In the new play “The Bisley Boy” about Irish author Bram Stoker, writer of “Dracula,” it is Stoker’s wife Florence who finds her voice, according to Hadar McNeill, the Jewish actress playing her.
Florence Stoker becomes fed up with her husband’s infidelity with other men and calls out the author. McNeill explains that, in doing so, the character is “using her voice, standing up for herself and saying her piece.”
It’s a feeling that McNeill, a Cherry Hill, New Jersey, resident, understands well.
Now 34, the actress spent her 20s navigating what she described as a “male-dominated” music industry. She had to learn how to speak up for herself while alone in a studio with a male producer.
It was that experience that attracted the singer to this part, her first on a stage.
“The Bisley Boy,” written by Joshua Bessinger, premieres at The Ritz Theatre in Haddon Township, New Jersey on Sept. 23. It will run through Oct. 2. Find tickets on the theater’s website: tix.com/ticket-sales/RitzTheatreCo/6520.
“In Victorian times, women didn’t have much of a say,” McNeill said. “I felt as a woman it was something important to bring to light.”
McNeill, who goes by the stage name Hadar, was born and raised in Israel and served in the Israel Defense Forces. After her service, she immigrated to the United States and settled in Philadelphia to pursue a music career.
She wrote, recorded and released songs and albums as an independent solo artist. She also performed with bands up and down the East Coast at clubs, casinos and weddings, among other venues and events. All in all, Hadar was making a living, but she was also frustrated.
The artist felt like industry gatekeepers judged her only for her looks and marketability, instead of her voice. Often, they would not even listen to her sing first, she said. They definitely didn’t listen to her lyrics, she added.
This was her experience in her early 20s, and, while it got a little better with age, it did not really change. The singer had to learn to speak her mind and turn down studio sessions if she didn’t feel comfortable. It was not until her 30s that Hadar got confident enough to do both.
“When you enter your 30s, you are more of a fully formed person,” she said. “I feel more empowered these days as a woman.”
By September of 2021, she felt confident enough to pursue another dream that she had been putting off: acting. Hadar got a call from Bessinger about reading for a part in his Stoker play.
The playwright knew about the actress because he had asked her to audition before, three years ago when he was directing “Shout” at The Ritz Theatre, a show featuring 1960s music. He found her on Backstage, a trade publication that allows actors to list their profiles, and then he listened to her demos. Bessinger loved Hadar’s ability to transition from rock to R&B to other genres, too.
But at the time, and for a reason she does not remember, Hadar did not respond. After he wrote “The Bisley Boy,” though, Bessinger thought of her again and decided to reach back out. This time, she answered. And when they met, the duo “clicked on a social and artistic level,” Bessinger said. The playwright will also act in his show, as Bram Stoker, opposite Hadar in her role as Florence.
Bessinger informed Hadar that he contacted her in the past. She claimed she didn’t realize and said she would have responded. Then Bram Stoker showed his stage wife the proof on his phone.
“I forgave her,” he said, laughing.
Naturally, the duo will play an unhappy couple with a big, verbal fight scene. But Bessinger says this works because “we like each other enough off-stage to be mean to each other on-stage.” He also thinks that the power ballad at the end of the scene is made for Hadar’s voice.
“There’s an emotional quality about it,” he said of her voice. “When she sings a big note, you feel it.”
Hadar wanted to act from the time she saw “The Sound of Music” in Jerusalem as an 8-year-old with her mother. But since her school did not have a theater program, she joined the choir and focused on singing. Then her passion for R&B and pop pushed her to pursue a singing career after her military stint.
The singer considered making the jump to the stage earlier in her career. But nothing ever came of her Backstage listing…until now.
“The story was fascinating to me when it was presented,” she said.
Hadar has taken acting and vocal lessons to prepare for the show.
“I’m extremely anxious but mostly excited,” she said. JE