Penn State Alum Lands Lead Role in Broadway Philadelphia Season Opener

Emma Stratton chats with us about her training at Penn State and what it's like to play in a Woody Allen musical.

Emma Stratton in "Bullets Over Broadway."

Emma Stratton in “Bullets Over Broadway.”

When the big Broadway touring shows come to town, it’s always great to find some sort of a local connection, and with the Kimmel Center’s Broadway Philadelphia season opener, Woody Allen’s Bullets Over Broadway, there’s quite a homecoming for Emma Stratton. The Penn State alumnus plays the lead role of Helen Sinclair in the zany musical comedy. She took some time out of her busy schedule of opening the tour in Cleveland to chat with us about her Penn State education and how it prepared her for a life on the stage.

I have to ask if you’re from Pennsylvania since you went to Penn State. Funny enough, no. I grew up in San Diego, but I loved going to Penn State. It’s what I called the sort-of East Coast.

What kind of theatre department does Penn State have? It seems pretty comprehensive. When I was going into auditions for schools, I had no idea about Penn State. I actually wanted to study abroad, and I hadn’t really researched a ton of schools. I then found out that the BFA program at Penn State was one of the top in the country, yet not a lot of people know about it because its not in a big city. The more I started researching, the more people came out of the woodwork about Penn State: It was like it a had a cult following. It was an amazing school with an incredible program that shaped me so much. Thank goodness lots of friends from Penn State will be coming to Philly to see the show.

I know the part you play was originated on Broadway by the amazing Marin Mazzie. Did you ever see her in it? I saw the original production when I was at Penn State with a friend because one of our mutual friends was in the show. I have the most respect for Marin: From Ragtime on, I just so loved her. I saw the show in previews and I enjoyed it. I don’t like having the idea of how another person did the show previously; I didn’t even listen to the cast recording. I just remember loving everything that she did.

Emma Stratton

Emma Stratton

Have you been following Marin’s courageous battles with cancer? During our rehearsal process, Susan Stroman [the original Broadway choreographer] and others came in, and they hadn’t mentioned anything about [Marin’s cancer]. It later came out that Marin was actually doing performance stuff during her diagnosis and early treatment. I mean, if you read Jason Danieley [her husband]’s blog about it, it’s just amazing.

Speaking of Susan Stroman, I know the original choreography is by her. What’s that like to perform? Susan came to several rehearsals when we were in New York City and she came to one of our tech runs. She knows exactly what she wants, but she is so kind and is the perfect woman to work with. I am so happy I got to work with her.

The show is by Woody Allen, so it has to be funny. What are the challenges of playing a comedic role? The initial challenge was that I was pretty young for the part. I had to convince the producers that I could do it. There are so many different types of humor in the show — from physical comedy to sarcasm to all of these quintessential big, big characters. We’re doing a show within a show, so there are “actors” on stage with huge personalities. Being able to differentiate the characters and blend them into one big show has been the biggest thing we’ve had to work through.

‘Bullets Over Broadway’ runs October 27 through November 1 at the Academy of Music. For tickets and more information, visit the Kimmel Center website.