Stephanie Styles Is True to Broadway in ‘Kiss Me Kate’
Third time’s the charm for Stephanie Styles.
She’s (finally) making her Broadway debut as Lois Lane in the Roundabout Theatre Company revival of “Kiss Me Kate,” but her first Main Stem bow has been a long time coming.
First, she was cast in the revival of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” right out of college in 2014. The production was set to star James Corden, but it never came to be after the lead landed a spot in the late night lineup.
Next, she played the Audrey Hepburn role in the musical adaptation of Roman Holiday in San Francisco and the initial buzz was loud about a Broadway transfer. But that died down, and Styles was left wondering when her time would come.
So she moved to Los Angeles. She landed a part in a TV show in late 2017 and decided to make the trip West and commit herself to pilot season. She started working steadily, and then she got the call: They wanted to see her for a Broadway revival of “Kiss Me Kate.”
She was coming to New York for the Tony Awards last June, so she planned to audition the next day before flying back. Her schedule went a little something like this: Red eye flight to New York on Saturday. Tony Awards all night on Sunday. Audition Monday morning.
After a callback on Wednesday, she knew she’d landed the role by Thursday morning. It may have been a whirlwind process, but Styles feels like every moment in her career prepared her for Broadway.
“There are so many times I want to say like this is my first rodeo, but at the same time I have been doing theater since I was 6,” she says. “So it’s really surprising how much of it is exactly the same.”
And now she’s having a bit of a moment of her own. “Bonding,” the TV series that brought her to the West coast, comes out on Netflix later this month, and she also has a small role in Olivia Wilde’s “Booksmart,” which hits theaters in May.
“I’m just such a firm believer in that everything happens for a reason,” she says.
Even though she’s been preparing for the stage her whole life, Styles says she still has “pinch me” moments every day — especially when she’s acting opposite one of her “heroes,” Kelli O’Hara, who stars as Lilli Vanessi.
“Everyone says you should never meet your heroes, but I hope everyone — if Kelli is one of their heroes — gets to meet her because she exceeds all expectations. She’s so present, and she is just an incredible artist, incredible person, incredible mother,” Styles says, adding that she’s lucky her character adores Kelli’s because she doesn’t need to act it. “I’ve always looked up to her in a way like Meryl Street. You’re like, ‘I’m so glad you exist because no one else can do what you do.’”
And Styles is not afraid to let her Broadway fangirl show around her co-star. She cites “The Light in the Piazza,” in which O’Hara starred on Broadway in 2005, as one of her formative shows, and she’ll often ask questions about the experience offstage.
Her fangirl tendencies (her playlists are pretty much populated by musical theater and Taylor Swift) helped her when approaching the classic musical as well. While she’d never seen a professional production of “Kiss Me Kate,” she did sing Lois’s big number “Always True to You in my Fashion” in college as part of an evaluation. (She even used her notes from college when preparing for her audition.)
“I love the show and I’m such a musical theater nerd that I love shows like this,” she says. “And randomly years ago, I remember I was taking an Uber from Tribeca uptown, and I needed to listen to something good. I ended up just listening to ‘We Open in Venice’ 17 times in a row, which seems crazy now but at the time I was like yeah, this is lit. This is a bop.”
Styles’s contemporary sensibilities combined with the show’s classic vibes helped her bring her character into the 21st century. Amanda Green has written some additional material for the show, and while Styles loves the new joke she has, she thinks the dynamic between Lois and Bill, played by Corbin Blue, is fair.
“They are very equal in that they love each other, they love their jobs, and they both really struggle with addiction — his being gambling and hers being men and flirtation,” she says. “I think they wrote a very equal couple, flawed, but very equal couple.”
Lois is also a very sexually empowered character, which is a departure for Styles, who says she’s mostly played gone the ingenue route. (She does consider every woman she’s played to be a feminist, and she cites Katherine Plumber in “Newsies” as one of her most confident roles.) For Lois, she looked to Betty Boop and Shirley Temple as inspirations.
“She’s a girly girl and she’s a dreamer and she’s a romantic and she’s a fan girl, and its just saying we don’t have to be one thing,” Styles says. “You can be feminist and still wear a pink flouncy halter romper and then a dazzling diamond clip and you can love all these guys and love how they make you feel.”
She still has pinch me moments regularly onstage and off. Her parents’ first date was to “Phantom of the Opera,” so when Andrew Lloyd Webber came to the show she was the struck by the man who had a small part in her very existence. “I just couldn’t believe that man made the thing that helped get me made!”
But she’s also looking to the future. When she meets young fans at the stage door, she says she can tell when they’re aspiring performers, and she remembers when she was in the same position.
“I never thought I’d be in a show with Kelli O’Hara, and I know that there’s people at the stage door every night, and sometimes I’m like, ‘I hope we’re in a show together someday,’ cause it probably will happen,” she says. “I can’t wait for someone to come up to me in a show and be like ‘Hey, one time at the stage door you said I hope we’re in a show together some day. And look at us now.’”