Lexi Windsor – Not Your Typical “Funny Girl”
In 2008, Jesse Green wrote an article in the New York Times, listing six character types found among Broadway actresses: the sweetheart, the steamroller, the ditz, the doll, the thrush and the cookie. He describes how well-known Broadway leading ladies have branded themselves within as types, categorizing Faith Prince as Broadway’s resident cookie. While we could probably pick out OKC counterparts for each of these character types, one local actress has spent a lifetime creating her own unique acting brand.
Lexi Windsor’s signature style of physicality, timing and charm are well known to audiences. She has appeared in Lyric favorites such as Bright Star, The Drowsy Chaperone, A Little Night Music, Boeing Boeing, The Rocky Horror Show, and The Will Rogers Follies, just to name a few. For many of these, her acting brand could most accurately be described as the tart. Delectable humor combined with sultry attitude, but so engaging you just want to walk on stage and give her a hug.
“It’s way more fun to play the villain or to play the tart, or the girl next door. No, not the girl next door, the girl next door’s sidekick,” Windsor said. “You get to have fun and be a little more silly and cut loose. And, there’s flexibility. Whereas sometimes with an ingenue track, or leading lady track, you have to stay in the lane and drive the show.”
Sometimes, however, The Tart gets to do the driving. Windsor starred as Kira in Lyric’s production of the musical Xanadu, the role originated by Olivia Newton-John in the movie. “Kira has to be the ingenue, but she also gets to be really funny and quirky,” Windsor said. “It was a really cool opportunity to be the straight man. A lot of the time, I set up the line and other people got the punch line. But she also got a lot of her own laughs.”
Stepping into a Dream Role
This summer, Windsor gets to play one of her dream roles for the very first time. She co-stars as Lina Lamont in Singin’ in the Rain as a silent film star whose talents aren’t well suited for the talkies. Windsor has been getting ready to play the role of Lamont since she was very young.
I asked Windsor when she first fell in love with Singin’ in the Rain. “It started when my dad introduced me to the movie,” Windsor remembered. Her dad is Robert “Bob” Windsor, Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma’s first choreographer and longtime character artist for the Oklahoma City Ballet. “We would watch old movies all the time, on the old movie channel or on VHS, and later, on DVD. We had Singin’ in the Rain on VHS, and I wore it out because I loved it so much as a little girl.”
“Eventually, I began to focus on the character of Lina Lamont, played by Jean Hagen. She was funny and beautiful and interesting. And, she was not afraid to look or sound silly. She was so committed to what she was doing. That made it funny because she was so honest, so real,” Windsor said. Essentially the movie played on a loop for most of her childhood.
The movie was such a staple in the Windsor household that she and her dad started re-creating their favorite scenes. “It was always fun to do scenes with my dad because he would know the dialogue, too. We would do elaborate scenes at home, or sometimes the words would just come out at random moments,” she said.
Now Windsor gets the chance to put her signature spin on Lina Lamont. In Windsor’s eyes, Jean Hagen set the standard very high in the movie. “This character has been a dream role because I have watched her my whole life. And now that it’s here, I’m trepidatious. I sometimes feel like I will never live up to Jean Hagen’s masterpiece, but I’m certainly going to try.”
Actors are their own worst critics, but that kind of self-pressure often leads to breakout performances.
Growing Up in the ‘Biz
Coming from a show business family, Windsor learned many essential lessons about performing from her mother and father. “When I was young, I watched my dad on stage and wanted to be just like him. My mom was a costume designer and retail businesswoman. Both of them are inspiring and interesting.”
During our conversation, I took the opportunity to dig out what she feels is the most important piece of acting advice she ever got from her father, Bob.
“His big advice is always ‘let them take your picture.’ Meaning the audience has to catch up to what you’re doing on stage. Always give them a moment where you stop and freeze, and let them take a click, and then move on. It works with dancing, too. Anything you can suspend just to let them take it in. So you have the audience along with you. Because if you get too far ahead of them, they’re not with you.”
While some actors continuously try to break away from typecasting, Windsor embraces the assignment, knowing full well the vital function of The Tart in an American musical. While playing the role of April in Stephen Sondheim’s Company at The Pollard Theatre, Windsor made a point giving additional depth to a character that some actresses dismiss as just silly.
“When it comes to just playing a silly blonde, I could do that in my sleep. But I wanted to make her interesting. It’s like, ‘Sure, we can give the audience peanut butter and crackers, but I want to put some cinnamon on it. Add some spice and maybe like a side of this and a dipping sauce in this way or that way.’ Then hopefully the audience says ‘Wow, I’ve never had such an amazing peanut butter cracker!’ I like my seasoning cabinet.”
The Importance of Being Funny
In 2014, Windsor took on another Sondheim role, this time in Lyric’s production of A Little Night Music. She played Petra, a maidservant. Some musical theatre folks think of Petra as what’s called a step-out role, a minor ensemble character that “steps out” for one song or monologue. David Andrews Rogers, the show’s musical director, complimented her ability to build the audience’s curiosity throughout the show, rather than coming out of nowhere to sing “The Miller’s Son” near the end. Rogers described her character as a crescendo, rather than a flat line with a step-out, as he’d seen in other productions. “That was one of the biggest compliments I ever received because I just admire him so much,” Windsor said.
Windsor also pointed to her performances as Evelyn Nesbit in Ragtime and Lucy in Bright Star as examples of The Tart functioning as a crucial element within the story.
“In Ragtime, the story was so profound and gut-wrenching. During the show, I could barely sing offstage, because I was just so moved. Then I had to walk out, and go ‘La-la, La-la, La-la La-la La Wheeeeee!’ and be the girl on the swing. I was so drawn into the dramatics of Ragtime’s story that I needed a moment of release. And, just as much as I needed it, the audience needed it, too. And I would walk on stage, and everyone would laugh, and I would think ‘That’s not all that funny.” But it was because the show was so heavy, and they just needed a reason to break away.”
“With Bright Star, there’s another gut-wrenching story about this mother and the loss of her child. In the second act, my character Lucy comes in and she’s singing and dancing. The audience needs a break from the heart-ache, and I take honor and pride in that. I’m very thankful that I often get to play these roles that come in and just give you a little bit of fun. We’re enjoying the drama, our heartstrings are pulled, but let’s just shake our booties and let it go for a minute. We all need to break up the tension for a little bit, and then we’ll get back to the deep stuff.”
– Rodney Brazil, Arts Blogger