Imagine going to see Wicked on Broadway and watching Glinda descend to stage in her bubble and thinking, “I’m gonna do that some day,” and then getting the chance to play that part, because that dream actually came true for Meggie Cansler, a Kansas City local actress, now in rehearsal for Miss Saigon at Starlight Theatre.
And, that’s not all. Cansler’s dreams began at the tender age of 10 when she saw an advertisement for auditions for Kansas City Starlight’s 1994 production of Annie.
“I saw the ad and told my mom I wanted to go, Cansler said. “So we went. As they narrowed down the prospective girls, I kept making the cuts to smaller and smaller numbers. Finally, I came out and told my mom I made the show. She didn’t seem too exited and asked what I made. I said that I made the show. I’d be in Annie at Starlight. That was my first show, Annie, at Starlight.”
Not a lot of K.C. talent begins careers on the massive stage of Starlight Theatre with thousands of people watching and cheering on your debut, but for Cansler, that’s exactly what happened. And, no, the stint at Starlight did not lead to overnight success, but rather to voice lessons to begin and then dance lessons soon after with the guidance and encouragement of the staff of the Miller Marley School of Dance and Voice.
For the production of Miss Saigon, running Sept. 7-13, Cansler plays Ellen the American wife of the displaced G.I., Chris. Cansler made her professional debut at Starlight Theatre in Annie at age 10. Her Broadway credits include: The Apple Tree, Wicked, Finian’s Rainbow. The U.S. tour of Wicked as Glinda. Off-Broadway credits include: Lucky Guy. On TV, The Carrie Diaries. Cansler further performed in several regional theaters and finished her college with a BFA at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.
“I grew up in Overland Park and attended Blue Valley high school,” Cansler said. “I performed locally at Theatre in the Park as the title role in Cinderella, Winifred in Once Upon a Mattress, Ariel in Footloose and Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. Other community theatre projects were Blue Valley Youth Players and Music Theatre for Young people.
“Professionally, I appeared at the American Heartland Theatre as Ruby in Dames at Sea. I had the privilege of being in Starlight in Annie in 1994. It was the first show I ever did. I also performed in Will Rogers Follies, Evita, and Wizard of Oz in the children's ensemble.”
As Ellen in Miss Saigon, Cansler plays the second female lead, as the wife of the G.I. whose troubled past relationship in Vietnam resulted in a child left behind. For the role, Cansler said she worked with the director in crafting her character to reflect a 1970s strong female who is married to a former soldier suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Her husband in the show, Chris, suffers from the disease and awakes from nightmares of his time served. Haunting him also, is the locked up and secret love affair with the lead character, Kim.
When American troops withdrew quickly from Saigon, chaos erupted and many lives changed. No options existed for lovers, children, long-term partners or others. Evacuation meant sever all ties and get on the helicopter.
As Ellen begins to unlock her husband’s secret past, she learns that Kim was not a one-night stand, a child remains in Vietnam fathered by her husband, and she feels compelled to overcome personal prejudices and “do the right thing.”
“What’s interesting is that I actually sang the role of Ellen here in Kansas City when I was with Miller Marley. We (Miller Marley) did the pre-show for Miss Saigon and that was the first show with the covered and air-conditioned stage. I was maybe 13 at the time. I had seen the show here and later in New York, so I knew the part and I always wanted to play Ellen.”
Cansler admits the role contains some complexities that made her study to develop her own stamp on the character of Ellen. She said it was a part she yearned to portray for some time. The part of Ellen can come off as harsh, especially in Act I, and that is the challenge Cansler face in this production. She said she wanted Ellen to reflect a strong American 1970s era female but with heart and compassion so that her goodness and determination to do right come.
“Ellen never says, ‘No’ to Chris, her husband, and his needs as he works through his war traumas,” Cansler said. “It’s important that she stay committed and always supportive to him.”
Cansler moved permanently to New York City in 2006 after graduation college and beginning her professional stage career. There she began with The Apple Tree and then toured with Wicked. Prior to her college, she attended high school in Blue Valley Schools and said their theater program was what attracted her.
While in preparation for Miss Saigon, Cansler said she spends as much spare time with her family who remain here in Kansas City. She arrived in K.C. a week ahead of rehearsals to spend a full week with family and friends. But, once rehearsals began, she said, the family time takes second place and theater preparation becomes top priority.
Each role, each step represents a new plateau for Cansler and she said she takes pride in each role and accomplishment.
“I wanted to be on Broadway, so when my first show, The Apple Tree was on Broadway, that was my dream. Then, I did Finian’s Rainbow, and that was my new high. Then, I got the national tour of Wicked. So, each show, each step is important to me and I focus all my energy on that role,” she said.
For Wicked, when it played Kansas City, Cansler played the role of Glinda on the night her family attended. She said that was the first time they had seen the show and her performance left them without words. Cansler said she was overwhelmed as well with their reaction to her performance.
St. Paul, MN in October ends Cansler’s run with Miss Saigon. In all, she opens here and then travels to three other venues before the run ends, and then it’s back to New York for her next adventure, as yet, undetermined.
Possibly next is work with a new musical, Somewhere in Time, based on the Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour movie of the 1970s. Cansler said the script is good and the musical score is beautiful. Somewhere in Time debuted in Portland and there is talk for further development with an eye on a Broadway run beginning next summer or soon thereafter, she said.
“I have always looked up to Kristen Chenoweth and his comedic timing. My first experience was with her in The Apple Tree, and I learned so much from her. She is delightful and such a supporting being in the arts. I roomed with her and I could not believe, Kristen Chenoweth was sitting right across the room from me. Someone else I admire is Sutton Foster. She has a comedic timing that is phenomenal and a long lanky body that helps deliver that timing and attitude. And, Carol Burnett will always a favorite of mine. I grew up watching her variety show and was always amused at what she could do. She has so many tools in her bag of tricks.”
Amazingly, Cansler points to Lea Salonga, the original star of Miss Saigon as a talent that inspires and teachers her. Cansler said she studied Salonga and her vocal styles because Salonga uses her talents in ways others before she did not. She is one of the best people to listen to and emulate. She finds a place in her voice and delivery that brings music to life.
“Even as I was beginning voice, I would listen to Salonga in Miss Saigon or Aladdin just to study her voice. She has great placement in her voice, and whatever part I am singing, I want to find the right placement for the music and lyrics.
As for Cansler, she wants to continue to work on Broadway, and she said her goals constantly rewrite themselves. She wants to do current and new Broadway shows and revive old Broadway standards. She wants to do TV shows as well. She said she likes challenge and looks forward to new challenges.
“I want to do a revival of Once Upon a Mattress. I love the show and I want to play Winifred again. I did it for Theater in the Park and another group and I would really love to revive it on Broadway. It’s so much fun. It’s a kooky, fun role,” she said.
As for now, go see Meggie Cansler at Kansas City’s Starlight Theatre in Miss Saigon, from Sept. 6-13, and to prepare for the show, book reservations at the V.I.P. room for a gourmet buffet of oriental delights prepared specifically for the show by Plaza Catering.