When Katrina Lenk learned she had booked the lead role in Broadway’s Society wake up, she screamed – a rash of wild, wordless noise. She was on a sidewalk in New York’s Theater District around fall 2019 and describes the scene as characteristic of the city. “Someone is screaming in the street, who cares?” she tells Bustle with a chuckle.
Over the previous month, the Midwestern actor had auditioned for the role, Bobbie, in small work sessions for the fledgling production — in which actors receive stage and song instructions from the creative team — but in the world of acting, there’s no guarantee these workshops will translate to spotlight on stage, even if you’re a Tony winner like Lenk. So when her manager called to tell her the news, she remembers thinking, “Now I have to do this, [but] it’s super intimidating because it’s these titans [such as Stephen] Sondheim and director Marianne Elliott.
She had just come out of a feedback session with the show’s creative team, who had invited a special guest for the session: the musical’s composer himself, Sondheim. “[It] was not nerve-wracking at all,” she now jokes. And Lenk is used to high pressure situations. Before her Tony-winning turn as Dina in the 2017 musical The group visit, she had also created several related roles in Paula Vogel’s critical darling Indecent, played a violinist in Once, and a mythical spider in Spiderman: Turn off the dark.
All of these roles required an accent – Israeli for Dina, for example – so with Society, she will use her own Midwestern voice for the first time on Broadway. This revival of Sondheim’s 1970 musical changes the gender of the protagonist, so “Bobby” becomes “Bobbie”, a single woman celebrating her 35th birthday with friends, who keep asking why she isn’t married yet. The show was scheduled to open in March 2020, on Sondheim’s 90th birthday, but was ultimately delayed to December 2021 due to pandemic Broadway closures.
Sondheim attended the musical’s first preview in mid-November, a colorful celebration with balloons and party hats, and spoke to the cast after the show. “He was smiling, so happy and full of stories and jokes,” Lenk recalled. “He seemed really pleased with how the show turned out and told us to cherish that feeling and experience in the theater because it doesn’t happen all the time.” He died 10 days later.
Lenk and co-star Patti LuPone carry on his legacy, eight times a week at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theater. (Lupone, for his part, cherishes live theater in part with a popcorn machine in his dressing room.) “He was always super encouraging and in my corner,” Lenk says of the late composer, “in a positive way. and criticism, which I greatly appreciated.”
Learn more about the Broadway belter in the Bustle quiz below.
In the stand of the bustle
What’s your coffee order?
Well, the one I just spilled on my pants was dark roast coffee with oat milk, LOL.
What weather locations are stored on your phone?
Two New Yorks – one is currently 11 degrees cooler than the other (?!) – Chicago, Verkhoyansk, Petah Tikva, LA, Atlanta.
What is your sign?
Overused favorite movie quote?
“I’m drinking your milkshake.”
What was your favorite cartoon when you were a kid?
What musical or song are you currently obsessed with?
The live version of “Unfollow the Rules” by Rufus Wainwright.
Who is your idol celebrity?
Angelina Jolie. She actually appeared in my dream last night to speak to my class. I was late, my hair was wet, and she gave me a wink. I was devastated.
Unmissable karaoke song?
“Heartbreaker” by Pat Benatar.
What inspires you lately?
Our Society stunt doubles, assistant directors and management team. HERO.
What would you like people to say about you?
Oh my God, it took me three days to figure it out, and the best I could come up with is, “I like it.”
Society currently playing at Bernard B. Jacobs Theater (242 West 45th Street.) At New York.