Miami native Erica Lustig is no stranger to the stage. Playing in numerous roles and touring across the country and internationally, Lustig has acted in musicals such as “Sister Act,” “First Date” and “Hair Spray.” She has returned to the Actors’ Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre, for the second time, for her role as Rebecca Steinberg in the musical “It Shoulda Been You.” The musical, playing through June 11, is a comedy about a wedding day featuring families that come from very different backgrounds. Lustig shared her thoughts on the play, her role and acting as a career.
What made you interested in “It Shoulda Been You”?
“Well, I got to see this show on Broadway a couple years ago. I saw it with my best friend and there are a lot of themes in this musical that are very similar to our real lives; we were dying laughing over it…I’m originally from Miami and I grew up seeing shows at Actor’s Playhouse. I turned to my friend ten minutes into the show and I said ‘this has to go to Actors’ Playhouse’ because it’s such a perfect show for that venue and that crowd. So, I was really excited when I saw that they had picked it up and they were going to do it this season. I knew that I wanted to be involved because I had such a fun time when I saw the show and [knew that] the audiences here would love it.”
Did you know that you wanted to play Rebecca?
“Yeah, [she’s] pretty much the only character in this particular show that’s right for my type and I remember that when I saw the show on Broadway that I definitely took up an interest in her character.”
Is there anything in particular about her that you like or that made you so interested in her?
“I mean I love the song that she gets to sing. I think it’s a really powerful number and kind of an anthem in its own. Rebecca is kind of a tough character to play because the character isn’t written that strongly for the first half. Did you get to see the show?”
No, I haven’t gotten to see it yet.
“There’s a lot of surprise twists in this show; my character being one of the biggest surprises in the show. A lot of my character’s surprises are what makes her such a strong character. So, for the first half of the show I’m hiding these things about myself. There isn’t much to play until the second half where we get to drop the bombs and turn the show on its head. I don’t know how much you want me to spoil it for you.”
So, we won’t spoil it for the readers but I think that’s a really interesting point: that there is a lot more to your character than meets the eye.
“A lot more to the character than meets the eye! That’s what’s so fun about playing it. I sometimes gripe that, as I was working on this character, I was like ‘gosh she’s kind of annoying’ because she’s a bride and they are portraying her for the first half of the show as so nervous and not wanting to go through it. She’s worried about her mother being such a nag and really she’s hiding this deep secret. I think my biggest challenge in doing this role is keeping her likeable because for the first half she just appears to be this annoyed, whiney bride. I’m trying to play it as naturally and truthfully as possibly to what she’s going through and also not give it away. Once I get a chance to reveal Rebecca’s secret it’s a really important show and message for equality and acceptance. All the surprises kind of come out towards the end so we don’t get to comment too much on it, but it becomes a show about a lot more than just a silly wedding and family differences.”
Would you say that Rebecca is very different than other roles that you have played?
“Now that I’m thinking about the roles that I’ve been in recently, I’m lucky to get the chance to get characters that end up singing a number, kind of expressing their angst inside. When I was in “First Date” a few years ago I had a number where I was expressing all these hidden things that were going on inside of me. My number in this show kind of does the same thing. A lot of emotional explorations and I kind of get to stand up and make a declaration with this number, which I think is really emotional and cathartic. I’ve had a few chances to sing cathartic numbers in the last couple years so I think she goes well in my collection of girls I’ve gotten to tackle. [But] there are some challenges with this role that I’ve never tackled before and I’m actually very proud to be able to do.”
You’re originally from Miami. What’s it like to be back at your hometown?
“I love it! My folks are still down here so I always come down and stay with my parents because I like to be with family. I bring my dog and my cat down so it’s a whole happy family. It’s just nice to come home and be where I’m from. I always go visit my high school; I went to Palmetto. I visit there and speak to the theater students. And I grew up going to Actor’s Playhouse. It’s always been a dream of mine to work there and I finally got to for the first time two years ago and this is my second [role]. It feels really neat to be a part of the theater community in Florida… temporarily.”
And you’re based in New York right now?
“I am. I’ve been in New York for 11 But I travel a lot to do regional theater all over the country. So I’ve been in and out of New York the last few years, hopping all over the place. I get to travel a lot but home is New York.”
What’s it like to travel so much for work?
“It’s fun. You know I like going and seeing new places, getting to know new places and kind of making it a home for a couple months at a time. I usually go six to eight weeks for a contract. I just got back from Arkansas for two months and I surprisingly loved it. I do hope to make roots for longer than two months somewhere soon. But I figure, as long as I can handle it, I want to do it because it’s not something you can do necessarily forever but I’m definitely in a place in my life where I can do that.”
So I went to your website and I saw your resume. You’ve done so many shows from what seems like a very young age. What kind of advice would you have for college kids who want to break into theater?
“Oh, the first and most important thing about pursuing musical theater is that you have to want it with everything. They taught us from day one in school that if you can see yourself doing anything else—go do that. It’s so true. I haven’t found the other thing yet and that’s why I’m still going. You really have to want it with everything because there’s so much rejection. I mean 90 percent of what I do for a living is get rejected. You have to have a thick skin for that. With that said, when you do get [that] one out of a hundred auditions where you get work it’s the most fulfilling job in the world. I get to put on costumes and a microphone and go out and make audiences laugh right now five days a week. There’s nothing better than doing it. It’s really hard work. You’ve got to work hard. Take as many classes as you can and never stop learning. Take voice lessons and make yourself do the things that make you uncomfortable.”
Was there ever a time where you wanted to stop?
“Oh, please. You want to stop all the time when you’re struggling and you’re auditioning and not getting anything or when you come really close to something and you’re not getting it. It’s gut-wrenching every time. There’s a million times a year that I feel like I want to stop but never with my whole heart have I thought that I’m done. I’ve had plenty of tears. [But also] I’ve had plenty of great mentors and friends who have been in the business who have talked me off ledges and reassured me. It’s those kind of people who keep you in it because you need a network of support to do something like this… But like I said I haven’t found passion in anything else so as long I’m really fortunate enough to be able to struggle through and be happy while I do it—as long as I’ve got that I’m going to stick with it.”
Perfect. So I’ve got one more question [bringing it back to the show]. If there was a student who was trying to decide whether or not to see the show what would you tell him/her?
“I would say definitely see it. Who doesn’t love laughing? There’s something you can relate to and it’s just nonstop laughter. It’s a great date night and I think it’s something for everyone. “
Tickets for “It Shoulda Been You” can be purchased at actorsplayhouse.org or by calling 305-444-9293.
Caption: Erica Lustig, center stage in a wedding dress, plays Rebecca Steinberg in the musical comedy “It Shoulda Been You.”