Mo Rocca, October, 2005 in New York City. GETTY

Growing up it was my dream to be on Broadway. To that end I did as much theater as I could —- lots of Gilbert and Sullivan. I was very serious about my work.

My bedroom was a research library. Original Broadway cast recordings, like Man of La Mancha here, were in a separate section from movie musical soundtracks, like Oklahoma here. (Mixing the two seemed unclean.) The LPs were alphabetized, Cabaret toward the front, West Side Story at the back.
Over in the playbills archive, those shows I'd seen were catalogued separately from those I hadn't: my parents donated this Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum with Phil Silvers playbill to my collection.

Special exhibit items included a poster of Jim Dale in Barnum and my prized Cats sweatshirt, always line-dried to prevent the eyes on the back from premature fading.

In short I took my fun very seriously. If I hadn't I might not be having so much fun now. On Broadway.

Two weeks ago I made my Broadway debut, in the musical "The 25th
Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee." And I am having a ball.

A play is supposed to be fun — it's called a play — and perhaps more than any other performance medium, involves playing — trying different things in rehearsal and performance. And clichéd as it may sound, the interaction with a live audience is thrilling — especially in this show, where actual audience members are recruited to play contestants in a spelling bee.
But any kid can tell you that any kind of play - whether it's on stage, on the baseball diamond, or in the garage building a model airplane — isn't fun if it isn't taken seriously. The more commitment the girl with the lemonade stand shows, the more joy she'll find in her work now and maybe as a future CEO. Whether the dream is Big Business or a winning Butter Sculpture at the Minnesota State Fair, focus makes for fun.

I'm lucky I had parents who encouraged me to dedicate myself to something that excited me - driving me to rehearsals and taking me to the theater. The first musical I saw, 27 years ago, was my father's favorite: Showboat, starring Eddie Bracken and Lainie Kazan. (The playbill's missing from my collection, though there is one on ebay.)

Before my debut in Spelling Bee, the show's director James Lapine repeated one piece of advice: "Have fun," he said.

Advice I take very seriously.
  • Caitlin Johnson


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