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Pictured (left to right) Brittney Brown, Shane Roberie, Elizabeth Lesinski, David Lipschutz, and Caitlin Jackson in Hell in a Handbag Productions’ revival of “POSEIDON! An Upside Down Musical.” Photo by Rick Aguilar Studios.
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By Elizabeth Lesinski (Linga Rogo)
In “Poseidon,” the movie and the musical, the “climbers” are making their way through many different obstacles. They are continuously negotiating what they should cling on to and what they should let go of. They are continually confronted with the need to make THE decision that will help them succeed and ultimately survive. My voyages on the SS Poseidon have mirrored the path of the climbers; never straightforward, never clear-cut, but always interesting and always rewarding.
The premise of Handbag’s “Poseidon! An Upside Down Musical” is that there is a group of people getting together every New Year’s Eve to watch the movie “Poseidon.” These partygoers love the movie and they’re all connected to it in their own personal way. The 2009 remount of “Poseidon!” was my very first show with Hell in a Handbag Productions after becoming an ensemble member. I was so excited about this show and I was really hoping for the role of Linda Rogo. David Cerda, the author of the show and Handbag’s Artistic Director, was very honest with me that there was a lot of competition for this specific role. I went for it anyway. I ultimately didn’t get it the first time around, but was offered the role of Brooke. In the 2009 version, Brooke was the newcomer to the party who is learning about the movie “Poseidon” for the very first time. Looking back on it, this was a very fitting role for a newcomer to this ensemble who was also learning about the musical’s source.
The show had a great run. We were met with huge success and a decision was made to extend the run. The actress who was playing Linda was unable to continue in the role through the extension, and I was given the opportunity to take over the role. It was such an interesting mix of feelings for me. On one hand I was thrilled, while on the other hand I was negotiating between the nagging feeling of wanting to make the role my own while trying to keep it consistent with what had already been established. I didn’t want to throw off the dynamic that had already been achieved that helped to make this show the success that it was.
The turnaround was quick. I was given one put-in rehearsal before performing in front of a nearly sold-out audience for the first time as Linda. For the first week of performances, I asked my wife to come and watch the show and give me notes after each performance so I could figure out how to get this character where I knew she could go. Always searching for that balance of how to make her my own but how to keep the dynamic of the show consistent for the other actors involved. The 2009 extension ended up being a huge success and we extended a second time. In the end, I was very proud of my Linda, although I was left with the feeling that she was only half mine.
When David announced that Hell in a Handbag would be doing another remount of “Poseidon” this year, I was excited. I was hoping to land the role of Linda right away and have a chance to make this role fully mine. When I came to callbacks, I was pretty anxious because it was the first callback or audition that I was doing after having my first child. I had taken quite a bit of time off to make sure that when I started back into acting I could have a healthy balance between work (I teach during the day), spending time with my son, and being able to be fully present as a performer. I entered into the audition and callback with the fear that I was out of practice. I was really hoping that I wasn’t going to feel or read as rusty out of touch with my craft. When I got the role of Linda it was a truly exciting moment.
Embarking on this new voyage on the SS Poseidon has been an amazing experience. It’s the first time that the show is being done without David Cerda being a part of it. It is also the first time that many of the actors who originated these roles would be stepping away from their parts. This is an opportunity for “Poseidon!” to get a fresh new perspective.
Tackling the show without the people who had a rich history with it was both challenging and exciting. We’ve found new moments and new ways of doing things. The 2019 cast of “Poseidon!” is wonderfully talented, innovative, and collaborative. It has been such fun watching people create new versions of these amazing characters. It also became clear there are certain moments in the show that benefit from someone being there who knows the history or ‘story’ behind what a moment was intended to be. I found myself on a very similar journey with Linda. It was easy in the scenes to create new dynamics with the other actors that I had the privilege of working with.
I found it more challenging for me to find a fresh perspective on my solo song “Just Panties.” When I first took on that song in 2009, I kept the shape of it in the same vein as the actress who originated the 2009 role. There was one particular part of this song that I was never fully satisfied with vocally. I knew it wasn’t what it could be. In this current production, when I started working on the song I found myself falling into the same vocal trap with this certain section and I was really struggling to figure out how to fully realize this moment for myself. I leaned on my castmates. One talked me through some vowel shifts to help it sit in a more comfortable place. This certainly helped. Then one said, “just sell it.” Those were such simple words but they made me think about that moment in a totally different way. That moment didn’t need to be anything like it was before. Suddenly inspiration hit. I don’t know why I couldn’t come to this realization myself, they must have said the right words in just the right moment to make it click. This moment made me think about things in a whole new way. I found MY Linda.
The 2019 voyage has set sail. Just like the climbers that came before us, we found the things to hold onto and the things to let go of. The only way out is up, so we will keep on climbing. All aboard!
“Poseidon! An Upside Down Musical runs through April 28. For more information visit handbagproductions.org.
Elizabeth Lesinski has been a HIAH ensemble member for the last 10.5 years. Favorite roles include Emmy Lou (Lady X /Lady X the Musical), Sylanya (Haywire), Myrtle (Caged Dames), Annie Sullivan (Miracle!), & Leslie Anne (Sexy Baby). Liz is a Musical Theatre Teacher at a K-4th public school in N. Lawndale.