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My acting bucket list: Melissa Fernandes

"Judas is one of those roles that can easily be female."

Melissa Fernandes as Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors
Melissa Fernandes as Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors

I’m asking veteran actors to name five dream roles and say why. The answers not only reveal aspirations, they may put an idea in the minds of artistic directors and producers — even choices that seem outside the box.

Melissa Fernandes

Versatile actor and Craig Noel Award nominee Melissa Fernandes: “You always think this will be easy until you are asked to do it. How do I choose between classics and the obscure? Sometimes you don’t even know it’s a bucket-list role until you’ve played it. But focus on the task at hand, Melissa: what do I dream most of playing?”

1) Donna, in Mamma Mia. “Don’t laugh. The reason I started singing was because of ABBA. I swear to God, in college I once said 'Wouldn’t a musical with nothing but ABBA songs be amazing?’ Everyone laughed, but apparently that was a billion-dollar idea. There’s not much depth to the show, just a piece of cotton candy. But it has enormous heart and is one of the most fun shows I’ve ever seen. Sometimes that is a gift. Let’s leave them dancing in the aisles.”

As Mary in The Whale

2) Mrs. Lovett, Sweeney Todd: “I found my voice with ABBA, but I found my heart with [Stephen] Sondheim. He can write female characters like no other composer — strong, sexy, brittle, complex, challenging, vulnerable — all at the same time. One of my lifelong goals is to perform in all of his shows, in some capacity. Picking only one is like having Sophie’s Choice in my brain! But I choose Lovett. I see a sexier side of her than can sometimes get missed. She sees what she wants and goes after it by any means necessary. I simply love her.”

3.) Judas, Jesus Christ Superstar. “In a world where male roles outnumber female ones by a 3:1 margin, I am an outspoken proponent of cross-gender (male to female) casting when you can. No, you can’t always get permission from the licensing company to do it, but why not try? Judas is one of those roles that can easily be female and even heighten the relationships, conflicts, and struggles within the play. Finding the humanity in one of the ultimate historical villains of all time would be exhilarating.”

As the Baker's Wife in Into the Woods

4) Barbara, August: Osage County. “One of the best plays I’ve read in recent years. I relish being able to sink my teeth into gritty, raw characters, and Barbara epitomizes these qualities. I don’t get that opportunity often, as I tend to get cast as the sweet, funny, vulnerable girl. I am striving to get beyond that. I would love to combine my heart with her ferocity.”

5) Kate, The Taming of the Shrew. “I have always been drawn to her fire, wit, and strength. I would welcome the challenge of maintaining that side of Kate and revealing that she and Petruchio are equals in the end, both being tamed by love and both questioning societal views of what a woman ‘should’ be. It remains controversial, risky, and divisive — a true test of theatrical bravery. Plus my husband [Manny Fernandes] and I have had a specific vision of this show for years, and I would love the opportunity to see it come to fruition, opposite each other.”

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Melissa Fernandes as Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors
Melissa Fernandes as Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors

I’m asking veteran actors to name five dream roles and say why. The answers not only reveal aspirations, they may put an idea in the minds of artistic directors and producers — even choices that seem outside the box.

Melissa Fernandes

Versatile actor and Craig Noel Award nominee Melissa Fernandes: “You always think this will be easy until you are asked to do it. How do I choose between classics and the obscure? Sometimes you don’t even know it’s a bucket-list role until you’ve played it. But focus on the task at hand, Melissa: what do I dream most of playing?”

1) Donna, in Mamma Mia. “Don’t laugh. The reason I started singing was because of ABBA. I swear to God, in college I once said 'Wouldn’t a musical with nothing but ABBA songs be amazing?’ Everyone laughed, but apparently that was a billion-dollar idea. There’s not much depth to the show, just a piece of cotton candy. But it has enormous heart and is one of the most fun shows I’ve ever seen. Sometimes that is a gift. Let’s leave them dancing in the aisles.”

As Mary in The Whale

2) Mrs. Lovett, Sweeney Todd: “I found my voice with ABBA, but I found my heart with [Stephen] Sondheim. He can write female characters like no other composer — strong, sexy, brittle, complex, challenging, vulnerable — all at the same time. One of my lifelong goals is to perform in all of his shows, in some capacity. Picking only one is like having Sophie’s Choice in my brain! But I choose Lovett. I see a sexier side of her than can sometimes get missed. She sees what she wants and goes after it by any means necessary. I simply love her.”

3.) Judas, Jesus Christ Superstar. “In a world where male roles outnumber female ones by a 3:1 margin, I am an outspoken proponent of cross-gender (male to female) casting when you can. No, you can’t always get permission from the licensing company to do it, but why not try? Judas is one of those roles that can easily be female and even heighten the relationships, conflicts, and struggles within the play. Finding the humanity in one of the ultimate historical villains of all time would be exhilarating.”

As the Baker's Wife in Into the Woods

4) Barbara, August: Osage County. “One of the best plays I’ve read in recent years. I relish being able to sink my teeth into gritty, raw characters, and Barbara epitomizes these qualities. I don’t get that opportunity often, as I tend to get cast as the sweet, funny, vulnerable girl. I am striving to get beyond that. I would love to combine my heart with her ferocity.”

5) Kate, The Taming of the Shrew. “I have always been drawn to her fire, wit, and strength. I would welcome the challenge of maintaining that side of Kate and revealing that she and Petruchio are equals in the end, both being tamed by love and both questioning societal views of what a woman ‘should’ be. It remains controversial, risky, and divisive — a true test of theatrical bravery. Plus my husband [Manny Fernandes] and I have had a specific vision of this show for years, and I would love the opportunity to see it come to fruition, opposite each other.”

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