Broadway Features and Reviews
Dreaming With Syesha Mercado: Dreamgirls' Newest Broadway Star
By Linda Hodges, Broadway Magazine
Plot Summary: Hopeful singers enter a famous talent competition. Standing in the wings, wishing on a star, hoping with all their hearts to be heard, they move to center stage and give it all they've got. For some, dreams will be dashed – but for others...this is only the beginning.
Yes, this is the synopsis for the wildly successful Broadway musical Dreamgirls, now on tour and set to open at San Francisco's Curran Theater on Tuesday, August 24th. But it is also the story of 23-year-old, powerhouse-of-a-voice, Syesha Mercado. Placing third in American Idol's famous talent competition could have been the end of cherished dreams for Syesha – but instead it was only the beginning. Waiting in her future, center stage, was the dream role of Dreamgirls' Deena Jones.
Syesha was born six years after Dreamgirls first dazzled audiences on Broadway at the Imperial Theater in 1981, smashing box office records and making instant stars of Jennifer Holliday and Sheryl Lee Ralph. The show was, without question, a huge success.
The 1982 Tony Awards saw Dreamgirls claiming a staggering 13 Tony nominations then claiming the night, winning six Tonys, including Broadways highest honor - the Tony Award for Best Musical.
Syesha follows in the theatrical footsteps of Deena alums, Sheryl Lee Ralph and the film version's Beyonce, not to mention American Idol/Dreamgirl alum Jennifer Hudson. Though this is her first Broadway show, she's no stranger to the stage.
Broadway Magazine was able to check in with Syesha Mercado as the touring company of Dreamgirls gets set to take the stage in San Francisco. She shared thoughts on who inspired her, why she chose singing, and what it takes to be Deena in Dreamgirls.
Start reading Broadway Magazine's interview with Syesha Mercado here:
Broadway Magazine: Syesha – you've been doing this since you were a kid. Does some part of you feel like this was always meant to be – or does it still feel like a dream?
Syesha: I believe it was always meant to be. When I was two years old I would follow my mom around the house singing. So, I've been doing this since before I could remember. I've always had a passion for music, art, dance and acting. And it's always worked out that I've been able to do just that. I always knew this was what I wanted to do.
Broadway Magazine: Give us the quick rundown on your resume.
Syesha: I did musical theater in secondary school and I studied theater in college. I've competed in the Florida Theatre Conference and the Southeastern Theatre Conference in middle school and high school winning Best Actress, Supporting Actress, and Best Cameo Role. I've appeared in many commercial spots, did a couple reality T.V. shows before Idol, and the list goes on with performance-related projects.
Broadway Magazine: So clearly performing is in your blood. How do you see yourself giving back?
Syesha: I chose this as my career path because I knew it was an outlet to inspire and motivate others to follow their dreams and it was a way to be famous for a good cause. I've always wanted to make a difference and music and acting allowed me to do that. It is so rewarding to have fans greet me after a show and say, "I really needed that," "Thank you," or "You inspire me" and "Thanks for inspiring me to follow my dream."
It is a way to change people's lives. That is what keeps me going, knowing that at every show there is someone out there who may have given up on their dream and they come see Dreamgirls and decide to stick with it. Or maybe there's a young girl who has never seen a Broadway show before and she sees Dreamgirls and that inspires her to be a performer.
Broadway Magazine: Early on who inspired you? And who inspires you now?
Syesha: I grew up watching my mother sing in church and at community events. I learned a lot from her. I remember in elementary school having to sing the National Anthem for the first time... My mother gave me a vocal lesson on dynamics and voice control. She's always been there to lift me up when I'm discouraged or to pray with me - like when I lost my voice during Hollywood Week. She was there for me and is still my inspiration.
Broadway Magazine: She must be so proud of you! It must have been so exciting for her and for your family when you landed the role of Deena on the National Tour of Dreamgirls. How did you go about researching the role of Deena? What process did you use?
Syesha: I researched Diana Ross and The Supremes and all the other girl groups and singers of the 60's and 70's. I studied the fashion and the mannerisms of that time and I went to my script and developed a back-story and wrote out all the similarities I shared with Deena and then used some of my personal experiences to make it even more real.
Broadway Magazine: It's interesting that you say some of your own experiences shaped how you approach the role. I think a lot of people think of acting as inhabiting a fixed character. But it sounds like you use your life experiences to add color and depth to your theatrical portrayal.
Syesha: Most definitely. I sometimes let certain experiences be the inspiration for the way I sing a song or say a line. That's the beauty of theatre – to let your past experiences inspire the present moment and your audience gets to see it all in real time... If that makes sense...
Broadway Magazine: Sounds like a balancing act - bringing yourself and your life experiences to the role of a known character. For example, Effie's vocal style is deep, full-bodied and rich while Deena's signature sound is softer and, dare we say, dreamier.
Syesha: You have to be able to transform yourself even as you use your life experiences to become the part. Before my auditions, I got together with a vocal coach to work on technique and style. I even listened to the 60's era of music to develop a style. It was extremely challenging, because even though I had worked on how I thought Deena should sound, when I got into the audition room I knew it would be a creative collaboration between our director, musical director, creative director and songwriter Henry Krieger - as far as style goes. As a recording artist I want my audience to hear my style on stage, but that isn't the case here. This is a musical and it is my job to tell the story of Deena Jones. So, I have to take on the mannerisms and movements of her and that means her sound, too.
Broadway Magazine: Did you confer with Sheryl Lee Ralph or Beyonce before stepping onto the stage and into the role of Deena?
Syesha: I didn't get a chance to sit down with Sheryl Lee Ralph until our stop in Philadelphia and I still haven't met Beyonce.
Broadway Magazine: What was Sheryl Lee Ralph like?
Syesha: I remember feeling so nervous about really sitting down to talk with her, but she was extremely nice and full of advice and wisdom. We sat and talked for hours. She is truly and inspiration and embodies everything a woman should be.
Broadway Magazine: Syesha, Dreamgirls is about being ready to embrace opportunity and learning as you go. There's a part in the song "Listen" that says, "Listen to the sound from deep within / It's only beginning to find release. / Oh, the time has come for my dreams to be heard...." Is that how you feel? What has your life as an artist been like since being on American Idol – and since playing Deena in Dreamgirls?
Syesha: It just keeps getting better. Every project I do my voice gets stronger, my technique gets better, and I gain experience and knowledge. Dreamgirls is preparing me for the next BIG PROJECT in my life and it can only go up from here. I find myself discovering something new every night. Deena and Syesha have grown a lot since opening night at the Apollo.
Tuesday, August 24 through September 26, 2010
San Francisco's Curran Theater
445 Geary St. San Francisco 94102
Visit www.shnsf.com or call (415) 551-2050
TUE – SAT @ 8PM
WED, SAT & SUN @ 2PM
SHN is the pre-eminent theatrical entertainment company in San Francisco and owns and operates the Curran, Orpheum and Golden Gate Theatres–San Francisco's premier theatrical venues. SHN's Best of Broadway theater series provides Bay Area audiences with pre-Broadway world premieres, original Broadway cast productions, award-winners and current hits fresh from Broadway. For information on all SHN shows, please visit shnsf.com.
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