Typical knowledge has it that actors mustn’t audition in costume. However Julia Lester did so anyway — fashioning a pink cape out of a circle skirt — when she videotaped her audition for the a part of Little Purple Using Hood within the Encores! manufacturing of “Into the Woods” this spring.
Two weeks later — with out even a callback — she heard from her agent: “Stephen Sondheim needs you to play Little Purple.”
Certainly, it was her many daring performing (in addition to sartorial) decisions for the fabled lady certain for grandmother’s home — her raised eyebrow, brassy willfulness and wry sophistication — that captured the eye of critics in Might and catapulted Lester to a Broadway debut at simply 22 years outdated after the present transferred there this summer time. (The Broadway run has simply been prolonged by way of Oct. 16.)
“In Lester, we witness a serious new comedic expertise emerge,” mentioned Johnny Oleksinski in The New York Submit. “All her well-known jokes really feel recent, and he or she is unbelievably humorous. My face was lots pink from laughing so arduous.”
The New York Occasions known as her “pert and twinkling”; The Washington Submit, “uber-confident, rough-and-ready”; The Wall Avenue Journal, “deliciously impish and realizing.”
It was her aura of worldliness and tenacity that made the present’s director, Lear deBessonet, so sure in casting Lester. “I knew she was proper 10 seconds into her audition video,” deBessonet mentioned. “Having seen a lot of Little Reds over time, any form of cutesy, girlie, sufferer factor was completely not of curiosity to me. As a girl, there are specific issues I don’t ever need to see onstage once more.
“For me, the defining high quality of the character is starvation, this scrumptious energy lust which is so refreshing and surprising,” deBessonet continued. “It was rapid upon seeing Julia. I used to be like, ‘Yup, properly: There she is.’”
Sipping water in a theater district resort earlier than a current efficiency, in a braid and Doc Marten lace-up boots, Lester did come throughout as preternaturally snug in her personal — admittedly callow — pores and skin.
Regardless of her cherubic face and wide-eyed phrases about attending to share the stage with so many veterans (together with Sara Bareilles, Gavin Creel and Phillipa Soo), Lester talked about how she has grown more and more confident over the previous couple of years.
“There may be plenty of stress on actors to dwell by way of different individuals’s eyes,” she mentioned. “Studying to dwell unapologetically and as myself has been actually essential for me.
“Our entire profession relies on what different individuals take into consideration us,” Lester continued. “It’s fairly a wrestle to know that different individuals are silently or non-silently judging you each day.”
If onstage she appears skilled past her years, that’s as a result of she is, having carried out professionally since she was 5 and simply accomplished her third season as Ashlyn Caswell within the Disney+ collection “Excessive College Musical: The Musical: The Collection,” the musical drama about highschool theater college students. (The fourth season begins taking pictures in Salt Lake Metropolis in September.)
Present enterprise additionally runs in Lester’s blood. Her great-grandfather and his siblings had been a part of a Yiddish opera firm in Poland on the flip of the century. Her maternal grandparents, Helen and Peter Mark Richman, met doing summer time inventory theater. Her mom, Kelly, and father, Loren, proceed to carry out, as do her two older sisters, Jenny and Lily.
“We’re an enormous performing household,” Lester mentioned. “I can’t stress sufficient how supportive all of us are of one another.”
Her model of Take Your Daughter to Work Day was going to the Common Studios lot and hanging out along with her dad on industrial shoots. “I all the time knew from the second I used to be born that this was what I needed to do for the remainder of my life,” Lester mentioned. “So with the ability to be surrounded by it each day, and actually study from my household, is such a blessing.”
Born on Jan. 28, 2000, in Los Angeles, Lester had been in productions of “Into the Woods” twice earlier than: first because the cow Milky White in a neighborhood theater manufacturing when she was in elementary faculty (her sisters performed different elements) and the following time at age 18 as Little Purple in a 99-seat theater in Los Angeles.
Whereas many actors dread having to check out for elements — given their nerves and the statistical probability of rejection — Lester mentioned she loves auditioning.
“You’re being given the chance to do what you had been placed on this earth to do,” she mentioned, “which is to carry out.”
Lester can also be personally drawn to the character of Little Purple, who, after being rescued from the mouth of the wolf, goes on to hold a knife for cover, to take care of Jack (of beanstalk fame) and to develop up earlier than the viewers’s eyes. “She is so feisty and so humorous,” Lester mentioned. “In plenty of the moments when it’s actually excessive stakes and darkish themes are occurring, she is a beacon of comedy and lightweight. That’s all the time actually enjoyable — to have the ability to deliver down the home throughout a quiet, severe second.”
Together with her efficiency on this Encores! revival, which originated at New York Metropolis Heart earlier than shifting to the St. James Theater on Broadway, the actress mentioned she “needed to reinvent the way in which individuals see Little Purple.”
“Once I was engaged on the script, I attempted my highest to have a look at each line that she says, and actually take into consideration, ‘What’s essentially the most surprising strategy to painting what’s written?’” she mentioned.
James Lapine, who wrote the present with Sondheim (who died in November), mentioned it was the primary time that he had seen an grownup play the half, which its often performed by actors below 18. “She’s bringing one thing slightly punchier to it and extra emotional shadings,” he mentioned. “She’s a extra realizing Little Purple Using Hood.”
The present’s actors say they, too, have been struck by Lester’s positive hand in getting huge laughs and by how she brings a contemporary sensibility to the position with out bastardizing it. “She has that radar which the greats have — they know when to place their foot on the brake or the fuel,” mentioned Brian d’Arcy James, who performs the Baker, including that Lester’s interpretation is “completely recent but additionally honoring what’s preceded.”
Bareilles, who performs the Baker’s Spouse, mentioned she had been pleasantly stunned by Lester’s “pure fireplace” in addition to by her palpable respect for the chance she had been given, for her fellow performers and for dwell theater itself. “She seems like an outdated soul to me,” Bareilles mentioned. “She doesn’t carry any neediness or urgency to get seen. There’s a reverence in how she approaches the work.”
As “an actual die-hard theater child,” Lester mentioned, there’s a pinch-yourself high quality to what she’s residing by way of, since she lengthy admired from afar the very individuals she now finds herself performing subsequent to onstage.
“I by no means anticipated that I might be making my Broadway debut in a Sondheim present, not to mention be surrounded by so many individuals that I’ve grown up loving and watching,” she mentioned, including, “Each single individual has taken me below their wing.”
Whereas she is simply dedicated to the present till Sept. 4, Lester mentioned she would like to return to this Broadway manufacturing and to see it dwell on. “I’m form of hoping for this present to be the brand new ‘Chicago’ and simply be long-running endlessly and I can come again to it like dwelling base every time I’m out there,” she mentioned. “That is undoubtedly a present that I’m not able to say goodbye to anytime quickly.”
The private response she has acquired from members of the viewers has been notably rewarding. Effectively conscious that, as a full-figured younger lady, she could not meet the normal bodily definition of an ingénue, Lester mentioned she was gratified that different younger girls have seemed to her as an affirming position mannequin.
“It’s taken a second to develop into myself and be snug with who I’m, nevertheless it’s bought to start out someplace,” she mentioned. “If somebody can say, ‘I see myself in you if you’re taking part in Little Purple’ — once I’m standing on a Broadway stage — that’s precisely why I’m an actor and a performer.”
“I’m actually grateful to the individuals who have seen past what I seem like,” she added, “and seen what I can supply to the world.”