Jennifer Simard (Photo: Sarah Jenkins)
By Matthew Wexler
What’s your biggest regret of the summer? Not enough beach time? Too many mojitos? For theater fans, it’s the unlucky ones who missed snagging tickets to Jennifer Simard’s sold-out New York City solo debut at The Green Room 42 on September 9. The Tony-nominated actress is shedding her musical theater comedy skin for an originally conceived concert titled Stigma. Show tunes will take a backseat as Ms. Simard’s powerhouse vocals take on rock ‘n roll, alternative, pop, and even a jazz standard.
The Broadway Blog was able to sneak in a few minutes with the actress as she prepares for the big night while simultaneously rehearsing to step into the triple role of Mrs. Heron, Ms. Norbury, and Mrs. George in Mean Girls on September 11.
What inspired you to create Stigma?
This will be my first solo concert in New York City and I’ve lived here over 25 years. I was waiting until I had something that I was really passionate to sing and talk about. Christine Ebersole could sing from the phonebook and I’d go listen to her. I’m not going to sing Gershwin as well as her, but I love rock ‘n roll.
I’m a funny gal, but like most people, I have many facets and more interested in going to the bottom of the pool. While the patter is funny, the songs are exciting and there’s a real arc, with stories about myself that I hope people can take with them and relate to their own lives.
I’ve been working on it for well over a year but didn’t start working in earnest with my team until March because I was in Hello, Dolly! eight shows a week. One of the reasons I didn’t renew my contract was so I could have the negative space on the painting, so to speak, so I could hone in on all of this.
The promotional photo is terrific.
I wanted to do a high-end, couture straight jacket, so I wore a white leather jacket with these belts around it and my friend Sarah Jenkins, who is a brilliant photographer, came out with me on the streets of New York. I had a very clear vision of the show and what I wanted.
People who know me were so surprised by the photo. (“The dark lips…it’s so goth… it isn’t you.”) But it is me. It’s a big side of me.
How did the arrangements come about?
I’ve been working with Steve Marzullo, my fabulous musical director. Anyone who’s done one of these shows will tell you that the musical director is the MVP. We’ve collaborated so closely to make the arrangements tell the dramatic story we want to tell. I also have two featured performers and some of the best musicians in the city.
I reveal a lot about myself and what some of my obstacles have been. The day before we announced the show, I was so nervous — what will people think? — and then the next day the beautiful and brave Patti Murin posted on Instagram about calling out of Frozen because of an anxiety attack. For me, it was a sign… I’m not the only one who wants to talk about this kind of thing. My stuff is different from hers but it’s all of the same ilk, and I feel like the only way to de-stigmatize these things is to start talking about it more and for everyone to tell their stories.
Do you think the public has certain expectations because of your previous work?
People have wanted to know – is it funny? And it’s just surprised me. I’m not a brand. I’m a person. I’ve gotten this message that comedy is my brand, but I’ve had training in Shakespeare and all kinds of things. So I’m really excited about the show for those reasons because I had no idea I was perceived that way in my professional life. But if I were a brand, it’d be that Walt Whitman quote:
Do I contradict myself?
Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.
Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor. Read more of his work at wexlerwrites.com.