Debut on Broadway had roots on the road

`Les Miserables': Stephanie Waters of Columbia made it to the New York stage, but it took 22 months of touring to get there.

May 30, 2002|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,SUN STAFF

Most people would run screaming from their jobs if they were told they had to live and socialize with only their co-workers - all of them, even that guy with the hygiene problem. But that's pretty much the scenario for stage actors on tour.

"I live, eat and play with these people," says Stephanie Waters, who has just finished a 22- month North American tour playing Cosette in Les Miserables. "We're a highly dysfunctional family."

For the next 11 weeks, though, the 21-year-old Columbia resident and River Hill High School graduate (Class of 1999), will have to get used to a new crew and cast while she continues her role of Cosette on Broadway, a move she has taken in stride.

"The experience of being part of Les Mis and a Broadway legacy is really amazing," says Waters, who had her debut in New York City yesterday. "But I'm not terribly overwhelmed or excited. It used to mean so much to me when I was a little kid - but now it's just like, oh, this is what comes next."

She might be more excited about getting to stay in one spot for a little while before she returns to touring and all it entails: sleeping in hotels, eating out all the time, have little privacy, being fawned over.

"Some parts of my life are just abnormal," she says.

In an interview this week, before she began her Broadway run, Waters talked about the ins and outs of life on the road:

Has anything about being on tour surprised you?

I didn't realize how much I'd grow as a person and how much it would define me. Being away from all your safety nets, your family and everything that you know is really scary. You really have to define who you are as a person yourself; nobody else is going to define it for you out here. That's been the most amazing experience by far.

What's been the toughest adjustment for living on the road?

Definitely being away from home is the toughest part, hands down. There are so many who love and support me there, and so much there that holds a really warm space in my heart.

What was your schedule like when you toured?

Monday is our day off, but it's also a travel day so, technically, you're getting up at 9 a.m. and driving, then getting into the new city at 10 p.m. We start shows in a city on Tuesday, and do eight shows Tuesday through Sunday.

How do you get from city to city?

I drive. The first six months I did it without a car, which is so hard because you're constricted to the one-mile radius of your hotel. I realized I've got this amazing opportunity to see the country, but I don't ever get to see anything. So I bought a car, and it's the best decision I could have made.

Does anyone tag along with you when you drive?

No. My time in my car is really special for me; it's a key to my sanity. It's time for me to sing as loud as I want and not care what I sound like, it's a time to let my mind go and my thoughts wander and sort through things emotionally, spiritually and intellectually. It's quiet time where I don't have to see anyone.

What do you travel with?

Right now, I only have two suitcases, but I've traveled with other stuff. I usually have a humidifier and a bed table and a computer - little things that make it more homey. I have a lot of pictures and some gifts that some of my friends and family gave me, and my bear. I always bring my teddy bear from childhood.

Any mishaps happen on tour?

Oh, yeah. I forgot my words and my lyrics a few times - I hummed one particular time - and lots of times the barricade [set prop] doesn't work. It won't come off the stage when it's supposed to, and I have to maneuver my scenes around it. Something always happens, a lot of stuff the audience doesn't know about. It keeps it new and fresh for us.

Does it get tedious doing the same thing over and over?

It has recently, to be real honest. But it's never the same show twice, and it changes day to day depending on what I'm feeling or what emotional state I'm in. So it's always something new, but like any other job, some days I really don't want to be there.

Is the life as glamorous as people think?

I'd be lying if I said no. I hate it when celebrities say they're just normal like everybody else. I say bull to that. The life that I live is not like people that live 9 to 5. We have opening night parties, and people can be very hospitable to us depending on what city we're in [and how much they know about the show]. ... For my 21st birthday [April 21], we rented a whole bar.

What's next for you? Have your sights set on anything else?

I'm going to L.A. to try my hand at film and TV. We played L.A., and while I was there I went out and started knocking on doors a bit and I hooked up with a manager and agent. I have no expectations whatsoever, though. I'm young and I have some money in the bank and it's something I've always wanted to do. But if nothing happens, it'll be no skin off my back.

Waters will play Cosette in the Broadway version of Les Miserables through mid-August at the Imperial Theatre, 249 W. 45th St., New York. Tickets: $20 to $90; to order, 800-432-7250.

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