News Column

The Wisconsin State Journal Doug Moe column

November 20, 2013


Nov. 20--If you are going to leave your home in Los Angeles and spend two months doing a play in Chicago, you may as well play a princess, and it may as well be a hit.

For that matter, you may as well have such a good time that when you get back, Los Angeles no longer feels like home. At which point you move to Chicago.

It has been a busy year for Rachael Soglin, 29, Madison native and oldest daughter of Mayor Paul Soglin and his wife, Sara.

The stage musical that Soglin did last summer is called "Twisted: The Untold Story of a Royal Vizier." It sold out every performance at the Greenhouse Theater in Lincoln Park in July. On Thanksgiving Day, it will premiere on YouTube, where the theater company, StarKid, has been a sensation since 2009, when it unleashed its first Internet hit, "A Very Potter Musical." The troupe's YouTube views now top 150 million.

Soglin first met some of the minds responsible for StarKid when she was at the University of Michigan, where she had gone to study theater, graduating in 2007.

Her passion for performing dates to growing up in Madison. Before she was a teen, the State Journal credited Soglin with "stealing the end-of-the-year talent show at Randall Elementary School" with a rendition of "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend."

Soglin found her way to Children's Theater of Madison, where her role in Lynda Barry's "The Good Times Are Killing Me" earned raves. Later, in Ann Arbor, she acted in a variety of productions, "Urinetown" being a favorite. Theater had its hooks in her. Back home in Madison, the summer before graduation, she wrote a review of the Mercury Players' 24-hour theater "blitz" for The Capital Times: "Blitz is not traditional theater," Soglin wrote. "In fact, it gives traditional theater a good kick in the pants."

Something of the same might be said for the wildly original work of StarKid. While Soglin knew some of those who founded the troupe at the University of Michigan in 2009, she had graduated and left Ann Arbor by then. She first came home to Madison, then moved to the Los Angeles area in December 2007 with an unambiguous goal: She wanted to be an actress.

The odds against "making it" in such a scenario are almost impossibly long. The path back to the Midwest is crowded with young hopefuls beaten down by the auditions and inevitable rejection. Soglin, though, hung in there. She drew the interest of a manager and an agent, and her face began to show up in national television commercials for the likes of Kellogg's, Burger King and Verizon.

In March 2011, she appeared in the season-opening episode of the Showtime series "The United States of Tara," playing a restaurant waitress (not an unfamiliar make-ends-meet activity for Soglin in real life) who has a run-in with the character played by Toni Collette, the show's star.

More commercial work followed, if not the acting roles she most desired. Soglin had stayed in touch with her Michigan classmates and cheered when StarKid burst on the scene. The troupe followed its "Harry Potter" parody with a sequel and other uproarious productions, building a loyal fan base that increased after most of the company relocated to Chicago.

It was from Chicago in March of this year that StarKid's writers -- Matt Lang, Nick Lang and Eric Kahn Gale -- got in touch with Soglin in California and asked her to audition for the role of princess in their newest musical satire, "Twisted," a send-up of Disney's "Aladdin."

"A huge compliment," Soglin said recently by phone from Chicago.

She recorded a song and a dialogue scene and emailed it to the boys in Chicago. They were back in touch immediately: "Please come and do this." Soglin did, arriving in early June for rehearsals. Working on stage with old friends and an original script was exhilarating. Taking chances was encouraged.

"We really let it rip," Soglin said.

At the same time, she was witnessing the extent of StarKid's YouTube success. One night during rehearsals, Soglin was standing outside a Chicago comedy club with a couple of actors from the StarKid ensemble, Dylan Saunders and Joe Walker, when some passers-by noticed and gushed, "You're in StarKid!"

The show opened July 4 at the Greenhouse Theater and played three nights a week for a month. Every performance sold out. When Soglin arrived at the theater two hours before a show, there was a line down the block for general-admission seats. It was amazing. The buzz surrounding "Twisted" was that it was hilarious, and not necessarily appropriate for the youngest Disney fans.

Soglin called her character "more of a realistic take on what a 16-year-old princess might be like."

Two performances were recorded, and "Twisted" will be available for viewing on YouTube beginning Thanksgiving Day.

When the run ended, Soglin returned to Los Angeles, where, she decided, "there are a lot of actors, but no community of actors." Her lease was up. She returned to Chicago in October. She has a day job at a deli in Lincoln Park and lives near Wrigley Field, something her baseball fan dad no doubt appreciates. As for Rachael, she has an audition for a new role Dec. 2.

Contact Doug Moe at 608-252-6446 or His column appears Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.


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