Broadway's Spooky Starlet: Krysta Rodriguez
Sergio Trujillo, choreographer for the new Broadway show The Addams Family, didn’t initially envision the role of Wednesday as a dance part. But
triple-threat Krysta Rodriguez changed his mind. “Because Krysta is so capable of commanding the stage with her body and movement, I’ve found more opportunities for the character to dance,” he says of the 25-year-old who plays Wednesday Addams. “We’ve incorporated quirky vocabulary for her, and I’m thrilled with the way Krysta is able to interpret it.”
Krysta says this is her most challenging and exciting role yet, especially since the show centers around Wednesday’s first romantic relationship. She loves playing in the spooky world, with “ensemble members who dance flamenco and tango, but in an upside-down sort of way,” she explains. “It’s sensual and strange all at the same time.” Plus, with Bebe Neuwirth and Nathan Lane as co-stars, Krysta’s joining the industry’s elite.
Scoring the chance to originate a role on Broadway probably sounds like a dream come true, but Krysta’s story isn’t a fairy tale. No stranger to rejection, Krysta says her latest job follows the motif of her career: persistence. “I didn’t get cast as Wednesday when I first auditioned for the workshop. I was put in the ensemble,” she says. “But I re-auditioned when the show was moving to Broadway. I was better equipped because I already knew the material. I did a gloomy song with a peppy beat and did it totally deadpan like Wednesday would. Plus, I wore hair
extension braids. I pulled out all the stops.”
Krysta’s Addams Family audition experience was one of many hurdles she encountered on her way to the top. Sometimes discouraged but always determined, Krysta used these setbacks to her advantage, taking each one as an opportunity to learn more and improve her skills—a strategy that has clearly paid off.
Growing up in Orange County, CA, Krysta was always “moving, grooving and dancing, even as a tiny girl,” she says. But she didn’t begin dance training until age 13, after cheerleading in middle school. She studied jazz, tap, hip hop, ballet and modern at the Jimmie DeFore Dance Studio and was part of the studio’s competition team. “While driving to one of my dance recitals, I noticed the car smelled different than the theater,” Krysta says. “I wanted to be around that theater smell all the time.” During a trip to NYC soon after that recital, Krysta saw eight Broadway shows! It was then that she realized the performers had to act, sing and dance, so when she returned home, she began taking acting and singing lessons.
That summer, Krysta auditioned for the Orange County High School of the Arts musical theater program. When she didn’t get in, she was devastated. But instead of giving up, Krysta enrolled in the school’s technical department. The choice worked in her favor. “I made sets and worked the lights and sound. Now I appreciate all the elements that go into a performance,” she says. “I also learned the shows—like A Chorus Line and Guys and Dolls—while I was working the spotlight.”
At the beginning of her sophomore year, Krysta re-auditioned for the musical theater program and was accepted. “I was so relieved,” she says. “I felt validated.” Soon she was earning lead roles in the school’s productions, including Marian in The Music Man. And the summer after her sophomore year, Krysta got another major boost: Francis Ford Coppola directed a staged production of Gidget at the OCHSA theater and cast the blossoming performer in the title role. A manager noticed her performance and helped her sign with an agent.
New York, New York
Krysta moved to NYC for college “because I needed to be there to take a real crack at my dream of being on Broadway,” she says. The then-17-year-old enrolled in the musical theater training program, CAP 21, at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. The intense conservatory setting required her to amp up her dance training. “We took more dance class than anything else,” she says. “It was a wonderful way to brush up on all my skills.”
Krysta’s first Broadway role, in Good Vibrations, soon followed. Cast as a swing, she covered nine parts, including two leads, and was the assistant dance captain. Though she was always ready to perform at a moment’s notice, Krysta was experiencing her first Broadway show from the sidelines. “I wasn’t very integrated with the cast or part of a lot of the fun stuff, like press appearances,” she says. “Though I loved performing, it wasn’t the debut I had dreamed of.” The show was not well-received and closed after just three months.
Krysta bounced back two months later when Julie Andrews directed her in the tour of The Boy Friend, a light-hearted show that spoofed the fanciful musicals of the 1920s. “It was the best experience: Julie was everything you wanted her to be—encouraging, positive, hilarious—like Mary Poppins and Maria from The Sound of Music rolled into one,” Krysta says. “Being around her and the show restored why I do this. I was grateful to be back onstage.”
Upon her return to NYC, a reinvigorated Krysta scored a swing/ensemble role in Spring Awakening and had the Broadway debut she’d always dreamed of in a show she adored. Soon after, she took on the part of Bebe in the revival of A Chorus Line.
The rigorous dance training she received under A Chorus Line’s Baayork Lee, who originated the role of Connie and assisted with the show’s revival choreography, was the perfect preparation for Krysta’s next challenge: In The Heights. Andy Blankenbuehler, the show’s choreographer, says he had wanted to work with Krysta ever since he’d met her at an industry event one year earlier. “She exploded as a young personality, injecting energy into the Broadway scene,” he says. At the auditions, she proved his initial impression right. “There comes a time in the auditions when we know we love a person after singing and acting. But can they dance? Finding the person who covers leads and dances in the ensemble is hard,” he explains. “Krysta is that person.”
Krysta’s ability to create character-driven movement also sets her apart. Blankenbuehler says this is one of her best assets. “Krysta dances with character first. It’s not just steps,” he says. “Right from the beginning of rehearsals with her for In the Heights, she danced like she was from Washington Heights. When she covered Vanessa and put on that red dress, her hips swishing everywhere, she transformed again. That’s a Broadway performer.” Now, Krysta’s utilizing these assets in The Addams Family, which opens in previews this month.
With vibrant movement and endless dedication, there’s no doubt the girl who can do it all will continue to be in the spotlight. “There are only a few people with the skill set Krysta has,” Blankenbuehler says. “She’s rare. She has the technical chops to tell the story in three ways, and that’s why people like me will always want her in their shows. She’s magnetic.”
Photos from top: Krysta as Wednesday Addams in
The Addams Family by Joan Marcus; Krysta as Bebe in A Chorus Line courtesy Krysta Rodriguez