Lara Hayhurst is a sweetheart. There’s really no other word for her. Oh okay, fine. She’s also classy, funny, and really talented – though “really” is such a weak sort of adverb for her. But if I say amazingly or awesomely or wonderfully talented, you’ll think I’m engaging in hyperbole. I’m not. Just trust me when I say this girl can saaang and she can act and she can dance! (Insert finger snap here, as well as a Mmmm-hmmm.) I talked with her Friday night about everything from her website (pink and white and fun) to her newest role as the iconic Maria from The Sound of Music. The production, by Pittsburgh Musical Theater, is, as Lara says, “so far so great!” She laughs then and it’s a great, infectious sound and I knew instantly this interview would be fun!
The Sound of Music is directed by the wonderful Colleen Petrucci, who recently just directed the fabulous Cinderella. The characters are double cast and the ages range from preteen to adult. I ask Lara how is it working with so many fabulous kids!?
“It’s great!” Lara says cheerfully. “They helped me make flashcards to learn all their names. It’s spooky how professional and wonderful they are!”
Oh yes, I was lucky enough to interview quite a few of them myself for Cinderella and they are phenomenal. And how about Ms. Petrucci?
“Working with Colleen is amazing, in a word. She is one of the most warm, encouraging, trusting mentors, directors, teachers. We’ve known each other since I was in high school and it’s such a gift to be directed by her now. She’s a dream and I’m very grateful to be working with her again.”
I nod my head, totally getting it. Colleen is awesome. I sat in on a rehearsal during Cinderella and the way she understood her cast and really spoke to them was inspiring. She has wonderful creative vision. I tell Lara all this and she enthusiastically agrees. The conversation switches to the show itself now. In a bit of irony, it was the character Leisl that Lara played first. And while it’s heart-tugging for her to leave behind that character, she loves playing Maria.
“She’s spunky, feisty and a little awkward. [She] makes mistakes and tips things over and calls people the wrong names and speaks out of turn and it’s only out of ignorance, I suppose. She doesn’t know what the correct chain of command for these thing are, and that’s what makes her special and endearing and I can’t just gloss over that. There’s something very special about her.”
I tell Lara that this doesn’t sound like the Maria we all know and love. Awkward? Maria?? I ask her where the decision came from to make her different from the usual one we see on stage and Lara tells me it was a combination of seeing more in the script, having talks with Colleen, and her own gut instincts. “It’s always my mission to put a little more heart or a little more extra character.”
And how is she handling the pressure of said larger than life character?
“The beauty is in that I’m singing the same songs and saying the same words. I can’t make it so far gone that it’s a different show. So to me, it’s just about being honest, to what I see on the page and what I feel living her. In certain roles I may play a pretty princess but I’m awkward and I’m quirky. Colleen trusts me and I trust her back. If I took a step too far and if things were getting muddy in our storytelling, I would trust her to tell me.”
It may be a bit of a risk, changing Maria up a little, but Lara loves that she can introduce the audience to a fresher version of the musical.
“[The Sound of Music] is as timeless today as it was in the 60s because bottom line: it’s a story about a family that loves each other, and back then it’s important, and now it’s important. Families come in all shapes and all sizes and it doesn’t really matter how they come together but that they do come together and you have love in your family. Not to sound cheesy, but with that, you can really climb every mountain!”
The conversation easily segues to Lara’s travels. (She keeps her energy up and healthy by drinking plenty of water, getting adequate rest, and knowing her body and what it tells her.) She’s been everywhere from Florida to New York to Ohio to New Jersey. I ask how is Pittsburgh arts. What makes it…Pittsburgh?
“Jeff Howell, the guy who plays [Captain von Trapp] – who is awesome – and I were talking and both agree Pittsburgh is one of few cities around the country where you can come and live here and have a genuine, fulfilling, productive career in the arts. Pittsburgh is an interesting mix of blue collar, white collar, and arts scene. Pittsburgh theater has an amazing reputation across country. As I travel to different places, everyone knows The Public and PMT and the CLO. I’m proud of it here and everyone else respects it.”
We chat a few more minutes about different things, but it’s getting late and I know she’s busy. It’s less than two weeks to opening night! But because I can’t ever end an interview without asking for advice, I ask Lara this:
What is your advice to anyone who is auditioning but not landing the roles they want? She had this to say:
“As hard as it is, because I have to tell myself to practice it everyday, you just have to adapt a positive attitude. The second you turn your dial to the sad, weepy, negative place, your heart closes itself off and…opportunities don’t come into you easily. As hard as it is, you have to let it roll off back like water off a duck and just trust that as long as you are being honest and giving your heart and doing your best…” She trails off for a moment, but then says, “You’re going to have hills and valleys but things that are going to find you, will find you.”
She adds: “The most important thing I can ever tell you is to not be a jerk. Just be a nice person! Everyone is going through something. We all have our stuff. In general, it’s important to be kinder than necessary. I’m a firm believer that being a decent human being will get you a lot farther than someone no one likes to work with. Or they’ll only work with you once and never again!”
Well said, Lara! She’s classy, funny, talented. And add wise to that list, too.