At the top of the second act of Groundhog Day, Tim Minchin and Danny Rubin's Tony-nominated musical at the August Wilson Theatre, the spotlight moves briefly from leading man Andy Karl, whose story dominates the first half, onto fellow cast member Rebecca Faulkenberry.
Faulkenberry, a veteran of Broadway's Rock of Ages and Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark, is now playing Nancy Taylor. In the first act, Nancy is a sexual conquest of the show's leading man. But as she steps forward to sing "Playing Nancy," a quiet ballad about living in the background of someone else's life, her story suddenly deepens. It's a song that encapsulates one of the show's major themes: the idea of really seeing other people for the first time.
Before the end of Groundhog Day's run on September 17, Faulkenberry discussed her song and living in the same day, over and over again.
1. What is your favorite line that you get to say?
When I'm behind the door having my sex scene, I say, "Oh, Phil" three times in a row as I am orgasming. But with the accent, it's "Oh, Pha" because they swallow the Ls. It's fun to say.
2. Everyone loves inside jokes. What is the best one from your show?
I don't know if it's a joke, but we're so hot onstage. Unless you're in the front, you won't see us sweating. I don't think it really computes that some days it can be 70 degrees onstage, even with the AC blasting. But we're pretty sweaty up there.
3. Every show experiences technical difficulties. What was the worst technical difficulty experienced during your show, and how was it handled?
In previews, we had some turntable difficulties. A lot of it ended up being the amount of electricity being pumped into the turntable. Once they figured that out, we never stopped again.
4. What was the most "interesting" present someone gave you at the stage door?
One of our fans, Shannon, made us pencils with our lines on them. Everyone at Groundhog Day has been really sweet; I don't know if I've gotten anything weird [laughs].
5. Who is the coolest person that came to see your show? (You can't say your family!)
India.Arie. She is my favorite singer of all time. I wrote to her on Twitter saying she should come to the show, and she wrote me back. When we got our closing notice, I used it as another excuse to reach out, and she said she was in New York and she'd love to come see it with her family.
Getting to perform for her was an unbelievable experience. And she was as wonderful in person as I wanted her to be. They always say don't meet your idols, but she's one of the good ones.
6. What was the best piece of wisdom the cast got from Bill Murray when he visited?
Something I really liked that Bill Murray said was, "The more you connect with each other onstage and the stronger your awareness is of each other, the audience will feel that and feed off of it." A lot of people think, "I'm performing for the audience," but what people want to see is connection and relationships onstage, and as long as that's there, they are going to go for the ride with you.
7. In rehearsals, how did you all determine how many time loops Phil goes through?
Danny Rubin decided, ultimately, that it's more about the idea of bettering yourself over time, however long that takes you. It wasn't necessary to put a number on it.
8. What was your reaction to "Playing Nancy" when you first heard it, and how has your interpretation of the song changed over time?
I was never really allowed to rehearse that song. I sang it a handful of times before our first preview. I think Matthew [Warchus, the director] didn't want it to be performed in a musical-theater, big-ideas-and-choices way. The lyrics are very pointed, and they get the idea across. All I have to do is sing and stand there and communicate them.
Something I love about the show is that Matthew and Danny and Tim have told this story very purposefully. Opening Act 2 with that ballad is such an insight into Nancy and starting to see the characters. If you're an audience member that says, "Well, we don't care about that character. Why is she singing that song?", that's exactly what Phil has done. The whole idea is, "What a beautiful thing to have someone we discarded have these ideas and point of view." I love that.
9. How does Nancy change over the course of the action of the play?
While Phil has this huge arc in the journey that he goes on, which is quite profound, the characters in the town wake up and only have 24 hours to change in a different way every day, but only so much can happen in that time.
I do think Nancy speaking her inner thoughts out loud helps her make those desires come more to the front, so that when we see her start to dance with Larry at the end, she thinks, "Maybe he doesn't just want to take me home. Maybe he sees me as something more." It plants that little seed, but because we're only in that 24-hour loop, there's only so far we can go.
10. If you could live any day in your life over, which would it be and why?
Can I create a day and live that? If I knew I was going to have a day, I would fly my best friends and I to an exotic place like Rome. I would spend so much money and have the best food, and it would be in the summer, and we would be outside by the water. I would pack the day with an amazing place and my favorite people.
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