Arpita Ghosal is a Toronto-based arts writer. She founded Sesaya in 2004.
In speaking with Steffi DiDomenicantonio—aka Steffi D— it’s easy to see why Albert Schultz would snap her up. She’s winning in every way, exuding warmth and an unsparing enthusiasm for any topic up for discussion. Whether describing her current performance in Soulpepper’s NYC-themed concert theatre Manhattan: Midtown-42nd Street and Broadway, recounting her most memorable (and unusual) performance of Spring Awakening, ruminating on music and meals — or confessing to a childhood penchant for trickery (even including a polaroid to make her point) she has no-holds-barred energy that immediately draws you in. In fact, if storytelling isn’t a formal part of her already overflowing toolkit, it should be (We’re anticipating a page-turner of a memoir one day)! Her lively candor and lucid descriptions beg our conversation to be presented exactly as it unfolded. Meet Steffi D, triple threat, raconteur, and then some!
In 2014, I had the pleasure of making my Soulpepper debut in the Pulitzer-Prize winning play Idiot’s Delight, directed by the great Albert Schultz himself. I played Beulah, the bubble- gum-blowing 1930s showgirl. I’ve always secretly wanted to be a blonde, and this was my very first time being a blonde on stage! I had met Albert the year prior for an audition, and months later, I got a call from my agent out of the blue with an offer for the show. I couldn’t have been more excited! Since my early days at George Brown Theatre School (directly across the hall from Soulpepper), I admired the work of the many talented artists gracing their stages. I was then involved in their first concert Berlin to Broadway and now a couple of years later, here I am! I’m so excited to be back on stage at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts!
The magical thing about these concerts is that you don’t have to know anything to enjoy it! Music is such a universal language. Come with your ears, eyes and hearts open, and enjoy!
The theme for this concert in particular is Manhattan: Midtown-42nd Street and Broadway. So if you’re a musical theatre nerd (like me, from a very, very young age), I think you’ll particularly love this concert since we’re exploring the music of Broadway. My favorite topic! What’s really awesome is that Mike Ross, our music director extraordinaire, has arranged these classic musical theatre songs that you may have heard before and transformed them into something new and exciting. You might be hearing them for the first time all over again!
Hopefully people won’t be talking when they leave the show… But singing! Maybe humming a song or two in the car on the ride home…or on the TTC…or in the shower the next morning…or maybe even on stage during their next trip to the karaoke bar! And who knows? Maybe it’ll get the youngins listening to the classics again. It’s not Justin Bieber, but it’s still pretty catchy!
I toured with Spring Awakening for two years; we did 618 performances in 44 different cities across the United States. During my time on tour, there is one incident that sticks out in my mind particularly. One night in San Francisco, early on in the run of the show, I went on stage for my big scene in Act 2 and as I spoke my first few lines, I heard a peculiar sound over the speakers…. It took me a moment to realize it, but it turns out it was the sound of my castmate peeing off stage. His mic had accidentally been left on while he was backstage. I got a tiny case of the giggles, and then I just tried to power through the scene. The audience and I heard the whole thing from start to finish. But hopefully I distracted the theatregoers sufficiently. Thankfully, no one got fired. And I learned a valuable lesson that day: always cover your mic when you go to the washroom!
I wish I could play the piano like a pro and cook like Gordon Ramsay! If I played the piano, I would impress everyone at family gatherings with the classical pieces of Mozart and Beethoven from memory. I also love watching cooking shows on TV. I find it’s a form of art to make beautiful food that looks divine and tastes even better! Never underestimate the power of a good tune and a good meal.
Lady Gaga! I think she is a bold, stunning, magnetic and fearless performer who can execute virtually any style of music with confidence and commitment. She is a chameleon with an outrageous fashion sense. She is so unique and always has everyone wondering what she’s gonna do next. She’s a woman of mystery and yet she performs with such honesty and with her heart on her sleeve.
I also have to give a shout out to Liza Minnelli, not just because people often tell me I bare a strange resemblance to her, but also because Cabaret is one of my absolute favorite movies and musicals of all time. She is a legend!
Why not? I’ve been singing and performing since I was 8 years old. There is something terrifying and liberating all at the same time about singing a song in front of an audience. Singing is very vulnerable; it’s an elevated way of expressing emotions that speaking doesn’t achieve. It’s also fun and silly! I always tell people I think everyone can sing. We all have a voice to share with the world, and it’s not about singing notes on a page. It’s about expressing emotion from your heart and your experience. That’s what makes every voice special; we are all different in amazing and interesting ways.
Most Unusual: When I was 15 years old, I played Jean Valjean in my high school’s production of Les Misérables, complete with fake muttonchops and a muscle suit. I have the archival video recording to prove it but it’s hidden away somewhere very, very secret. If anyone ever got their hands on it, it would be great blackmail material. After playing that part, I always felt I should add “Tenor” to my resume in the “Special Skills” section.
Most Memorable: Last year, I had the privilege of playing Sally Bowles in Cabaret, directed by the incredible Tracey Flye, and it’s my favorite role I’ve played to date. My favorite moment in the show was when my co-star and I drank prairie oysters: raw eggs and Worcestershire sauce, that I would freshly crack on stage every night, 8 times a week. I definitely got my share of protein during that contract! Drinking that gooey mixture every night was an achievement in itself. The audience reaction every time was priceless!
Being in front of an audience and making people laugh or react is my favorite part of performing. I love telling stories on stage and knowing that everyone in the same room is listening and joining you on the journey. The other magical thing is that no one performance on stage is ever identical.
The performance you witness on a given night is special and will never happen again. Sure, the lines and lyrics and music stay the same, but theatre is a living, breathing thing and the audience is your scene partner and the final piece of the puzzle. The one thing I could do without (or maybe just a little less of): the nerves! I’ve come up with lots of tricks over the years to calm myself for a show or an audition, but performing isn’t for the faint of heart, that’s for sure!
My very long Italian full name is Steffi Stephanie Marie Toscano DiDomenicantonio (Yes, my middle name is Stephanie…). How to pronounce my last name is usually a very popular question since it’s 16 letters long and 8 syllables: Dee-dough-many-can-toe-knee-oh.
Fun fact: I was named after Steffi Graff, the famous tennis player. On April 28, the doctor who was assisting my mother in birth was late, so my dad (who’s also a doctor) delivered me at the hospital. My parents couldn’t decide on a name for me for three whole months after I was born! But then they got the idea for Steffi while watching a tennis match Graff was playing on TV. Also, my first language is French. And I can juggle with 3 balls!
A favorite anecdote I like to tell: When I was a little girl, I used to absolutely love hiding from my parents; in the house, at the grocery store, at the mall, etc. And I was really good at it. If my mom blinked, I would be gone and giggling somewhere in secret. One day, my mom searched the entire house, but I was nowhere to be found. Suddenly she heard some crunching noises coming from a kitchen cupboard. She opened the door, and there I was, sitting on a toaster, eating original flavor Pringles! And the best part is, my mom immortalized the moment in a Polaroid. (See below!)
I guess I never got rid of my hunger to get a reaction out of people!
News You Can Use
What: Manhattan: Midtown-42nd Street and Broadway
Who: Audiences of all ages
When: On stage October 31, November 3, 4 and 5, 2016, 7:30 pm
Where: Young Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto’s Distillery Historic District, 50 Tank House Lane, Toronto
For Information and Tickets: soulpepper.ca or 416.866.8666
© 2016 Arpita Ghosal, Sesaya