From Broadway to Baruch

Article by Ben Long and photos by Jessica Nieberg

Dominique Plaisant has the type of laugh that makes you wish you had heard the joke – a full-bodied, infectious, rib-tickling cackle.

Outside the Bernie West Theater on 23rd Street and Lexington Avenue, sirens howl. Inside the deserted theater, it’s dark and dank, but the spotlight is very much on Plaisant. Her light brown hair mixed with its blonde highlights is neatly tied back, a change from her usual curls that cascade down her handsome face.

However, regardless of the size of the venue or the style of her hair, her presence is center stage.

For as long as she can remember, Plaisant always wanted to be on Broadway.

Dominique Plaisant makes a point to one of her students, Desiree Nunez.
Dominique Plaisant makes a point to one of her students, Desiree Nunez.

“My mom said I sang before I spoke,” she remarked, remembering how she grew up in a house “full of music” in the San Francisco Bay area.

Born to an American mother and French father, Plaisant’s young ears were exposed to melodies ranging from Ludwig van Beethoven to Frank Sinatra. Her favorite song was “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen, but it wasn’t until she saw reruns of An American in Paris – a film starring Gene Kelly with music by George Gershwin – on television that it all clicked for her.

“That’s when I was inspired to do anything,” she said. “The music was amazing and the dancers were inspired to literally dance through and feel the paintings. And then sing beautiful music. That’s when I decided, I could do anything.”

So she did.

“I took every singing class there was, I won a bunch of awards,” Plaisant recalled. She earned a scholarship to the University of New Hampshire at Keene, where her individualized double major was Vocal Performance/Theater, with a minor in Modern Dance.

New York, then, seemed an inevitability.

At 21, Plaisant stepped onto a bus from Connecticut, heading toward the bright lights of New York City with $200 in her pocket and a single dream in her mind.

Plaisant, who moved to New York when she was 21, with her students during a recent class.
Plaisant, who moved to New York when she was 21, with her students during a recent class.

“Broadway. Period. End of sentence.”

Working with Elton John in Lestat, playing the country singer Patsy Cline in Always…Patsy Cline, touring Europe and singing alongside Eartha Kitt in The Wild Party (“she slapped me on the butt so hard”), Plaisant seems to have gone far in accomplishing her dream.

However, with Broadway comes rejection. Were there any particular roles Plaisant came close to and rues missing out on?

“Are you kidding me?” she fired back, incredulously. “There have been so many!”

She laughed and pondered the question, looking out into the theater’s vacant seats before responding, “Playing Janis Joplin in Love, Janis. I was crushed.”

Is rejection hard to bounce back from?

“I’ve got a tough skin,” Plaisant remarked. “I don’t take things personally.”

There’s passion in every word Plaisant utters. Her striking blue eyes – one director used to refer to her as “Blue Eyes” when he had trouble remembering names – are filled with such purpose and understanding that it’s almost impossible to break away from them.

Dominique Plaisant works with a student during a theater class.

Plaisant further studied acting when she came to New York. She honed her skill under the tutelage of Marcia Haufrecht – a founding member of the Actors Studio and founder of The Common Basis Theater, an Off-Broadway Theater.

From Nutri-Grain commercials to Jerry Lewis’s The Nutty Professor (a Broadway musical waiting in the wings to start its run), Plaisant has kept herself remarkably busy.

Now a teacher at Baruch College, Plaisant is sharing her knowledge and expertise with a new generation of actors and singers. She offered just a few specific instructions that she insists her students follow:

“Be yourself. Enjoy life, really develop self-confidence. That comes before technique, before anything else – confidence.”

A previous student of Plaisant’s, Jhave Buenaventura, can attest to the desired mantra in class.

“I really had no confidence with acting,” Buenaventura said, “but I felt so comfortable with Professor Plaisant. It’s hard to get up in front of people and act but she made me realize I could do anything if I was just confident in my ability.”

With Plaisant’s arrival at Baruch, performing arts at the CUNY college have enjoyed a renaissance, of sorts. A theater club – The Baruch Thespian Club – was recently approved by Baruch’s Student Life Organization and another – Exit Stage Left – is about to follow suit. The college even boasts of an official Off-Broadway theater, the Rose Nagelberg Theater, situated in the bowels of Baruch, and it is slowly coming to the student body’s attention.

“There’s still no acting major, though,” Plaisant pointed out. “That’s got to change, eventually.”

But, what is her dream now?

“Still Broadway,” she replied.

And for her students?

“I try to find that magic,” Plaisant said. “Making sure they’re not neurotic, not yet! Every morning I wake up, I look at the ceiling and ask myself, ‘What’s the next thing?’ You need that in your heart. That’s my mission. To help them find it.”