New York City native Deborah Lapidus joined the Drama faculty in 1987 after having gotten her bachelor's in piano and English from the University of Maryland. Five years later, when Michael Kahn took over as director of the Drama Division, he wanted to do a cabaret at Juilliard, and having seen Deb's previous work, he asked her to be the one to do it. Since then, Cabaret has become a Juilliard institution, a challenge the third-year drama students take on and perform every February.
What can we expect from this year's Cabaret performance?
I have a very talented group and it should be a rather eclectic evening. In addition to Bernstein and Sondheim, we might have some Nina Simone and perhaps an original work as well. We're still formulating.
What are the biggest challenge and the biggest thrill about Cabaret at Juilliard?
The biggest challenge is trying to get to the heart of what each actor can do best; I'm trying to make the singing, acting, and musicianship into one seamless whole. The biggest thrill is seeing someone who never thought that they could sing a song on stage really deliver in performance.
What's your fondest Juilliard memory?
Having all the Drama Division students hiding behind the curtains in Room 301 and popping out to sing “The Human Heart” from Once on This Island to an assembled group of donors and guests—it was a Jim Houghton [who's the division's director] idea.
What's your strangest Juilliard memory?
Watching a rehearsal for the 2002 gala where Elaine Stritch wreaked havoc—coming in late, refusing to rehearse, and being thoroughly entertaining at the same time. Actually, that might be my favorite Juilliard memory.
When did you first know you wanted to be a musician?
My grandfather bought me my first piano. He played beautifully by ear. I loved playing and loved my piano lessons. My teacher gave me a cup of coffee at each lesson, which for a 7-year-old, was big, grownup stuff! I think that was one of the reasons I looked forward to my lessons. But I think I knew then.
Who was the teacher or mentor who most inspired you?
The first person who really inspired me was Mark Zeller, a wonderful singer, teacher, and actor. He had a technique for singing and performing that provided the seeds of what I teach and believe today.
What was the first recording you remember?
The Gypsy original cast album—and I do mean album. It had a million little photos on it, and I remember staring at each one. And that overture! It had me from hello.
If your students could remember just three things about your teaching, what would they be?
To know you have something to offer, to be courageous, and to put your voice out in the world.
How has your teaching changed over the years?
I say less than I used to. Overexplaining is not helpful. Also, I went back to studying a few years ago. It gave me renewed insight into what it takes to get up and sing and work in front of other people.
What are you reading and listening to?
I just started the new John Lahr book, Joy Ride, and I'm obsessed with Hamilton.
If you weren't in the career you are in, what would you be doing?
Maybe working with younger kids in some way.
What are your nonmusic interests?
I love to travel.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
I am who I am. What you see is what you get. So I think I am unsurprising in that way.
Do you subscribe to the notion that life is a cabaret?
My life is a cabaret though I don't think life is a cabaret!