Annaleigh Ashford Barks Up The Correct Tree On Broadway



Annaleigh Ashford plays the title character — a poodle mix — in Sylvia, at the Cort Theatre in Broadway. Matthew Broderick plays the man who finds Sylvia in Central Park.

Annaleigh Ashford plays the title character — a poodle mix — in Sylvia, at the Cort Theatre in Broadway. Matthew Broderick plays the man who finds Sylvia in Central Park. Joan Marcus/Jeffrey Richards Associates hide caption

itoggle caption Joan Marcus/Jeffrey Richards Associates

Annaleigh Ashford is down to earth. Really down to earth. Sitting in her Broadway dressing space, she talks about all of the men and women who’ve inhabited that very same space – Denzel Washington, Ian McKellen and, most lately, Larry David, who left a sticker with his name by the toilet.

“Occasionally I like to remind myself, you know, the several fabulous individuals who have pooped where I am pooping,” she says.

“It really is disgusting,” she adds in a whisper. “But magical!”

Ashford is no 1st-timer to Broadway. The Masters of Sex actress, who also also has a CD coming out subsequent month, originated the function of Lauren in Kinky Boots, and won a Tony for playing Essie Carmichael in You Can not Take It With You.

But this week she opened in her 1st starring function on Broadway. And given her role, it’s not inappropriate that she’s talking about poop: She’s playing the title character in A. R. Gurney’s comedy, Sylvia. Sylvia is a dog.

Particularly, she’s a stray labradoodle who’s been adopted by a man going via a mid-life crisis.

Helpfully, Ashford has her personal dog — a toy Australian shepherd, who she’s been observing quite meticulously. She watched closely when her pet was in obedience and sheep herding classes last summer season.

“You know, I pee at the extremely starting of the play and they go, ‘Did you do that Sylvia?’ ” she says.

“And I do that strange point that dogs do, where they can not look at you … they have, like, a dead-eye stare where they cannot look at you and they look down. And I say, ‘I won’t dignify that with an answer,’ which is specifically what my dog does, when she totally pees in the corner of the space!”

Ashford wears knee pads to romp around the stage, jump on the sofa, sit and roll over. She trades dialogue with Matthew Broderick, who plays the man who adopts her:

“Now sit Sylvia, sit.”

“I’m not ready to sit!”

“I stated sit!”

“I’m also nervous to sit.”

Daniel Sullivan, the director of Sylvia, calls Ashford a “sort of inspired clown.”

“We never have that a lot of very physical female clowns,” he says. “I imply, she is really extraordinary in her capacity to maintain a issue extremely accurate and honest and, at the very same time, considerably bigger than life, physically.”

That sort of inspired physicality won her that Tony last year in the revival of You Can not Take It With You, exactly where Ashford played a not-really-great ballerina.

New York Instances drama critic Ben Brantley says she stole the show — “From an outstanding cast, a crackerjack cast,” he says. “And she was so very good at being negative. I imply, there was a actual grace in the character’s clumsiness. I could consume it with a spoon. It was just delightful.”

It wasn’t usually straightforward for Ashford. The Denver native moved to New York at 17 to study acting. She went to lots of cattle calls and in no way got a callback.

But director and choreographer Jerry Mitchell remembered her and at some point cast her in Kinky Boots, where she played an English factory worker in really like with her boss.

Ashford’s off-beat charms were noticed by showrunner Michelle Ashford — no relation — who hired the actress to play the prostitute Betty in the Showtime series Masters of Sex.

“She was supposed to be a one-off and we cast Annaleigh, and she was so delightful and such a great power and so in contrast to everyone else in our cast that we thought, ‘Well, we have to keep her,’ ” she says.


So the briefly-appearing prostitute participating in sexuality analysis became a standard character, and ultimately the research team’s workplace manager.

From hooker to finally, hound, Annaleigh Ashford says she’s discovered a lot, from observing men and women and dogs in these obedience classes final summer.

“Not everyone in the area knew that I was going to be playing a dog on Broadway in the fall,” she says. “And so, sometimes I would do genuinely weird items — I would, you know, copy what somebody else’s dog was doing physically.”

She earned some funny appears, but it paid off. Sylvia runs on Broadway by means of January. Then, Annaleigh Ashford — and her dog Gracie — return to Los Angeles to film season 4 of Masters of Sex.

Arts &amp Life : NPR