Drop Dead Divas: Broadway’s ‘Six’ turns heads in Costa Mesa

Q&A with Broadway actress Gabriela Carillo, performing as Queen Catherine Parr in "Six" at Segerstrom Center for the Arts, June 13-25

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Gabriela Carrillo as Catherine Parr (center) in The North American SIX Aragon Tour. Photo by Joan Marcus

The historical, heartbreaking, humorous, and head-turning Tony Award-winning musical “SIX” has made its way to Costa Mesa for a two-week run.

Five hundred years later, the modern retelling of Henry VIII’s six wives has become a Broadway phenomenon, leaving its audiences with not only catchy pop tunes but a feeling of female empowerment. The musical is at Segerstrom Center for the Arts now through June 25. 

Starring as Queen Catherine Parr, actress Gabriela Carillo may look familiar to Orange County theatergoers – she has performed in several local productions, including “American Mariachi” at South Coast Repertory in 2019 and as Elsa at Disneyland’s “Frozen: Live at the Hyperion.”

Can you tell us about your journey into musical theater and how you discovered your passion for performing?

I first started in musical theatre like many kids, performing in school musicals! I think my first musical was in 3rd grade; I was in this very cute Lewis and Clark musical playing the role of Lewis and Clark’s dog, with a full fluffy white costume, entire comedic solo and all.

I certainly wasn’t one of the “cool kids” at school and struggled with getting bullied, but being up on that stage, I remember feeling incredibly safe, and incredibly funny! Even kids that hadn’t spoken to me all year suddenly started stopping me in the hallway to tell me how much they loved my performance and how much I made them laugh.

Aside from absolutely loving to sing, fearlessly stepping on a stage and watching how I could affect an audience became a really potent way for me to feel, harness and express my own internal power, even at a young age. After that, I saw a community theatre audition posting for “Annie”, which was always my favorite movie-musical growing up.

I didn’t have to ask twice for my parents to take me to the auditions; they’ve always been so supportive in me chasing what lights me up. My mom later told me that my dad was so worried about if a suburban Illinois theatre would even consider casting a Mexican-American girl to play Annie; would I get my heart broken? But surprise! I got the role!

My love for theatre went on from there. When I was 9 I had my first professional contract, performing at the American Girl Theatre in downtown Chicago, and really never stopped since!

What drew you to the role of Catherine Parr in the musical ‘Six?’ How do you relate to this character?

Without giving any juicy plot points away, Catherine is really an incredible catalyst for change and a symbol of progress and modernity within the show. She’s kind, empathetic, thoughtful, and really considerate of her effect on people.

She, as a writer, understands the power of words and the impact of what we sing about on a stage. She understands the transformative nature of watching a performance, which reminds me of what I felt as a child when I first started performing.

She’s really conscious of her own legacy and wants to make the “right” kind of change in the world. Within the fun, wild, and deliciously over-the-top context of SIX, she is a really grounded character which is such a blast to play, and it’s especially fun to explore her juxtaposition from the nature of most of the show.

Her character arc through the show demonstrates a lesson of how being “different” and following your own moral compass even when you might be met with criticism can really make an impact.

I relate to her certainly on that note of having a really strong moral GPS of sorts, like an intuition that I try to use to inform every word and action in my life. She’s also a writer, like me! I grew up writing fantasy novels for years as a child, and then moved into focusing on songwriting as a teenager and adult.

A lot of the jokes she makes and lines she sings are really clever and show her prowess as a wordsmith and I can appreciate that. Like me, she isn’t afraid to be different, isn’t afraid to look awkward at times, knows the impact of writing (or re-writing…) a story and knows without a doubt that there’s more to life than being perfect, pleasing everyone, and earning the love of a man. Hers are an incredibly empowering pair of LaDucas to step into.

How do you approach preparing for a role in a musical? What specific techniques or strategies do you use to get into character?

For a role like this when it’s based off a true historical figure, I began first and foremost with research: reading about Catherine’s life, reading her own writing, watching films about Tudor life and womanhood, etc.

It helps to first steep yourself in the world that the character is living in. Then, I really get to the heart of the character, and by that I mean, I cut away all the fat and look at what matters most to this person.

I think mannerisms and quirks and style and all the external elements come more naturally when you understand the core of the person. If the heart is there, that’s when a character is soulful, believable, alive and breathing.

A lot of the other stuff is found throughout the rehearsal process and just embodying the character actively. Acting is active, so I think once you know your lines and have done your research and all the behind-the-scenes preparation, the transformation happens in the doing.

Six has a unique concept, portraying the six wives of Henry VIII as modern-day pop stars. How do you bring a fresh and contemporary interpretation to your character while still honoring the historical context?

As I mentioned previously, I feel that because I’ve discovered what Catherine Parr’s heart looks and feels like to me when I play her, I don’t worry about losing her within a contemporary, poppy context.

That root is always there, and then I can really play and be flexible to embellish because the soul of her is still there, if that makes sense. Her humor is certainly modern, the costumes and makeup help me to carry myself in a more modern “popstar” way (note my awesome tight ‘leather’ pants) and I merge my own artistry with what’s written when it comes to the music and the scenework.

Because I came from a pop music education and career, it feels really natural to lock into the pop performance mode. It’s when Catherine really bares her heart and soul that I take extra care to ensure that is seen and felt.

The things she sings about feeling and experiencing aren’t exclusive to a certain time period, they’re evergreen human experiences, and that’s what really helps when considering playing a character or historical figure from another time.

It’s useful for me to remember that human emotion has been the same for as long as we’ve been around; everything external may have been different, but internally we have the same hearts.

The music in ‘Six’ is incredibly catchy and demands strong vocal abilities. How do you maintain your vocal health and technique throughout the run of the show?

This tour has been a great lesson in being so conscious of my vocal and overall physical health at all times. I know so much about my own body now and what it needs to operate at its best.

Warm-ups and cool-downs are so important both for the body and the voice. Also, sleep! And fueling your body well. The voice is a part of the body, and I’ve noticed that when you’re physically tired, sleep deprived, and even hungry, the body doesn’t have the strength to properly support the voice.

Singing really is a full-body experience so it’s mostly about being well-rested and being kind to my body. Also, avoiding talking in loud bars and restaurants at all times! I’ll go out with friends, but I’m the one pointing to my throat, shaking my head, and just silently dancing to whatever music is playing.

It’s wonderful that we have in-ear monitors to hear ourselves during the show, because that’s another huge factor to vocal health: avoiding over-singing. If you can’t hear yourself, just like trying to speak in a crowded bar, you’ll likely just be yelling.

I always make sure to be vocal (no pun intended) about asking for more sound in my in-ears so I can really hear myself well and don’t push my volume. And after all that, taking breaks when needed. Pushing through a night of really rough vocal fatigue can actually set you up for missing many shows, so sometimes a day off is what the voice needs. It’s always hard to make that call, but I’ve intentionally given up guilt about what I have to do to protect my instrument.

What is your favorite aspect of working on ‘Six?’ Is there a particular scene, song, or interaction with another character that you enjoy the most?

My favorite aspect of working on SIX is the way it reminds me of my own strength. This show has challenged and empowered me in so many ways throughout the entire process, and I’ve learned so much about my own capabilities, passion and resilience.

It feels wonderful to have a job where I am reminded just how strong I am every day. Aside from that, I love all the individual moments I have with each of the Queens on stage throughout the show.

Someone who particularly delights me every night with her ad libs and mannerisms is Olivia, who plays Anna of Cleves.

‘Six’ has become a global phenomenon with a dedicated fan base. How do you handle the pressure of meeting audience expectations and delivering a memorable performance each night?

What’s wonderful about this show is it’s really a team effort, both from those on and off the stage. I never feel like it’s up to me alone to deliver something memorable; I think the vessel of the show is already so wonderful, strong and inherently impactful that my job is to show up, give everything I’ve got that day, and do the vision of the show justice.

We are telling a story, and a really strong story at that, and that’s what I trust in first and foremost. I’ve really learned how to be kind to myself through this process and accept my humanity in a new way; every performance feels and is inherently different and I think that’s what most people love about live theatre.

I know that I always step onto the stage and give it everything I’ve got, and I can feel completely content and proud of myself knowing that. But truly, being in this show is about so much more than being an individual getting applause or laughs or trying to be impressive and adored.

(Sounds a lot like the message of the show, huh?) I always try to come back to the objective of telling the story.

What advice would you give to aspiring performers who dream of being in a musical like Six?

Dream really, really big… while also doing everything you possibly can do to be the most prepared for your dream job. That dream job opportunity will come, don’t doubt it! But respect your dreams enough to be prepared for them when they arrive.

Training is such an incredible opportunity to take advantage of when you have the means to. In no way am I suggesting you must have a musical theatre degree (I don’t have one!); truly any kind of workshop, Q&A session with someone you admire, 8-week acting training… whatever you can make happen!

I think there’s a lot of fantasy and razzle-dazzle surrounding the road to becoming a professional performer, as if the skills it takes and the opportunities are kind of just bestowed upon certain people 100% naturally.

Realistically, yes, some people have really spectacular raw talent, but being skillful is what I think creates sustainability in your work and your career. Through training, you’ll learn exactly how to maintain a certain level of excellence in what you do.

You’ll learn the foundations to come back to when you have that challenging dance call, the big belty note at the end of your 32 bar cut, the really tragic and emotional scene you have to read at 10 am in front of a table of strangers, etc.

I really leveled up as a performer when I stopped expecting myself to naturally “be” perfect. It’s the same mentality I have when it comes to studying and practicing foreign languages: accept when you’re at.

Put pride aside, reject where you think you “should” be at this point or another, and accept where you currently are. Only then can you see all the exciting opportunities for growth. And yes, growth is exciting!

Room for growth doesn’t mean you have something wrong with you. Things changed when I adopted that mindset. And just like with foreign language, a lot of your growth and success will come from getting out there “in the field” and doing the thing.

Even when it feels scary or new or intimidating or you’re afraid you look stupid. Suddenly, you’re speaking French! Suddenly, you’ve totally slayed an audition! Prepare, and then do the thing.

Finally, trust that you bring something so individual (one of a kind, no category!) to any room you walk into. Don’t waste your energy trying to fit into the molds of other people.

Whoever is behind the audition table may not know what exactly they’re looking for until they meet you. Trust in the natural magic of who you are.

SIX the musical

When: June 13-25, 2023

Where: Segerstrom Hall, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa, CA 92626

Call: (714) 556-2787

Online: SCFTA.org

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Jackie Moe is a professional entertainment reporter and editor who lives for live music, spaghetti, beef ribs, long distance running, and good stories. Working as a features reporter for major newspaper publications Orange County Register, Press-Enterprise and Los Angeles Times, and as an editor for a variety of magazines including OC Business Journal, Inland Empire Magazine and Parenting OC, she recognized the need for quality digital coverage for all of the truly fascinating people and events in and around Orange County. She created Backstage SoCal in 2017 to provide unique entertainment content beyond the general calendar items. You may contact her directly on her social media or email: socalnewsjackie@gmail.com

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