Hometown girl Mehry Eslaminia just made her Broadway debut in the revival of 1776. We caught up with Mehry about her journey from Cherry Hills Elementary School to Broadway, and her relationship with the DCPA.
DCPA: How did you catch the acting bug?
Mehry Eslaminia: My father is from Iran and my mother is from El Salvador. Both cultures are incredibly animated and passionate in every sense of the word. I never knew anything else. What some might have seen as “dramatic” recounts of stories, I never questioned as anything other than normal. That was simply how you told stories — by making absolutely sure the person you were telling could feel every moment as if they were there.
As I grew older and realized that evoking emotions from strangers by putting your own on the table in front of them was a career path, I was hooked. The first time I sang a solo on stage was “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” in an elementary school production of The Wizard of Oz at Cherry Hills in Highlands Ranch. It was when I reached high school at Regis Jesuit (Girls Div. Class of ’07) that I dove fully into theater and was in the acting program at the University of Northern Colorado (’11) after that.
DCPA: What was the first Broadway show you saw at The Buell?
ME: The first Broadway show I saw at The Buell was Jesus Christ Superstar in the 2004/05 season. I was around 14 at the time, my then nascent passion for theater growing wildly by the day. I very specifically remember the impact of being in an audience THAT large…it was exhilarating. I remember the applause, the lights, the power of the sound system and the talent onstage and thinking to myself, “This feeling is possible? As a CAREER?”
DCPA: Speaking of career, tell us about your DCPA experience and a production that would have made child Mehry the most excited or proud.
ME: My first involvement with the DCPA was in Off-Center’s Lived/Re-Lived, which, appropriately enough, was a theatrical telling of a few true stories from members of the community. From there I participated in a couple New Play Summits, which lead me to my first full production, Appoggiatura, by James Still in 2015 — a show that will be a part of my story forever. I also had the fun time being in A Christmas Carol the same year. My most recent DCPA Theatre Company appearance was Viola/Cesario in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night directed by Chris Coleman.
There are two very important ones for me! I will never forget Appoggiatura. I will never forget the moment I saw automated set pieces move by themselves. “THE BENCH POPS OUT OF THE STAGE?!” “THE ARCH MOVES ON ITS OWN?!” I was in awe of absolutely everything, from props to projections to my cast. I taught myself how to play the mandolin for the show and couldn’t have been more proud of myself. I remember one of the older members in the cast caught me in the middle of an awestruck moment when looking at the stage, and with such tenderness said, “Don’t ever lose that.” It’s something I have carried with me ever since. The awe. The gratitude. The presence. The second would definitely be Twelfth Night. Not only would child Mehry freak knowing that she got to work with a member of one of her favorite bands (Tom Hagerman of DeVotchKa composed music for the show), but also as the lead in a Shakespeare show. It had seemed like an inaccessible place for me as a non-white woman and perhaps a small part of me had resigned to never getting there. That changed thanks to Chris Coleman and [Casting Director] Grady Soapes. I can easily say it has been one of my favorite shows to be a part of.
DCPA: Now, let’s talk about the journey to 1776.
ME: I actually got the audition request while I was in Denver during Twelfth Night! Not long before that I had begun working with a manager whom I was introduced to in New York. Through said manager, I had the pleasure of two Broadway auditions — The Play That Goes Wrong and The Band’s Visit, both of which saw me through final callbacks.)
Since Twelfth Night was still running at the time of the audition request, I put together an audition on tape on a day off. Within a couple of days, there was a request for a second tape. Not long after Twelfth Night closed my manager called me and said, “Diane Paulus wants to see you in person. In two days. You gotta come to New York.” So, I booked a flight, crashed with undergrad friends living in Astoria and made it for the callback. What was maybe only five minutes of material turned into an almost 20-minute callback. It honestly was so much fun. I was asked to try songs in different keys and in completely different emotions, and Diane gave me notes on some sides, which I was able to try in front of her.
I’ll never forget leaving the room — Stephen asked me to hang tight while the next person auditioned. After they left, he called me back in and Diane took a moment to ask about me. About Mehry. About who I was. When I told her that I’m a proud first generation American to immigrant parents, she looked at me and said, “That’s exactly the world I want for this revival.” It was such an incredible feeling. I left for Denver the next day and received the call from my manager within the week that I was cast. I was actually with my mother at the time. It still makes me emotional to think about how incredible it was for us to be together in that moment. The moment I found out my childhood dream would come true.
DCPA: Making your Broadway debut is a dream for so many actors. How did it feel?
ME: Oh my stars, it was unbelievable. It still feels surreal, honestly. Obviously COVID has changed a lot in the industry, so we didn’t get to have the big party with friends, family, cast, etc. Our red-carpet press step-and-repeat was before the show, and no one outside of the cast/creatives/crew/press were allowed (all had to be tested and cleared). I’ll admit the step-and-repeat had me feeling a little like a deer in the headlights but being surrounded by my incredible cast (who have truly become like family, and all looked AMAZING), I felt so supported, excited, and present. My child self was 100% at the forefront of my heart the entire evening. It was almost like I had her up on my shoulders so she could see it all. I was in awe of absolutely everything…including myself, which is a feeling I can only liken to what it must feel like when a bird flies for the first time. “Look at you.” I would say to her. “Look how far you’ve come.” And if there is something I could say to her when she was younger, to that little brown girl who just wanted to tell stories and sing songs, it would be, “Just wait, little one. You’ll see. There is a place waiting for you in the world you want.”
DCPA: In your opinion what makes this production of 1776 so impactful/special for audiences?
ME: The cast, hands down. Not only for the absurd amount of talent but the diversity of identities represented on stage (and off!) is so powerful. Hearing the words of the white founding fathers of America through these humans invites you to listen in a very different way. You will leave having learned something new, either about the founding of this nation or about yourself. And for those that are fans of 1776, John Clancy’s re-orchestrations are absolutely thrilling.
Mar 21-Apr 2 • Buell Theatre