For Pittsburgh Theatre
The Popular Kara Lindsay
October 10, 2018
Anyone who has seen Kara Lindsay on stage knows she’s a star. The petite actress steals the scene no matter what she’s doing on the stage. She’s bubbly, pretty, strong, and funny. Those who would guess that she is just as vibrant off-stage as she is on are absolutely right. Lindsay is vivacious, energetic, and incredibly friendly.
The first time that we met was at the cast party for Pittsburgh CLO’s Titanic because her husband, Broadway actor Kevin Massey, had starred in it. Lindsay was a highly anticipated cast-party guest by all of us working at the CLO, and we were thrilled that she would be attending. She graciously spoke with everyone, not just answering questions about herself but asking them of the people she spoke to as well. She’s easy to talk to and likes to laugh. She has a sweet voice and is funny when she tells stories. She’s casual, interjects jokes, and is very playful.
While Lindsay didn’t perform with the CLO this season, she has connections to Pittsburgh. She graduated from Carnegie Mellon University and has fond memories of her four years at school. When she discovers that I am a CMU student she excitedly proclaims us “family!” While she was in town to see Kevin perform in Titanic and The Full Monty, they went over to campus and walked around. Later, Kevin told me that when they went into Purnell Center for the Arts on campus to see one of her old drama professors, a group of high school kids at CMU for a summer drama camp were all excited when they saw her. “They were squealing and saying, ‘Oh it’s Kara Lindsay!’” Kevin said proudly.
Lindsay grew up in Rochester, New York dreaming of being a professional soccer player like Mia Hamm or figure skater like Kristi Yamaguchi. She had always danced competitively, doing tap, jazz, and ballet. It wasn’t until sixth grade that Lindsay got roped into musical theater.
Her middle school director needed a few more tap-dancing cops in their production of Pirates of Penzance, and because her friends were doing the show and Lindsay could tap dance, she agreed to do it – but only if she could be in the back. She enjoyed the team-like spirit of the cast and making people smile and laugh, so she continued to perform in her middle school and high school shows. With each experience she loved performing more and appreciated the journey of putting on a show. She traveled to Europe with her school’s show choir, performing in the streets and at the Vatican. In her family, Lindsay is the only performer. Her older sister is a speech pathologist and has a beautiful singing voice according to Lindsay but is shy, so the Lindsay sisters have never sung together.
When it came time for Lindsay to audition for college drama programs, she actually had not planned on auditioning for CMU. “I auditioned for eight schools and got into Fredonia and Carnegie Mellon,” she said. “I wasn’t going to audition at CMU because I’d heard rumors that they were snobby. I was like, ‘I don’t want to be around people like that. I don’t do well with people I like that; I just sort of crawl into my hole.’ But then a friend of mine also auditioned and said they didn’t think that was true and I should form my own opinions, so I did. I remember I was there at CMU auditioning on my birthday, and it was magical. I was like, ‘I love this place, and everyone is so nice,’ and it was a different energy than the other universities. It’s all a matter of opinion and subjective, so for me I felt connected to CMU in a way I didn’t feel connected to the other schools. It was serendipity that I got in there, and it’s a great one.”
After graduating, Lindsay originated the role of Laura Ingalls in the Guthrie Theater’s production of Little House on the Prairie in Minneapolis. It was during that show that she met her future husband, Kevin Massey. She and Massey continued with the show through a five-week engagement at Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey and the year-long First National Tour. Lindsay played Laura Ingalls (Wilder), and Massey played Ingalls’ beau, Almanzo.
Lindsay might be best known for her starring role in the hit 2012 Broadway musical, Disney's Newsies. She played Katherine Plumber, a high-spirited and strong-willed newspaper reporter, determined to make her own way in the 1899 male-controlled newspaper industry. Newsies tells the true story of the Newsboy Strike of 1899. Led by the fictional Jack Kelly, a rag-tag band of newspaper boys form a union and then strike against newspaper moguls Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst. With music by Alan Menken, the striking newsboys are flipping, singing, and dancing every which way across the stage.
Lindsay played Katherine with a perfect balance of cute quirkiness and resolve which immediately endeared her to the hearts of the audience. And while Lindsay had many songs in the show and got to show off her dancing skills, her biggest number, “Watch What Happens,” was a show-stopper. She sang the fast patter song at the desk of her typewriter and reflected every writer’s stream of consciousness.
Originally a 1992 Disney movie starring Christian Bale, Newsies was not destined for Broadway. “It’s been a series of constant surprises,” Lindsay reflects. “It started at Paper Mill Playhouse. We were told that we were doing it purely for licensing, because there were many illegal productions of Newsies going around in the schools – including my school. It was very common, so they were trying to remedy that and create a show that they could put on instead of just yanking the script off of the movie. But the fan following was so intense and wonderful that it forced Disney to look at a Broadway run, because they realized that there was an audience for it.
“So they looked for a theater, and the Nederlander was open. We went in for a limited run on Broadway and that was an incredible surprise and wonderful. That was my Broadway debut. It changed my life. I had been going in for a lot of auditions but hadn’t made it to Broadway yet. That was a very, very happy surprise that my Broadway debut was a Disney musical and I got to play a Disney ‘princess.’ It was really special and then that limited run turned into an extended run and then into an unlimited run."
Lindsay starred in Newsies for two years and then left in 2014 to join the touring cast of Wicked, soon leading her to Wicked on Broadway. Newsies closed that year on Broadway but began a successful tour. Lindsay thought that Newsies was behind her, but she got the opportunity to reprise her role as Katherine in 2016 in a special filmed production.
“I’d thought that the Broadway run was it. I’d done Newsies; it was very special. And then I remember two years after the Broadway run had ended, Jeremy [Jordan] contacted me. He called me and told me that they were going to make a movie of Newsies and he’d only do it if I did it. Then two months later, Disney called my agent and said, ‘We’re making this movie, and it’s going to be at the Pantages [in LA] where the [Newsies] tour will be, so we’ll pause the tour for a week and film each day and then do one live performance with an audience and film that as well.’ So, Jeremy and I got to do it again, and Andrew Keenan-Bolger and Ben Fankhauser. Tommy Bracco came back and the twin boys David and Jacob Guzman. It was really special and nostalgic. It was so crazy wonderful. It was one of those euphoric moments in your life that you want to hold on to and be able to look back and know exactly how it feels. That’s what I literally got to do. Not many people get that opportunity to go back to that euphoric, dream-come-true moment. It’s just so cool that I got to experience that again, it brought tears to all our eyes. And now we have this movie that we can look at and reference and show our grandkids someday.”
The filmed production was shown in theaters in May of 2017 for a limited three-day event, but it was so successful that it was released digitally on Amazon Prime and Netflix and also was in theaters July 26 and 28 of this year for an encore screening.
Newsies has maintained its popularity and has gathered a huge following of “fansies.” The fansies are so dedicated that for the past five years the alums of the Newsies Broadway and touring casts have gotten together to do reunion concerts at New York’s prestigious 54 Below.
Lindsay’s celebrity (though she laughs and protests when I use the word) has given her a huge following of fans, most of whom follow her on social media. “Social media,” Lindsay muses. “I love it for some reasons, and don’t like for a lot of others. I don’t really know what to make of it. I think I’m trying to embrace it and it’s also a great way to connect with all the other theater-lovers and adolescents that want to do this. I never had that opportunity to connect with people on Broadway by looking at social media – that wasn’t a thing. I would buy the programs and that was my connection; that was it. So now they can have basically a FaceTime conversation with their favorite celebrity – that’s how I feel with the celebrities on Instagram Stories like 'Oh, my God they’re right there,' so it can be cool. But it can create this perfect sheen that you are able to edit, and that’s something that is hard. When I’m looking at social media it looks like everyone leads perfect lives. It’s this fairytale picture book. It’s so misleading. I try to deal with it in a positive way and try not to hate it. If I see things that look very perfect, I try hard to recognize that it probably isn’t. It’s not just me; it’s a lot of us in this business. We talk about it all the time.”
Despite Lindsay’s great success on stage, she still gets stage fright. It’s surprising since she looks so comfortable on stage and is so friendly and engaging. Meditation and being able to let things go, Lindsay says, helps. “I grew up really shy, like my sister. I guess I just therapy myself through being on stage. There’s a safety when you’re on stage, feeling like it’s just you and your castmates. The lights sort of blind you and make you feel like it’s just you guys. But then there’s this beautiful response that happens from the audience because they’re listening to your story. When I first started doing this, I thought that response would scare me because I’d be seen. But more than anything it felt like more of a conversation. I loved that. It made me feel invited – like we were in it together. It didn’t make me feel judged necessarily. It was exciting and thrilling to share it with whomever was in the audience. I deal with stage fright on a daily basis because a lot of us in the business are insecure because we’re in front of people all the time. So, the insecurity and the fear of messing up in front of thousands of people is something I deal with.”
Lindsay has a conversational way of speaking, like she’s talking with an old friend and not just completing an interview. “I think it’s because we care about what we do so much. We’re not just clocking in. We’re coming in to do what we really really love, and we want to do it justice. We want to do it well, and I think that stage fright comes from a fear of not putting our best foot forward when we have this amazing opportunity to step out on a Broadway stage. It feels like, for me, this heightened thing that I looked forward to my entire childhood and then to be here and be like, ‘Oh God, now I’m going to mess it all up.’ It’s this stupid weight that we put on ourselves. It’s not heart surgery; we get to play!”
After Newsies, Lindsay left to join the 2nd North American Tour of the hit musical Wicked, which tells the story of the two witches of Oz at Shiz University together before the events of The Wizard of Oz. Lindsay landed one of the two leads, the silly, blonde witch Glinda, “the good witch of the North.” The casting decision took her by surprise.
“Glinda was unexpected too. I was going in for Nessa Rose a lot, and I made it to the final callbacks and it didn’t go my way – this is before Newsies. I was totally devastated; it was my dream to be in that show. I never thought I could do Glinda. I had asked my agents if I could go in for it, but when I saw the show I honestly did not think, ‘Oh, that’s the role I’m going to play.’ I didn’t believe in myself enough to think I could do it, because it’s a lot and it’s hard. And also I’m a brunette. When I’m looking at roles I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s me. That’s the brunette person.’”
Shallow and ditzy, Glinda is far different from Lindsay and challenged the actress to figure out the character. Lindsay saw this as an opportunity. “We find bits of each character that relate to ourselves. I’m very quirky, silly, and weird, so that’s her core. She’s not necessarily earthy or grounded, and I am in a lot of ways, so that’s hard, but she becomes much more grounded. She has a journey. I really understand that. Young Kara was bouncy and silly and crazy, so I just have to access that. It was the right time, I guess. I just didn’t see it at the time when I was younger and going in for Nessa. You never know what’s down the road for you. I loved doing that role and telling her story.”
Lindsay clearly mastered the role because, after just eight months on tour, she was cast as Glinda on Broadway where she performed for over a year.
Most recently Lindsay has been playing Cynthia Weil in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical on Broadway. She played the role in 2017, but her contract was short, and she’d hoped to return. In June of this year she was able to rejoin the cast and has been performing with them since.
Lindsay is a talented performer and one that CMU is proud to call an alumna. Be sure to catch her in Beautiful!
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