Cover Photo By Monroe George for Broadwayworld.com.
Who doesn’t love a little romance; especially on Broadway? “Un-Block The Music” particularly adores this couple, Laurel Harris (Wicked, Beautiful) and Rob Marnell (Gettin’ The Band Back Together, Beautiful). No…they didn’t meet on Broadway, they met in high school in North Carolina doing a community production of Cinderella.
I have been keeping my eye on these two ever since I did some publicity work for Rob’s Aunt Bernadette Marnell-Palumbo when she was part of a cool band, Us Commoners. Rob is part of this huge musical family, originally from upstate New York. However, his family moved to North Carolina when he was 10, and it wasn’t until high school that he became interested in musical theater.
Laurel, on the other hand, was born in North Carolina. She grew up singing in in church and doing Liturgical dances. She was already in ballet classes at 3 years old, but it wasn’t until her mom heard her rendition of “Stand By Your Man”, when she was about 8 years old, that she knew she had to get Laurel voice coaching!
Rob and Laurel were technically high school sweethearts even though they went to different high schools, and they shared the same vocal coach, Lisa Blair Hawkins (who also coached Ariana DeBose from A Bronx Tale and John Arthur Greene from School of Rock). When they graduated high school, Rob went to Elon University and Laurel went to University of Michigan. They kept in touch and reconnected as they both hit New York. And the rest…as they say…is history. The two were married in 2014.
So many people say two artists can’t be married. These two prove that to be totally untrue. “Un-Block The Music” loved talking with them because they talk about each other’s successes more than their own. Support in its greatest form in an industry that takes a lot of work, commitment and faith in yourself.
So, let’s talk a little about their theater paths. Laurels’ first break came with The Radio City Christmas Spectacular. “After that, she went on tour with Wicked. (“Un-Block The Music’s” featured shot was taken by Monroe George for a Valentine’s Day piece on Broadway World. Such a great shot, with the green Elphaba hairline).
When Laurel first joined Wicked, she was the understudy for Elphaba and Nessa. By her third year, she was playing Elphaba 8 times a week. In between then and now, Laurel has played Evita, has been in Beautiful, and recently in Jagged Little Pill, to name a few projects. Now, she is back to Broadway as Standby for Elphaba. “I started with Wicked seven years ago with a lot of stuff in between which has helped me grow and figure out the mechanics of my voice. Playing Elphaba is like coming home for me.” Theater is a huge commitment that you dedicate your life to, she says. “You have to keep up your stamina and to constantly train, just like an athlete.” And, you always have to know what’s going on in the theater community. “Even when you are working you are looking for your next gig,” she says.
For Rob, his first big break came after being out of school about seven years. “The thing that put me on the map was when I got cast as Bob Gaudio in Jersey Boys in Las Vegas. That first credit is the hardest to get.” From there, Rob originated the role of Alex The Lion in Madagascar Live! and then joined Beautiful The Carole King Musical where he played several roles. He was in the show for about a year when “a part opened up that Laurel was right for, she went in for it.I remember we were taking a subway to midtown for some reason and she told me right there on the platform, ‘oh yeah, I am going to be in your show!’”
Rob proudly states, “She started out with a quick contract filling in for swings, then she signed on the ensemble track. She always covered Carole King and Cynthia Weil. We had 5 or 6 shows where we played husband and wife on Broadway. She was Carole and I was Gerry!”
In Broadway’s competitive environment, it’s great to have an extra “something.” As King Kong’s Eric William Morris pointed out to “Un-Block The Music,” playing an instrument can give you an edge. https://unblockthemusic.blog/2018/05/25/eric-william-morris-on-broadways-cutting-edge-ready-for-king-kong/
Rob agrees 100 percent. “I am so grateful for my musical upbringing. I think it was one of the reasons Jersey Boys was interested in me. I did start out as an ensemble member who had to play the guitar. It wasn’t live, but it is always a plus. I have always auditioned for parts that call for playing the drums. I have gotten cast in workshops where I have to play the drums. The last Broadway show I was in, Gettin’ The Band Back Together, I covered three of the leads, and two of them played instruments. One played guitar live and the other had to play drums live.”
Laurel also plays the piano. Although she didn’t have to play live in Beautiful. She certainly could make it look real. She states proudly, that “Rob has found his niche because he is multi-talented. He continues to book shows about songwriters and songwriting groups.”
Musicals continue to change. When I first thought about “Un-Block The Music” I thought I would write about pop and rock as I did when I worked for Billboard Magazine. Well, I do write about it, but if your read the blog regularly, you see how many of my tried and true sources have jumped from pop to Broadway, including songwriters (Cyndi Lauper, Kinky Boots), performers (Sting, The Last Ship) and producers (Frank Filipetti, Anastasia, https://unblockthemusic.blog/2019/01/24/what-could-anastasia-james-taylor-have-in-common-frank-filipetti/). That pop music can be a challenge for a Broadway performer.
Rob says, “I didn’t get a whole lot of pop music training. I learned a lot of great mechanics in singing. I came out of Elon thinking I was going to be the Les Miz operatic Broadway guy. I still have that sound, but all of the things I have been booking have been popular stuff. That has challenged me, and I realized I shouldn’t avoid that part of my voice and I should try and strengthen it.”
Laurel says much the same. “Similar to Rob, I was trained classically, and I continued that classical legit training. I didn’t learn how to belt in school, and it wasn’t until I got to New York that I had to sing that way. I still don’t have official training to belt. I figured it out along the way. I thought I was going to New York to be an ingenue. You have to find your own licks and how it feels in your voice.”
Both Laurel and Rob are aggressive in creating side gigs as well. Laurel is looking at film and television, and Rob is working on comedy.
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCFg0IrcSMbxzPPPaPRpuMag . One thing for sure, is they have each other’s back which makes the rollercoaster ride in theater so very sweet. I certainly can’t wait to see what comes next.