Sex, fear and international relations never cease to deliver a good time. You might think that’s just the little guy in your Cold War class with the thick glasses and sweater vest — that holds the heart of an animal lover — but it’s also the subject of the new Off-Broadway musical, “How to Save the World in 90 Minutes and Find True Love.”
Yale’s own Anika Larsen ’95 plays sexy slacker Julie Lemmon — hint for playwrights: insert ‘sexy’ before character descriptions — in love with her best friend, the meek UN clerk Miles Muldoon. The ridiculous and entertaining, if sometimes scattershot, show pits Miles against strong women, his own list of fears and a band of non-specific terrorists attempting to disrupt the U.N. General Assembly.
For a show about the U.N. and terrorism, “How to Save the World” is wholly apolitical, though Condoleezza Rice did make an appearance to an outburst of riotous applause, presumably due to the New York audience’s genuine love of Condoleezza Rice. Also, there’s a Greek chorus. And a sexy diplomat.
Jonathan Karp, editor in chief of Random House, originally wrote the show for the lead Michael McEachran. A year after its inception, Larsen joined the project for six years of development. Her description of clinching the role is every acting student’s dream: “I left the audition with a script, a score and a check … they stood up and surrounded me like a ring of love.”
After that, Julie Lemmon belonged to Anika Larsen, and she embarked on what she describes as a thoroughly collaborative project developing the show. The result was a cast of characters all charming and likeable (even the terrorist), and a company of actors genuinely connected to one another. Yale’s ambassador owned her role completely, confidently belting out her songs, particularly a hilarious exploration of her character’s intense love for Celine Dion.
Honing her acting skills as a Theater Studies major, Larsen also stretched her vocal chords as a member of Shades, where she says her fellow singers became — and remain — some of her closest friends. With the Shades, she developed not only her voice but also the spirit of collaboration which became essential to “How to Save the World.”
Larsen said she feels she was much less developed as an actress than as a singer at Yale: “I remember being a lot more fearful back then, and I remember always needing to take baby steps towards character.”
Gradually growing in her acting ability, Larsen ended up making a career out of it and has appeared in several roles in several productions of “Rent,” Off-Broadway productions of “Miracle Brothers” and “Godspell,” and the Broadway production of “All Shook Up.”
The goal for any aspiring actor is of course to eventually make money as a professional. Even so, Larsen remembers fondly the excitement and positive energy of college theater. She finds this in pockets like “How to Save the World”, saying “The best experiences that I’ve had in New York City have all been so wonderful because they had felt like the experiences that I had at Yale.”
So rejoice, Yale actors, you may not know it, but you’re in the prime of your careers.
In the end, more than any class, Larsen stresses the importance of experience, work and dedication to her development as an actress in the professional world. To all the Yalies who would kill to fill Larsen’s shoes when they graduate, she passes on advice given to her by her high school drama teacher: “If you have the talent, you will work.”