If music is the universal language, than New York Film Academy (NYFA) Professional Conservatory of Musical Theatre grad Laís Lenci is becoming a universal performer. From Brazil to New York to Mexico City, the triple-threat singer/dancer/actress is now performing in triple languages. In March, Lais will star as Cosette while also performing in the ensemble for Cameron Mackintosh’s Spanish-language production of international smash-hit Les Miserables, in Mexico City.
We caught up with the busy performer to hear about her experience working with one of theatre’s most renowned producers in one of the world’s favorite musicals. We’re sure you’ll be as impressed as we are: Lais has worked with Cameron Mackintosh not once, but twice — and in two languages, neither of which is her mother tongue!
NYFA: First, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what brought you to the New York Film Academy?
Laís: My name is Laís Lenci, I’m 24 years old and I’m a Brazilian actress, singer, and dancer. I decided to live in New York to study musical theatre, specifically, because I felt that something was missing in my background as an artist. I wanted to improve and learn things that in Brazil just couldn’t be taught.
A friend of mine saw a NYFA’s audition advertisement and said, “You should try it!” The same week, I scheduled my audition — and received the greatest news that I would be studying at NYFA the next year! That was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had in my whole life.
NYFA: Why Musical Theatre? What inspires you most as a performer?
Laís: Well, I started dancing when I was three years old and I always enjoyed being on stage. At the age of nine I started taking acting classes and the singing came a bit later.
When I saw the Disney production of Beauty and the Beast in Brazil I was still a kid, but I was certain that I wanted to become a musical theatre performer. I think that dancing, the singing, and acting become more powerful together. I feel that they can really connect to the audience and touch their souls in a very special way. That’s really inspiring to me.
NYFA: Do you have any favorite NYFA moments from your time studying with us?
Laís: I have many! But if I can point out one, it should be my last performance at our graduation showcase. When I finished my last note, I felt that I was finally ready to share my art with the world. And that was a very special moment to me.
NYFA: What surprised you the most during your training? Was there anything you hadn’t expected to learn or do?
Laís: I just didn’t know that I was capable of learning so much in only one year. I felt that I grew up as a person and as an artist, 10 years in one.
I hadn’t expected to do such great and tough scenes during Meisner Classes. I had no idea that there was so much inside of me, emotionally speaking, and that I was going to be able to express all of that during my scenes. It proved me that, with the correct training, I could become a great actress.
NYFA: You’re gearing up for a March premier of Les Misérables in Mexico City with Cameron Mackintosh, one of the most famous theatrical producers in the world. Can you tell us a bit about how this opportunity came about for you?
Laís: Yes I am, and that’s very exciting! Two years ago I auditioned in Brazil for Cameron Machintosh’s Les Misérables. After a very exhausting six months of auditions and waiting, I had the great answer that I’d be a part of the cast.
We did a one-year run in Brazil. By the end of the year I got a call from the producers, asking me to send in an audition tape for their next production of Les Miserables around the world. I sent it, and a month later they called me back to tell me that I got cast again, but this time I would be doing the show in Mexico City, singing in Spanish — which is not my mother language. A brand new experience!
NYFA: How are rehearsals going?
Laís: Rehearsals are going really well! It’s very interesting to do the same show but with a whole new team of directors, new cast, new language, new country. Many things have changed in my track as well and it’s very challenging. It’s also an exhausting period, as every musical’s rehearsals are. It’s the moment when we just can’t waste our energy and time with anything else but the show. We need to be 100% committed to the piece!
NYFA: Cosette is a very vocally challenging role. For our students, do you have any tips and advice on how to prepare and sustain a tough vocal performance over a run with many, many shows?
Laís: Cosette is a hard one, because there are a few specific high notes that you have to be fully vocally healthy to do perfectly. And I’m also a member of the ensemble, doing eight shows per week. My challenge is to sing all the ensemble songs (the poor, the lovely ladies) that are all very belted and powerful, and still be ready and not vocally tired when I go on as Cosette — who is the only legit female singing role in the whole show.
My advice is to rest as much as you can when you’re not doing the show. Take care of your voice and your body’s health. Take voice lessons even when you are in a run. It’s really important to always be working with a vocal professional that you trust.
And be kind to your instrument. Don’t push. Don’t force your vocal chords when you are not feeling okay. We need to know our limits, and know how far we can go, to be able to sing for three hours and still be healthy for a whole week of work.
NYFA: How has working with Cameron Mackintosh helped you grow as a performer?
Laís: What really impresses me about Cameron is that he’s the greatest Musical Theatre producer in the world, he has a huge team working with him, and still, he’s fully involved with all the shows he’s opening around the world. He always comes a few days before opening night to make sure that everything will be just perfect. He’s also a very humble man and a real gentleman.
It’s such an honor that I’ve been cast twice by Cameron himself. His success is a response to the love that he puts into his work and his shows.
That’s what I want to achieve in life. I think that greatness only comes when we are fully committed to our work and when we truly love what we do.
NYFA: You’ve traveled from Brazil to New York, and now to Mexico City as a performer. As an international student and artist, what has been your greatest challenge? What advice would you give to your fellow international performers?
Laís: I do love challenges, and I’m very moved by them. I think that the biggest challenge is to be away from my family and friends. Sometimes you want your mother’s hug and you just can’t have it. But that’s also a part of our profession. We go where we have work.
My advice is to be brave and embrace the challenges — they make us grow, they make us better people. Stick to your character and your personal ethic. Stay strong to your beliefs and never give up on your dreams! They do come true for those who work hard and have love and gratitude in their hearts.
NYFA: Is there anything I missed that you’d like to speak on?
Laís: I just want to say that I’m so thankful for everything that NYFA has offered me as an artist and as a person. I will never forget everything I lived there, and that I wouldn’t be where I am now if I hadn’t taken the decision of moving to NYC to study at NYFA.
Thank you for trusting my talent and for changing me for good! I miss every second of my experience with you and wish all the success in the world to all the students! I’m pretty sure they are all in the best hands of NYC!