Whatever higher power grants talent must have been feeling especially generous when Jennifer Simard first materialized or, perhaps, simply didn't notice as she snuck in line time and time again.
Not only does the New Hampshire native boast one of the rangiest belts around (have you heard her thrillingly belt out the high F sharp in Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Unexpected Song"?), but she is also a skillful impressionist (one of the best ensemble members the long-running Forbidden Broadway ever boasted) and a consummate actor, whose many talents include an uncanny knack for discovering laughs where few else could.
In fact, in the past decade the two-time Tony nominee has become one of Broadway's go-to funny ladies, delivering impeccable comedic performances in Sister Act, Disaster!, the Tony-winning revivals of Hello, Dolly! and Company, and, currently, as the "Toxic" Stepmother in the new Britney Spears musical Once Upon a One More Time, which puts a feminist spin on the stories of some familiar fairytale characters. You only have to see her rendition of Spears' "Toxic" to understand her brilliance and vocal power.
The Drama Desk, Drama League, and Lucille Lortel Award nominee has also been seen on Broadway in Mean Girls, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, and Shrek the Musical, while her screen credits include The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas, Wish You Were Dead, Sisters, Girls5Eva, The Good Wife, Law & Order, Law & Order: SVU, The King of Queens, and Younger.
In the brief interview below for the Playbill series How Did I Get Here—spotlighting not only actors, but directors, designers, musicians, and others who work on and off the stage to create the magic that is live theatre—Simard shares private moments with Stephen Sondheim and David Hyde Pierce and reveals what she enjoys even more than getting a laugh.
Where did you train/study?
I trained at The Boston Conservatory—honestly, watching and doing over and over again and gaining experience.
Was there a teacher who was particularly impactful/helpful? What made this instructor stand out?
My grammar school music teacher Mrs. Candy Friborg. She “saw” me, nurtured me, and made me believe my dreams were possible.
How did the role of the Stepmother come about for you?
It was a gift out of the sky. I got a call in late December that David Leveaux [the musical's creative consultant] wanted to have a meeting with me come January. We met, spoke for 90 minutes, and that was it.
Do you have a favorite moment in the show for her? What makes that part so special?
I like the moment after "Toxic" when my daughters are banished. I get to stretch my dramatic acting muscles and cry every night. While I like being funny, I’ve always preferred the sad clowns. After all, the best comedy is rooted in pain.
How did you get your first job in the theatre?
I was nine years old and auditioned for The Wizard of Oz. I was the first kid to arrive but the last to audition. When they asked me if I was nervous, I answered, “Not as nervous as my first confession.” I booked it.
What do you consider your big break?
I was still living in New Hampshire when Gerard Alessandrini called me at my childhood home after coming to the city to audition for Forbidden Broadway. He said, “Hi Jennifer, it’s Gerard Alessandrini. How would you like to move to New York?”
What is the most memorable day job you ever had?
Working in a mail room with a nun.
Can you share one memory of Stephen Sondheim that stays with you from the recent revival of Company?
I was speaking with him after the first preview. We had a moment just us, and I’ll never forget it.
Is there a person or people you most respect in your field and why?
David Hyde Pierce is not only talented but kind. He is also classy. Quick story: We had dinner in April, and when I got up to use the restroom, he stood. He stood for a lady. I can’t. He’s just the greatest.