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Candide’s Lauren Molina: The best of all possible worlds

Geoff Packard and Lauren Molina in the Huntington Theatre Company's CANDIDE. Photo: T. Charles Erickson

Actor Lauren Molina is one of those rare performers whose stage work — both acting and singing — can be both poignant and very, very funny. She’s part Mary Martin, Lucille Ball, Kristen Wiig and [fill in the blank with your favorite opera star because Molina has one of the most powerful and flexible voices in the annals of Broadway]. Her Broadway credits include Rock of Ages and Johanna in John Doyle’s 2005 revivial of Stephen Sondheim’s masterpiece Sweeney Todd, a cast that included Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris. Through Oct. 16, Molina is glorying in the role of  Cunegonde for Candide at the Huntington Theatre in Boston. When Molina isn’t onstage in musicals, she’s a singer/songwriter — and will perform her original work 1 p.m. Friday, Oct. 7 as part of Harvard’s Chairs Revue. We caught up with her on a break day from the Huntington production and asked about her education and life as a professional actor.

What was the most valuable part of your college education in shaping your singing and acting?
I made the most of my college experience by taking advantage of the plentiful extracurricular activities at the University of Michigan. I was involved in student produced and directed shows; many of which were extremely freeing, experimental and creatively exploratory. I was the lead singer of a rock band. I started writing my own music. At school, I took all kinds of classes, from African and Afro-Caribbean drama to the History of War to Psychology. I think the education of all kinds of styles and genres of music and theater has made me the diverse and versatile actor I am today. Plus, I had great musical theater performance and acting teachers who taught me to be myself and trust that I am enough. 

What advice do you have for students hoping to go into a theater career?
This is a challenging career for anyone. The instability is scary, and even if you have patience and determination, that “big break” doesn’t always happen right away. However, when it does, and you can be fortunate to do what you love, it is a magical experience. Always stay active, see theater, talk to people in the business and ask questions, travel the world and enrich yourself. It will enhance you as a performer.

When you’re performing a role, for instance Cunegonde in Candide or Johanna in Sweeney Todd, how do you develop the character? How much of it comes from the material and how much of it comes from your own life/creative spirit?
I always start with the source material, if a play has been adapted from a book, I will read that book. I then figure out who my character is, and what she needs and wants from those she interacts with. I ask psychological questions, like: Why does she behave this way? What was her history? What tactics has she used in the past to get what she wanted? I also always bring myself into every role. I naturally have a sense of humor and quirkiness, and that always bleeds into my characters. 



What can you tell students about the real-life experience about being an actor for a living? Is it harder than you imagined? More fun that you imagined? Give us a window onto the daily world you navigate.
I love my life. I have been blessed to have worked with such creative geniuses from John Doyle to Mary Zimmerman. I have worked on the sublime Candide and Sweeney Todd, to the irreverent and hilarious ’80s rock musical Rock of Ages. I have had been challenged to play instruments (cello, bass, guitar, uke, sax) while singing in character, and to sing the most difficult music of musical theater repertoire. I have a great network of actor and musician friends and collaborators, who are a wonderful support system and a constant source of creativity. I can’t complain. However, this life is hard. Eight shows a week is taxing on your body and voice. You never know what your next job will be or where or when it will happen. One day you could be receiving rave reviews, and then the next few months will pass by and you’ll be unemployed. Rejection is as much of this lifestyle as praise. You might work so hard on preparing for a huge audition, nail it, and then through no fault of your own, not book the job. It is so subjective, but you can’t take anything personally.

What will you perform at Harvard on Oct. 7?
I will be playing at the Open Chairs Revue event in Harvard Square. I will be playing original songs on the ukulele as well as a few pop covers. It should be fun!
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