Meet Andrea Macasaet, the Canadian Playing Anne Boleyn on Broadway

Winnipeg’s Andrea Macasaet had given up on her acting dreams and was studying HR—then she got the call that changed her life.

Andrea Macasaet looks on the bright side—that’s her thing. This past fall, when Broadway’s theatres reopened, she starred as Anne Boleyn in Six, a musical about Henry VIII’s wives. She doesn’t moan about how COVID cancelled her originally scheduled debut back in 2020. She’d just finished 36 preview performances at the storied Brooks Atkinson Theater when she heard that New York state’s governor had ordered a lockdown.

Her friends and family were in town for a double celebration—her 26th birthday was the next day. “I thought, that’s OK, we’re all tired,” she recalls. “I assumed it would be just a short delay, a few weeks or so.” Then the weeks stretched to months, and then to over a year. Macasaet, now 27, remains grateful and upbeat—especially because, at one point in her life, she almost gave up on the theatre altogether.

As a kid, she fell in love with the stage. She got her start performing in karaoke competitions run by Winnipeg’s large Filipino-Canadian community, encouraged by her parents, both immigrants from the Philippines. With a repertoire of Céline Dion, Whitney Houston and the plaintive “On My Own” from Les Misérables, she tried, always, to “make them feel it”—her mother’s advice.

From there, she performed in the children’s chorus in The King & I and played a pepper shaker in Beauty and the Beast. When she was 19, after many auditions and minor parts, she thought she was finally on her way when she was cast in the title role in Miss Saigon in Victoria, B.C., where she’d gone to theatre school.

But then the big roles stopped coming. “I just felt they weren’t seeing me in the auditions, not hearing me,” she says. She took a job at Lululemon to help support herself while she went from one dispiriting audition to the next. She finally decided she’d had enough and signed up for human resources courses at the University of Winnipeg.

But if she was prepared to let her dreams go, they weren’t quite done with her. On campus one day, she noticed online that a theatre in Edmonton was casting for a musical that reimagined Henry VIII’s wives as a girl group who belt out poppy songs about which one of them had it the worst. Written by two young Cambridge grads, it had done well in London’s West End and was slated for a North American tour.

She sent in a video of herself singing Lady Gaga’s “I’ll Never Love Again.” A call came on a Thursday—could she come to Toronto on Monday?

The show’s co-creator and director, Lucy Moss, was wowed: “She had this voice, of course, but there was something else, this concentrated hilarity. At one point, we all started giggling. It was that rare thing where you looked all down the panel and everyone knew, we’ve got our Boleyn.”

Macasaet is, indeed, funny but also earnest—and always shifting between the two modes, talking one moment about prepping for the role by reading up on Tudor history, the next about watching a big Beyoncé concert for tips. Onstage, she also moves rapidly from singing in anthem mode to serving up sly humour—and Boleyn’s main solo number, “Don’t Lose Ur Head,” gives her plenty of space to do both.

Though the tour went well, with audiences packing the houses in Edmonton, Chicago and Boston, it wasn’t a given that she’d get to play it in New York. The big stages had always seemed so far out of reach. “Growing up, I used to hum and sing all these Disney princess songs,” she says. “But I couldn’t picture myself as Cinderella or Ariel.” Then she got the call. “When I received the offer for Broadway, I was in the car with my best friend and sister,” she says. “We had just come from brunch. I had to pull over to cry.”

In her positive, no-nonsense way, Macasaet recognizes she’s not alone in her struggles: she’s on a continuum of women breaking barriers in theatre. Even getting the lead in Miss Saigon—which some critics have argued perpetuates hoary Western stereotypes of Asian women—connected her to an idol. “Lea Salonga, the woman who originated the role of Kim in Miss Saigon, is iconic in the Filipino community,” she says. “She allowed me to believe that a career in theatre was tangible. If Lea could do it, so could I.”

Macasaet wants to pass that sense of possibility on to the next generation. “The feeling of being up there, there’s nothing like it.”

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Reader's Digest Canada
Originally Published in Reader's Digest Canada