INTERVIEW: KRYSTA RODRIGUEZ ON HER SOLO ACT

Krysta Rodriguez is going solo.

Krysta RodriguezAfter an illustrious career that includes The Addams Family, In the Heights, A Chorus Line, First Date, and both productions of Spring Awakening, Rodriguez has quickly cemented herself as one of Broadway’s hardest-working performers.

On television, the 36-year-old actress has appeared in shows like Gossip Girl, SMASH, Trial & Error, and Daybreak. Her stunning transformation into Liza Minnelli earlier this year in Netflix’ Ryan Murphy-helmed miniseries, Halston, is already garnering awards season buzz.

This Saturday (July 10), Rodriguez will headline an intimate concert hosted by Berkshire Theatre Group (Pittsfield, MA). Held under an open-air tent in The Colonial Theatre parking lot, BTG’s summer concert series boasts an unmissable lineup that also features Norm Lewis (who we interviewed here), Kelli O’HaraCarolee Carmello, Stephanie J. BlockKate Baldwin & Graham Rowat, and Rachel Bay Jones.

Speaking on the phone, Rodriguez and I connected about her upcoming solo act, her love of the Berkshires, taking on Liza Minnelli, and much more.


What can fans expect from your upcoming solo concert with Berkshire Theatre Group?

I think one of the great things about doing these concerts is getting to sing your favorite stuff. I’m going to do a couple of personal favorites and also some favorites from shows that I’ve been in. It’s great to be able to come back and after being away for a while and sing. I’m going to do the things that people have come to expect. But I’ll also do a couple of things that are maybe a little unexpected. I’m going to have a guest performer. Andy Mientus is going to come and sing a couple songs with me. I’m excited to have a little time with my friend to sing!

Oh yeah? Will you two be singing anything from SMASH?

You know what? I think we will!

How are you curating your setlist for these shows? Is there a particular story or narrative you’re telling with these songs and how they flow from one to the next?

Yeah, I mean, this show that I’ve developed is more of a career narrative. It includes the hits of what I’ve been able to do on stage and things that I’ve loved taking with me from those shows. That’s sort of the arc of this one.

I’ll do some numbers that I did at my 54 Below show way back in 2019, which now feels like forever ago. But that was the last time I got to do a solo concert! I’m taking some things from there because that show was really about my journey of discovering who I am and the trials that I’ve had in my life and what I’ve learned from them – but in this sort of fun and upbeat way.

This is not your first time in the Berkshires. Two summers ago, you starred in the play Seared at Williamstown Theater Festival (which transferred to Off-Broadway later that same year). What is it about the theater and arts community in this area that keeps pulling you back?

It’s such an idyllic place to be. It’s a great place to spend the summer. There are so many things to do there. You feel a little bit like you’re in Brigadoon – like this place only exists for the summer (even though we know it exists all year round). For us New York performers, it’s like this magical place that lights up for the summer and then fades away when the summer is over. It feels like a place where magic happens and it doesn’t happen anywhere else like that. I just love it there. I love the people and the fact that there’s such a concentrated area outside of the city that’s so invested in the arts. That’s really special and is a testament to the people who live there and how they choose to spend their time. I think artists find other artists, and so we feel safe and welcomed there.

How has coming out of quarantine impacted you as a solo performer? In other words, how are you a different performer today than you were before the COVID-19 pandemic first hit?

Krysta RodriguezI guess we’ll find out, right? This will be my first concert in a long time! A lot of my show that I did at 54 Below was about how it took me so long to even do a solo show, because I didn’t know what I wanted to say. I didn’t know what my point of view might be. Then it took going through a huge life change and lots of perspectives for me to realize that I don’t necessarily need a point of view. I can do what I want when I want to. I don’t have to worry about what that reaction might be! I think everybody now has gone through a situation like that with COVID where you realize, “What have I been waiting for? Why am I overthinking things? Why did I wait so long to trust myself?” We all have to trust ourselves a little bit more.

I also think people are responsive to having not seen theater for a while. Now, we all get to remember why we love it. I always say it’s like a contract you enter in with the audience that they have agreed to come and watch you, and you’ve agreed to perform. You all agree that this is only going to happen one time in the history of the world. Even if you do the same show the next night, it would be different for simply the fact that the weather might be different, or just like the tiniest little things may be different. You all know this is happening right now and never will happen again. We’re grasping onto those experiences more and more because of that. So I’m excited to put my “one night only” out there and let somebody experience something unique again.

What type of creative itch does getting to perform on stage as yourself versus as a scripted character scratch?

Well, you kind of get to do what you want. There is something about performing as a scripted character, especially if you’ve done 500 of the same performances of the same show. You start to say, “I wonder what happen if I walked left instead of right,” but you can’t walk left instead of right. You’ve got to go with it and relent to that character and what their needs are.

As yourself, you get to go, “Well, maybe I’ll do it this way. I will step left instead of right.” You have a lot more freedom to make choices that you want to spontaneously do in the moment, which is really fun. You get to feed directly off an audience where you’re not having to put a facade up, and where you get to actually connect with them and their energy can move you. You can even change up your set list if you wanted to. You could just say, “You know what? I feel like singing this song now.” There really are lots of possibilities in feeding off of the audience when you’re being vulnerable and being yourself – because then you get to make decisions as yourself, which is really scary and powerful.

After your Berkshire Theater Group concerts, where can your fans catch you next?

I have a couple other concerts coming up. So maybe if they don’t hit this one, we’ll have some other places around the country you can come visit. Other than that, I’m shooting a pilot of a television show right now. If that were to be anything, you might see me on TV again. If it’s not, then I’m back to the hustle and I’ll let you know as soon as I do!

Speaking of TV, we must discuss Halston. What was your research process like when putting together your phenomenal portrayal of Liza Minelli?

It was quite extensive and all-encompassing. We were first going to shoot the show pre-pandemic. We really were going very fast. I was cast in November, we were shooting in January. I was immersed in Liza entirely. I watched every movie and I read every book I could get my hands on. I was really grateful to have the internet. The internet gave me so many great clips.

Really what I loved watching was her interviews. I liked watching those even more than the performances, because I felt like that was the opportunity where she got to speak. As herself, even though that too is somewhat of a performance, I felt like it was unique to see her not always in her element. When she’s onstage and singing that’s when she’s unstoppable. But when she’s speaking, she has a little bit more nerves and she’s a little unsure of what she’s going to say. I was interested in that because most of Halston was behind closed doors. It was the stuff that we’ve never seen. So that was really intriguing to me.

Then we shut down because of the pandemic and I didn’t know what to do with all the research. I just let it marinate for a while. I think in some ways, it ended up being a great time to absorb rather than when we were running at a breakneck speed. We got to kind of relax a little bit and let it soak in. That was really special.

What’s something that playing Liza taught you about yourself?

Oh my goodness, so much! I’ll say I came out as the biggest Liza fan of all time. I was obviously a fan before, you can’t not be a fan, but I started to really feel like I was her. I’m defensive of her. I think she’s so unbelievable and the best in the business. That changed a lot of how I walk through life. I just want to be her now. I want to do what she did. She did some stuff that was quite revolutionary. She really made a transition from being the daughter of an ingenue to being her own woman. That’s something she fought for a lot, was to be her own woman.

She came up in the 70s, when liberation was happening. She was owning herself in a way that not everyone was very receptive to because it was so overt. She was woman doing Fosse, which is very lower body focused. She went all into that and is a feminist icon. She was very open sexually with her life. She was very open in her drug use. She was like, “This is who I am.” And while there definitely was a bit of performance to that persona – because that’s what happens when you’re in the public eye – she also allowed people to see that she was going on these journeys over and over again.

Somebody like her mother wouldn’t have had that space to do that in the public eye. Obviously we know that it didn’t go as well. I think Liza was able to pull that out and say, “I’m going to carve my own space in this business. I’m going to be a liberated woman who does what she wants.”

I don’t think I realized how subversive that was and how she was able to sidestep being maligned in the public eye through all of that. I learned that there is space for all the things that you are as a woman and that you have to carve out your own space for it and stand in that space. If you do that, people accept that about you. And if not, at least you got to make your own way in the world that was true to all the elements that make you who you are.

How do you feel about all of the buzz going around about you possibly getting an Emmy nomination for the role?

I’ve tried to keep some blinders on about that because that just seems impossible to me. To even have my name in the conversation is unbelievable, it’s just something I never imagined would actually happen. You always hear those stories of people being like, “Last year, I was in my pajamas watching the show and this year I’m on the red carpet.” You’re always hopeful as an actor, because most of the time you’re in your PJ’s eating ice cream, watching the red carpet.

It would be a fun outcome for this and something that would be hugely validating. But it’s also completely unnecessary for keeping my experiences of this show intact because it truly was a really special thing.

To be honest, I was so nervous about how it would be received because the people that I really wanted to do right by are my theater community. That’s something that I was really nervous about. I could have gotten the greatest reviews from all the Hollywood people, but if I didn’t have the support of my theater community while playing this woman who means so much to us, I would feel like it wasn’t successful. The fact that I felt that love from that community has been really important and special to me. That’s why I’ve already come out of this feeling like a winner all around.

As an original Broadway cast member of In the Heights, what are your thoughts on the new movie adaptation?

Oh, I’ve already seen it twice! We got to have an original cast screening with Lin before the movie came out. Then I took my parents to see it because they saw the musical probably 20 times.

It’s been really emotional to see the show played out on screen and getting the world to hear this music and see this community. It’s been really special to have it in the conversation again. We were on Broadway a long time ago, and obviously Hamilton has since taken the baton as Lin’s flagship musical. It’s fun to have what feels like our scrappy little show that could now being in the national and global conversation.

And I may or may not be singing some of those songs in my concert this week! I got to understudy a lot of those parts. I have a fun little medley about going on for all three roles in one weekend.

In 2019, you played Meg in Shakespeare in the Park’s production of Disney’s Hercules. What were some of your fondest memories from that experience and do you have plans to stay with the show when it ultimately comes to Broadway?

Of course I would love to stay with it when it inevitably goes to Broadway! It was really a special experience.

First of all, there’s something about outdoor theater – which is also something I’m excited about for the BTG concert. There’s something about being outside, especially in the summer, that feels like there’s some communion. There are some mystical sort of elements that come together – the sunlight, the golden hours, the way that it feels free. You’ve never heard your voice so freeing before. I remember getting out there and singing and being like, “I’ve never just heard it keep going and going like that.” And it’s not just your voice. It’s your body. You feel a hundred feet tall because there’s nothing stopping you. There’s something really special about that.

I loved working with Public Works because it was actually my first show at the Delacorte. Part of what I love about these community works is that these people have done the shows for seven or eight years. So while we are the Broadway professionals, they are the professionals at doing Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte. I got to really learn from all the people who had been there before, and they could learn things from me. We were all in a very communal experience. That is the design of those shows, but I really saw that put into practice when I was there.

Those memories were really special. Normally, the Public Works shows are original musicals, which is incredible. For this one to be a property that people knew meant the audience was just going nuts every time the downbeats of the gongs would come up. They would be so excited to hear that gong. We felt like the Beatles for a week. It was amazing.

What aspects of Broadway reopening are you most looking forward to?

I’m really looking forward to the changes that we’re going to get to make in our industry. We had time to step back and look and see what was working and what wasn’t. I’m excited to make way for the new voices that we need to hear. I’m thrilled for all my friends that have shows that are coming back and I can’t wait to go see all of them, but I’m even more so anticipating next season – what we get from this time of reflection, tragedy, and real reckoning. I hope that we come out of this with some of the best art you’ve ever seen from people we might not have seen it from yet.

Thanks so much, Krysta! Is there anything you want to add that we didn’t discuss?

Just come see the show! Watch Halston! It will be on Netflix forever, so enjoy. Enjoy your summer, everybody. Get vaccinated!


CLICK HERE to purchase tickets to see Krysta Rodriguez on July 10 at 7pm Outside Under the Big Tent in The Colonial Theatre Parking Lot (Pittsfield, MA).

About ALEX KELLEHER-NAGORSKI 156 Articles
Alex has been writing for PopBytes since 2011. As the Theater Editor, he primarily focuses on all aspects of Broadway, Off-Broadway, Regional Theater, and beyond. After growing up in Poland, Germany, and Russia, Alex now splits his time between New York City and Berkshire County, MA. Follow him on Twitter @AlexNagorski.