Getting into character is nothing new for actor Jonathan Furedy, and portraying a female illusionist is one of his newest ventures.
Furedy stars as Phaedra, one of the eight “female illusionists” Calleges in La Cage Aux Folles at Phoenix Theatre.
La Cage Aux Folles, which many may know from the film adaptation staring Nathan Lane and Robin Williams, is a story about a gay couple, Georges and Albin, who run a popular drag nightclub located in Saint-Tropez.
When Georges’ son, Jean-Michael, introduces George and Albin to Anne, the woman he plans to marry, the realization that both families must meet strikes.
“Amidst all the craziness and hilarity, the show’s message is about acceptance, pride, and love,” Furedy said.
Because Furedy’s character requires him to portray a woman, his process of getting into character is much different than any other. Between makeup and getting into costume, Furedy says the process takes approximately two hours.
“Being a Cagelle (Phaedra) is unlike any other role I’ve ever played before. Aside from learning how to move and walk and behave like a female, the physical transformation involves a very extensive costume and makeup process,” he said.
In addition to playing Phaedra, Furedy also plays Hercule, a male character in the show. Furedy faces the challenge of switching into different characters throughout the show, which includes changes of wigs, outfits and makeup.
The Arizona native explained that playing a character is much more than just memorizing and reading lines. There is an immense amount of preparation that Furedy goes through before playing a role.
“There’s always a degree of research that goes into each show and role, especially if the character is extremely different than myself,” he said. “For La Cage aux Folles, I watched lots of video tutorials on drag makeup and drag ‘tricks of the trade’ on YouTube, but most of my preparation had to do with stretching and basically getting myself physically into shape to dance as much as we do.”
Furedy’s love for acting stemmed from a young age. At the age of 4, he had the opportunity to go backstage after watching his babysitter perform in a children’s theater production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
He remembers seeing what he believed to be the chocolate river, which was simply a piece of brown fabric that was waved by two people. His mind was blown, he said.
“I told my parents that I wanted to audition for the next show, and I did,” he said. “It was Babes in Toyland, and I got cast as one of Little Bo Peep’s sheep. From that point on, I knew that I wanted to spend my life onstage.”
After that show, he continued to work in children’s theater, followed by community theater before college, where he would pursue training for professional theater.
“While I had always been a good mover and could carry a tune, it wasn’t until college that I had the opportunity to study dance and voice on a daily basis, so I took as much advantage of it as I could,” Furedy said.
Shortly after college, Furedy moved to New York City where he worked as an actor for five years, then decided to move back to Arizona, where he feels he is able to work more consistently.
One of his favorite aspects of being an actor is that he has the ability to play “make believe.”
“How many other careers can say that?” he said. “As we all grow up, life gets more complicated and serious, and so most people eventually forget how to let loose and play and imagine. But as an actor, I get to take all those life experiences — the good, the bad and everything in between — into the rehearsal studio to create and develop the characters I play.”
Furedy can be seen in the Phoenix Theatre’s show La Cage Aux Folles until April 7.