BWW Exclusive Interview: Louise Pitre Talks MARIE, DANCING STILL at Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre and More
The 5th Avenue Theatre's production of the new musical Marie, Dancing Still opens tonight. Tony Award-winning authors Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (Ragtime, Once On This Island), five-time Tony Award-winning director and choreographer Susan Stroman (The Producers, Contact), and acclaimed New York City Ballet principal dancer Tiler Peck invite you backstage into 19th-century Paris, where glittering opulence hobnobbed with underworld dangers.
Receiving a Tony nomination for her Broadway debut in the smash hit Mamma Mia! was a highlight for Louise Pitre, Canada's first lady of musical theatre, in a career that spans theatre, television and concert stages across North America and Europe.
In addition to headlining the Toronto, Broadway and US touring company casts of Mamma Mia!, Louise is known for her signature performances as Fantine in Les Misérables (Toronto, Montreal and Paris), the title character in Edith Piaf, Mama Rose in Gypsy (Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, Gary Griffin director) and Joanne in Company (again with Gary Griffin).
She also earned raves for leading roles in Annie Get Your Gun, Song & Dance, Jacques Brel Is Alive And Well And Living In Paris; I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change; The World Goes 'Round; Blood Brothers; Tartuffe; Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf?; The Roar of the Greasepaint - The Smell of the Crowd; Applause; The Toxic Avenger; and A Year With Frog and Toad. In 2014 she premiered in the new Asolo Rep Theatre production of Luck Be A Lady (created and directed by Gordon Greenberg) and in 2015 she originated the role of the Snake in the world premiere of The Little Prince (by James D. Reid and Nicholas Lloyd Webber) at Theatre Calgary for which she won a Critter Award.
In September, 2009, Louise made her Carnegie Hall debut singing the role of Ulrika in the concert version of the musical Kristina by ABBA's Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus which she reprised at Royal Albert Hall in April 2010.
In 2013 Louise premiered her self-penned one-woman show On The Rocks at Theatre Passe Muraille in Toronto with original songs by Louise Pitre, W. Joseph Matheson and Diane Leah.
How did you become involved with MARIE? What was that process like?
They asked me about my interest in the role. I read the script and asked to see the score. I was concerned that it was pitched for a higher voice but they said they were thinking of going in a different direction and that keys could be changed. We actually tried a few different keys when we met. I loved the material! I was thrilled they wanted me to play Adult Marie.
What's it been like working with Director/Choreographer Susan Stroman?
It is a joy! She is clear and concise and always calm! It is a good feeling in the room. She is THE EYE. I don't know how she keeps it all together while maintaining such a steady good humour. It is truly impressive.
You're playing the adult version of Marie, the role played by Tiler Peck. What has your collaboration on the character been like?
It is a unique relationship. We mirror each other often. We have tried to study each other's voices and physical characteristics. My voice is deeper but that would happen with age. We have worked on inflections and cadences to match each other's speech. She told me early on that I was much like her mother physically and personally! And then I met her mother and saw what she meant. That is a happy coincidence.
MARIE is, as most new musicals, a work in progress. How has the show been evolving throughout the rehearsal and preview period?
Much work has been done and the show has tightened a lot over the course of rehearsal. Constant perfecting and tweaking!
Having done a number of musicals in French and set in Paris (including Les Mis in Paris), does the world of MARIE feel a bit like a homecoming in a sense?
I would not say a homecoming as this is a very different animal. It is unlike any other show. It is its own unique world and doesn't make me think of any other show I have ever done.
MARIE will inevitably appeal to visual artists and fans of the medium - were you a fan of visual art and Degas before this project? Have you explored more of his works through the process of creating the musical?
I was familiar with his work and have always loved it but I did not know the story of Marie van Goethem. I bought the recent book "Little Dancer Aged Fourteen" by Camille Laurens and read it before rehearsals. I found that to be quite helpful. It informed me as to the world of these young girls called "rats" who were basically over-worked and abused. But it also painted a detailed portrait of Degas. No one knows what happened to Marie after her dismissal from the Paris Opera Ballet. I found Camille Laurens' obsession with this quite touching. It is an enigma and a story that is tragic but ultimately poignant and heartrending.
I have been sending a special request/dream to the stars for years: "Let me do a new musical by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens someday." Well, here it is! Not only is it happening but the role has been modified and the keys of the songs have all been changed to fit my voice. I am over the moon! I had 2 sessions with Stephen Flaherty and David Loud after they offered me the role. Stephen said he wanted all this music to "fit me like a glove". That is a gift. Stephen and Lynn are both so approachable and always there and willing to talk and discuss. It is the most positive atmosphere!
Just a couple weeks after the run of MARIE, you'll be opening Next to Normal in Toronto for Mirvish Productions/The Musical Stage Company as the doctor. How much rehearsal time will you have before your first audience?
Yikes! I will have 3 days of actual rehearsal with the cast and then we go to the theatre for tech days! I actually learned most of my material before going to New York to rehearse MARIE. Now that we have done many previews of MARIE I can look at NEXT TO NORMAL a little more. I am glad I learned it a while ago. It is all there somewhat. Mitchell Marcus (AD of Musical Stage Company) was most supportive when I got MARIE. He said "You have to do it!" He proceeded to come up with a plan of having someone sit in for me during the first 2 weeks of rehearsal. He ran this by the Mirvishes, Philip Aikin (Director) and Lily Ling (MD) who all said they were willing to work around my absence. Mitchell is also flying both the Assistant Director and Assistant MD to Seattle right after we open MARIE to work with me 2 days on blocking and music so I can just jump in when I get back to Toronto. Our first audience will be 9 days after I arrive.
You'll be playing the doctor, a role that was created by a man on Broadway and in most productions of the show. Do you feel it changes the dynamic between Diana and her doctor in any way?
The doctor really can be man or woman. I was intrigued when they asked me to do it because it has not been done. My first concern was the score but as it turns out I can sing all the solo doctor music in the original keys! Lily Ling has made some switches in the group numbers to have me sing higher harmonies where she feels it would be beneficial but that is it. As for the relationship with Diana I think it might be even more poignant to have a woman (who Diana might expect to empathize more deeply with losing a child) still be restricted by the failing treatments of this illness.
Why should audiences come and see MARIE in Seattle?
Because it is a very special and unique animal. Bringing the very best of musical theatre, art and ballet together in one show is wondrous. Not only is it an engaging and touching story with an outstanding and lavish score but visually (set, lighting, projections!), it is simply the most stunning thing I have ever seen on a musical theatre stage. And of course add William Ivey Long costumes and Paul Huntley wigs and terrific sound! Plus it is special to see the first production of a new musical before the world gets to discover it.
Directed and choreographed by five-time Tony Award winner Susan Stroman (The Producers, The Scottsboro Boys), Marie features a book and lyrics by Tony Award winner Lynn Ahrens (Ragtime, Once On This Island) and music by Tony Award winner Stephen Flaherty (Ragtime, Once On This Island).
Playing now through April 14, 2019 - single tickets for Marie: A New Musical are on sale now at www.5thavenue.org, by phone at 206.625.1900, or in person at the Box Office at 1308 5th Avenue in Downtown Seattle.