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Q&A: Meet Kate Rockwell of ‘Mean Girls: The Musical’

Category Broadway

|by Jeryl Brunner |

There’s a 100% chance that Kate Rockwell steals the show as Karen

Kate Rockwell plays lovable ditz Karen Smith, a member of The Plastics, in Mean Girls: The Musical. She was nominated for a Tony award for her performance. The show, which is based on the hit film of the same name, was nominated for 12 Tony Awards. Tina Fey wrote the book of the new musical. Emmy Award winner Jeff Richmond (who is also Fey’s husband) wrote the music, and Nell Benjamin (Legally Blonde: The Musical) penned the lyrics. Rockwell’s Broadway credits also include Bring It On: The Musical, Hair, Rock of Ages and Legally Blonde. She recently debuted her first solo album, Back to My Roots, which features songs from shows that made her fall in love with musical theater. 

Kate Rockwell as Karen Smith in 'Mean Girls: The Musical' (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Kate Rockwell as Karen Smith in 'Mean Girls: The Musical' (Photo: Joan Marcus)

What do you love about doing Mean Girls
Kate Rockwell:
Living in the world of Mean Girls is a dream. I grew up with it. The film was always a big part of my life. And working in a room with Tina Fey is an actual dream of mine. That is still coming true. She is still very hands-on and active. 

Also, my journey in the show is truly three hours of joy. Karen is just an embodiment of joy. She is truly happy wherever she goes. And that is a real gift. Because when I leave the show at night, I feel joyful and happy. Even if I’m tired and sore, doing eight shows a week is still full of joy.

Where were you when you heard you were cast in Mean Girls
Kate Rockwell:
I was sitting on my bed when my agent called. My husband was at work. And my two dogs, Bessie and Mabel, were sitting with me. I can always tell when my agent has big news. He has a terrible poker face and voice. He got me good. I was surprised. I called my husband. Bessie and Mabel were both very nonplussed. As always, they are only interested if I give them food. 

What do you remember about your first time performing?  
Kate Rockwell:
My very first time on stage was in my Sycamore High School production of Fiddler on the Roof. I played Grandma Tzeitel. I was 14, and remember the curtain going up and being in the opening number. I can very distinctly recall the feeling of singing that first “Tradition” with everybody, then seeing the audience and having the light hit me for the first time. I can picture it so clearly. 

You have played so many roles. Can you talk about your Broadway debut in Legally Blonde
Kate Rockwell:
I replaced Haven Burton in the role of Margot. And I understudied Elle. Just a couple of weeks ago was my 10-year anniversary working on Broadway. I remember I was at my boyfriend’s house at the time. And my agent called and put me on a conference call with the casting director. Together they offered me the role and told me I was going to make my Broadway debut. I immediately fell to the floor and started crying like the very dramatic person that I was. I remember calling my parents and telling them that I was going to get to make my debut. It was really special.

What qualities does Karen in Mean Girls have that you love? 
Kate Rockwell:
What I love is her simplicity.  She can be complicated from the outside. But actually inside Karen’s head it’s really, really clean and simple. And I am not necessarily that way. My brain is running a mile a minute all the time. So I love getting to spend three hours in someone’s skin who is not burdened by the weight of the world. She can just really enjoy a moment as it comes at her.

What was the first Broadway show you saw? 
Kate Rockwell:
My first time in New York City was when I was in college studying musical theater and living in Cincinnati, Ohio. I went to a Sunday matinee of the revival of Wonderful Town. There was a long sheet of understudies. So I saw all the understudies. I didn't know anything about Wonderful Town but thought, “This is a first classic musical to see with lots of dancing.” I was so astonished by how cohesive and beautiful the production was.  I wish I knew the two actresses’ names who played the two sisters. I was so taken. It really knocked me off my feet by how talented everyone is who works in this community. And that stayed with me. 
For more of the best of Broadway, check out our list of Top Shows in July 2018.

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