Sessions with actors Rachelle Rak and Kelli Maguire

July 12, 2009 7:01:16 AM PDT
Sessions, the Off-Broadway musical at The Algonquin Theater on 24th street, shares various stories behind group therapy. Two actors in the show joined us with details. Tell me about Sessions the musical?

Rachelle: In SESSIONS, a New York therapist is challenged to balance his patients' needs with his own- all while fending off advances from one very enticing female subject. His experiences remind us that even those we look to for guidance can be as vulnerable as we are. Al Tapper has written a beautiful show that we all can relate to and it's playing at a little gem of a theater in the Gramercy Area, the Algonquin. I play Leila, who is one of the patients, and I test Dr. Petersen is ways that he never thought possible.

Kelli: The therapy sessions include an eternal optimist, Sunshine (who I play), a musician wannabe, Dylan, a older married couple, a woman who suffers from spousal abuse, and a sexpot who has a crush on the Dr. Petersen, who leads the therapy.

The Tony Awards were about a month ago which celebrate Broadway theater, but there is so much wonderful off-Broadway theater in the city. Why do you think that's important?

Kelli: New York is about diversity and there are so many wonderful theater options in the city, from big splashy Broadway shows to small gems like Forbidden Broadway and Altar Boyz. SESSIONS is a fun show and because of the intimacy of the theater, the audience actually feels like they are part of the therapy, and you know, we can all use it.

Rachelle: I have worked on Broadway in multiple shows such as Fosse, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and Oklahoma, but there is something to be said to performing in a smaller venue. It has the feeling that we are all in it together, which is what theater should be. Tourists usually want to see big commercial shows but there are other options as well.

Rachelle, being in Fosse, you had the opportunity to work with such legends as Ann Reinking and Gwen Verdon. What was that like?

Both Ann and Gwen were absolutely amazing, and Gwen made her mark on the dance world in a huge way, of course, before she passed. Having Verdon tell me (more than once) that "Bob would have liked you" didn't hurt either. Especially since Verdon, who served as artistic advisor on Fosse, and Ann Reinking, the co-director, had initially doubted that I was right for the show. Many of my castmates had been in Fosse productions or in the Fosse workshops. A lot of people knew the style; I knew nothing. I was in five numbers, because Ann had to use me. I was learning, I was in the background. As Reinking and Verdon gained confidence in my abilities, I was given more parts to understudy. And as the show continued in its two-and-a-half-year run on Broadway, I was put into more and more numbers. When Fosse was filmed for PBS in 2001 (it's now available on DVD), I was the lead dancer in the Liza-originated numbers "Mein Herr" and "I Gotcha" and Ben Vereen's partner for "Razzle Dazzle."

Kelli, you have been with SESSIONS since the show began. How has the experience been for you?

Discovering my character of Sunshine has been a gift and her optimism is both exciting and inspiring for me. Theater has always been my first love and it's exciting how different cast members, understudies, etc inform a performance.

You both are involved in the show An Evening At The Carlyle, which performs on the nights SESSIONS is dark at the Algonquin Theater. Can you tell us a little about that?

Kelli: Al Tapper wrote this wonderful musical revue called An Evening At the Carlyle. It plays on Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays at 7:00 p.m in repertory with Sessions. This is such fun show to perform. It's got lots of comedy. It offers a romantic view of Manhattan's glamourous high-life. Our set designer, John McDermott, has created this incredible playing space that dutifully recreates Bemelmans Bar, iconic murals and all. We play all of the crazy characters who parade through the revolving door. You can spend a night a night with us at the Carlyle, and your ticket will cost you just a fraction of the price of the cost of a night at the real Bemelmans.

Rachelle: It's like the old-time musical revues like Shoestring Revue or Starting Here Starting Now or Upstairs at O'Neil's. It's a format that doesn't produced very often any more, so it is such treat to for a performer to be in a showcase like this where we can show a really wide range in just 90 minutes. It's got pastiche numbers, satirical numbers about current events and celebrities, and romantic ballads. It very funny, and at times, very touching touching too. Audiences are loving Carlyle so much, that our producers just announced that it is extending its limited engagement into an open-ended run. We're all thrilled.

More about the actors:

Rachelle Rak (Leila) is happy to join the cast of Sessions. She was trained by her mother at the Rosalene Kenneth Dance studio in Pittsburgh. Her Broadway Credits include Fosse, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Oklahoma, The Look of Love and Thou Shalt Not. National Tours: Smokey Joe's Café, Starlight Express and Sunset Boulevard. She returned from Japan while working on a new Broadway hopeful called, Trip of Love Rachelle is thankful for the movie Every Little Step-A Dancer's Life, a journey she will never forget.

Kelli Maguire (Sunshine) is thrilled to be back doing "Sessions" after having done it last year when it was at the Peter Jay Sharp Theatre. Other credits include "Swingtime Canteen" (Katie) Off- Broadway, "A Wonderful Life" (Dorothy) Actors Fund Benefit, "Honky Tonk Angels" (Angela) at Alabama Shakespeare and "Celebration" at Riverside Theatre Company. Kelli toured with "Oklahoma" (Ado Annie) and "1940's Radio Hour" (Connie Miller) and regional credits include "Cabaret" (Sally) and "Violet" (Violet). As well as numerous commercial credits Kelli has three Cabaret Acts that she performs all over the country and is currently working on her one woman show about her days in the carnival.