Pounding the Pavement with Positivity

by Carla Maria Verdino-Süllwold

"As an actress I believe in pounding the pavement with positivity. One of the biggest things for me is to remember that I am a whole human being with family, friends, and interests. Theatre is certainly a passion and a life style, but it is one piece of the pie. My quest is to make sure all the other pieces of the pie are just as delicious. So I keep a cozy home for myself surrounded by loved ones; yoga is a big thing for me in maintaining mental health and spiritual clarity; even more specifically, I am vegan because I feel that is the kindest way to eat, and while it may sound corny, if you put out positive vibrations, they will come back to you."

One has only to spend a few minutes in the company of Lexi Rabadi to feel that energy and positivity! Rabadi is starring as Belle in Maine State Music Theatre's production of Disney's Beauty and the Beast, which opens this week on the Pickard Theater stage. For Rabadi, this is a nostalgic return to Maine and to MSMT. "I am an outdoorsy, active sort of person, so being in Maine with all the hiking and water views, I feel as if I've hit the jackpot! Two years ago, I spent the summer at MSMT doing Evita, Fiddler in the Roof, and Mamma Mia! So it is lovely to come back to play Belle."

And, indeed, the Disney heroine holds a very special significance for Rabadi. "I grew up, of course, watching the movie. Then playing Belle in the Fulton production in 2016 was not only my first professional leading role contract, but it also gave me my Equity card, and, on top of all that amazingness, I met the man of my dreams and fell in love!" Rabadi is referring to Matt Farcher, who played Che Guevara in Evita at MSMT and then the Beast opposite her Belle in the Fulton production. She recounts how during the Beauty and the Beast rehearsals in Lancaster, cast mates noticed the pair were actually falling for each other. "Our relationship seemed to be mirroring the characters we were playing, for example Matt was very hesitant to tell me, just as the Beast is in the show... It has been amazing! We are now living together in New York City and enjoying our lives together."

In addition to the confluence of all these wonderful occurrences, Beauty and the Beast allowed Rabadi to grow her relationship with director/choreographer Marc Robin. In her MSMT summer in 2016, she worked with Robin, as well as director/choreographers Gary John La Rosa and Mark Martino. "Each gave me something different," she recalls. Gary John [for whom she played Chava in Fiddler n the Roof] worked slowly, taking lots of time with the scene work, and he had a gorgeous final vision for the show. Mark Martino directed just the way you'd imagine for Mamma Mia! He was bright, bubbly, energetic, and he had me - and I don't consider myself a dancer first- dancing my face off!"

"And then there was Marc Robin," Rabadi continues. "When I was in Evita [which Robin also directed/choreographed] I was in the ensemble, something I love because it is such a beautiful, tribal community. I was truly the 'ensembliest' of all, in the back row, part of a huge cast. During that show, Marc was auditioning his Beauty and the Beast, and I sent him a self-tape made right here [she indicates MSMT's small rehearsal room], though I was afraid it would get lost among all the other applicants. Well, somehow it didn't," she says in modest amazement. Since then, Rabadi says she has been blessed to have her relationship with Robin blossom and she credits the director with teaching her so much. "Marc Robin creates this sense of family in his cast in a way no one else does. He is such a guiding force. He leads with such love and light. We work fast. There is no toe dipping; we all jump in at the deep end. For example, we had this production on its feet in five days, and now we get to go back and find the nuances with the help of co-director Curt Dale Clark."

Raised in Albany, Rabadi recalls that she was a bit of an anomaly in her family. "My two older brothers were athletes, and my parents suddenly realized they had this crazy theatre girl on their hands. They were really fantastic in supporting me and learning along the way with me. They saw I was gifted and genuinely wanted to do this, so they would drive me to auditions and rehearsals, and make sure I got voice and dance training. I did lots of community theatre along the way, and that's where I gained so much valuable experience and learned repertoire." Rabadi chose Pace University for her BFA in musical theatre with a minor in arts management. "I knew I wanted to live in Manhattan, and I got a warm, fuzzy feeling the minute on walked on campus. They really nurture the individual there. There are amazing teachers, working in the biz, and you get a fully rounded liberal arts education as well."

Rabadi is putting that education to excellent use in this production of Beauty and the Beast, which she calls a "huge show, which so many people have worked so tirelessly to create." Asked what she thinks accounts for the enduring appeal of this "tale as old as time," she replies: “It is about falling in love. To watch two people fall in love, first with each other and then with themselves is very relatable and exciting.”

That Belle is a princess ahead of her time is something that also fascinates Rabadi. "No matter what she looked like, she would still be the most beautiful person in the village because of her outlook on life and the way she treats others. She doesn't let anyone get in her way, not a misogynous dope like Gaston or even an intimidating beast."

Rabadi is reprising her role in Marc Robin's vision of the show, and she says MSMT's production will share similar choreography and sentiments, but also highlight a number of new nuances. "Playing opposite a different Beast colors my performance a lot," she notes. "Darick [Pead] is wonderful to play with. We have great chemistry. I like that Marc envisions the Beast to be very childish, not necessarily dark and brooding. Since he is ultimately halted in his development at age sixteen, he remains a spoiled young boy, not learning any of life's lessons. Darick took to that concept so naturally, and shares that childishness in his amazing comedy."

When Beauty and the Beast played at the Fulton in the 2016-2017 holiday season, it sold out and received warm acclaim. I ask Lexi Rabadi what she hopes for from the Maine audiences. Her eyes sparkle as she recalls the Maine summer of 2016. "I love the audiences here. They really embrace a show. I remember in Mamma Mia! feeling the closest to being a rock star that I have ever gotten to feel."

"It may sound like a cliché, but what better show than this one to experience the literal magic of live theatre? I love that there will be so many children experiencing this story for the first time, and so many other people re-experiencing it like new. That makes every single show special for us.”

Lexi Rabadi