Britney Coleman 1200x450
Britney Coleman 1200x450

From Barbara to Bobbie: Britney Coleman on Starring in Two National Tours

Phone rings, door chimes, in comes…Britney Coleman! After wrapping up her time as Barbara Maitland in the Beetlejuice national tour, Coleman is hitting the road again, this time as Bobbie, leading the launch of Company’s first national tour.

Coleman stepping into the red jumpsuit of Bobbie is actually a homecoming, as she understudied Katrina Lenk as Bobbie for the 2021 Broadway revival. The Marianne Elliott–directed revival garnered attention during its 2018 West End run with its gender swap of the lead character to a female protagonist — transforming Bobby to Bobbie. With a sumptuous score from Stephen Sondheim, Company follows Bobbie navigating life and love in New York City as a 35-year-old unmarried woman with her coupled-up friends giving advice along the way. The Broadway transfer won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical in 2022, and will start its journey to more than 25 cities starting October 8.

Ahead of the tour, Broadway Direct sat down to chat with Coleman about returning to the role of Bobbie, her favorite Sondheim quote, and her favorite coffee spot in America. We’ll drink to that!

Britney Coleman and Jacob Dickey in the North American Tour of Company. Photo by Matthew Murphy of MurphyMade.
Britney Coleman and Jacob Dickey in the North American Tour of Company. Photo by Matthew Murphy of MurphyMade.

You understudied Bobbie on Broadway for the 2021 revival of Company. How would you describe Bobbie, and how do you relate to her, if at all?

I love this Bobbie. She’s got a quiet fire under her. I like how introspective this role is. I love that Bobbie is fearless and shows all of her guts. There’s a level of vulnerability for this role that I just love to explore. This production in particular, not even with just the gender swap, but the way it’s been staged and designed, I fully resonate with the Bobbie. There’s an element of claustrophobia with all her friends crowded around her when the musical starts, and I’m definitely an introvert, so to have 10 people all up in your face is actually terrifying. It’s fascinating to experience Bobbie being completely suffocated by her loved ones and people she trusts completely.

As terrifying as it can be, I think it’s going to be a really fun experience observing the craziness that all these couples bring to the show. Even though I’m going to be onstage the entire time, a lot of what I’m doing while onstage is observing the other people around me, and I’m really excited to lift them up and be a window for the audience.

I’ve been on the road for a year, so I know what these houses are like and how rare it is to know I’ll be alone onstage with zero scenery. That’s a novelty. That doesn’t happen in big commercial theatres, especially these tours, so I’m excited to bring an audience of 3,000 people on this very vulnerable journey.

How have you changed as an artist from when you were understudying this role?

People-pleasing and perfectionism are some of the top traits we list for Bobbie. The idea of having to be everything for everybody is exhausting, and I fully intend to play that. Like yes, I want it to be perfect, but the beauty is that Bobbie is not perfect. Britney is not perfect, and that’s something we all have to wrap our heads around.

I’m grateful that I got to do the Broadway production and see Katrina’s process. She was so present and open. She is a master class in terms of presence. I really want to embody that. I’m excited to meet this cast; I think we’ll do a lot of things organically. I’m trying to stay super open going into the rehearsal process.

Sondheim is such a pillar in the musical-theater canon. Do you have a favorite song or phrase that you’re excited to sing?

My favorite Sondheim quote of all time is actually from Into the Woods — I’ve done it four times throughout my career — is “Best to take the moment present as a present for the moment.” It zeroes in on where you are in that space and time to take a breath. I love that.

As far as Company, almost every solo song that Bobbie has — “Someone is Waiting,” “Marry Me a Little,” and “Being Alive” — the beauty of them is that they play with both sides of the coin. Even the end of “Being Alive” can be left up for interpretation no matter how you play it. I love that it doesn’t have to be a definitive thing. He has captured the meandering of thought. He is one of the only songwriters who really captures that chaotic experience.

The Into the Woods quote seems applicable to how you’re approaching Bobbie. This revival got a lot of attention for gender-swapping Bobby to Bobbie. I think it’s exciting that now we get to see you as a Black woman playing this role. How do you feel like your identity adds layers to the story?

Growing up, my parents had a season subscription to a theatre in Detroit, and I think about if baby Britney had seen someone who looked like me up there doing that, it would have been a game-changer. To know it had been done would have been thrilling to me instead of questioning every step of my career and asking “Is there space for me?” I’m excited to be that for a lot of little Britneys out there.

I saw your Beetlejuice farewell post on Instagram and how you mentioned you and Will Burton are an interracial version of the Maitlands. How was the experience of touring across the country playing an interracial couple?

There are a lot of people who were excited to see diversity in the company in general. Jackera Davis, one of the Lydia understudies, was Black, so being onstage together was really special.

The role I played, Barbara, is written for a white woman. I’ve played a lot of roles that were originally cast as blondes. This was the first time that people had to change lyrics for me to be there. Beetlejuice’s fandom is widespread and intense, so most of the audience was fine with it, but there were some die-hard fans who were like, “The lyric change doesn’t make sense.” Mostly there were a lot of wonderful folks at the stage door who said, “I loved seeing me up there. I never thought I could do Beetlejuice.” They were really inspired by it, which was really cool.

Isabella Esler (Lydia), Will Burton (Adam) and Britney Coleman (Barbara)
Isabella Esler, Will Burton, and Britney Coleman in Beetlejuice. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

What really sold it for the Maitlands as a couple was Will and I went to college together, so our chemistry was off the charts. It was interesting doing it in ethnically homogenous cities across the country because they didn’t take to us as much as other cities. I have a feeling it’s going to be the same thing with Company. There are a lot of factors there. I think a lot of people are excited for the gender swap, but now we have the racial element, so it’s going to be a lot of newness for everyone. But it’ll be great because we are laying the groundwork.

It’s no secret how grueling touring can be. How do you handle the tour schedule?

 We have a lot of one-weekers, which means Tuesday through Sunday in the city performing and Monday is a travel day. It’s really hard. We had three months of one-weekers for Beetlejuice and we were all dead-tired. Tuesdays are long days because you have to be there for sound check. Sunday is crazy because all of your stuff has to be packed up the day before so they can load out immediately after the show is done. But you get into a routine. Like, I put up little LED lights with ivy, so on Saturday I take that down so I can be bare-bones on Sunday with just my makeup and essentials. If you’re there for a month you can put up a little more, like I put up photos of my grandparents so I can remember my roots — it’s very grounding.

Do you do an entire tech rehearsal on Tuesday when you get to a new city?

The only tech we have is before we open. We rehearse in New York, then we tech in Schenectady. That’s when the lighting levels get set, sound gets set, the orchestra gets balanced, and that’s when the tour crew comes in to learn the show and get in their rhythm. Then that’s it. So for Tuesday night performances, things are happening for the very first time for people. Most of the day is taken up by load-in, things getting put together, and the cast touring the floor. Then at night, it’s a go.

Do you have any rituals when you get to a new city?

I like to walk around the town. Since I’ve been on tour with Beetlejuice and Beautiful, I’ve kind of learned about the different towns, like what neighborhood I want to live in or what hotels I like.

Coffee is a necessity. I try to save money and make coffee myself, so I get the local beans as a way to try coffee in each city. Philz Coffee in California is really good. They make their coffee like you’re ordering a drink at a bar, so it takes a little longer, but it’s so good.

Overall, what would you say is the most rewarding thing and the most challenging thing about touring?

The schedule is brutal. It’s so hard. You don’t get a sense of home or recovery time in a place that is yours. I have a travel pillow so I have a consistent pillow to sleep on. Also, getting used to the different houses across the country. Each auditorium sounds completely different. Tuesday is hard because you’re adjusting to the new theatre, wondering if the audience can hear you, or how well you can hear yourself.

Every backstage is different too. For Beetlejuice, folks would have to go back to their dressing rooms to change costumes, and they’d come offstage and not know where they were. We had arrows to show where to go for dressing rooms, for stage management, or for the orchestra pit.

The rewarding thing is the stage door. There are so many theater lovers across this country who only have access to bootlegs, and I can tell they are so grateful to have that live experience. They’ll say, “I’m so happy that I get to see this live! I’ve listened to the cast album so many times.” We are like Broadway ambassadors.