Pop-Culturalist Chats with Lauren Zakrin
The 2008 reality show, Legally Blonde: The Musical — The Search for Elle Woods was Lauren Zakrin’s lucky break. She came in fourth place in the competition, but her path to Broadway became clear. She has been a part of national tours for shows like Wicked and Grease. She’s also made her mark on Broadway—most recently as the understudy for Natasha in Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812. Clearly, this talented young actress has kept herself busy.
And, now, if you’ve seen the fantastically fun Cruel Intentions: The Musical in New York, you’d know that Lauren Zakrin was born to play everyone’s favorite bad-girl, Kathryn Merteuil. She’s cool, has a biting tone, and brings a vulnerability to the surface that makes Kathryn such a strong and complex character. Not to mention, Lauren Zakrin has one heck of a belting voice.
We were able to chat with Lauren about being a part of this adaptation of such a well-loved story, embracing a not-so-nice character, and, of course, 90s music.
P-C: How did you decide that you wanted to make performing your career?
Lauren: It sort of fell into my lap. I decided late into my high school experience that I wanted to go into theater so everything happened very quickly. I ended up going to Western Michigan for musical theater, and while I was there I, on a whim, auditioned for the Legally Blonde reality competition and got a job off that. I’ve been working ever since.
P-C: How did you get involved with Cruel Intentions?
Lauren: I had just closed Great Comet, and I was coming back from a month-long road trip. So I got in off a red-eye and went in—it was my first audition back in the city. And, I booked it off the one audition so that also happened very quickly!
P-C: How did you approach playing Kathryn since so many people know the character and the film?
Lauren: Yeah, it’s a big undertaking. First of all, she’s my first villain and bad girl so stepping into that energy has kind of been a big process for me. I certainly watched the movie a couple of times just to make sure I was encompassing that iconic spirit she has that everyone’s looking for when they come to see the show. I try to avoid doing any sort of impression or imitation, though. I’ve done a lot of work to try and find that ugliness within because we all have the potential to be that way. So, it’s digging inside and trying to make it as authentically “me” as I can.
P-C: You were saying this is the first villainous character you’ve played. What was the biggest challenge for you in doing that?
Lauren: You have to separate real life from the role you’re playing, obviously. It often doesn’t feel good to be putting out this cruel, unkind energy every day. So, I have to work on separating that from my actual emotional state during the day.
P-C: So, how do you unwind after each show?
Lauren: Fortunately, the people that I work with are hilarious and incredible so as soon as the curtain comes down, there’s a ton of goofing around and hijinks backstage. Everyone is a comedian and will make you laugh as soon as the show is over. It makes it easy to get back into a good spirit.
P-C: What is your favorite part of the show?
Lauren: I think I would have to stick with the people. There are so many different ways you could do the show, and it is a tricky script. There are tricky topics within it, but we have the perfect chemistry in the cast. Everyone gets along. Everyone is so talented and so smart. Everyone has great instincts on stage and plays off each other really well. I think that specific cocktail of actors is what makes the show really come alive.
P-C: Do you have a favorite song that you perform in the show?
Lauren: Yeah. My favorite song for my character is the first song that I sing, “I’m the Only One” by Melissa Ethridge. It’s just perfect for me and my range. I think it’s Kathryn’s first moment of power and telling people what she wants and how she’s going to get it.
P-C: If you could add another 90s song to the show, what would it be?
Lauren: [laughs] I don’t have a specific one, but I was obsessed, as many people were, with Brittney Spears growing up.
P-C: You mentioned earlier that you were in Great Comet. That was such a unique show in how it was staged with the cast moving freely throughout the audience. You do a bit of moving like that in Cruel Intentions, too. How does that change your experience as a performer?
Lauren: I love it. I think it’s important to keep pushing the boundaries of how theater can be performed and experienced. So, every time I get to be in a show where we’re changing what the rules are, I find that really inspiring. It’s just fun, specifically with our show, because we’re in this underground rock bar and singing rock songs. It’s an all-encompassing experience. Audiences can have a drink and sing-along with the music.
P-C: Have you had any memorable audience moments so far?
Lauren: They’ve been really amazing lately. Definitely a lot of people love to sing along with “Iris.” We have people who get extra rowdy, but that’s kind of the point, I think, of having it in a venue like ours. We want people to feel like they’re at a party and part of the experience.
P-C: Cruel Intentions is based on a movie. Great Comet is based on part of a book. You have done other projects based on films and books, like Wicked. If there was another show based on a book, movie, or something you love—and you could star in it—what would it be?
Lauren: This is going to sound so corny, but I’m in love with Marilyn Monroe. I think her entire story and life experience is so devastating and beautiful. I would love to play that character sometime.
P-C: Is there a role that you’ve always wanted to perform?
Lauren: I’m hoping they’ll bring The Light in the Piazza back. I love that show. I’d love to play that character. She’s so beautiful, complex, and kind to everyone. I’m looking forward to that day—hopefully it happens soon before I age out of it! [laughs]
P-C: Is there a piece of advice that you’ve received that you try to live by or that you would pass on to people?
Lauren: It’s not easy, but I try to approach everything with kindness. The business can be so stressful; living in New York City can be so stressful. We have these moments of aggression and frustration. If you try to be kind to every single person you work with—the ushers, the people who take the tickets, the people who do the door to the audience to the person you see on the subway—people remember that. People want to work with you or help you out. So, it’s just be kind.
Pop-Culturalist Speed Round
Guilty pleasure TV show
I just binge watch TV shows. I just finished binge watching the Harry Potter movies again.
First Play That You Were In
If you go way back, I played the Christmas Mouse in kindergarten. [laughs] It was a musical written for Christmas.
Go-to Karaoke Song
“Alone” by Heart
Place You Would Go Back to Visit
Place You Would Like to Travel to
Bali and Japan
Person You’d Most Like to Meet Someday
Someone who is truly happy and at peace all the way.