Actress Lisa Yuen spent seven and a half years on Broadway appearing in Miss Saigon and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Her previous stage work ranges from local productions to national tours including Into the Woods, Sweeney Todd, The King and I, Mary Poppins, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Flower Drum Song, The Scarlet Pimpernel and Pirates of Penzance. She has appeared in television and film including All My Children, Body of Proof, The Martha Stewart Show and World Trade Center. Now the Brookline local and mom to twins returns to the Lyric Stage Company to play the titular role in Kiss of the Spider Woman through Oct. 7. Yuen chatted about pre-show routines, playing a range of characters and why her career highlights have been on the Boston stage.
What drew you to Kiss of the Spider Woman? I really wanted to work with our director, Rachel Bertone. Rachel’s gained such highly deserved praise for her directing and choreography over the recent years, and I’ve really wanted to work with her. After experiencing an intense monthlong rehearsal/performance process with her, I can easily say she is thoughtful, articulate, kind, generous, talented, caring, creative, extremely hardworking and a total force. She knows how to push her actors and give constructive direction and notes with kindness and support.
Have you seen productions of it elsewhere? This is my first exposure to Spider Woman, ever!
Anything special you’re doing to prepare for the role of Aurora? A lot of planking. All I needed to see was Chita Rivera in that two-piece Gimme Love bird costume from the 1993 Broadway production to scare the bejeebers out of me and produce a fear for tight costumes. This is the most dancing I’ve done on stage in a long time so I took some of Rachel’s dance classes prior to rehearsals. Also, I grew my nails long and upped my fake lashes game—Aurora is all about glam.
Is there anything specific about the character that you’re excited about playing? This is one of the most challenging theatrical performances I have ever experienced. I basically play a different character in every scene. Yes, Spider Woman/Aurora has a storyline throughout the show, but her character arch is approached in a very nontraditional way. She’s more like a literary device that comments on events around her rather than experiencing them herself.
Lisa Yuen plays the titular role in Lyric Stage Company’s Kiss of the Spider Woman through Oct. 7.
What’s your pre-show routine? Ha! I take care of my 6-year-old twins! My girls start first grade in Brookline Public Schools, but I started rehearsals and performing the show in the middle of summer/the thick of it/Mommy Camp! I’m full time with my children and I’ve had to teach myself how to balance home and professional life. My kids use up a lot of my energy and sleep hours. I’ve learned to discipline myself—I can’t play every game with them and most importantly, I can’t overextend my voice talking to them all day or creating overly elaborate character voices at story time.
I try to get to the theatre early enough to unwind, rehearse anything that needs a refresher and get into character. Spider Woman/Aurora resembles nothing of my normal personality or daily life, so I really need to immerse myself into another land, time and genre before I walk onstage. For Aurora, it’s almost like I have to visualize myself through an old black-and-white camera lens. Yet, the music and lyrics are so rich in this musical that often I just need to hear them to remind me who I am playing. It’s not every day you get to sing lines like “Your cries of pleasure will heat the cool night air” or “Though your breath racks your ribs and throb with pain, there’s a juice on my lips for each purple stain.”
The play is a few decades old. How do you think it relates to our current society? The novel for this musical is simply brilliant. Its complex themes of human relations, acceptance and love are extremely relevant in our current society. When I was first conversing with Eddy Cavazos, who plays Molina, before rehearsals, I asked him how it must have felt in 1993 to play one of the first gay heroes on stage, ever. Gay heroes are still not predominantly portrayed in entertainment today, but there’s definitely more of an awareness, want and need for discovering who we are and learning how to open our hearts to those around us.
What’s been the highlight of your career to date? Today, I’m playing the seductress, Spider Woman. But two years ago, I was Mary Poppins! It’s been so much fun playing such a range of characters. Mary Poppins was particularly fulfilling because it was the first time I was able to perform for my children. My twins dressed like Mary Poppins in the audience and saw it 4.5 times—nap time interfered with Act One for my final performance!
I performed on Broadway for seven and a half years, but many career highlights have come from the city of Boston. In Boston, I’ve been able to play roles like Glinda the Good Witch (when I was 35 weeks pregnant), The Baker’s Wife and The Beggar Woman, and upcoming Mother in Ragtime. Artistically, there’s some wonderfully progressive theaters that welcomes nontraditional casting, and I am truly thankful for these opportunities. ◆
For a chance to win two tickets to see Lisa Yuen in Kiss of the Spider Woman email firstname.lastname@example.org the answer to this question:
– Winner will be contacted by email
– One email address per submission
– Closing date for entries is midnight Sept. 25
– Winner will be announced on Sept. 26
Visit Lyric Stage Company of Boston at lyricstage.com