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Actor Spotlight: Karen Ziemba of ‘Prince of Broadway’

Category Actor Spotlight

|by Jeryl Brunner |

Tony winner Karen Ziemba currently stars in The Manhattan Theatre Club production of 'Prince of Broadway' at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre

In Prince of Broadway, which celebrates Broadway legend Harold Prince, Karen Ziemba performs alongside a dream team cast that includes Chuck Cooper, Janet Dacal, Bryonha Marie Parham, Emily Skinner, Brandon Uranowitz, Kaley Ann Voorhees, Michael Xavier and Tony Yazbeck. Recently extended, the musical is directed by Prince himself and co-directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman. Prince of Broadway pays tribute to the vast lexicon of Prince’s work with riveting 11 o’clock numbers from West Side Story, Fiddler on the Roof, Cabaret, Evita, Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, Sweeney Todd, The Phantom of the Opera and more. Ziemba next stars as Martha Watson in the national tour of Irving Berlin's White Christmas directed and choreographed by Randy Skinner. 


Karen Zeimba (far left) stars in ‘Prince of Broadway’ (Photo: Matthew Murphy)

Karen Zeimba (far left) stars in ‘Prince of Broadway’ (Photo: Matthew Murphy)

What do you love about doing Prince of Broadway
Karen Ziemba: It’s so wonderful to work with Hal Prince, taking these iconic numbers, making them fresh and yet also paying homage to the originals. I have known Hal for many years, but never actually worked with him. Hal is a very optimistic, glass-half-full kind of guy. He is going to be 90 in January and his mind is always going. He shoots straight from the hip and will tell you when he doesn’t care for something or if he thinks it doesn’t work. On the other hand, things really touch him deeply and he will let you know. Also, Susan Stroman seamlessly segues each of these iconic scenes into the next. You think, whoa. How did you do that, Stro? 

You play so many different characters in the show. 
KZ: Each one of them touches me in a different way. I’ve watched many productions of Follies and Company and each time always see something new. Sondheim has a lexicon of incredible scores. Also, Sweeney Todd is a very special show for me. There is nothing like it. Mrs. Lovett is just such a great laugh. And I’ve never done Cabaret. I have been so close with John Kander and Fred Ebb and done many shows with them. And to finally do that great iconic work really gets me in the gut. It’s just beautiful. 

When did you first discover Hal Prince? 
KZ: Though West Side Story. My father and mother were both major Leonard Bernstein fans. They loved that incredible, seminal musical and it was the first musical I ever did when I was in high school. 

Hal loved theater so much that he made it his craft. He wanted to do shows that were about something that was moving and meaningful and political, like Cabaret or Kiss of the Spider Woman. Company and Follies are about marriages and relationships not working out so well. I love that about him. He is also an incredible collaborator. He wanted to be in the room with a lot of people arguing, talking, working it out, making it work and trying again. That’s the only way it works in the theater.

When did you know you had to perform? 
KZ: When I was a child I was let loose in the living room with the hi-fi and Broadway and movie soundtrack LPs. I watched a lot of movie musicals with my mother and put on little skits in the living room. I would make up characters and got a good reaction. I find it so satisfying to allow myself to inhabit other characters, to experience their pain and joy. 

What was the first Broadway show you saw? 
KZ: I was a ballet dancer and came to New York one summer to study for a few weeks at ABT and the Joffrey schools. Because we were dance students, we usually went to Lincoln Center to see Alvin Ailey or ABT. But we were allowed to see a musical and the one I chose was A Little Night Music

It was so eye opening and very adult and titillating and something that I had not seen before. When the lights come up you see the lawn of this beautiful home in Scandinavia. There was something very visceral about it. Everybody was in white. I swore that I could smell the grass. It was so beautiful. I recognized Glynis Johns who was Mrs. Banks in Mary Poppins playing Desiree. I knew Hermione Gingold from Gigi who played Madame Armfeldt and Len Cariou. It was a very special, special night. I was 14 years old. I heard these people singing, remember when we did this? How we laughed and danced and oh maybe it’s not so great anymore? I thought, wow, what’s going on? Sondheim’s lyrics are more than just intelligent. It was over my head, but I was still getting it. I wasn’t an adult yet but I wasn’t a kid anymore. It was the perfect thing for me to see. 

How do you stay in such great shape? 
KZ: I like to do a lot of yoga stretches, I swim. During the course of the show the women are all on the fourth floor. We go up and down the steps to the dressing room about six or seven times a night, changing into other costumes. So I get a lot of exercise. 

Why do you love to dance? 
KZ: I started dancing when I was six. It allows you to open up your entire body to the masses and makes you feel good physically. When you are performing, telling a story and dancing at the same time, you’re sharing more fully than you could do anything else. You are using your entire body to connect with people. 

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