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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

Christine Andreas Shines Her Own
Light in the Piazza

Christine AndreasA young Christine Andreas made her Broadway debut as Eliza in the 1976 Broadway revival of Lerner and Loewe's My Fair Lady. She then went on to acclaimed star turns in Broadway revivals of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma! (as Laurey) and Rodgers & Hart's On Your Toes (Frankie Frayne). She returned to Broadway in 1997 as Marguerite in Frank Wildhorn's The Scarlet Pimpernel and essayed a rather more sophisticated and mature Rodgers and Hart female lead, Vera Simpson, in the Prince Music Theatre of Philadelphia's Pal Joey, winning a 2002 Barrymore award. Most recently, she headed up the acclaimed national tour of The Light in the Piazza with music and lyrics by Adam Guettel, the award-winning grandson of Richard Rodgers. The complex role of Margaret hits home with the actress, who gave Talkin' Broadway this interview by phone on a Saturday morning from the tour stop in Portland, Oregon, before bringing Piazza back to Seattle (it world-premiered here three years ago), where it has just opened a two-week run.

David-Edward Hughes:  Good morning, Christine. Thanks for taking time to chat with me. I know you have a show today ...

CA:  I've got two, baby. But, I'm happy to talk to you.

DEH:  Is this your Seattle debut?

CA:  You know, actually not. When I did On Your Toes, many years ago, we actually previewed in Seattle, at the 5th Avenue. But that was so long ago that for all intents and purposes, it probably is my first time.

DEH:  The name Richard Rodgers has certainly been a big part of your career. I love the 1979 revival cast album of Oklahoma!, and I wish I'd seen it.

CA:  What was great about it was that it was one of the first revivals to be done with a lot of the original influences, Rodgers himself, Billy Hammerstein directing, Agnes De Mille, Gemze de Lappe, a lot of the original creative energy, and that made it special. It was a beautiful production.

DEH:  As Adam Guettel is Rodgers' grandson, what similarities and differences do you find in their composing styles, having now sung scores by both of them?

CA:  Adam has the same respect for the craft that his grandfather had. He is very considerate and educated. He's sensitive, very much a romanticist. The difference is the perspective. Adam is influenced by pop, and yet he's not afraid to throw in something from the other spectrum, semi-operatic. Maybe the most striking thing ... where he goes so deep into the psyche of the character, I think by the end of the show, when I'm singing "Fable" that I'm singing on the rhythm of my intuition, before my thoughts have even formed and I'm just spirited out. That's really wild, it is. I've never done that before. It's like an art song, and I've really never done that before, so it's just amazing.

DEH:  I wept several times hearing Adam at the piano sing several of the songs, at a press conference here when the show was being tried out. They are so melodic, hauntingly moving, really.

CA:  Was it very different then?

DEH:  No, but they all did the work necessary to make the leap from very good to the great show that won the acclaim in its Broadway version, which you are now sharing across the country.

CA:  At some point, one night when I was onstage, it drifted across my mind how grateful I was to Vicki Clark. I was thinking how complex it might have been to get the show exactly to where it is without work. I was so grateful that I was handed this beautifully detailed piece to reenact.

DEH:  I think the hardest thing for the creators to get just where they wanted was the reveal about what happened to Clara. And getting Margaret just right was also challenging, but in New York Vicki was exceptional in the role, as was the luminous Patti Cohenour in her own very individual way, and now we have the pleasure of seeing the Margaret that you and (director) Bart Sher have created.

CA:  I had different things to work on than Vicki, who had certain natural qualities that sort of lent themselves to the character. She appears to be very grounded; she was raised in the South. I was raised outside New York, and I'm one of eight kids, a triple Libra and anything but grounded. I'm in the air! I'm not exactly linear, not exactly practical. To play this grounded, practical, linear, buttoned up, proper person, I had to really call on different people that I know in my life and let them all amalgam. I did understand the 1950s. Remembering my parents, and the dogma, and what one believed and accepted. Feeling part of an overall communal fabric, upstanding and moral, and all that. Remembering the people and their beautiful manners. And that is all a big aspect of her.

The Light in the Piazza
The Light in the Piazza
Joan Marcus
Also, I have a son who'll be twenty in September, who is mentally challenged. And so I raised a kid with a lot of issues like Clara's. In fact, he was much more complicated than Clara. The difference is that I didn't feel guilty about his condition and beat myself up about it in the direct way that Margaret beats herself up, with that enormous guilt that colors every aspect of her life. And she was right there when the world turned from rainbows to a terrible grey. Because she turned her head she feels it happened. In my instance, my son was oxygen deprived, and I did everything I could not to create any accident, but it's just one of those things that happens. Had Clara been oxygen deprived I think that Clara still would have felt guilty, she was set up to feel that way, and it was an age of denial.

DEH:  You have shared the stage with two Claras on tour so far, Elena Shaddow, who started the tour with you, and Katie Clarke, who had been part of the Broadway company after Kelli O'Hara left. What has the changeover been like, in such a personal and emotional show?

CA:  I loved Katie, I saw her twice. And we bonded right away working together. I loved Elena, it was wonderful doing it with her, and she brought her particular qualities to it. And I was devastated to hear she was leaving, but those things happen. The road is not easy, especially if you have full lives at home. Four days after I was offered this role my son moved into a group home. He really wanted the dignity of his own life. He's arrested at about four years old, which is very young. But he still had enough typical qualities and understanding ... in many ways he let me know he wanted his life, and not to be in the rhythm of my life. So I was happy to go on the road at that point, I needed to let go. Here I am, the mom of a special kid letting go, playing the part of a special kid letting go.

Elena had a young marriage and a lot of life at home. She didn't realize how it would impact on her, and she needed to go home. And when I heard Katie was coming in I was thrilled. I must say, anybody who has left the show has had a happy leaving. The replacements have all worked out, and that's life, you know, in the theatre. Katie and I couldn't wait to get at her. She's wonderful. And John Procaccino from Seattle is now our Roy, and he's on a very personal journey too. It's quite a group.

DEH:  You were last on Broadway in The Scarlet Pimpernel correct?

CA:  Yes. I loved doing the part of Marguerite, and it was great fun. But I never saw my family. Marty Silvestri, my husband, my love of 16 years, has a daughter Emilie, the same age as my son Mac. They were about eight, and I never saw them. It wasn't as complete or complex a show as this, and it was fun. But I never saw the kids. I had a speaker phone relationship with them from my dressing room, and I sort of made a pact, inside myself, that I would start doing concerts and recordings until they were older. So I just didn't do that much theatre after that.

DEH:  Is there a role in the canon of great musicals you would like to do? Presumably not Mama Rose in Gypsy. That show and role need to have a rest, I think.

CA:  I was offered that role at the Prince a few years back, and I turned it down. I don't think I'd want to see me doing Mama Rose. I've always wanted to do Mame. I really kind of get that character. And Desiree in A Little Night Music. That could use a good revival.

DEH:  It's been rumored to come back to Broadway for years.

CA:  And Marty wrote a beautiful show called The Fields of Ambrosia that we did in London, that's how we met, and I have always wanted to bring that to the states. A very unusual, very redemptive piece. And somebody could always write something for me. Adam indicated that he could! That's kind of a juicy offer.

DEH: You did a wonderful tribute album dedicated to Broadway's great female stars, "Here's To the Ladies." Which of those ladies has been your greatest inspiration/role model in musical theatre?

CA:  I'm glad you liked that album, Marty produced it. It would have to be Julie Andrews. She was the first who really inspired me in a show. She gave me the courage to do My Fair Lady. They saw 750 girls. And now I'm doing this wonderful show that totally parallels my life. The dream comes true every night. The dream that we all have, that gets us into theatre to begin with.

DEH:  I look forward to seeing you live that dream in Piazza.

CA:  Thanks David. Please come back afterwards and say hi.

DEH:  That would be lovely. Thanks so much.


The Light in the Piazza, book by Craig Lucas, music and lyrics by Adam Guettel, directed by Bartlett Sher, runs through April 29 at the Paramount Theatre, 911 Pine St at in downtown Seattle. For more information, visit www.broadwayacrossamerica.com and www.piazzaontour.com/thelightinthepiazza-tickets.php.



- David-Edward Hughes



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