The producers always promised that the show would make it to Broadway after the pandemic. But they had no idea what that would entail. “I remember the phrase ‘flattening the curve,’” Ashley said, referring to the city’s coronavirus lockdown. “We thought it would be for a few weeks. The possibility that it would be 600 days before we were back in production on Broadway — that was something we didn’t plan for.”
As the days without pay stretched on, the cast and crew had to find other sources of income. For de Waal, that came from running Broadway Weekends at Home, a remote version of the musical theater camp that she founded with her sister, Dani, a former actor who works for Google. Hundreds of people signed up during the pandemic, paying a subscription fee to be taught by Broadway and West End performers.
Born in Germany and raised in England, De Waal was always obsessed with musical theater. “I became a fanatic,” she said. “For birthdays and Christmases, I would ask for CDs of original cast recordings.” After earning a degree at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, she got a job in the ensemble of, and as an understudy in, “We Will Rock You” on the West End. “It was a baptism of fire,” she said. “I had never done any mic technique work. You know that old thing where singers just sang really loud? You don’t need to do that with a mic. I bought a microphone, and I practiced at home.”
In the late aughts, she moved to New York. “I had no agent, no job, and I started doing Times Square open calls,” she said. “I knew no one, and I felt very grown-up and free.” But soon the work was rolling in: parts in “American Idiot,” “Carrie,” the “Wicked” national tour, “Finding Neverland,” “Waitress” and “Kinky Boots,” to name a few.
She had a steady string of gigs until her late 20s, when the parts began to dry up. She worked as a caterer and kept going to auditions. She was one of the first people to read for the part of Diana in the workshop; she was hired virtually on the spot.