Kate Rockwell is making fetch happen in Mean Girls on Broadway with her pink ensemble and perfect comedic timing. But this girl is no joke! Nominated for a Drama Desk Award for her role as Karen, she also just released her new solo album Back To My Roots, which features songs that inspired her to become a performer. We asked Kate to dish on her album release, Mean Girls, and what it’s really like to work with Tina Fey.
Congratulations on your solo album, Back To My Roots. Why did you want to put out an album now and how did you choose the songs?
The timing of it just sort of happened. The songs are all from a one‑woman show that I created two years ago, and they are all the songs that taught me about musical theater and made me fall in love with Broadway back when I was a kid. I have never sang them on a Broadway stage because I haven’t had a chance to work in that genre yet. So I created this show, and then from there came this album. I am really excited for people to get to hear it.
Are you going to have an album release party or do another show?
Yes. We are going to do a really big album release after the Tony Awards in June. So we have a little bit of time.
What was the first show you saw that made you fall in love with theater?
I hate saying this because I feel like it’s so cliche, but Cats. I saw a national tour of Cats – I am going to date myself here and say it was 1989, when I was little. I remember distinctly sitting in the audience and the cats entered from the back of the house and came running down the aisles. One of them came up to me and kind of got up in my lap and was pawing at me and playing with me. As a little kid, I was enraptured. I was so obsessed, and that was it for me. That was the beginning of the end, as it were. I loved it so much. I wish I could find out who actor that was, because I would give him a big thank you.
It must be amazing to work with Tina Fey. What is something you were surprised to learn about her?
The fact that she is so down to earth and grounded was surprising. I looked up to her my entire career and respected her so much as both an actress and comedian, but also as a writer and producer. I expected her to come in and sort of be the celebrity that she is, be the powerhouse that she is, and she is so calm and just wants to work with everybody. She is definitely a leader in the room, but she is a very quiet version of it. She is not a super‑big personality and I think that surprised me. I was expecting a celebrity, and instead I got a really hard‑working collaborator.
Has she given you any good advice for life or insights into your character?
Yes. She is not necessarily someone to tell you how to live your life or how to do anything. That’s not her way, but she has definitely been encouraging and supportive of me developing my own voice and my own style of the comedy and the material, which I really appreciate.
What would you say is the best change or addition to your character, Karen, from the movie to the Broadway show?
I actually love all the characters and the way that they have changed from the film to the Broadway show. I think Karen has actually gotten some of the most growth. In the musical she actually has a real heart, and I think she is able to have a perspective on her life that she didn’t get to have in the movie. I don’t want to tell you exactly what it is, because I don’t want to give it away to people who haven’t seen it. The “Rule of Twos” is a really important thing that she is able to identify and help teach Cady about and that’s not the case in the film. It’s a real joy to get to that, have that purpose.
Karen has so many great one liners, which is your favorite?
Right now I am really obsessing over the question about the tiger. Karen asks Cady, “have you ever touched a tiger?” and Cady says, “no, those are mostly in India.” And then Karen goes on to talk about how that might relate to one of her life goals. Again, I won’t give away the punchline, but I think that’s a line right now that I am playing with.
Why is Mean Girls still relevant today and how does the show convey that message?
It’s incredibly relevant today. I also think that the movie is relevant today, because it’s really important for women to understand that you are not here to fight against each other and we are not in competition with each other. We can all work together and appreciate each other and treat each other with respect. The only way we, as women, will continue to move forward and take our place in the world is if we stop cutting each other down. That lesson is still so true today, even more so now because ultimately I think the climate is really shifting and there has been some wonderful movement and progression for women in the workplace and in their relationships, but I also think that there has been backlash to that.
It’s really important, maybe more than ever, for us to really stick together and support each other and not cut each other down. So many other people are trying to do that and we don’t need to work against each other. We need to work together.
Did you have any experience with mean girls in high school (or were you a mean girl)?
Oh, my gosh, no, I was such a nerd in high school. I was a total theater geek, but we did have some mean girls in our high school. I don’t think that they were quite as powerful as Regina George or the Plastics are, but they were definitely there and I did have some experience with them– although I was very fortunate to come from a very big high school and there were a lot of groups and families. My theater family was so large and so supportive that I always felt at home, I never felt like I had to compete with them. I never felt like I had to really combat them, but they were definitely there. And I wonder what happened to them now. I actually don’t know.
Do you love Halloween as much as your character Karen does? What’s the best Halloween costume you ever wore?
I do I love Halloween. It’s actually my husband’s favorite holiday, so we go all out every year. We decorate our apartment and there is always some sort of party or celebration that we go to. Actually, right now my favorite costume I dressed up as is last year’s.
We had our first preview in D.C. on Halloween last year and the rest of the girls and the Plastics and I went as the many faces of Kerry Butler. We dressed up as Kerry Butler’s characters that she played on Broadway and surprised her with it. She didn’t know we were coming to the party dressed as her resume. It was really fun and she was so surprised and she loved it.
It’s amazing to work with somebody like her who I looked up to my whole career, and now we are working together as peers. Like it’s no big deal. So every now and then we get to fangirl over her and that was one of the really fun moments, getting to show her how much we appreciate her.
What is Karen’s favorite social media outlet and what is your favorite?
I would think Karen might like Snapchat. I don’t have a lot of experience with Snapchat so it’s hard for me to comment on that, but I think it’s the fact that it’s super‑simple and super‑quick and it goes away after 24 hours, because Karen doesn’t really hold onto anything. There is like no past for Karen. It’s all in the present. It’s the kind of thing that she would love to use. I am more of an Instagram person myself because I really love looking at pictures. I love the picture part of it.
Can you describe your experience in the following shows?
Legally Blonde: That was my Broadway debut so it was a big one. I loved that show very much. I think it was ahead of its time frankly, as far as movie‑to‑musical transfers go. It was so funny, and watching Laura Bell Bundy do that every night was such a lesson in endurance and stamina on stage. She also was a brilliant comedian and I do think I learned a lot watching her and that I have taken a lot from what I watched her to do in that show. It was a tough transition because it’s so hard to do a Broadway show eight times a week for a long period of time, and there isn’t really another experience like it. So I had a lot of learning to do when I was there.
Hair: Joyful and life‑changing. I have now had the chance to do three productions of Hair. Every time I do Hair it changes my life. It’s a really amazing show to be a part of. It’s all about family and creating your own tribe and finding a place that you feel safe and loved and supported, and every time I have done that, that’s exactly what I have experienced. It teaches you freedom, it teaches you love and passion in a way that other shows maybe can’t do because they are a little more structured and there are more rules. In Hair there are very few rules so it’s just about make it what you want it to be and what do you want it to be now. It’s a very artistic experience. So I am so blessed to be a part of that at any point.
Rock of Ages: I loved Rock of Ages. I loved playing a rock star and then going home to my normal Broadway life. Because I got to live on stage, I got to be a rock star and sing all this incredible music and fall in love every night and tell this really fun, joyful story with this spectacular group of actors. Then I went home at night and didn’t have to get on a tour bus and I didn’t have to actually live the rock star lifestyle. So it was the best of both worlds. The Helen Hayes Theatre (which is where the show was when I participated in it) is a tiny, tiny place and it also kind of shoves you and the rest of the company together in a way that makes you very, very close very quickly and I loved the people. We had such a fun time together.
Bring It On: Bring It On was a challenge, man. That’s the first time I originated anything. Creating a show from the ground up is a very different experience than replacing into a show that already exists around you, that they already worked out all the kinks. It was hard. We did an incredibly physically challenging piece of theater, working with a lot of different types of people. We had professional cheerleaders, we had professional dancers, and we had professional actor/singers all coming together and learning each other’s skills and supporting each other and also kind of dipping their toe in something that they have never done before. I had never cheered before. That was a real learning experience and it was very, very challenging. For all of us. Everyone had to step out of their box and expand their horizons, and it was a really incredible experience.
How do you like to unwind on your days off?
I go to yoga, which is important to me. Helps me stretch my body back out and if I can, I try to get outside, try to see the sun, get some fresh air. It’s a lot of hours indoors in the dark in the theater world, so it’s nice to get some vitamin D and see the sky. And I try to spend my time with my two dogs and my husband, because I don’t see them as much when we are working. I want to make sure on my day off I spend as much time with them as possible.