It's not many actors who can say they secured a part in a national Broadway tour by going to a call back and successfully showing they can stay upright as they cross the floor on roller skates.
But that's precisely what Jennifer Apple had to do to secure the role of Anna in The Band's Visit, winner of ten Tony Awards including Best Musical. It's the story of what happens when a visiting Arab band from Alexandria, Egypt is misdirected to an isolated desert town in Israel instead of to the Arab cultural center they should be going to. They end up in a community overwhelmed by boredom, its inhabitants waiting for things that never seem to be completed. There's one pay phone in town but no one can use it; it's been commandeered by one resident waiting infinitely for his girlfriend to call him back.
And the reason for the roller skating? Well in a town with not much to do, that's something..
Now Apple and the rest of the cast are bringing the story (songs by David Yazbek and script by Itamar Moses) of cultures facing each other for one night, to the Hobby Center, courtesy of Broadway at the Hobby.
While the Egyptians and Israelis don't speak the same language so they often communicate in broken English in the musical, Apple says her lines are all in Hebrew. (Fortunately, she says, she grew up speaking Hebrew.) Despite the language barrier, she says, audiences have no problem understanding the points she is trying to get across.
Her character is a life of the party type of creature, Apple says. "She is a local Israeli who is in the town of Bet Hatikva. My part sets the tone for the environment of the town. She's a local; she's bright; she's fun. She's really the life of the party and her and her boyfriend Zelger they bring one of the Alexandria Police orchestra members with them to this roller rink at night and that kind of helps progress his story line. Haled is his name.
"She’s really direct. She has a personality. She's vivacious. She's super fun. She's sassy. I'd even say a little bit sexy. in her own kind of way. She's definitely the girl who knows how to make an impression. She's definitely a loyal person."
Apple, who grew up in Manhattan went to undergrad at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA, and got her master's in theater at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. She heard that producers were looking for replacement cast members for The Band's Visit and approached them with all the reasons she could cover any of the female roles in the show.
Despite her casting requirements, Apple says she was never a roller skating maven growing up. But she had ice skated and snow skied and she says they thought she could handle the roller skates. "When I was told I had to roller skate, I went out to one of the only roller rinks deep in Brooklyn for a day. I was probably the oldest person on the rink. It was a bunch of little children just skating around and there I was hobbling around and hoping I wasn't going to fall. And they were just whizzing right by me."
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She is the sole member of her family to go into theater and she had thought of becoming a lawyer. But once she figured out that what really attracted her about being a lawyer was " just performing. In front of a jury," she realized that her path was elsewhere. Besides her acting and singing, she is a teacher and coach and presents master's classes and workshops for middle- and high school students.
The reason The Band's Visit has been so successful and celebrated, she says, is because of the human connections in it. "I can’t quite think of another musical that’s really about people being people. It's about human connection and love and loss and family and it delves into aspects of human existence that every single person can relate to.
And then there's the music, calling upon jazz, Middle Eastern music and the musical theater canon influences, she says. "These musicians are insanely talented," she says. "And every single night is a little bit different; they can improvise and coming and seeing musicians get to live and breathe love into music is one of the most important things about this show."
Performances are scheduled for January 28 through February 2 at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and Sunday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Hobby Center, 800 Bagby. For information call 713-315-2525 or visit thehobbycenter.org or broadwayatthehobbycenter.com. $35-$95.