Broadway Stars Reveal Their Backstage Secrets

Jeryl Brunner

Eight times a week, Broadway actors give their all on stage. They belt. They strut. They bring it! But what transpires behind the scenes? How do they prep before stepping in front of the footlights? What meaningful mementoes do they keep in their dressing rooms? And how do they connect with their fans at the stage door? Below, Broadway stars from Aladdin, Pretty Woman and Anastasia give us a glimpse into their secret pre- and post-show worlds.

Arielle Jacobs (Princess Jasmine in Aladdin )

Beloved dressing room items: I have a 3½-by-5 foot handmade Afghan rug on my wall. When I was in Farhad or the Secret of Being, my director gave it to me. I performed the entire solo show on this rug, which transformed into different environments in my mind. On another wall is a framed painting of two birds in a cherry blossom tree that my mother made. She recently retired as a nurse and began painting stunning images using Chinese ink and watercolor on rice paper. My mom was born to Filipino parents in Japan. Her mixed heritage found an outlet in her artwork, which blends East and West. It’s an inspiration to me because I am a blend of cultures too. I have a Filipina mother who was raised in Japan and a Russian/Polish/Jewish father who was raised in Brooklyn and Los Angeles.

Stage door standout moment: A girl named Anna gave me a hand-painted box with Jasmine’s lyrics from “Follow Your Heart.” Inside were tiny handmade clay figures of me in roles that I’ve played: Jasmine (Aladdin), Nina (In the Heights), Gabriella (High School Musical) and Nessarose (Wicked). Each character is wearing accurate costumes! It was so mind-blowing to receive such an intricate and thoughtful handmade gift from a fan.

Pre-show preparation: I usually arrive at the theater about an hour before the curtain rises and do a full vocal and breath warm-up. It’s really important to warm up my voice and my breath before the show and stretch the muscles in my mouth and around my lungs and diaphragm. Singing is a full-body sport, and Broadway is the Olympics. Your body needs to be awakened to be warm, relaxed and activated in the correct places to play the right notes with the right tones. Once I dress in the costume and tiara, the transformation to Jasmine happens easily. The whole outfit actually makes me feel regal. I’m grateful to our incredible costume designer, Gregg Barnes, for making my job easier.

Max Von Essen. Photo: Matthew Murphy

Max Von Essen (Soviet officer Gleb in Anastasia )

Beloved dressing room items: I have a portrait painted by my dear friend William Ivey Long, a Tony-winning costume designer. We share an alma mater [University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill]. Recently I was honored by the Arts and Sciences department. William said the loveliest things on my behalf and presented me with the portrait. I treasure it. I also have a very small map of Russia pulled from a book from around 1880. It barely cost a thing and holds very little monetary value, but it holds history. It existed at the time of the story we are telling. I simply look at it and it helps me connect to the world on stage. I also have a matryoshka doll hand-painted with members of the Romanov family. Another dear friend gave me these dolls to celebrate my joining the show.

Stage door standout moment: We have the most incredible fans. Every night the crowd at the stage door is crazy, and I’m so grateful. A sweet young girl recently thanked me for telling this story and inspiring her to find her family. She didn't know who her family was but she now has the courage to try to find them. I thought about how powerful theater can be. She felt compelled to make a major change and explore something. Sometimes it’s just two and a half hours of a silly escape—but for many, it’s much more.

Pre-show preparation: It’s imperative for me to do a thorough physical and vocal warm-up. Everything is connected. If I haven't properly stretched and gotten my heart rate up, it’s almost impossible for me to get my voice to function properly. That time spent also helps to prepare my mind for what the role demands dramatically. Earlier in the run, I’d spend a lot more time alone quietly preparing, almost meditating. But now I’m about eight months in—I get on my costume, recite my opening speech and I’m ready.

Orfeh. Photo: Matthew Murphy

Orfeh (Kit in Pretty Woman: The Musical )

Beloved dressing room items: I have a black-and-white picture of me and Andy [Andy Karl is her husband] at the Tony Awards. I love it because it was completely unplanned. We were walking into the after-party at the Carlyle. Jenny Anderson, who is a fantastic photographer and a friend, said “Let me get a picture.” We used it as our album cover for Legally Bound. I also have pictures of my dearest friends like Andrew Logan, who was the ring bearer, best man, videographer and everything at our wedding. There’s Rod Harrelson and I being silly at our Fourth of July shindig during Legally Blonde. Also, the wonderful people at Best Friends Animal Society made a carved wooden heart with a picture of our beloved dog Boo after he went to heaven. I’m an animal person. if I could have a pet shark, I’d be happy.

Stage door standout moment: When someone sees a Broadway show, it’s a big gift to themselves, their mates or their kids—and I’m moved when people come to the stage door. A fan recently made a beautiful beaded bracelet for me. But no one ever has to come bearing gifts. The fact that they care enough to wait is the present.

Pre-show preparation: I listen to some of my favorite music—like Mobb Deep and other 1990s hip-hop and R&B singers. I like big, sweeping voices. It gets me in a place where I need to be. I sing along. Or it’s a good soundtrack for getting ready. I do some vocal warm-ups, and then cast members come into my dressing room. We gossip, have a good time and hit the stage.