BWW Interviews: Andréa Burns, a Stripper with a Gimmick in The Nance
THE NANCE, a new play by Douglas Carter Beane, reflects the world of burlesque as seen through the eyes of Nathan Lane's character, Chauncey. Chauncey portrays a mincing, preening "Nancy boy," a homosexual comic who is a legally acceptable character onstage, but illegal off in 1937 New York.
But The Nance not only has the wonderful Lane, it is also populated by an outstanding ensemble that includes character actor Lewis J. Stadlen and a trio of burlesque beauties who play comic strippers. Cady Huffman (who worked with Lane in THE PRODUCERS), Jenni Barber and Andréa (pronounced ahn DRAY uh) Burns wear skimpy, eye-catching costumes that dazzle and amuse. And sometimes they even pop-one costume involves strategically placed balloons that are popped to reveal more skin.
Burns is Carmen, a saucy burlesque stripper with an exaggerated Latina accent, reflective of a time gone by. When she got the nod for the role, she wasn't familiar with this period in entertainment history. "When I was called back for a second reading, we all did a burlesque workshop which was a lot of fun to do," she said. "We had a piano, bass and drum and we were taught choreography and had an amazing day. It was a real girl power morning," she said with a laugh.
"My character is Latin and has a thick accent on stage," Burns said. "I would say she's a tough lady who's seen a lot in her life. She's a realist at a time when the other characters are not really sure what's going to happen."
Burns had also been unaware of the political climate concerning homosexuality in the pre-World War II years. "I certainly wasn't aware of how men could get in so much trouble with the law in being seen or even interacting with other men," she said. "It was eye-opening. It was just a good job as far as women were concerned-women knew they had the power to get on stage and make money doing it."
To prepare for the play, Burns watched films reflective of the era, from old Joan Crawford films to the three-year-old documentary, "Behind the Burly Q" which shows interviews of former burlesque actors. "They look like little old grannies, but they were the real stars of that time," Burns said.
Burns' Carmen has a steely resolve as well as a vulnerability that is often revealed when she interacts with Chauncey.
"I think there's a great respect between Chauncey and Carmen," Burns said. "She's tough and he knows it, and he's not afraid to tell her the truth. Carmen admires his talent and his comedy.
"In many ways Chauncey reflects Carmen," Burns added. "Carmen serves as a mirror for Chauncey because to be successful they both have to wear masks."
The Nance's humor flows deep beyond the surface of the characters, even when there's pain behind the comedy, she said. "The comedy works because Nathan and Lew are flawless at delivering the lines. It's a serious dramatic story with lots of humor," she continued. "It's an homage to the great comedy routines of the past and it's delivered in a bold, beautiful piece of theater."
Burns' eye-candy costumes are risqué without being salacious, she said, and she has a few favorites. "At the end of the show we come out in outfits that are provocative in a dark way," Burns said. "It's a preview of sorts of what's to come-showgirl and peep shows-once vaudeville and burlesque were on the way out.
"These women are struggling survivors and even though they're exhausted, they keep going," she said. "Right now I'm so grateful to be working in a new play with actors at the top of their games. These guys are the real thing. And even though Nathan is the star, he makes it feel like an ensemble piece."
The Nance is playing at the Lyceum Theatre.