EXIT INTERVIEW | Katie Rose Clarke Says Goodbye To Beth in MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG


Katie Rose Clarke and the trio from Merrily | Photo: Matthew Murphy

Kobi Kassal
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July 7, 2024 10:15 AM

It’s just like HR, but the fun kind! Before Katie Rose Clarke takes her final bow as Beth in the Tony-winning revival of Merrily We Roll Along, I caught up with her to reflect on the last few years of having this beloved Sondheim classic in her life. Clarke has been with the production since its Off-Broadway run in the fall of 2022 at New York Theatre Workshop and today she says goodbye. 

Our conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity. 

Theatrely: When you think about closing in a few days, what emotions come to mind?

Katie Rose Clarke: Gratitude and completion. It's been this really rich two years of high highs and some new challenges with having three children. This is my first job back since before the pandemic; my last job was in 2019 going back into Wicked. I only had one baby then and now I have three. I feel just a lot of gratitude for this season. I've learned a ton, and I cannot imagine a better experience for having my first show back. I feel like I've really seen this from beginning to end, and I feel like I've—with the help of my husband who's the greatest partner of all time—I've really been able to navigate this chapter really well.

I know you mentioned you were not too familiar with the show until Lindsay [Mendez] was telling you about it, but I’m curious if you can recall the first time you ever heard Not A Day Goes By?

I was learning the song. I was fairly new to working and being a professional actress in New York when I was first learning the song. I came across, as everybody does, the Bernadette Peters recording of it. You can't not feel something when you watch Bernadette do that song. It was that strange sensation of intimidation of the material. That mad-love and nervousness, but I desperately wanted to tackle it. I think as a young actress I got so excited by the emotional content of the material and that I jumped straight to that. But now, as time has gone by and within the context of the show, it's been just a different experience learning the song. And even under Maria Friedman's guidance, attacking the material more from the story first versus the emotional perspective. I just remember the first time hearing it I instantly fell in love with that song, yet never performed it or had another opportunity to sing it again until my audition for Merrily.

I know you were 9 months pregnant during your audition. Reflecting back, I’m curious how you thought your audition went. 

I did the material once and I got some notes from Maria [Friedman] and Cathy [Jayes, Music Supervisor] and it just made so much sense to me. I felt I could do that eight times a week. From the first time I read the material, I just felt I had such a connection with Beth. From the minute these women talked to me about Beth and who she was, I felt quite good about it. I remember singing Not A Day Goes By and I looked up and the whole table was in tears, and I was in tears; I feel like Beth, for me, was so near to my heart and I so understood who she was.

Were you familiar with Maria Friedman before this process began?

Not at all. I was aware of The Woman in White and the things that she had done. But I had never seen her perform or anything — and I never saw the Joseph that she was in, I still haven't! I just wanted to get to know her as a person and know who she was as a director.

I went to spend some time down at New York Theatre Workshop. What was the first day of rehearsal like for Off-Broadway?

Maria had the first week of rehearsal with just Jonathan [Groff], Dan [Radcliffe], Lindsay and me. When we started my baby was only five months at the time, plus two toddlers at home and I had not worked since the pandemic. I was so used to being a mom, so to be in that room with Jonathan and Daniel and Linsdsay, who is one of my best friends, but still, all three of them are on this other level. It felt very vulnerable and Maria really created this safe space.

I told Maria that first week of rehearsal that I was really struggling, shifting gears from just being a mom to actually being on stage and performing again and being in the rehearsal room. So she called me every day and said you need to be in this room every day because you're supposed to be here, and you need to get used to being in this space, both physically and mentally. She really helped me transition back into full time performing mode and I will always be thankful. The bonds we all had were immediate, plus the Workshop is really such a special play and they care about the artistry and their artists in a way that I've never experienced, ever. It felt like camp!

When could you tell this production was going to be something special?

I knew it was going to be something special when Lindsay and I were talking about it before auditions even happened, but that first day of rehearsal, when I saw the three of them interacting, the chemistry was just palpable. Minute one, day one.

So you had quite a bit of time between the end of the run at NYTW and then going into rehearsals for Broadway. How much time did you spend during that time thinking about the production during that period? 

I didn’t think about it at all. I've never had a show end and know that I had another job coming up. It was such a luxury to have that, but I was really looking forward to going back to full time with my kids. I was able to visit home in Texas and catch up with my family. It was great that I was really able to be present for that time between Off-Broadway and Broadway, and I honestly didn't think about the show at all. And then when we got back into the rehearsal room after that, it was like no time had passed, but also the perfect amount of time had passed and we all just got back in there knowing it and having it already in our bodies. There was this maturing that happened and this settling in that had happened. It was like: whoa—this is even more special than it was before.

Katie Rose Clarke | Photo: Andy Henderson

When you were going back into the rehearsal process for Broadway, were there certain things you were hoping to rework or explore in the room? 

I didn't have an agenda. My hope for it was that I, with it feeling a little more settled in,would feel a little freer. Off-Broadway was really about getting back into the swing of performing again for me. I'd taken so much time away, and at NYTW every night I would sit off stage and watch the show every single night. Not just the trio but Reg, who is a true masterclass in acting, the ensemble, everybody. Watching these folks fearlessly perform, I just wanted to soak in that energy of their brilliant work. So when we moved to Broadway, I wanted the show to sink into my bones even deeper and I could feel freer in who I was as Beth and explore things without second guessing.

For a production that is so beloved by critics and audiences both downtown and here on Broadway—how does it feel to be a performer in a show like this? I’m curious if you feel the weight of that when you are onstage. 

It does for me, I feel it deeply. I've been in the business for 20 years and I've done great shows, but I've never been a part of an original cast that's in a show that's quite this beloved. It's very, very noticeable to me how the audience is with us, how people are talking about it after the show, how people connect with you. It's very noticeable how it's received. And it's palpable to me on stage. It is very joyful to do it and it does not feel like work. It's almost like there's this blend between actor and character and it's just we're up there having fun together and enjoying the audience, engaging with us. And you know, that give and take that you get with the audience is so fun and deeply palpable.

You have now been doing this role for quite a bit of time. Do you feel like you are ready to say goodbye to Beth?

Oh, gosh. I feel super emotional about it. Of course all goodbyes have a weight to them, but there’s been so much over the past two years. For my youngest, her entire life has been me being Beth. It's hard to think about a season like this and not have tears come to your eyes because, you know, there were high highs and low lows. You know, it was exhausting and thrilling and I am so thankful. I have three very little ones, so being able to have a smaller role, but a great role, where I don't have the responsibility of the entire show on my shoulders. But I have this really potent material within the show that is so thrilling. So yeah, I think bringing it to a close is rich.

I know a pro-shot was recently recorded after your Tony win. What was that experience like?

Yeah, it was wild. I am so thankful we did that and that it will be preserved. It was nerve wracking, but you know, we know these characters so well that it took a bit of that pressure off. It was fun, but a different skill. Acting for the cameras very close up was new, we know the show being on a stage in a big house, but at the same time the show is so subtle and character driven. Maria would continually pull us back and remind us that we don't need to be so big. We were all sort of prepared to do this storytelling on camera, because it's really what we have been doing for eight shows a week already.

I personally have loved watching the reunion of you and Lindsay throughout the past few years. Do you have a favorite memory working with her on Merrily?

I think my favorite memory was when she told me she was pregnant, and then also when she told us all what she was having. She told me she was pregnant right before the wedding when I get married to Frank. Jonathan goes out and then does this little scene and we are waiting in the wings and she tells me and I grabbed her hand and just buckled over for a second because I could not believe it. I love that she waited until that moment and then the entire wedding I was in tears. She has this beautiful husband now and I am just so happy for her. And then she told me what she was having during It's A Hit and I just burst into tears. I loved that she told all of us in a different way and I am so thankful that I have Lindsay and that we've been able to be in this show together.

Katie Rose Clarke and Jonathan Groff | Photo: Matthew Murphy

What advice do you have for future Beths?

Oh, gosh. Well what you bring to Beth is more than enough. When I did my first audition, it was the notes that Maria and Cathy gave me that unlocked certain things for me. And one of the things Maria said was that the way Beth loves Frank is selfless. She didn't mess up the relationship, she loves correctly. Even though Frank is unfaithful to her, at the end of Not a Day Goes By, she is willing to say she still loves him. Her love is so pure. But she's still just a person and she's fun and she's quirky and she wants to be an actress and, you know, just bring all of yourself to her.

What is one thing that you will be taking away from this production of Merrily?

With the experience of Merrily, I have learned so much. I hope that if I am in a position where I am leading a show, the way that Jonathan and Dan and Lindsay are in this one, I hope I do it as well as they have. I think impressive sells it short, but they are impressive. I've never seen anybody like them. The way the three of them have leaned on each other, and how they have led our company. I will forever remember that—it's with a lot of grace and humility, but also a lot of strength and selflessness. I mean, they've been really stellar.

Well now that you have some free time on your hands, are you excited to catch some other shows on Broadway?

Yes. I'm so excited to see shows. I really want to see Suffs. I really want to see Illinoise. Stereophonic for sure. I want to see everything but that's always my answer because I'm just a theatre nerd at heart. I saw Cabaret with a bunch of the girls in the ensemble and I was just like this is why I love live theatre. The best! I just feel lucky that I've gotten to be a part of this company. I don't know if I'll ever have an experience like this again. I hope I do, but gosh, this has been a really special one.

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Kobi Kassal

Hailing from sunny South Florida, Kobi Kassal founded Theatrely (formerly Theatre Talk Boston) while attending Boston University. He is an avid theatre attender and can be found seeing a performance most nights of the week (in normal times!) He is interested in the cross section of theatre, popular culture, hospitality, and politics. He also loves a good bagel!

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