BWW Interviews - Debut of the Month: BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY's Whitney Bashor
Whitney Bashor is making her Broadway debut in the dual role of 'Marian/Chiara' in the new musical The Bridges of Madison County, which began previews Jan. 17, 2014 and opened officially on February 20th at Broadway's Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre.
Helmed by Tony Award-winning director Bartlett Sher (Golden Boy, South Pacific, The Light in the Piazza), the musical is based on Robert James Waller's 1992 novel, and features a score by Tony winner Jason Robert Brown (13, Parade, Songs for a New World) and a book by Tony and Pulitzer Prize winner Marsha Norman (The Secret Garden, Night Mother). The romantic musical follows a brief, four-day love affair between a National Geographic photographer (Steven Pasquale) and an Italian-American housewife (Kelli O'Hara) in 1965 Iowa.
Today Bashor speaks exclusively with BWW and explains how her co-stars Kelli O'Hara and Steven Pasquale went out of their way to make sure her Broadway debut was a big deal!
This is such a beautiful show and such a romantic story. Were you familiar with the 1995 film or the original novel?
Well, I remember seeing the movie many years ago. I'm a Meryl Streep fan so I kind of scout out anything that she is a part of. But it had been so long since I'd seen the movie when I got the audition that it felt very new and fresh.
You have the unique opportunity to portray two different characters in the show. As an actor, that must be an interesting challenge.
It's actually been a lovely process. I mean how fun is it to get to play two different characters in a show? And it's definitely been a growing experience, it's just fun to embody two different people in one evening.
Your character of 'Marian,' who is Robert's former wife in the story, was not a character in the film. I was wondering if you had discussions with [bookwriter] Marsha Norman as to why she decided to create that backstory?
You know, when we talked about it, Marsha, Jason [Robert Brown], and I felt it was a beautiful way to provide a window into the character of Robert, because up until that point of the play, he hasn't really let himself become vulnerable or open up about his past or who he is. And through the song that Marion sings, 'Another Life', you sort of get a glimpse into her experience with this man and their marriage.
And may I say, that song is just gorgeous, really mesmerizing!
How did your casting come about? I know that you were with the show when it played at the Williamstown Theater Festival this summer.
Yes, well about a year ago, I was doing a concert at 54 Below with the incredible Adam Guettel and Steven Pasquale and Kim Grigsby. It was a week-long concert, and Bart [Sher] and Jason were two of the people who came. And two days later, I got a call from my agent that they wanted to bring me in for The Bridges of Madison County and so I had an audition last February and then a callback maybe a week after that and then I found out maybe a few days after that that I was going to be with the show in Williamstown.
Wow, how exciting that must have been.
Oh my gosh, so exciting. And in April, I got the call that they wanted to offer me the Broadway contract and then I proceeded to cry and scream and call my mom! (laughing)
Well, I was about to ask you at what point you found out that the show was heading to Broadway but I guess that answers it.
Yes, I think it was in April and I was actually in Dallas doing a production of a great new musical called, 'Fly By Night' at Dallas Theater Center. And I got a call from my agent who said, 'Hi, so great news, they want to offer you the Broadway contract for Bridges of Madison County,' and we hadn't even done Williamstown yet, but I was so surprised and just ecstatic and happy. It's sort of a surreal moment when the dream that you've put so much hard work into finally happens.
So did that affect your mindset at all when you were performing up at Williamstown, knowing that the show was heading to Broadway, or do you just try to put that out of your mind?
I definitely tried not to think about it. The process at Williamstown was, this is the first time we've ever put it on its feet and we're figuring out what it is, and it was really fun because Bart is such a wonderful collaborator and he's really encouraging of his actors to have a voice and be a part of creating the world of the story so it was fun. Williamstown is just this beautiful little summer festival up in the mountains of Massachusetts and so it feels very artistic and feels like a family, which was really lovely. And then we had some time off and then we got back in the rehearsal room and really got to refine it and it was like a different process, getting ready for it here in New York. Really refining it, deepening what we had learned previously, so that was really cool.
So it sounds like changes and adjustments have been made since the summer run.
Yeah, there are a lot of changes that have been made. We've had some good songs come and go but we have the good fortune of having just a lot of good material. At one point the show was about three hours long and we wanted to make it a little shorter. So things have been cut and things have been sort of weened out to make it as concise and impactful as possible.
You are working with some real veteran Broadway actors and an incredibly talented creative team. What has that experience been like and what things have you learned from them?
As far as the actors, Steve and Kelli are probably the best two people to lead a company that I've ever been around. They're such grounded human beings and solid performers and it's really, really lovely to get to watch them work everyday. A lot of the time, we are sitting in chairs and get to watch them fall in love on stage every night and that's really beautiful to watch. And as far as Bart and Marsha and Jason, they're the best of the best and I think all you can really do is try to absorb everything that's happening in the room as far as their process and their way of thinking. And Bart is really just the best I've ever worked with. He takes care of his actors, and he values them and he loves telling stories more than anything, so it's such a joy to work with him.
Both you and Kelli had your turn as the lead in different productions of 'The Light in the Piazza.' Do the two of you ever get together and compare notes on your experiences?
(laughing) You know we haven't really talked much about it. I did have a conversation with her once about when they were replacing her at Lincoln Center. I had gone in for it and oh, I was just so young and so nervous and needless to say, I did not get the part, and Bart and I laugh about that now. But Kelli is somebody that I've admired for a really long time and for her to now be a colleague and a friend is really special.
What has it been like to make your Broadway debut in The Bridges of Madison County?
It has been, I want to find the right word for it, it's emotional because it's something that I've worked so hard to achieve for so long it seems. Before we had our first preview, Kelli and Steve did something really beautiful for all of us making our Broadway debut. You know when they made their Broadway debuts, it was not in a show that was either original or starting, they were replacements. So they were like, 'when we made our Broadway debut, no one really made a big fuss about it so now we want to make a big fuss. This is something that you worked really hard to achieve and it's really special and important.'
And then Kelli read this beautiful passage from a poem that Bart had given her and we stood on the stage and they made this whole ceremony out of it. And I was very emotional, it was just a really beautiful way to validate all the people who were making their Broadway debuts with this show and how special that was.
Wow, that is something I never heard before.
Yes, they really went above and beyond to make all of us feel special. They're really wonderful like that.
About Whitney Bashor:
Whitney Bashor has appeared in the Off-Broadway production of The Fantasticks as well as in the first national tour of Happy Days, and the national tour of Whistle Down the Wind. Regional credits include Clara in The Light in the Piazza at Philadelphia Theatre Company, as well as roles at the Kennedy Center, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Sundance Theatre Lab, and Capital Repertory Theatre. Her TV credits include "Boardwalk Empire" and "All My Children".
Photo credit: Joan Marcus