How did you start dancing?
Elizabeth: 7 was when I started paying attention to what was happening and not just running around in a skirt. I started at COCA in St. Louis. I mostly trained in ballet. I’d always grown up watching my dad perform and teach, and I was never pressured into any of it, but just growing up around theatre, I always wanted to tell stories. I asked if I could try out for some things, and it ended up going from there.
Lara: I started late. I didn’t really start until the last month of my senior year in high school. There was a gal who wanted to do a tap routine for the senior class assembly—in Ponca City, OK. I said sure. So everyday for one month, I went to this lady’s house and learned to tap. I started taking ballet lessons when I went to college at OCU. This was right around the time when the movie Turning Point with Mikhail Baryshnikov came out, which really was about ballet not really being accepted for boys at that time as much as it is now. A lot of people, young boys like myself, just never even thought about dancing, especially if you’re from Oklahoma. When I really started learning how to dance was when I moved to New York to pursue a career in theatre. Suddenly, there were more than two boys in the class. I had these guys flying around me in every direction, and I thought, “Well this is challenging.” That’s how it all started.
What are you up to now?
Elizabeth: I am in The Crucible on Broadway right now. It goes through July. It’s a really interesting and cool play, so come see it [laughs]. I also did Mary Poppins on Broadway, and last year I did The Audience with Helen Mirren, which was an amazing experience. All three shows are very different, so it’s been cool to get all sides of theatre.
Lara: I am the head of the musical theatre program at Webster Conservatory in St. Louis.
What was it like when you first moved to the city?
Elizabeth: We all really love the city. It’s our second home right now. When we first came here, we all loved it and everything around it. My mom homeschooled us when I was in Mary Poppins because it was easier that way. We went to almost every museum and were out all day. It’s really cool now to say that this is our second home away from home in St. Louis. When I did Mary Poppins, we sublet a place in New York, and my dad was flying back and forth from St. Louis. It worked out. Now we know the city so well.
Lara: When I moved to New York to pursue a career in theatre, I was taking 3-5 dance classes a day. I became obsessed by it. I started auditioning for shows, and one door opened after another. I ended up doing Broadway—The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas, Happy New Year, Pirates of Penzance, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, which was at the Neil Simon Theatre (I am actually going to be doing an evening at 54 Below that celebrates the history of that theatre, which is kinda cool.)
I did a show called On Your Toes and got introduced to the ballet world. On Your Toes was originally done in 1936, and Balanchine was the choreographer. It was the two worlds—ballet and tap—coming together. I danced with Natalia Makarova, the famous Russian ballet dancer, Galina Panova, and Valentina Kozlova. It was an interesting juxtaposition about a hoofer dancing with this ballet dancer in the famous “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” ballet. I was warming up and taking class with these dancers. So one part of the chorus was hoofers from Broadway and then the other part of the chorus was dancers from New York City Ballet and ABT. Here was this prima ballerina who had never been in a theatre production before, and I had never partnered with the greatest ballerina on the planet before, so we were both new to it and found a great friendship and fondness for each other in that production.
What happened afterwards?
Lara: And then the mid 80s happened. I was here from ‘78-’86. At that point in time, when My One and Only with Tommy Tune closed, that was kind of an end of an era. Cameron Mackintosh moved in with Les Mis, Phantom, Miss Saigon, and Cats, but the mid 80s saw a real drop in Broadway. There was really no place for me, so in ‘86, On Your Toes happened on the West Coast, and I just stayed there and started guest directing and choreographing. I ended up getting a position teaching full time at Cal State Fullerton. I taught for 7 years and went back out on the road with Wizard of Oz. I married my wife, and then when that show closed, we moved to New York for about a year and a half, but I missed teaching, so we spent the next 8 years living and working in Chicago, Illinois and Winchester, Virginia, and we’ve been in St. Louis for the last 9 years.
What are your aspirations?
Elizabeth: I just want to tell stories. For instance, The Crucible is being told in a really different way than it normally is. It’s cool to open people’s minds up to something different. There are so many different things I enjoy about performing. I love getting to tell people’s stories.
Lara: One thing my wife and I have always talked to Elizabeth about is longevity and what that means as an artist. Gigs are going to come and go. The shows are going to open and close. That’s just the reality. It’s great to watch her, especially these last two years, find this real passion and talent in ballet in addition to her acting and singing skills. When we look at those shows like On the Town, An American in Paris and see these incredible ballet dancers playing these roles, Elizabeth feels like she’s being honed for that life in the theatre.
How do you think that people can find longevity in this career?
Lara: I think having a healthy balance. One of the things that happened when I met my wife was that she brought a sense of reality. You can live in this incredible world of theatre—there’s a part of theatre that’s really not realistic because you’re living in hotels or you’re making a great salary—it’s feast or famine. But when you have a family, there’s a balance that has to happen. Artists are just naturally selfish because you have to constantly be in tune with your instrument.
But you have to have everything in check. You have to be able to have a life that’s realistic. You have to make ends meet however that’s possible. You’ve got to have priorities. The thing that I’ve learned in my life is that when my children came around, my priorities really shifted. I didn’t really know how selfish I was until I had kids.
Finding a balance is the key—Elizabeth has a capacity for that, but I had to learn it. Hindsight is 20/20, of course, but I wish my students had what she has, and I wish I would’ve had what she has now when I was her age—even in college or even when I was having a career. I wish I would have had some of her savvy about how to take care of herself. It’s fascinating to have children and also a child who’s in the business and also teach it as a profession. To be able to walk that fine line of being a parent, a mentor, and a teacher has been an incredible, joyous experience. You know, I am living the dream. I still get out the shoes and perform a little bit.
What was it like to step away from performing and start teaching?
Lara: The teaching thing has always been a part of me. I was a dance captain, and I really liked working in front of a group of people. The key moment for me was when I guest directed for Cal State Long Beach. They were doing a production of West Side Story. 14 guys auditioned, and I cast 14 guys. Only 2 of them had ever been in a dance class before. I kept bringing this choreography for West Side Story and kept having to make it simple. I had to simplify it and come from a place of acting. Thinking about Agnes De Mille and Jerome Robbins—those people understood narrative dance. I was able to find a real joy beyond what I experienced as a performer. I was really able to connect to what my teachers must have felt as ex-performers turned teachers. It was a no-brainer for me when it happened. Of course, right after I got a full-time teaching job, New York casting directors were calling me in for stuff, but I had to say that I couldn’t because I was a teacher. It was a sacrifice, but I look back at it and wouldn’t change it for the world. It has got me here in a beautiful park on Christopher Street talking to you and looking at my daughter. It’s all good.
What was it like to live by yourself at 14 years old?
Elizabeth: I was a little nervous at first. But the family I stayed with was incredibly generous. When we met with them, I instantly felt comfortable. It was never awkward with them. They have two kids, so it’s nice because I am used to having my siblings around. We were on very different schedules, so it was perfect because I had enough time with them but also time to myself because the kids were at school. I would see them briefly when they got home before I left to go to the theatre.
I learned a lot about myself. I had to make myself wake up and get myself dinner. Obviously the family was so helpful—when I could, I would have dinner for them or they would let me have or use whatever I wanted. I wasn’t all on my own. But I had to make myself go to dance class when I didn’t want to and manage school work at the same time. I was never good with time management, and I think I am way better at it now. At first I was even bad at making myself get up in the morning for school. Now I’ve learned a lot. I had to learn to navigate by myself too. I felt really accomplished by it.
Lara: When she was just finishing The Audience, she auditioned for The Crucible and was offered the part. But she wanted to think about it because her mom said, here’s the deal: We’ll work this out. But you should know that I am not leaving my family again. We’ll have to find a host family for you, you’ll have to navigate all these things on your own. Elizabeth took a month—she wanted to wait and see.
Elizabeth: I got offered the role right when I got home from The Audience, so I just wanted to go see my friends, go to school, and go to the pool. It’s hard to judge something when you’re so tired and ready for a break. I decided right when I got back to school that I couldn’t see myself not doing it. It’s nice to know that about myself and that I wasn’t impulsively taking something. I really waited and thought about it to make sure that I wanted to do it. It was my own decision. I keep in touch with all my friends at home. One of my best friends actually came out to New York. It was her first time in the city to see my opening, which was amazing. Everyone at home is really supportive of what I do. My friends were sad, but they all told me to go do it. It’s nice to have FaceTime and things like that to keep in touch with them.
Lara: I need to interject that her mom is probably the best mom on the planet.
Elizabeth: So true.
Lara: Elizabeth having to learn all those skills, it doesn’t come natural for her. It’s really her mom constantly telling our kids that when you go to college, you’re going to be surrounded by people who don’t know how to make their bed, who won’t cook for themselves, who won’t know what to do if they’re in a group project for school.
Another thing I should say about Elizabeth that we’re really proud of and of all of our kids is that she’s academically at the top of the class. She’s really strong and a voracious reader. When she did this play having to do with Holocaust many years ago, she wanted to read on her own the diary of Anne Frank. She wanted to understand what that process was. She has always had this scholarly mindset.
Elizabeth: When I did The Audience, I learned so much about the Queen and the monarchy. It was a big history lesson. We were playing her, so it was really cool to have the director teach us about it. It was almost like a history course. You need to know what you’re talking about, which makes sense.
What’s it like to have a dad who was on Broadway?
Elizabeth: It’s pretty cool, I guess [laughs]. He’s just a cool dad. I love him for who he is. It’s amazing that he did all these shows, but he’s just an awesome person and an awesome dad. I just remember seeing him in a cabaret where he wrote about his life, and it sounded like something out of a storybook. Everyone was wondering how much of it was true, and he said all of it was true. Even the story you just heard. it’s unbelievable. He’s pretty awesome. I love him.
What’s it like to have a daughter following your footsteps?
Lara: There’s two sides of that coin. One, it’s beautiful to watch my daughter be in the tradition of theatre. In other words, it’s not just me, but the long line of people who have been here before her on the very stages that she’s been on. I feel like the two of us are a part of that big thing. It’s not just me and then her. We’re just in that line. So it’s nice to have that great connective tissue that’s happening. She’s got this incredible community of people—our surrogate aunts and uncles (or our guncles, our gay uncles)—who a lot of them have worked with me in the past. But the best thing is when some of the local union crew guys come up to us and say, “I want you to know, your daughter is the best.” That’s when we know that she’s really found a home.
But the other thing is stepping outside of it. When I am watching her, I think very little about the fact that I am also in the theatre. I am there as a parent. Obviously she’s an awesome kid, so how could you not be proud of her? She’s not your typical Broadway kid. It’s not really about being in the spotlight or having a website or having fans follow her. For her, it’s just about the art and the work—the discipline of doing a show and researching the material. You couldn’t ask her to be a better student of theatre. She’s a life learner.
What would be your number one advice?
Lara: It would actually be to the parents. Children need guidance and structure. Love, sleep, proper diet, structure. Those are the things that have given Elizabeth her career. It’s in that order. You’ve got to be well-rested. You’ve got to have good time management. You’ve got to eat the right foods. Sometimes you’ll see these kids at these auditions who have Skittles and M&Ms. But if you read anything having to do with what to feed your kids and what to stay away from, all the pediatricians and magazines point right to what I am saying.
Sometimes parents would come to me and say that their kids want to be in theatre, and they don’t know anything about it. I say right away that you do know what to do. Just love and support them. Make sure they eat and sleep properly and give them discipline and structure. If they say that they want to commit to a class, make sure they stay there for the whole year and don’t let them jump from one thing to another. It’s the same thing in sports.
I will say that I wouldn’t have been able to say these things without watching my wife at work—being able to be in the room and watch her build this great home for her children and for me as well. These are the things I wasn't necessarily given and had to find a longer way through certain teachers. It all points back to the matriarch of our family, which is Kristen.
Elizabeth: I think it goes by so fast. When the show you worked so hard on is over, you have to realize that it’s finished. Just enjoy it and make sure to do other things. Do things other than being obsessed with shows and dance. Yeah, I do those things and love them, but I also love hanging out with siblings and going to parks.