Sharon Sachs and Madison Kauffman in ‘Numbers Nerds.’ (Photo: Hunter Canning via The Broadway Blog.)
by Matthew Wexler
The New York Musical Festival is underway, and with it, creative talent from across the U.S. is descending upon midtown Manhattan for nearly a month of world premieres, concert readings, symposiums and more. Riding that wave is funny lady Sharon Sachs, one of Hollywood’s go-to character actresses who has appeared on Weeds, Dexter, and for three seasons as the former medical examiner Harper on Grimm. Theater credits include a Joseph Jefferson Award-nominated performance as Madame Thénardier in Drury Lane Theatre’s Les Misérables.
Sachs joins the company of Numbers Nerds, a new musical by Laura Stratford (book), David Kornfeld (music), Alex Higgin-Houser (lyrics), Larry Little (story) and Dylan MarcAurele (additional music).
Numbers Nerds follows the trials and tribulations of an almost all-girl high school math team from Waukesha, Wisconsin as they compete in the National Math SUM-IT, with Sachs playing teaching and confidant Ms. McGrey. Here’s what she has to say about living an actor’s life and why she chose to spend the summer in sweltering New York City as part of the NYMF.
So we met performing in a children’s theater production of Charlotte’s Web at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook, Illinois. Do you miss dressing up like a barnyard animal?
My inner animal is a lamb so I feel as though, yeah, it’s not a far stretch me. It’s funny, I was visiting with Blake Hammond, who originated the role of Wilbur in that production and is now on the national tour of Something Rotten! and we were reminiscing about dressing up in animal costumes — the work is the work!
With a successful career in Chicago, why did you want to move to Los Angeles?
(With a chuckle) You know, my choices don’t always make a lot of sense. I enjoy on-camera work and had auditioned for a TV pilot in Chicago and I booked it, they flew me to LA, I did the pilot and it didn’t get picked up but I got an agent and representation and I really wanted to try it and do that kind of work.
There wasn’t really anything shooting in Chicago at that time and had some success with commercials and things like that. I booked a few things and I’m in the game. I don’t mind the auditions and the camera work. It’s really fun. There’s an immediacy: you lay it down and it’s gone. And then you move on to the next thing — it’s intriguing to me.
But I’ve always had a connection to Chicago. For ten years, I returned each season to do A Christmas Carol at The Goodman Theatre and I’d be able to see my family in Rockford, IL. I was very grateful and spoiled rotten with that gig! The Chicago theater community is very special and auditioning for theater in Los Angeles is different. Most of it is non-paying and I didn’t feel that was right as an Equity actor.
Yet you’ve maintained your Chicago connections – how would you describe the differences in the creative communities between the two cities?
It’s interesting. Both communities are packed with creative, amazing people. I’m so happy that my life is involved with creative people. I can’t imagine being embraced in the fashion that I am, even socially, without those knowing those kinds of people.
Both cities are similar as far as the work goes: the work is serious in both places. There are theatrically trained actors, of course, in both places. But imagine a room where all the well-groomed, handsome people are on one side. It’s sort of like that! All the well-appointed faces end up in L.A. — and I sometimes think to myself, ‘There are no flaws in this room!’ Even the nerds look good.
There’s also something about “type” in L.A. Every day you have to put on that mask because [casting directors] expect you to be “that” person and the more you mix it up the more you confuse people. And yet, there are fabulous people in Chicago, of course, who embrace the fact that you can mix it up.
Much of the theater in L.A. is celebrity-driven (which is happening in New York, too.) Any actress over 40 is considered a character woman so there’s plenty to choose from, which makes it that much more competitive.
Can you tell us a little bit about Numbers Nerds and your role?
This is what intrigued me: It’s a family show but what I love about it when I read the script is that it’s got strong minded, intelligent women. Four girls are competing as mathletes in high school. They each have their own personality types but are driven by the fact they enjoy doing math more than boys or more than being popular, I just loved that. We need more writing like that. I had only met director/choreographer Amber Mak a couple of times, but producer and story writer Larry Little and I go way back — we did theater together in our 20s. Those are the people you remember and want to work with again and again.
My character, Ms. McGery, is reminiscent of Mrs. Garrett from The Facts of Life. She’s funny at times but also chimes in when there’s an adult problem to solve. She offers a bit of levity, holding up a mirror to the girls and asking them, who are you? This is the time in your life to find out. I’m not like that in real life so I love playing those kinds of characters!
Are you good at math?
I’m really good at practical math and great at geometry. I suck at algebra. I got a C+ and I worked really hard for that.
Peter Jay Sharp Theater
416 West 42nd Street, NYC
Various times, through July 23
Mathew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor. Follow him on social media at @roodeloo.