InDepth InterView: Christine Ebersole

By: Oct. 22, 2010

I recently had the honor of conducting an extensive interview with legendary stage and screen star - of films such as AMADEUS, TOOTSIE and more - best known in the twenty-first century for her work on the Broadway stage having created not one, but two Tony-winning lead roles in the 00s, in both 42nd STREET and GREY GARDENS - the riveting Christine Ebersole. In this exhaustive discussion we talk everything from starring alongside Angela Lansbury in Michael Blakemore's production of Noel Coward's timeless comedy BLITHE SPIRIT and how instrumental that experience was in her selection of material - as well as mindset, mood and more - for this sparkling new studio album, Christine Ebersole SINGS NOEL COWARD. We also discuss her extensive film and television work and what exciting events lie ahead - including concert appearances with Michael Feinstein and a special event at Carnegie Hall!

Also, you can catch her tonight in NYC at the MMOA in two special concert appearances at 7 and 9:30 PM! Don't miss it!

Singing & Zinging With Christine

Having taken home the Tony Award for Best Actress In A Musical twice in the last ten years - the only actor or actress to do so - it goes without question that the star of today's InDepth InterView is a true great lady of the theatre, but the fact that over the course of her eclectic career she has also appeared in two of the greatest films of eighties - TOOTSIE and AMADEUS - while also appearing for a short stint on Saturday Night Live - and appeared in countless television series and films, in auditioning to starring in a couple feature films of her own in the intervening years between that and her supreme stage successes over the last few years. Christine Ebersole is a Broadway baby at heart and from her first stint in the Richard Burton CAMELOT all the way up to 42nd STREET, GREY GARDENS and BLITHE SPIRIT she has contributed unforgettable performances and created one of the most memorable roles in musical theatre history (Edie Beale), in the process. She has also found the time to record a number of intimate and attractive solo albums over the years to capture the magic of her cabaret and concert appearances, but never has she crafted a studio album with the precise, exacting emotion so elementary to the verve and wit of the album's central composer - the utterly divine Noel Coward. The same can be said for Ms. Ebersole, as she reveals in this exciting exclusive InDepth InterView where we reflect on her life and career as well as look to the future and the glories of her new album Christine Ebersole SINGS NOEL COWARD.

PC: Michael Blakemore's liner notes on your new album are so illuminating and apt.

CE: Oh, I just love them. His liner notes are so generous, aren't they?

PC: It's difficult to make them seem so authentic and heartfelt. Tell me about your relationship with him as a performer and a friend, onstage and off.

CE: So thoughtful. It was really his idea, because he wanted some music for the scene changes in BLITHE SPIRIT, as he explains in the liner notes. So, we sat down and listened to lots of Noel Coward music and selected the ones we thought were most appropriate for the scenes coming up.

PC: What a great idea!

CE: Yeah, so then out of that - because those were just forty-five second snippets - he said, "Wouldn't it be great to have a CD of all this? Of you singing all these songs? We could sell it in the lobby!"

PC: Great marketing idea!

CE: Yeah, but that didn't happen! (Laughs.)

PC: The intention was right, though.

CE: It was a long and winding road, but we finally got it down. So, that was the inspiration, really... it came from BLITHE SPIRIT.

PC: The album seems so organic and theatrical.

CE: Yeah! It really was. It just grew out of that experience... and, it opened a whole new world to me! I actually didn't know anything about Coward's music, I really didn't.

PC: How interesting to hear you say that!

CE: It was just like this incredible gift that came out of the show - and, now that I think about it - that was the bigger picture. You know, I thought it was about the play, but it really wasn't - it was really about discovering his music.

PC: I'm sure you knew his plays.

CE: The plays, yes. But, not the music, really.

PC: My first introduction to him was that 21st CENTURY BLUES album with Elton John and Rod Stewart and Sinead O'Conner...

CE: How cool!

PC: Yeah, this is one of the only other albums I've heard of his material that captures the erudite, elegant nature of it all - with intimacy and a light touch.

CE: Thanks!

PC: Could you trace the story of one of the songs that made it on the album? Perhaps in working with Blakemore or one of your producers.

CE: Yeah, Larry Yurman had a lot of knowledge of Coward, too. Of course, there are songs on the album that we didn't do in the evening [in BLITHE SPIRIT] - "Sail Away", "Never Again", "Wild, Wild Weather", there's a bunch.

PC: "The Dream Is Over".

CE: Yeah, "The Dream is Over"... a couple others. So, it's almost half and half, but it's all one whole.

PC: Exactly!

CE: When we were compiling songs, we would listen to Coward compilations. But, those are the ones that really spoke to me - the ones that made it on the album.

PC: I can tell.

CE: We also wanted to create a narrative so that when you listen to it from beginning to end it's really like a story.

PC: Like a concept album, or Streisand's THE WAY WE WERE album.

CE: Yeah! Yeah!

PC: Where the songs tell a whole story, in sequence.

CE: You really feel like you're on a journey - looking for love, finding love, losing love, knowing that in the end it will work out. I mean, you go from "Someday I'll Find You" to "I'll See You Again".

PC: It's an arc.

CE: Exactly.

PC: Tell me how Howard McGillen became involved.

CE: Well! I've always been in love with Howard McGillen's voice, ever since I got wind of him.

PC: Right? Who isn't!

CE: We worked together in 1999 in THE ZIEGFIELD FOLLIES OF 1936. What a glorious, glorious voice!

PC: You sound great together.

CE: It was Larry's suggestion that we get Howard to come and do "A Room With A View" and he agreed and I was just so, so thrilled!

PC: The mood of the whole album is fabulous.

CE: That duet adds such a nice dimension to it, I think.

PC: The album art is so elegant and unique.

CE: That came from a friend of mine's house, that's their backyard. I had the idea - the concept - to sort of be in concert attire in the forest because Coward pays so much homage to the elements. The weather, the sailing, the waves, the wind, the snow - and just the earth. His songs are about how much we are all a part of it and how much those things inform our natural life.

PC: The dress is gorgeous, too!

CE: Isn't that fun? Isn't that beautiful? It's supposed to evoke the purity of the white in all the green. The art director made it look kind of like AVATAR with those little swirlies working into it. I thought it turned out so beautifully. To me, it really spoke to what the record was about.

PC: These days, not enough care and attention is paid to album art. It's great that you did.

CE: Thank you.

PC: I love you on the BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG CITY concept album. What do you think of that score - and rock music in general in the theatre?

CE: I think it's great. I also think that it's really vital to have rock music because it connects the generations. It's important in that way.

PC: That had such a contemporary score. So au current.

CE: Yeah! Totally!

PC: I love your work with Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, as well. Tell me about the song you sing from CATCH ME IF YOU CAN.

CE: I've known Scott for so long, and Marc was my musical director of my first club act in New York City - when he was nineteen! We did six shows in-between when I was doing CAMELOT with Richard Burton at Lincoln Center Theater. I've known Marc and Scott since then - coming on thirty years now - and Scott directed my re-introduction into the cabaret world, my first club act in that foray, at the Cinegrill. I have an album from that.

PC: I have it! I love it!

CE: (Laughs.) So, he's directed all my club acts at the Carlyle. As he says - and calls me - "She is my pro bono work!" (Laughs.)

PC: How funny! They are so witty. CATCH ME IF YOU CAN is one of the best scores I've heard in years.

CE: Isn't that just gorgeous? It's gorgeous! So fantastic.

PC: What workshops or tryout productions were you involved in that were particularly heartbreaking because perhaps you really loved the show or your role or the score?

CE: Well, actually, a show I did with Jerry Mitchell - back when he was in the chorus - it was a musical called GOING HOLLYWOOD. It was written by Jeremy Shaeffer and David Zippel.

PC: I'm not familiar with it.

CE: Ugh, it's just, you know, spectacular. When we did the workshop in 1983 - right when I had come back from Czechoslovakia doing the movie AMADEUS - we were doing the workshop and it was that "Oh boy! We're going to Broadway" type of thing. But, it never got in the right hands of the right people to take it the distance.

PC: What a shame. If you loved it, it must be good.

CE: I've encouraged Jeffrey throughout the years to record an album. I just say to him, "Just record the songs on an album!" It's such a fantastic story. It's based on Kaufmann & Hart's ONCE IN A LIFETIME.

PC: Great source material.

CE: Oh yeah!

PC: What about PAPER MOON?

CE: Yeah, that too! It had such great music from Larry Grossman and Ellen Fitzhugh and Carole Hall. But, it just never got to Broadway.

PC: Larry Grossman can never get a fair shake. GRIND is great.

CE: You're right, and he's an amazingly talented composer. There's a song of his that he wrote with Ellen Fitzhugh that I do that's on the Cinegrill album.

PC: Yes, of course! That's a great song!

CE: Thank you.

PC: Tell me about working with Michael Feinstein.

CE: I adore Michael Feinstein. I've known him for - I don't know - twenty-five years, but it wasn't until last year that we really got the chance to work together. He's like my most comfortable pair of slippers! (Grand Laugh.)

PC: What a great answer!

CE: He's just a nice fit, I think. Not only comfortable, but also a rather beautiful and elegant person as well. He has it all, really. He just has such style and such a beautiful voice and such sophistication. It's a joy to be onstage with him. He's a rare beautiful talent.

PC: He knows everything about every song ever written!

CE: I know! I always say to him, "You're chipped!" Like he has a computer chip in him or something!

PC: What did you sing with him last time you worked together?

CE: We did everything! Solos, duets, medleys, things like that... we were at Feinstein's, too.

PC: What are you doing in the upcoming concert together? "I Only Have Eyes For You"?

CE: That's not a bad idea! (Pause.) Really, a lot of it is from the show we did last year at Feinstein's, so this is like a reprise in Palm Springs.

PC: What is working with Billy Stritch like?

CE: He's amazing. I absolutely adore him. Of course, we worked together the first time on 42nd STREET so we've worked together off and on since then.

PC: AMADEUS is a masterpiece. Such a great history lesson, for any age. Everyone stays glued to the screen for three hours. The Director's Cut on Blu-Ray is even better.

CE: The Director's Cut I like because of the scene in the studio that was cut from the film where Mozart comes to me and I hit him with the roses. That was so much fun because they went to such elaborate detail creating that dressing room. All the murals on the wall- it was all amazing. Such care and detail. Everything. That whole entire movie.

PC: It's the best Best Picture of the 80s.

CE: I was thrilled that it got restored on Blu-Ray. It was an amazing experience in my life that was really one of the highlights of my life, looking back, truly.

PC: To be a part of it, you're all so note-perfect.

CE: Thank you, thank you. I love it, too.

PC: Since you were there, I've always wanted to know something about the best comedy of the 80s, which you were in: did Elaine May really write the last draft of TOOTSIE?

CE: I didn't know that! Murray Schlisgel gets the credit, right? I was just in my mid-twenties when that movie was happening, so I wasn't paying attention to any of that. Plus, I had such a little part.

PC: Memorable, though!

CE: Dick Richards had seen me on the TODAY Show and asked me to audition from that so that's how I got involved. I'm glad I did it.

PC: I loved that Bernstein concert you recently did on PBS. Do you love his music?

CE: Yeah, the show from San Francisco. He's exquisite... really.

PC: The best. WEST SIDE STORY is the best.

CE: Amazing, amazing, amazing. (Pause.) Perfect score.

PC: What do you think of GLEE?

CE: Can you get me an audition? Do you have some influence? (Laughs.) I'd love to be on the show! I love it. It's super-fun.

PC: Better than IDOL, right?

CE: It's better because there's a context involved.

PC: GREY GARDENS required this feature more than many other musicals, but, I have to ask this: define collaboration.

CE: I think it's really just keeping an open mind while pursuing a common goal. That is, that your commitment is to telling the story and being true to the story.

PC: And the story is the most important part.

CE: Yeah. (Loud Horn Sound from a double-decker bus.)

PC: God approves!

CE: (Big Laugh.)

PC: That's hilarious, perfect timing! Maybe it's Noel!

CE: (Laughs Even Harder.)

PC: This has been fabulous. Thank you so much, Christine.

CE: It has! It has. Thanks, Pat. Talk soon. Bye bye.


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