For Phillipa Soo, the question isn’t “Can lightning strike twice?” But . . . three times?
Fresh out of Juilliard in 2012, Soo found herself involved in readings and workshops for three new musicals. First “Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812,” where her belty, impassioned take on Natasha in the hit Off-Broadway version got her noticed by the folks putting together a little musical called “Hamilton.” Talk about your seismic career jolts — playing Eliza Schuyler Hamilton opposite Lin-Manuel Miranda catapulted her to fame (and earned her a best actress Tony nomination).
Now fans can catch her in the title role of “Amélie,” a new musical directed by Pam MacKinnon, based on the delightful 2001 French film. With music by Daniel Messé, lyrics by Nathan Tysen and Messé, and book by Craig Lucas, the story follows the whimsical adventures of a withdrawn waitress with a knack for solving people’s problems. The show opens at the Walter Kerr Theatre on April 3.
Soo, 26, a native of Libertyville, Illinois, is engaged to actor Steven Pasquale, and recently sang “America the Beautiful” with “Hamilton” castmates at this year’s Super Bowl.
When you first heard about this new musical, did you watch the movie to get a sense of the sweet, oddball style of the story, or did you not watch it, so you wouldn’t have the star, Audrey Tautou, in your head?
I watched the movie religiously when I was a teen with some of my best friends. I loved it. I related to the character. She’s like the original quirky girl — a brunette I could identify with. When I was asked to do a reading, I was so excited — it brought me back to those days of seeing the film, when I was first becoming curious about the world. And acting. I went through a phase when I was watching a lot of foreign films, just itching to get out of the suburbs and explore. So, yeah, for the reading, I re-watched it, and it once again swept me off my feet.
Amélie is a curious character. She runs around secretly doing good deeds for people — which takes some guts — yet she’s terribly, terribly shy when it comes to helping herself.
What’s so beautiful about her — she’s not your average ingénue, just swept up by events happening in the world around her.
I hadn’t thought of that. She’s not kidnapped or set upon — she’s shy, but she’s no damsel in distress.
Everything she does is initiated by her. It’s her decision. What’s great about this journey is that I get to live through her that sort of very brave moment of taking a huge step — when you open yourself up to somebody. It may feel like a small thing, but that’s what this story does so well — it reminds us of those little moments that mean so much.
You seem like a go-getter. Are you ever shy?
I can be. In in ways. Especially when I’m overwhelmed by my job, or New York. I find it’s nice when I can be a listener and absorb things coming at me. It’s important, especially for me, when so much of my job is about putting things out into the world. So those quiet moments are rejuvenating. You know, where I can just be in a corner, taking it in.
Yeah — like at the Super Bowl. Just in your quiet corner. No pressure.
Yes, exactly. [She laughs.] So shy. But, you know, “shy” is funny. You could equate those moments when you’re incredibly humbled — that’s a shyness of sorts. I’ve felt that a lot. I’ve been fortunate to have these huge moments in my life.
Your dad is a doctor. Your mom works in theater in Chicago. No doubt they’re proud of you. Is there some lesson you’ve learned from them that stays with you?
My mom always told me to follow my bliss. And I remember specifically with my father, when I was out of school and not knowing how I’d get a job or make money — should I take some classes? What do I do? He said as long as I was working — to enrich myself in some way — that I was on the right path. He was very much an advocate of learning. And I always took that to heart.
Of course, who can fit in classes when you’re busy starring in hit shows one after the other?
I know. [She chuckles.] It’s funny. I think as a young person, leaving high school or college, you’re like, “All right, all right, enough already.” But now there’s a part of me that would like to go back and relish those moments when you could sit down and just . . . read a book.