Cabaret

Interview with
Christine Andreas

by Jonathan Frank

Christine Andreas has one of the lushest soprano voices on Broadway, as evidenced by her recent Broadway run in the first incarnation of The Scarlet Pimpernel. A two time Tony nominee for On Your Toes and Oklahoma! (not the original casts, mind you!), she is also an accomplished cabaret and concert performer who is gearing up for another run at one of New York's loveliest cabaret spaces, the Café Carlyle (March 20 - April 7).

Jonathan: Welcome to Talkin' Broadway, Christine. You did a show at the Café Carlyle last fall and I hear you are returning next week. What is the show you are going to be performing this time?

Christine: It's called Here's to the Ladies and it's devoted to the first ladies of Broadway.

J:  Sounds like fun. With so many to choose from, who are you going to be profiling?

C:  Well, when one has decided to do a show devoted to the first ladies of Broadway, meaning the biggies, there's obviously a very big songbook there. I have to keep the show down to 70 to 80 minutes of music, and the only way to do that was to personalize it. So I whittled it down to the performers whom I listened to growing up that really influenced me and guided me to the stage. That would be Ethel Merman, Mary Martin, Julie Andrews, Barbra Streisand, Barbara Cook, Angela Lansbury, Gertrude Lawrence ... even Helen Morgan.

J:  You seem to have an affinity for the big, old-time shows, having started your Broadway career doing revivals of My Fair Lady, On Your Toes and Oklahoma!

C:  Yeah. In putting together this show it really hit home as to how times have changed; when Ethel was singing, she was able to choose among the Gershwins, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Julie Styne ... all these wonderful writers were around to write for her. Today we only have a handful of guys writing musicals and you have so many actresses vying for the same part. Makes me wonder why I didn't choose to incarnate forty years ago? I wasn't thinking???

J:  Since you have some Julie Andrews songs under your belt, having been in the 20th Anniversary Revival of My Fair Lady, I assume you'll be doing some songs from that show?

C:  Yes, I am. I do a different treatment on "Show Me." The beauty of doing a cabaret show is that you don't have to stick to the strictness of a theater rendition; you have the freedom to personalize the arrangement. It's a gut thing ... sometimes you come across a song that you want to do exactly like you were selling it over the footlights, and sometimes you want something more intimate; it's a personal call and I hope I'm calling it right!

J:  It's the joy of cabaret; you don't have to do songs the way everybody else does.

C:  For sure. You have to find your own voice. I love to hear performers like Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, and Lena Horne all doing the same song and have it sound completely different ...

J:  Right. And all of a sudden you notice different things about the song ... new lyrics pop out at you ...

C:  Definitely. Also, I flip flop between the worlds of cabaret and musical theater. I want to have the intimate cabaret feel, but since I come from Broadway, even though I'm performing in a small room I want the audience to have the sense of a voice that can fill a 2,000 seat house. I don't want to blast people with sheer volume, but it adds another dimension to know you're listening to a voice that can do that! It's something that I can offer that not every cabaret performer can. I sang on Broadway before they used body mikes, when your voice really had to carry to the back of the house and you had to face front and deliver. The first three shows that I did on Broadway used nothing but footmikes.

J:  And that would be the three big revivals of your career: My Fair Lady, Oklahoma! and On Your Toes?

C:  Yes. I sang at the Palace with just footmikes! That was when the scores were written so that you sang full tilt when the orchestra was blaring, and everything came way down for intimate moments.

J:  I have to say it's a bit odd talking to you ... having seen you do the first incarnation of The Scarlet Pimpernel and listening to the original Cast Album, I've gotten used to hearing you with a French accent. To hear you speak with a New York accent is hysterical!

C:  That's funny ... I've never been accused of a New York accent before;a lot of people think I'm a Brit just 'cause I pronounce my d's and t's ... but I do good accents! A singer is a mimic ... and accents are like music; they have a specific rhythm, pitch and inflection. So if you have a good ear you can pick them up easily.

J:  Have you only done musicals on Broadway, or have you also done some 'straight' shows?

C:  The first show I did in New York was Angel Street, an old melodrama, and I played Nancy, the Cockney maid.

J:  Another accent!

C:  Yeah! What's really funny is that the show I did before Angel Street was called Words and Music. I covered two singers in it and it was directed by Jerry Adler ... he's acting now and has become a familiar face on the Sopranos, actually. I left that show for Angel Street and my cockney maid, and the very next show to come my way was My Fair Lady, which required a Cockney accent and was directed by Jerry Adler! (sings The Twilight Zone theme) It's a weird and strange experience, made more so because although 700 girls auditioned for the part, I intuitively knew that the show was mine ... .that has never happened again.

J:  And then you had another lead in yet another revival, Laurey in Oklahoma!, which incidentally got you your first Tony Nomination. I know that it was choreographed by Agnes De Mille, but who was the director?

C:  Billy Hammerstein; Oscar's son.

J:  Was it a wonderful experience?

C:  It was. I had turned down initially. I had already done a touring production of Oklahoma! and I was looking to do something else. (laughs) When you're young you don't always recognize that what's being put in front of you is a great opportunity! But I never wanted to be an ingenue; I always wanted to play the older leading ladies. So I said no. Fortunately Billy pursued me ... and I ended up doing the show for almost two years. It was a great experience because it's a really buoyant American show, so positive in it's feel. The dark Freudian undertone in it only makes the show richer.

J:  When I was reading your bio, I noticed you were Teresa Stratas' stand-by for Rags and got to perform in it during its out of town tryout in Boston. Did you get to perform it on Broadway?

C:  No. I opened it in Boston and got great notices and wasn't allowed near it again! The show didn't last that long ... it was an 'almost' show ... which is a shame because there are many beautiful elements in it.

J:  To continue in this exploration of your ... less than successful shows. Did you get to perform when Legs Diamond opened on Broadway? Or was your part completely cut by then?

C:  I did three previews and I was gone. You know, it certainly helps when the creative team are unified in their vision of a show; the choreographer, the director, the composer, the design team ... they all need to know where they want to go with it. In the case of Legs, it seemed that while most of the people involved had a shared vision, it wasn't a broad enough vision. Everybody thought the show was doing great ... until it got transferred from the rehearsal hall to the Broadway stage and they were taken aback and thought "Oh my God ... What's wrong?" They had missed something. They were so busy, maybe patting each other on the back that they missed some glaring problems while the show was in the rehearsal hall. I think Peter wrote a really cool score and I love it. But on its feet there were glaring book problems. When Harvey Fierstein came in to rework the book, he decided to take out all the romance and make the show funny and fast ... and since I was the romance in the show ... out I went! It was really sad; it was a nice family.

J:  Your return to Broadway was a show chock full of romance ... The Scarlet Pimpernel ...

C:  After a long break! After Legs, I was drained and somewhat pissed off, you could say. You know, you get involved in a project and you end up investing all this time and energy. And if I'm going to do that, I wanted to feel I had a little more control over my creative life. So I started doing concert and cabaret acts. Also, I had just had a baby, and I needed to feel more control in my life in general ... balancing time with family and work. It's quite a shift, doing intimate cabaret shows after doing big Broadway shows and it felt unnerving at first, but it gets more natural with each show.

Christine Andreas Love is Good
Song Clip Click for
"On a Clear Day"
In RealAudio

J:  You recorded a CD not too long ago ...

C:  I was in London performing a show called The Fields of Ambrosia and we ended up doing the album over there. It was an idea long in the making. I had collected all these songs that I adored and wanted to record, and in London we had all these musicians and people that we wanted to work with.

J:  It's a beautiful CD. I listened to it yesterday morning while having coffee.

C:  Aw! The tender time!

J:  Right ... and something entitled Love is Good ...

C:  Should be pretty tender (laughs)

J:  I noticed that you have two songs on the CD written by Martin Silvestri, "Cover Me" and "Love is Good." Are they from The Fields of Ambrosia, which he wrote?

C:  No, they're not. They're songs that my love, Marty Silvestri, wrote with his writing partner Joel Higgins. It's funny ... I had worked with Joel in Oklahoma!; he played Curly. He and Marty had written The Fields of Ambrosia and Joel called me and said that they were going to be doing concert version of the show, would I be interested ... I was, in the show and it's composer, Marty Silvestri, who I've been living with since for almost nine years.

J:  So tell me more about The Fields of Ambrosia ... what's it about?

C:  It's a wild tale based on the film The Travelling Executioner ... which immediately puts some people on edge!

J:  I don't know ... you're talking to somebody who considers Sweeney Todd the best musical ever written.

C:  Exactly! It takes place in Louisiana in 1917. The lead character, Jonas Candide, is the state executioner; in those days you took whatever job you could get! He's a very redemptive character and before he 'dispatches' a client, shall we say, he gives them a vision of the 'fields of ambrosia' or the Elysian fields. He gives them a rhapsody and sends them to the hereafter. The show really doesn't focus on that. In fact, it's a bit like Oklahoma! in that it exults in the unique pioneer spirit that is distinctly American; the resourcefulness that allows us to shape our lives and strive to be anything we want to be. (laughs) Probably why it wasn't particularly appreciated in England ... we spilled their tea, dear, after all!. In contrast, we received across the board rapturous notices here in the States where it was performed at the George Street Playhouse right outside New York. I played one of his clients, an Austrian courtesan on death row for a crime she may or may not have committed who he falls in love with ... so what is he to do? That's what the story is really about. It was wonderful stylistically as well, because you had all these different worlds colliding; the European influences with its beautiful music combining with the rhythms of the south ... for me, it was the most complete and fulfilling theatrical experience to date. Can you tell I'm crazy about it?

J:  Sounds very interesting! Was it recorded?

C:  Yes.

J:  What are you going to be doing after the Carlyle?

C:  I'm doing a lot of concerts, and a 2 week stint at a wonderful new club in Atlanta called Libby's the last week of April, first week of May.

J:  And people can go to your website, www.christineandreas.com, for more details. No shows coming up?

C:  Nothing yet.

J:  Well, hopefully you'll be on Broadway before too long. In the meantime, enjoy your stay at the Carlyle!

C:  Thanks!


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