When Lea Michele was cast as Fanny Brice in Funny Girl on Broadway, she reached out to her peers within the industry for advice. She needed guidance on how to lead a show as a first-time mom.
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“I knew stepping into the role of Fanny Brice was going to be the hardest role that I’ve ever played. Doing it as a mom, I knew it would be a challenge unlike anything I could ever prepare myself for,” she told Broadway Direct. Michele was a young adult when she was last on Broadway, in 2006’s Spring Awakening. Now 36, she called up Kelli O’Hara, Renée Elise Goldsberry, and Sutton Foster. “I reached out to this community of strong, powerful mother performers. They really gave me great advice. Sutton was so helpful and is still so helpful to me day-to-day. I send her voice notes asking how we juggle all of this,” she said.
Veteran Broadway mom Victoria Clark, starring in Kimberly Akimbo, knows the importance of that type of bond. “It’s this partnership of women understanding what other women need,” she said to Broadway Direct. She recalled a time when she relied on her theater friends to help her negotiate her contract for How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying as a new mom. Her son, Thomas Luke, now 28, had just been born. “Our company manager, Marsha Goldberg, was incredible because we had to do the deal really fast. She asked me what I needed, and I said I need 20-minute breaks in rehearsal. The longest an Equity break can be is 15 minutes, and I said they need to be 20 minutes because it takes that long [to pump]. I also asked for another apartment in Washington, D.C., [during out-of-town tryouts] so my mother-in-law can help out because my husband couldn’t take off that time. It was almost six weeks [away].”
Balancing motherhood and leading seven or eight shows a week is no easy feat.
“I’m really tired,” admitted Robyn Hurder, starring in A Beautiful Noise, The Neil Diamond Musical. Her son, Hudson, is 9 years old. “We opened this show in December and the grind of it turned into Groundhog Day. [My husband] Clyde Alves is about to open [New York, New York]. He’s been gone because he’s doing rehearsal during the day and then the show at night. This has been very hard for me. This has never happened where Clyde and I worked at the same time.”
Michele can relate to the vigorous grind. “The energy it takes to get up on the stage every night, perform in front of the audience, and tell the story every single day, if not sometimes twice a day, is hard. But you also have another role during the day. That’s the role of a mother,” Michele said.
Michele is also navigating being there for audiences paying top dollar to see her in the iconic role, but also being there for her 2-year-old son, Ever, after he experienced a recent medical emergency.
“We’re still weekly having to monitor what we’re dealing with. We’re not out of the woods,” she said. “I’m so grateful for the incredible support that I’ve had not only from my friends and family, but from my cast. I get texts on the daily from almost everyone in the show asking how he’s doing, how his appointments are going. To know I have such incredible support and love from the people that I work with every day makes this so much easier.”
At the end of the day, while playing Fanny Brice has been a dream, being a mom is “the greatest dream for me of all,” she said.
Clark, with 13 Broadway credits to her name, agrees. “Being a mom is my favorite thing in the whole world. Out of all the things I’ve done, that is the thing that I’m the most proud of and the most fulfilled by.”
Hurder added, “The only thing I hope is that Hudson sees what I do, how hard I work for the family. He’s going to grow up and see that. When he’s older, he’s gonna be like, ‘My mom was a badass.’”
In honor of Mother’s Day, Broadway Direct spoke with Michele, Clark, Hurder, Dancin’s Khori Petinaud (son Carver is 2), Aladdin’s Ariel Reid (Gianna, 7), and & Juliet’s Betsy Wolfe (Poppy, 3) about their experiences being a mom.
How do you balance seven or eight shows a week with motherhood?
LEA MICHELE: Sutton [Foster] was so wonderful and encouraged me to reach out for family to help and rely on other people. We’ve created a wonderful support system between my family and my husband.
KHORI PETINAUD: I don’t know that balance is fully attainable. I think it’s a nice thing to always be striving for. I still have not mastered how to get enough rest in my life. I’m human, and things will adjust.
ROBYN HURDER: Balance is the No. 1 word in my life. I feel like I’m failing at one or the other [career and family] every single day. I want to be perfect at everything, even though I know that’s not possible. I always feel like I can never fully check every box every day. I’ve accepted it. I have to, because that’s life. These moments are temporary.
ARIEL REID: I drink a lot of coffee. We have a babysitter who comes and helps us on certain days and certain nights of the week. If she’s sick, my sitter is sick, or someone at work is sick, there are definitely times when I have to make the decision of where I need to be. Home is always first for me.
BETSY WOLFE: This is my eighth Broadway show and first with a child — let alone a toddler! — and it is unlike any exhaustion I’ve ever known before. At the end of the day, for me, balance is prioritizing and having quality time with Poppy every single day.
What is a typical day like for you with your kids?
LM: If it’s a two-show day, my husband will do the morning wake-up because I’ll have a long day ahead of me. For the most part, I wake up with the baby in the morning. We play for 30 minutes and then I make him breakfast and get him ready for the day. He’s in a little twos program right now that he loves so much. I do drop off every morning. On an evening [performance] night, I have a few hours where I can get a couple of things done for myself, whether I work out, take care of things around the house, or do any other work stuff. I try to schedule it during the time that he’s in school. I pick him up from school, come home, give him lunch, and put him down for his nap. When he’s down for his nap is when I get ready for the show. I’ll shower, stretch, meditate, and warm up while he’s napping. Usually his daddy or my mom will take him to the park and play while I’m finishing getting ready. He comes home and we have dinner together, which is the best part of my day. As he’s getting ready for bed, I say good night, and I head off to the theatre.
VICTORIA CLARK: I would just put $10 in my pocket and throw TL in a stroller. I had tons of energy, and we would just head outside because we both love being outside. We might watch a dump truck for an hour or we might go into Central Park and watch people playing baseball. We went to the carousel a lot. He used to go up and down the elevator at the Marquis [Theatre]. We had a lot of activities on 46th Street because I did two shows back to back on 46th Street. I did How to Succeed, and then right after that I did Titanic. He used to think I worked on 46th Street. That was the big joke. When I did Cabaret, I would pick him up after school. Go home, go to the playground, set up a playdate, make dinner, have dinner with him, run out the door, drive to work, drive home, get up the next morning. Sometimes I would teach from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m., when it was time to pick him up. Then do that whole routine plus do a Broadway show.
RH: We don’t get home until a little before 1 a.m. every night. I tell him to let me sleep until 8. He always comes in, gives me a kiss, and says, “Good morning, Mommy.” I spend about an hour with him, getting breakfast ready, packing his lunch. I usually have to leave before he gets out of school because he has to be picked up at 3:30. We live an hour north of the city. So I have to be on the road by 3:45 p.m. His caretaker picks him up, so I don’t see him at all throughout the day. He’s a really great soccer player. On the weekends, he has games. I kick the soccer ball around with him outside with my coffee for three or four minutes and then he’s off. I don’t see him at all tonight because he has to stay over at our friend’s house. We won’t see him until tomorrow morning when we pick him up, and then I’ll see him for like an hour. Then I have our matinee. Tomorrow I am done at 5:30 p.m. from my show and we’re going to see a movie. I’m very excited about that.
KP: I try to get him by 6:30 a.m. While he’s eating his breakfast, I can make my own breakfast. When we were in rehearsals we had to make sure I was out of the house by 7:45 a.m. to get him to school. Now I just try to make sure that I’m getting him to school sometime between 9 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. If we have a two-show day, I usually take yoga, which is by his school. I almost always take some sort of class before the show, whether it be jazz or meditation classes. My husband picks him up from school.
AR: We did breakfast and got her ready for school. I drove her to school, got myself together, and headed to the train station. If it’s not coming in to do the show, then it’ll be coming in to do rehearsals or run auditions. Now that she’s in school, we have our morning time. Then I don’t see her for the rest of the day or night, because I’m at the show and the shows at night.
BW: Because Poppy is 3, she only goes to school two days a week for two and a half hours. Now that we’re on a regular show schedule, working mostly nights has been the greatest gift because it’s afforded me so much time with Poppy during her days. About five years ago, I cofounded a company, BroadwayEvolved. Thanks to my incredibly flexible cofounder, we are able to do our work in the times I’m not with Poppy or & Juliet. It’s not easy, but she understands that sometimes I need to work after I come home from a show. Special shout-out to my husband, who does most early mornings with Poppy so I can get some rest.
What is your good-night routine before 8 p.m. shows?
LM: By the time I get to the theatre, he is bathed and in his pajamas. I get to the theatre and I FaceTime him. He wishes me good luck and says mazel tov. He wants to always say hi to the people in my dressing room, like Doug, who does my wig, and Alyssa, who’s my dresser. Or if [director] Michael Mayer is in the room or Ramin [Karimloo] is in the room, he wants to say hi to everyone. He wants to ask everyone what they’re doing. I’m sure he wants to prolong bedtime.
VC: The babysitter knew to call at 7:30 p.m. or 7:40 p.m. In those days, they had phones in the dressing rooms. We would say good night then.
RH: He was given a phone. This might be looked down upon, but the only reason why we had to do this was because we needed to have some sort of communication with him. Both of his parents are gone and in a show. The babysitter is usually putting him to bed. He FaceTimes, which happens to be right at intermission. He’s all showered and looks cute. He says, “Good night, I love you, Mommy.” If I have time, I sing to him “How Deep Is the Ocean,” which is what I’ve been singing to him every single night since he was born.
KP: I will try to FaceTime him. Our show is already starting around when he’s already going to bed. It’s a tricky time period, especially the 7 p.m., because my husband is in transit to get Carver home from school when I’m starting the show. With the 8 p.m. shows, it’s easier because I can catch him right before. I say “I love you, have a good night” before he goes to bed.
AR: We’ll get on Zoom or FaceTime on my phone. At the end of the night, she describes what happened during her day or says hi.
BW: Poppy obviously knows Mommy works at night, but we get to eat dinner together and then we do a “dance party.” And then it’s work time for me! Sometimes we FaceTime as I’m getting ready for the show, and I make sure she sees her picture in my dressing room so she knows I think about her while I’m singing.
Do the kids ever see you perform or come backstage to watch while you’re performing?
LM: Because of COVID, no family is allowed backstage. My husband did sneak him into the show in January. He watched the finale and the bows from the side of the theatre. I’ve had so many amazing experiences and moments over this past year with Funny Girl, but nothing will top the moment I saw my son in the audience watching me and waving to me as I was on stage as Fanny Brice. I don’t know if I’ll ever have a moment like that ever again.
VC: TL’s seen it three or four times, which is pretty good, I’d say. His girlfriend has probably seen it more. [Out of all my shows] he probably saw Light in the Piazza the most, because he was only 10 then. He helped me learn the lines in that show. I remember when I was first learning the lines, he picked up the script and looked at the title on the cover of the notebook really fast. He said, “The Light in the Pizza?” Piazza is not a word that most 9-year-olds know. [Years ago] if TL did come backstage, he was usually gone by half-hour. But sometimes if the babysitter was late, or if my husband had a problem, he’d have to come to work. Lillias White used to bring all three of her kids to work when we were in How to Succeed. I gave her my dressing room because I only had one kid and she had more kids. [When I did] Cabaret, he used to do my makeup because it was supposed to be very sort of Edvard Munch, expressionistic makeup. One time during How to Succeed, TL was sick and had a fever. I felt like I needed to leave. But it was during the critics’ performance. Matthew Broderick came up to my dressing room and asked me to do the show that afternoon. I told him I was worried about my kid. So he asked if I wanted to bring him and [they’ll] make sure he has whatever he needs. So, TL stayed in the dressing room for that show.
RH: He has seen me in Moulin Rouge! He saw A Beautiful Noise. I wish I could have him in my dressing room and backstage. It would save me a lot of money to have him pop a squat in my dressing room and be on the Nintendo Switch while I do my show. The last time Clyde was on Broadway, it was On the Town and Hudson was a little baby. Back then, I was in the dressing room hanging out with a 15-month-old while Clyde was on stage.
KP: He came to the [Radio City] Christmas Spectacular. That was his first show. The protocols at the theatre are not allowing [kids backstage] still, which sucks. It was the same at Radio City. I’m hoping that will change because I really would like for him to experience that. Now he really understands why I’m leaving, so I want him to be able to have some sort of association with where I am and why I’m there. [In 2021, when I was in] Moulin Rouge!, they were super supportive. Even though we were dealing with coming back from the pandemic, they did allow me to bring Carver to the theatre because I was still breastfeeding him. We came up with a routine where my sitter was getting tested so that she could be on the cadence with us and be allowed in the theatre.
AR: Gianna was here a lot. She would hang out in the dressing room with me. I took her around to all the dressing rooms and said hi to everyone and then stopped down to stage management. She has seen Aladdin twice. She saw it when she was 3 and then post-shutdown. When she saw the show, she would say that person looked different when they’re on stage. Now that she’s a bit older, she wants to know how the buildings are moving or how he gets around that building so fast. And how do they get the smoke to be green?
BW: She has seen the last 35 minutes of & Juliet three times! She loves it so much, she now requests to FaceTime with Juliet after her naps. Soon she will see the whole show for the first time!
What advice do you have for other moms or aspiring moms in theater?
VC: I don’t think people should have to give up their career and what they love to have kids. There were many years where I didn’t get to see TL every day. The days that I did have with him were precious. But I do empathize. I understand the heartache that some younger mothers feel. I know exactly what that feels like, to have to leave the soccer game after 20 minutes because you have to run to your matinee.
RH: It is so challenging, but I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t have this deep love for what I’m doing. I am so proud of myself that I am successfully working on Broadway. And I do feel like I’m a successful mom, even though we have good days and bad days. It actually helps you. My career has progressed so much since having a baby. That’s something I always say to people who are questioning about becoming mothers in this business.
KP: Mondays are really precious. To me personally, it’s not enough and I wish that we had more. I hope that people who are coming to see shows understand and really appreciate the working parent. The art we are providing does come at a sacrifice. At a time when you are spending time with your family, we are not because we’re doing our job.
AR: Being a mom on Broadway has actually brought a whole new skill set to my arsenal. When I came back [from leave], I came back as a mom, but I also came back into the responsibility of being dance captain and communicating with people in a different way.
LM: Renée said, at the end of the day, everything that we do isn’t for us. We do it for our children. I think of that every single night when I’m on stage, that this is such an amazing opportunity for me in my life.