We sat down with Sarah Ellis, who plays Sibella Hallward in FST’s production of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder. Get to know her a little bit more by reading the interview below:
You were previously part of the national tour of Gentleman’s Guide. What was that experience like, and how is it different from FST’s production of the show?
The Gentleman’s Guide tour was my first big gig! It was working alongside the creative team of a Tony-Award winning musical, developing our First National Tour version of the show. It was a dream in every way – I learned so much and got to make audiences laugh all around the country with a very special group of the talented artists.
This show attracts such a specific type of performer and I’m so grateful that Jason Styres, who cast Broadway and the tour, helped cast this production as well! FST’s cast is equally as talented and giving and fun to play with onstage and off!
What are some of the highlights of your career? How have they prepared you to play Sibella?
The week before I came here I closed Oklahoma! playing Laurey. She is also indecisive in her selection of a mate and extremely strong-willed. Though the two pieces take place in different parts of the world, a small town in the Oklahoma territory and various locations near London, England, they are both set in the early 1900s (1906 and 1909, respectively). That time informs a lot about women’s roles and their relations and reactions to a male-dominating, upward-mobility society. Both Laurey and Sibella do NOT let the men walk all over them. On the contrary, their fierceness and unabashed quickness of tongue and wit, I think, set them apart from most women of their time.
What particularly attracted you to Gentleman’s Guide? What distinguishes it from other musicals?
This is a musical comedy in its truest form. There’s a little bit of everything, a nod to Gilbert and Sullivan, a nod to Rodgers and Hammerstein, a nod to Sondheim, all the while using irreverent, at times, slapstick humor with complex lyric and musical line. The music is advanced, the performers need extreme vocal agility and a keen understanding of comedic timing through not only text, but body language as well. A very specific skill set is required for this to be pulled off.
What attracts Monty to Sibella? What does she see in him?
Monty and Sibella grew up together as childhood playmates and Sibella has remained Monty’s first and forever love. Sibella entertains the idea of Monty’s affections and loves the attention. She thinks he will always be there for her…until he isn’t. That’s when the relationship changes…she realizes that indeed she does love Monty. She thinks he’s funny and observant and empathetic. He’s a “words of affirmation guy” and that’s TOTALLY her love language. She needs to be told she is adored.
What is your process like when bringing a character to life? How do you approach it? How does your process differ when working on a musical?
I do the same work, always. I always scan through the whole script and write down all the things the text says (and doesn’t say) about my character, what other characters say about me, and what I say about myself. That informs so much for me. Then I comb through reactions to my lines…what would my intention be with this line to drive my scene partner to say that? Then I memorize my lines and get into the room and play!
What does Sarah Ellis have in common with Sibella Hallward? What do you love most about Sibella?
We both LOVE PINK! I love Sibella’s insatiable delight for attention – it’s every performer’s dream to play such a delicious, shameless little narcissist.
What was the audition process like?
I was in New York for only two weeks this summer and luckily this audition and callback came during that time. I had one initial appointment and callback, with Richard Hopkins and the casting director and reader, and Jason was on a screen, Skyping into the auditions.
Gentleman’s Guide is a comedy, but also explores some serious themes. What questions do you think that the musical poses?
What would you do, how far would you go, for the possibility of upward mobility and the prospect of love?
How would you describe Gentleman’s Guide to someone who has never heard of it?
A high-brow and simultaneously low-brow British musical romp, where one man stops at nothing to rise to the top of the D’Ysquith family tree and become an earl, killing off all the members who stand in his way. The catch is…they are all played by the same actor!
You’ve been involved with MT Shorts, a creative platform that brings together musical theatre and short film for a few years. What’s that process been like, and how does this digital outlet for theatre differ from your work for the stage?
Oh THANK YOU for asking me about it! MT Shorts is a creative platform where musical theatre and short film meet, with a mission to bring the voices of an emerging generation of composers to screen. We (my Co-Producer/Co-Creator Greg Kamp and I) work with new composers to fuse together their original mini-musicals with fully realized video production to create MT Shorts, which gives them a calling card for their work to be seen by anyone, wherever, whenever, in short form content. It came out of a want for our composer friends to get their work out there in a more fleshed-out way, other than a typical concert with a few clips of performers behind a music stand. And with the popularity of these new NBC live musicals and movies like La La Land and The Greatest Showman, we felt to keep up with the technological age that we should start bringing these incredible new voices to the mainstream media as well!
We just released our first short, Hey, Beautiful!, a SAG film with a cast of 35 and crew of 23, at a huge launch party/concert, which featured selections from the songbook of the writers of the film at the end of September.
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder is playing in FST’s Gompertz Theatre through January 13, 2019. Get your tickets by visiting floridastudiotheatre.org or by calling 941-366-9000.