As Rose, the sensitive soul of Pasek & Paul’s 2012 Off-Broadway hit, Taylor Hubbard gave such a beautifully vulnerable performance that our hearts felt tied to hers from curtain up to curtain down in the First Act Productions staging of the piece last April. Tackling tough vocals and an even tougher emotional workload, Taylor made us smile and weep in equal measure, earning her an Outstanding Performance in a Musical nomination.
Do you remember your first experience with theatre?
My first ever experience with theatre? It’s probably when I saw Little Shop of Horrors at Mirvish. I remember nothing about it now, but I remember the feeling I got. I already wanted to do theatre, ever since I was three. So I got that feeling, and I was like, “That’s what I’m supposed to be doing. I should keep going with this,” cause I was never happier. That became a yearly thing on my birthday every year; my mom would take me to Toronto, and we’d see a Mirvish show for my birthday.
Where are you from?
I’m from Brantford, so not too far. It was a nice trip.
When did you start singing?
I started singing when I was five or six. I took lessons with the same lady – Monique Corretti – my whole life, and then I went to Randolph, and then I started getting to study with other people, which was really exciting.
She was great, and I probably started too young. I don’t know what I was doing for the first two or three years, but I loved it, and I stuck with it my whole life.
You mentioned Little Shop. What are some of your favourite musicals and why?
I’m a contemporary girl through and through. Come from Away is my favourite musical of all time.
That musical to me is a perfect musical. It is funny; it’s heartfelt; the staging is beautiful. There are so many characters, and they’re all so different. It’s a true story. As a Canadian, part of me feels that. But to me, it’s the perfect musical. I love something that can make me laugh, and then two seconds later I’m in tears, and that musical does it every time for me. It wins the top spot.
Do you have any dream roles?
Dream roles I’d actually play, or dream roles I wouldn’t play?
Let’s do both.
Dream roles I would actually play: Madame Thénardier one day, when I get older. Paulette in Legally Blonde has always been on my list. What else? My top dream role is Cathy in The Last Five Years. And there’s no reason I couldn’t be Cathy in The Last Five Years, but the world says I can’t right now. I’m just taking that. But that is for sure my dream role.
I would also like Elle Woods – Legally Blonde would be super fun. I’d love to be Mimi in RENT. That will never happen, I’m not Spanish. Those are some big ones. I love character roles. That’s where I live, for sure.
How’d you get involved with First Act?
Funnily enough, I saw a production of Songs for a New World that they did a long time ago. My roommate was actually in it. She was a dancer. And my other good friend was in it, and I saw Nicole [Strawbridge] sing, and I lost my mind. Her and Sam [Moffatt]. I was obsessed with her, and somebody actually sent me the Dogfight audition notice. I think it was my friend Tyler. And he was like, “You have to go”. So I just submitted, and I remember walking in the room for my audition, and looking at Nicole and being like “I saw you in Songs for a New World, I’m obsessed with you.” So embarrassing.
What attracted you to Dogfight as a project?
Rose. She’s beautiful and complex and a representation of so many women I know, in so many different ways. The insecurity women feel on a day-to-day basis. Not that men don’t feel that as well, but specifically women. She embodies that, and she’s a very raw, real character in a musical, and I love that because I feel like so many musical characters can get kitschy or campy because it is a musical. But she’s not like that. I got drawn to the show because of her, for sure.
Were you familiar with the original production?
I was, yeah. I’ve seen it a million times.
How was your interpretation inspired by the original, and then how did you purposely veer off?
Lindsay Mendez is beautiful. The girl who originated [Rose]. I remember being in the callback, and I was watching the other two women, and it was very similar to Lindsay Mendez. I’m a comedian; I’m a comedy person through and through, so I was like, “That’s what I’m gonna sell. I’m gonna make her funnier than she usually is, and hope that that makes me stand out a little bit,” and it did. So that’s where I grounded her a little more. I made her a little more goofy than I think she’s typically played. And I have a really hard time playing weak, so I probably played her a little stronger. She definitely needs those weak moments; ‘Pretty Funny’ is a vulnerable moment, for sure. But I also didn’t let her take any crap, which was important to me.
The role by definition requires a lot of vulnerability even if you are taking a little bit of a tougher stance on her. If that’s not something that comes naturally to you, what was that journey like to get to that place, to be able to be that vulnerable?
It wasn’t easy because I do come from such a comedy background, and the entire time I was in Randolph [Theatre School], it was very comedy-focused. All the material I was given, the roles I was cast in – so I never got to branch out into the more serious, vulnerable, romantic type of role.
So I was terrified when I got cast. I was like, “I’ve never done anything like this before”. But the cast helped. And Devin [Dos Santos], who played Birdlace, helped, because there are very intimate scenes, and it is very vulnerable. But we became friends really quickly, so there was a comfortability there, and I felt like I could be like that, which was really important.
But I think the amount of times I sat on my bed and looked at that script and just wrote all the ways I’ve felt that way before, too. It’s not gonna make people in the audience feel like they can relate, unless I’m there. Unless I’m completely vulnerable and I don’t care what I look like, and I have to be a stripped-down, raw version of somebody. When I realized that that’s what it’s gonna take to get the message across that I wanna get across, it just happened.
Tell me a little bit about developing your approach to ‘Pretty Funny’, and working on that song.
It’s a hard one. I was just saying to my roommate the other day, “It’s a role I could play every day.” I could do eight shows a week of that show, but it would be emotionally draining, because it is emotionally draining. ‘Pretty Funny’ is one of those songs that everybody in Randolph sang when I was there, and I never touched it. And I was like, “It’s not for my voice.” I was convinced it wasn’t for my voice. I was convinced the whole role wasn’t for my voice.
Too high? Too low? Why?
Too high. It’s my own issues, I guess, but I just consider myself a belter. So a lot of the songs were mix-y, or I had to use different parts of my voice that I haven’t exercised a lot since my training at Randolph.
My biggest thing is finding smiles or laughter in sadness. That’s something I really wanted to make sure I did, because when I’ve seen my best friends cry, or when I’ve been sobbing on the couch, it’s never always crying. I’ll always be, like, when you get so mad you start laughing. There needs to be those things too. It can’t just be a sad song. There need to be levels to it. So I just went through, and I was like, “Where are all these different moments? She’s feeling a different million things, and I can’t show a million different things, but I can at least show five or six, instead of just being sad.” Because she’s not just sad. She’s hurt, she’s embarrassed, she’s angry; she’s a million things.
The way that your character’s treated – specifically for her looks – is really disturbing. As an actress, how did you separate that in your mind so you didn’t internalize it?
That’s a good question. I mean, she’s the ugly girl. That’s the whole role, right? So how do you not make it seem like, “They cast me because I’m ugly”?
Lindsay Mendez is beautiful. She’s just not conventionally what they think [is beautiful], which is still what we deal with today. And it’s something I deal with on an everyday basis already in my life.
Even just your statement from earlier “I can’t play Cathy”-
Yeah, that’s insane. She’s a human.
And she’s an actress.
Exactly. But whatever. They’ve set their standards, and what they want her to look like, and maybe one day that’ll change. But I do have confidence in myself and what I have to offer in many different aspects. For sure, I do.
We use the word “fat” in that show, and I hate that word. I hate the word “fat”. There’s so much negative connotation. It’s just not a word I use to describe myself. I also don’t like the word “skinny”. I use “slim”, or “curvy”, or words I relate positively with, because I don’t relate positively to that word, and I remember I have to call myself fat in the show. It’s one of those things, when you’re a curvier woman, and you know that’s how people have viewed you, but you’ve never said it out loud. I never let myself show that side of me in front of other people, so I think having to say it in a room where my mom’s sitting there, or my best friends, or my boyfriend, or anybody – it’s like, “Oh, now they’ll know.” Which is insane, because they know what I look like, but I remember having a really hard time. I almost wanted to say, “Can I not say it?”
But then I was like, “That’s the whole point, though. If I take it out, then the guys like Eddie win.” So that’s basically what I did. I just tried to find the human in her, and the beautiful parts in her, and know that they can call her ugly all they want, but she’s not.
How do you feel about the way that she’s treated in the writing? Because it is not written by people who would necessarily understand her point of view. Do you feel that the language they use and the way they use her voice is truthful and as respectful of that perspective, and what it actually is to have that perspective, as it could be?
No. It’s not. And I don’t know how much of that is because it takes place during Vietnam, so that would have been the 60’s, 70’s. That was a very different time than we’re currently living in for several reasons. So I don’t know how much of it is that, or how much of it is just written by someone who has no concept of what it feels like to get that kind of judgment, and all that stuff, because in the script, she gives him heck, for sure. But she never gives him heck for the specific reason that she’s mad. So it is never addressed. It is completely skimmed over. If they ever did a revival, I would say maybe revise. Change a little bit. There’s nothing wrong with that. Because she could be a little bit more nail-on-the-head with what is making her angry.
We’re recording a group interview with the Outstanding Ensemble-nominated cast later this afternoon. Before they get here, let’s dish about them for a second. What do you have to say about your cast members?
Oh, gosh. They’re really great. It’s a huge group of very different humans. We’re all so different, and if we weren’t in the show, I don’t know if we would ever be friends, because we are all so different, but there’s a little bit of everybody.
Carley [Churchill], who’s coming today, is loud, bold, a strong woman. And then we have Rhys [Harrison], who’s coming in today and is very goofy. Everybody always brought a different energy into the room, and it was great. It’s a cast of people who have to watch me be vulnerable over and over again, and they very quickly made that a super easy process.
And I said it in my “Come see Dogfight” video that we posted a while ago – it didn’t matter what somebody was doing in that show, like if they were just staring in the corner or whatever. It was always 110%, which is my favourite thing ever because even if the focus isn’t on you, someone’s gonna look at you, and you have to be in it – and everyone was so good at it. And I think it was because we all loved the show so much. As much as it is a show that for me specifically I could have sour feelings about, I don’t. I think it’s beautiful, and I think it’s a real version of what people feel like all the time. And it’s not often told, which is cool.
Tell me a little bit about the music of Pasek and Paul: what it’s like working on that stuff, and what it is you like about their writing.
Every musical they’ve ever had a hand in is a soundtrack I could listen to on repeat. I don’t know what it is. Dogfight is one of those soundtracks I could listen to forever, and that I did listen to a lot when we were rehearsing for it. It’s the powerful guy numbers that get me, like ‘Some Kinda Time’, and ‘Hometown Hero’. Those get me going, but then they can do ‘Pretty Funny’, which I think is one of the most beautiful musical theatre songs ever written. It’s stunning when that piano starts.
[Pasek and Paul] make me feel all the things. In Dear Evan Hansen, Greatest Showman, they’re obviously a very good team, and they know. We invited them to come see [Dogfight], and I would’ve died if they came. I just think they’re a very smart team. And they’re creating really great, empowering music for the contemporary musical theatre world.
Tell us a little bit about working with the director and music director to help shape the role.
David Wicken was the director, and he’s lovely. I’d never met him or Colin Frotten before, who was the music director. It was great. David spent a lot of time with just Devin and I, because a lot of the scenes are just Rose and Birdlace, and they’re just talking scenes about their feelings. Quite honestly, that can be hard to keep compelling. But he made sure he did the character work with us. He did the background stuff, and he made it so that we were real people up there, and not just caricatures.
Colin Frotten is a flippin’ genius. He’s amazing, and I would work on nothing with him if it meant that he was behind a piano telling me what to do. I would do anything happily. He knows the show, he does the research, he knows his voices; he’s a smart music director, and he brought out the best of everybody in that show.
What were you hoping audiences would take away from the production?
A feeling that you’re not alone in any aspect, whether you found that in Birdlace – cause I’m sure tons of people also relate to him. He’s also a hugely relatable person. He’s just a human. He makes mistakes, he says bad things, he does things because his friends tell him to; that’s all things 18-year-old boys do. But I wanted everybody to walk away being like, “I just saw onstage how I felt in my own life.” And it feels good to know that other people go through it too, or something like that. That’s the best way to say it, I guess.
What are you working on now or next?
I am going to start doing some stand-up stuff, which is so different than what I’ve normally done. I did the Second City Longform Conservatory program, and I loved it, but I have always wanted to look at stand-up. It’s terrifying to me, and I think because it’s terrifying, I need to do it. And I also don’t get embarrassed very easily, so I think I could bomb, and it would be okay.