. Seriously actors, you need a voice teacher. Even if it's speech stuff or voice stuff. My recommendation (#reccomendationt) is hire a voice teacher that you trust and also learn that it's okay to let a voice teacher (or #teachnrr) go as well when you're ready to find someone who can help you sing better. 

Post Partem Blues (#anothervortrexius) (#herecomessantiaggrl)

Sorry. Monologuing as per usual. So, cut to – I'm in a Youtube vortex and I'm maybe looking at a Shoshana Bean video (#shoshantria #beant #ohhbsessed) and this video from this girl, Isabel Santiago, came up in one of the side boxes. She had an interesting quality, really neat voice, but I never understood where she was coming from as an actor. When Lin (#Lint) Manuel (#Manuelt) Miranda (#Mirandtra) announced the In the Heights Tour with a press release, I read a very familiar name. Isabel Santiago. At the Pantages, I was the girl that got yelled at for taking a picture of the set with my cell phone. But to be honest, I had just missed In The Heights in New York and I didn't want to believe the hype. Then, one Christmas Break, I'm sitting at home and bawling my eyes out at the PBS special while researching everything about In The Heights, learning the music, and singing all the songs, and I was the girl crying my eyes out at every moment that related to my own sense of family, my own sense of insecurity, and my pride to be a Latino who's killing it (#stepstepstepballchangeballchange) in the new musical theatre game. 

Also the fact that they left out the track where the guy from DLG is screlting to heavens kills me every day. Huey Dunbar, I haven't forgotten about you. But, at the very least, I learned how to Piragua. Oh wait. No. I'm not there yet. That vortrexius, though… 

Isabel Santiago was playing Daniela and everything was optioned up, it was flawless, on fleek, and she was nailing the character so well. I love that show and even got to play the Piragua Guy at MOC in Montclair under Bob Cline, who was serving me all the choreo, all the notes, and made me feel so comfortable to represent my people well. I've never quite mastered the Lin Track; however, playing the supporting role that gets to partner dance for his life, option up as he pleases, (#thankyoueliseoroohmaant!) and sneak in a dirty joke is good enough for me. 

My boy, Gonzalo Valencia, who M-D'ed me on it, helped me to connect to my inner tresh leches and I was obsessed. Optioning up until my voice was almost gone. But that salsa bow at the end saved my life. #savethelyricist

When You're Destined to Meet and Greet…

So, this past year, I met Isabel in person through a benefit called Muse Match and we wrote her a song called “Color and Sound.” Unfortunately, when you work with an actor who is too famous for words, sometimes you have to be able to let them go. (“I replaced what you gave to me with yellows and greens…” – My bridge. Thanks, Dave. #lolt) Isabel made it very clear to me that with the power of friendship, you can be a positive influence in the community. I kept on trying to go in the direction of a love song but what she taught me was that you don't have to win the night – sometimes, you have to make a friend. Her story is her story and it should be her story to keep. But it's so inspiring to the kids like me who dream of opening a door for someone else. 

At The Opening Night Party. (#cliffhanggrl)

At the opening night party of her show at The Public, I was able to see Kirsten Sanderson again, getting toasted by Oskar Eustis, standing with one my #grrlfriends, and living my life. I met her boyfriend, Justin Gregory, a graduate of MONTCLAIR STATE UNIVERSITY (#tree) with a B.F.HEYY, and he was such a gentleman. I thought to myself, “That's how a lady wants to be treated.” (“Loving you is not a choice, it's who I am.” – Fosca, Passion) Gents, it's not about being whipped, it's about being a man. And Justin Gregory Lopez is a man. How do I know this? Because he and I are from the same town, where men have to learn to be brave and show compassion for themselves with a little tough love and a little bit of prayer. Maybe not prayer. Maybe lots of Corontras. And I was able to network (#nettwrk) and feel like the coolest kid on the block. That show was First Daughter Suite, written by one of my heroes, Michael John LaChiusa. That man has written some of the most beautiful songs for women I have ever heard. His work treads on history and science fiction and a little bit of slick rhyming, and it gave me liiiife. No, seriously, weeping like a willow. And living at the same time. So strange how that twerks, whoops, I mean works.

Well played, Michael John Lachiusa. Well played, Kirsten Sanderson. Well played, Isabel Santiago and Justin Gregory. And well played to all of my teachers who taught me it's okay to be a little jealous when someone you love has the nerve to say that they're ready to move on. That's courage.

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