Style Spotlight: Michele Ragusa
blog by Avery Hartmans • July 30, 2013 @ 12:31am
Michele Ragusa has a job most of us can only dream of: she gets to star in Broadway productions, perform Monty Python’s “Spamalot” in front of thousands of people and wear $37,000 gowns. Not bad for a Buffalo girl.
The North Buffalo-raised, Niagara University-educated singer and actress recently made a trip to her hometown on July 25 to help celebrate Artpark’s 40th anniversary and perform alongside the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, what she calls one of the best orchestras in the world. From someone who’s had a career like Ragusa’s, that’s quite the compliment.
“I so enjoy coming home to perform,” Ragusa said in a recent interview. “There’s nothing like a hometown crowd and when I’ve sung with the BPO it’s always one of the highlights of my career. To share the stage, literally, with the entire orchestra and make music together is something I wish everyone could experience.”
Ragusa most recently starred as Mama Rose in a production of “Gypsy,” a role she said has been one of her most fulfilling to date. She has also performed in numerous Broadway musicals, including “Young Frankenstein” and “Titanic” and nearly every other play you can possibly think of, from “Kiss Me Kate” to “Into The Woods” to “West Side Story.”
But while most of us have seen what happens on-stage, few of us get to experience backstage on Broadway. Ragusa said things can get a little hectic.
“I’ve had every possible kind of costume change: some that you have a lot of time to complete and others where I’ve had literally minutes and seconds to do it,” she said.
By “truly complicated,” she means transforming from a old, hideous witch into a glamorous one for “Into The Woods.” This meant completely changing hair, make-up and prosthetics with the help of a team — all in three minutes and 20 seconds. But, Ragusa said, they never messed it up.
Though she doesn’t cite the ugly witch costume as one of her favorites — for obvious reasons — Ragusa does have a few memorable ensembles.
For her portrayal of Corinna in “Adrift In Macao,” costume designer Willa Kim created an outfit that Ragusa called a “combination of geisha and Carmen Miranda.” And two-time Tony Award winner Gregg Barnes was the mastermind behind that $37,000 gown, which unfortunately was not hers to keep.
“Many times you can ask to purchase shoes or costumes at the end of a run. If they’re rented you can’t, but sometimes it works out.” Ragusa said. “I did a symphony concert last year where they bought me $1,000 in gowns and shoes and they let me keep them. Quite the perk.”
Ragusa said she also gets to be involved in the costume design process, offering her input on what might be a factor in designing her costume — on-stage movement, from dancing to physical comedy, plays an important role in what her costume will ultimately look like.
But while the outfit may help get her into character, Ragusa said that the mark of a great costume is not having to think about it on-stage.
“There’s nothing worse than having to ‘worry’ about a costume piece while you’re trying to perform,” Ragusa said. “Trains can be tricky.”
Photos courtesy of micheleragusa.com