Lila Coogan may know her way around the New York State Thruway, but she's not all that familiar with Schenectady.
That all began to change early last week when Coogan, an Ossining native and Syracuse University grad, showed up at Proctors to begin tech rehearsals for "Anastasia," the award-winning Broadway musical that comes to town for six days beginning next Tuesday. The story is set in Paris in the 1920s soon after the Russian Revolution, and Coogan plays Anya, a young Russian woman haunted by her mysterious past.
"She's a strong, independent and determined woman, and I love the idea that I'm going to get to play her every night," said Coogan. "It's an amazing story, I have a wonderful cast behind me and we're all so supportive of each other."
"Anastasia," a 2017 musical created by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, is kicking off its national tour in Schenectady, and when the cast headed up the Hudson Valley from New York to begin tech rehearsals last week, Coogan didn't need a road map.
"I've been to Albany a bunch of times, and growing up in Ossining we were always taking school trips to Albany to see the Capitol and other historic buildings," said Coogan. "And then when you go to Syracuse you always stop in Albany and get some lunch on the way, so I know the area pretty well."
"Anastasia," based on the 1997 animated film of the same name, isn't Coogan's first huge gig. She played the character of Jane Banks, George and Winifred's young daughter, in "Mary Poppins" on Broadway for nine months when she was 13.
"It was the experience of a lifetime, but then I got older and that's what happens when you're a kid," said Coogan, laughing. "But it was such a loving and encouraging company. It was definitely a lot of work, but I have nothing negative to say about it. My parents used to drive me into New York every day, it's about a 45-minute drive, and then I'd go back to Ossining each night."
Even before her "Mary Poppins' experience, Coogan was learning her craft in local community theater in the Ossining area and the Random Farms Kids' Theater in Tarrytown.
"I did some community theater, but I really got my start at the Random Farm Kids' Theater," said Coogan. "Anya Wallach, the owner and creator of the theater, really encouraged me to pursue this as a career. I've always been singing, although at my first audition Random Farm I shocked my parents. They had no idea I could sing. I didn't get that part, but I surprised my parents."
Since graduating from Syracuse three years ago, Coogan has been very selective about her work. And, if she didn't get a part she wanted, that was Ok, too.
"I really haven't been that busy, and I've had to be very patient and wait for the right job," she said. "When you're in theater school you're taught to understand that things don't usually come your way right away. So I was prepared to wait and see what happened. So I feel like I've been chugging along for a while."
"Anastasia," also based on the 1956 Hollywood film with Yul Brynner, was nominated for two Tony Awards last year. There are four tours beginning almost simultaneously around the world of the show, and Coogan is thrilled to be a part of this one.
"When I was in 'Mary Poppins' I was a replacement, so I learned the show with one other girl and never got to perform with the cast until the last day of my rehearsal," said Coogan. "It's so nice to be able to work on a show right from the bottom up. I grew up with the cartoon, so I was familiar with the music, and I also got to know the composer and the lyricist because I worked with them on a benefit. I've known them since I was 14."
At 14, however, even after "Mary Poppins," she wasn't quite sure what she wanted to do with herself.
"I was torn between being an actor and a marine biologist," said Coogan. "Then when I was 16 it really shifted. I was working on this show and I said to myself, 'yeah. This is what I really want to do for the rest of my life.' So I went to Syracuse and got my BA in musical theater."
Joining Coogan on the Proctors stage next week will be Stephen Brower as Dmitry, Jason Michael Evans as Gleb, Joy Franz as Dowager Empress, Tari Kelly as Countess Lily, Edward Staudenmayer as Vlad and Victoria Amelia Bingham as Little Anastasia.
WHERE: Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, 1:30 and 8 p.m. Oct. 11, 8 p.m. Oct. 12, 2 and 8 p.m. Oct. 13, 2 p.m. Oct. 14
HOW MUCH: $85-$20
MORE INFO: www.proctors.org, (518) 346-6204