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InDepth InterView: Kate Reinders On SOMETHING ROTTEN! Plus GYPSY Memories, WICKED, INTO THE WOODS & More


Today we are talking to a terrifically talented triple-threat who made a major mark on Broadway with her star turns in GYPSY and WICKED before appearing this season in the brand new Shakespeare-themed musical comedy SOMETHING ROTTEN!, the effortlessly cute and convivial Kate Reinders. Discussing her hilarious role in the fresh Broadway musical, Reinders praises her starry assortment of co-stars - including Brian D'Arcy James, Christian Borle and John Cariani - in addition to analyzing all the details about putting a brand new musical on its feet directly before the eyes of Broadway. Additionally, Reinders shares some of her favorite moments in the show and touches upon some of the changes that have been implemented to the new Shakespeare-themed musical as it was refined over the course of previews, having opened straight in NYC without an out-of-town tryout. Besides all about her fabulously jocular turn in SOMETHING ROTTEN!, Reinders also reflects on some of her most familiar performances to date on the Great White Way and beyond, including her star-making performance in the 2003 revival of GYPSY, starring Bernadette Peters and directed by Sam Mendes, in addition to her notable run in mega-hit Oz musical WICKED. All of that, INTO THE WOODS revival memories, A YEAR WITH FROG & TOAD and much, much more!

More information on SOMETHING ROTTEN! is available at the official site here.

Welcome To The Renaissance

PC: SOMETHING ROTTEN! is such a breath of fresh air - it is so smart, fun and fresh. The score is so hip, too.

KR: I know! I know! I love it, too.

PC: What was the first time you heard the score?

KR: Well, I heard a demo when I was first auditioning for the show and it was the love duet that I sing with John Cariani, even though it was a slightly different version - a pretty waltz with some mix-y stuff in it all about how, you know, poetry made them hot. As soon as I heard that, I, of course, wanted to do the show! [Laughs.]

PC: The whole song is a pun - and so masterfully staged! Every moment is a double entendre.

KR: I know! And, every moment is with John Cariani onstage with me, so all I have to do is react and just have fun with him - and listen to him and love him because he is just the cutest guy in the world. I can't even stand it!

PC: You two have such palpable chemistry, particularly in that song.

KR: Oh, thank you so much for saying that.

PC: You two had another love duet that was part of a quartet that was unfortunately cut during previews, correct?

KR: Yes, we did. It was a lovely song - it was actually called "Lovely Love". As far as my character goes, I have a cocktail role - at a certain point in the show, I can go back to my dressing room and have a cocktail if I want! [Laughs.]

PC: How glamorous.

KR: It is! I just get to be the ingénue, which I love.

PC: Is it fun to play against all the craziness as the Puritan ingénue who eventually lets loose?

KR: It is. I love our show so much and I feel like everybody is a piece of a super-funny puzzle and I feel like my part and John's part is the romantic couple who represents the really honest and really earnest and really heartfelt part of the show.

PC: The heart.

KR: Yeah! I mean, hopefully people see us as sort of the heart of the show, and, if they do, then those are parts we are honored to play. But, we also end up being really funny because we are so serious - and, serious can be really funny.

PC: Indeed - especially with you two doing it.

KR: I am just the luckiest playing Portia because it is the best parts of everything - the best parts of being an ingénue and the best parts of being a comedic role. It's so much fun.

PC: Was it your decision to do the Robot dance at the end?

KR: [Big Laugh.] We make that part up every night, actually! You just never know what you are going to get with this cast - you never know what is going to happen.

PC: How much of the show is improvised - especially non-sequitur character moments such as that?

KR: Let me tell you, Casey [Nicholaw] is the most fun director ever. He really wants us to contribute as much as possible to our roles, and, so, a lot of the development of the characters that John and I play we came up with in rehearsal - if we did something that made Casey giggle then he would usually say, "I love it! Keep it!" And, so, we did.

PC: It is such a rich and detailed production, it will be fascinating to see what replacements bring to these roles, too.

KR: I agree. I think they will really let a lot of the replacement actors bring a lot of themselves to the roles when they do it, too, because you never know what kind of magic will happen.

PC: Tell me about Christian Borle as Shakespeare.

KR: Christian! Christian... [Sighs.] There are no words!

PC: What did you think of the characterization of Shakespeare the first time you experienced it?

KR: Well, the first time I saw how they were going to be doing Shakespeare was when I read the script and heard the demo. I mean, I wanted to do the show because of Casey, first of all, but I remember when I read the script I kept laughing and laughing and laughing - I thought, "Am I crazy or is this really, really funny?!" And, then, when we started doing the lab, I would just watch and study everything that they did when I wasn't onstage - when they did the tap-off at the end of the first act, "Bottoms On Top", with Christian and Brian [D'Arcy James] I was just so happy.

PC: A true showstopper.

KR: I just thought, "How could a moment like this just not make everybody else who sees it happy like I am, too?!"

PC: It's infectious - as is the entire show itself.

KR: I am so happy that this show is bringing happiness to other people and that it is getting the same response from audiences that I had when I first read it. I think that this is exactly what the world needs right now - more of this kind of silly fun to help us forget our problems and all that is going on in the world, at least for a little while.

PC: It's effervescent - and so fresh and modern, too. It does precisely what it sets out to do, don't you think?

KR: I do. And, it must be so much fun for people who really know Shakespeare well, too - there are so many hidden references.

PC: I was curious, have you ever done a Shakespeare play yourself?

KR: No, no, no. But, I have seen a lot of Shakespeare because growing up I lived in Michigan and we used to go up to the Stratford Festival and see like five shows in a row. So, I've seen some really, really good productions and I remember just loving them.

PC: For instance?

KR: Well, I remember one production of MACBETH that I will never be able to forget - specifically the scene where they kill all of the Macduff family and all the children were there and it was this systematic slaughter where they killed one after the other and then there was just one little girl left and then the scary men all turned and looked at her and it was an instant blackout and I was totally terrified! I remember screaming, like, "Noooo!" I'll never forget it.

PC: What a vivid memory. What about the comedies?

KR: Oh, I saw a lot of those, too - TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA and a lot of other stuff.

PC: Tell me about the recent Tastiskank reunion concert.

KR: Of course! We did our Tastiskank reunion concert at 54 Below when I was back here in New York for our SOMETHING ROTTEN! lab. As soon as I found out that I was coming back to New York for four weeks, I called Sarah Litzsinger up and said, "Are we skanking?" And, then, Telly Leung said, "I know exactly where you should skank - you should do a 54 Below show!" And, we did - and it was so wonderful! I loved doing it there; it's such a great space and they were really wonderful to us.

PC: How fabulous.

KR: I also was a part of David Burtka's cabaret at 54 Below pretty recently, too - that was so much fun to do.

PC: Directed by Neil Patrick Harris, yes?

KR: Yes! Neil directed it and helped write it. David was just so great in it - he was absolutely fantastic.

PC: He is the best.

KR: I know! David's only problem is that he is too talented at too many things - and, he's getting better looking with age, too! Ugh, I wanna punch him in the face for that! [Laughs.]

PC: It was a reunion of sorts after having worked with David on GYPSY in 2003, of course. How did you get involved with that production in the first place?

KR: Well, first, I have to say that that was definitely the best thing that I have ever done in my life up until now, but I have a history with GYPSY, actually - it was the first show that I ever did in Michigan, with Rita Moreno as Mama Rose.

PC: Your first professional production was with Rita Moreno?!

KR: Yes, it was! I was just a newsboy. I was 12 and I did the cartwheels across the stage into the trenches - I mean, I didn't do very much. That was the first show that I did and where I really fell in love with musical theatre.

PC: What a great memory.

KR: Every time I heard the overture when I was actually in GYPSY on Broadway it reminded me of that excitement and that love that I had ever since I was a kid. So, when I knew that it was coming back, I remember saying to Jim Carnahan and Jeremy Rich, "Oh, I hope they'll let me audition to cover June or somebody," and then Jim Carnahan said, "Oh, no. I am bringing you in for June." And, I was like, "What?!" Then, he said, "Just don't be too nice because he wants you to have edge - don't be too nice."

PC: Even then they knew it was going to be a tough production.

KR: Yeah, I think they did. At the time, I was actually doing FROG & TOAD at the Minneapolis Children's Theatre. When I auditioned the first time, everybody but Sam Mendes was there and so they put me on tape and everything. I remember when I went in I was wearing this cut-off t-shirt and jeans and I was really just sort of "F*ck you!" about it. And, I remember Paul Ford was playing the piano and I was so happy about that because I know him and love him and did TOM SAWYER with him.

PC: That must have lessened your nerves a bit.

KR: It definitely did. So, anyway, I acted all cool and tough because in this production June was going to be this tired old broad, basically - I mean, she didn't even know how old she really was, anyway. I was really lucky because they showed that video to Sam and then they flew me from Minneapolis to London and it was actually the first anniversary of September 11, so nobody was in the airports and nobody was on the plane with me.

PC: How eerie.

KR: It really was. It was really creepy and weird and kind of like a scary movie, you know? I was really nervous about it. Luckily, the people at the Minneapolis Children's Theatre were really supportive and wonderful about me going there to audition - I had to miss a couple of shows; it was one of those weird children's theater schedules. I remember I told them that I had this audition and they said, "Oh, no, no - we'll figure it out! You need to go and have your callback with Sam Mendes in London." So, I flew out and had my audition with Sam in London and I was there for maybe two hours total.

PC: A whirlwind trip, to say the least.

KR: I know, right?! I remember he said to me after I auditioned, [British Accent.] "I would love for you to be my June." And, then, I said, [Mumbles.] "Me?!" I could barely believe it! And, then, after the audition, I got super-excited because he said, "Oh, I'll drive you back to the office." And, so, it was him and his assistant in the front seat and me in the backseat and there was a little child's seat next to me and I remember thinking, "Oh, my gosh! This is for Kate Winslet's baby!"

PC: That's hilarious!

KR: I was like, "This is the child's seat for Kate Winslet - the Kate Winslet's - baby!" I could barely believe it. [Laughs.]

PC: What genetics, right?!

KR: The whole ride back with Sam driving, I was like, "Whatever happens, this is so exciting and I am so happy and I am living the dream right now, whether or not I actually get the job."

PC: How old were you at the time?

KR: I was 21, 22. I think I turned 22 around then. So, yeah - that was how I got the job.

PC: Did you know that the show was going to be a reinvention - much darker and more in-your-face?

KR: Yes, I did. And, I'll tell you why: when I was in FROG & TOAD, Jay Getty was playing Frog and he had been in CABARET with Sam, so when I knew I was going to be auditioning for GYPSY directed by Sam we talked about it. I said, "Well, what do you think this is going to be like?" and, Jay said, "Think about what he has done before - think about how he does stuff." You know, it's like thinking about how John Doyle does things - he has a specific vibe. So, Jay gave me really great advice and he said, "Really break it down and think about who she is," and, I thought about it a little bit and I said, "Well, I think she's grown up backstage with crew guys and traveling and not at home and no father and she's had a pretty tough life. I think she drinks; I think she smokes - I think she does everything. And, she feels 500-years-old inside." And, so, that's basically what I told Sam when he asked me who I thought June was, and, he said, "Exactly."

PC: Wow.

KR: I know! And, so, then, I asked Sam, "I wonder: can I smoke?" And, he said, "Oh, yes." So, part of Sam's vision for the show was that the theaters got bigger and bigger and bigger as they went along and it started with me being visible backstage warming up before I went onstage when I come on for the farm boys' song and you could see me smoking backstage before I came out at whatever little theater it was supposed to be at the beginning. Of course, I had prop problems for a while, though! [Laughs.]

PC: What kind of cigarettes did you use? Real ones?

KR: Yes, I did. I mean, I didn't have to, but the audience knows when you smoke the fake ones because they can smell it. I didn't want anybody in the audience to be like, "Oh, she's smoking one of those fake ones - I can smell it!" or whatever.

PC: Keeping it realistic.

KR: Yes. I definitely wanted it to feel real at all times, especially for a production of GYPSY like this. So, yeah - I remember at the invited dress, I had this makeshift garter situation with my costume because they had other things to worry about, so when I ripped out my cigarette for the scene the pack had fallen out and the cigarette was broken in half. Then, when I went to light it, it was just empty paper and it went whoosh up in flames the second I lit it! [Laughs.]

PC: An effigy!

KR: I was wearing all pink Maribou, too - it was a total fire hazard, that costume! But, luckily, I just blew it out and acted sort of blasé about it so it was funny and nobody really noticed that anything had gone wrong with the props.

PC: June lighting the cigarette is one of the most memorable and surprising moments from that production, looking back.

KR: It is. You know, we wanted to sort of rip down the Shirley Temple façade as fast as possible - I mean, I'm still sitting there in the ribbons and pink and everything, but I just needed a moment to show that I was tired and old and exhausted.

PC: That certainly did the trick.

KR: That's how I thought I could do it as quickly as possible - yeah. [Laughs.]

PC: The concept for much of the production was to show the backstage life going on at all times, was it not?

KR: Yeah, definitely. He wanted to show all the theaters that we played in within the theater you are watching the show in - and how the theaters got bigger and bigger until they got the Shubert, or whatever ended up being the Gypsy Rose Lee theater where she does her performance. Sam is always about playing the truth first, though - and I think that's why Bernadette [Peters] was such a perfect Mama Rose, because when she sang "Rose's Turn" you really actually believed that she would have been a star.

PC: An instructive point to make.

KR: She was so sexy and beautiful and talented, you know?! I mean, she could have done everything and more. I don't mean to badmouth other Mama Roses, but Bernadette was different.

PC: The production changed quite a bit in previews and even post-opening, did it not?

KR: It did. I don't remember where it came from, but they tried to sort of tried to change things...

PC: Did Arthur Laurents give you any specific notes during that time? He famously came in to give notes, of course.

KR: Actually, he was always nice to me! I have actually heard that when they were doing the Patti LuPone one that Arthur asked if I would come in and audition for it. I was like, "But, I just did it! I don't want to do it again." So, of course I said no, because, for me, I had already had the perfect experience of GYPSY with Sam and Bernadette - why would I want to do it again after that, you know?!

PC: Leave the memory where it is best kept - in the past.

KR: Exactly. I mean, if they wanted me to be Tessie Tura or something maybe I would have reacted differently.

PC: Tammy Blanchard was fresh off of her award-winning portrayal of Judy Garland in ME & MY SHADOWS playing Louise, as well.

KR: That's right - she was. And, I'm probably talking out of school by saying this, but you probably know already that it was between Tammy and Anne Hathaway for Louise. Did you know that?

PC: Indeed. You and Tammy were so perfectly matched - you both have such an innate innocence.

KR: [Laughs.] With darkness lurking inside, right?! Honestly, thank you for saying that, though. So, anyway, I guess Anne went in first for the audition and did it, bam, perfect, confidant and Sam said, "Thank you very much," and walked her out and then he saw Tammy sitting there in the hallway and she was hunched over, head down, in a way that sort of said, "Don't pick me - I don't really want to do it." And, Sam instantly said to himself, "There's Louise."

PC: How fascinating - and, obviously, it was the right choice, particularly for that production. Tammy was amazing.

KR: She was - she was perfect. Absolutely. And, you know, Sam looks for the performance that is the raw, inside of the character - I mean, Tammy didn't really know how to walk in heels, so they had to show her how to walk in heels. Tammy just was Louise - she just was her. It was perfect casting.

PC: In the end, GYPSY is a tough and gritty showbiz story.

KR: It is! And it is very real - super real and super sad.

PC: So, A YEAR WITH FROG & TOAD was basically all you had done prior to GYPSY?

KR: Yeah, GYPSY was my first real role - I had done the tour of SOUND OF MUSIC; I was a nun. Then, I did THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER and I was Kristen Bell's understudy and also a swing for all the girls. Then, I did INTO THE WOODS where I was Laura Benanti's understudy and also the Rapunzel and Little Red cover.

PC: Another under-praised revival.

KR: It's so funny, because when I did FROG & TOAD, Danielle Ferland and I were the two little girls - and, of course, she was the original Little Red in INTO THE WOODS.

PC: "Small world, isn't it?" to quote GYPSY.

KR: [Laughs.] It is, though! It is.

PC: It's so wonderful to see all of you coming into your own now as leading ladies a decade later - you and Laura Benanti and Kristen Bell.

KR: Aww, thank you for putting me in the same category as them, but I don't think I am quite there yet! I love them all, though.

PC: You have a following because of WICKED, as well, no doubt.

KR: Well, it's the best role a blonde can do - at least it was until Portia in SOMETHING ROTTEN! I remember that when I was growing up I never got to do LES MIZ but LES MIZ was the show that everybody wanted to do, so when I did WICKED, I remember thinking, "If I was a little girl now, all I would want to be doing was Glinda." So, doing that sort of satisfied all of my dreams.

PC: What were you originally trained to be - a soprano or a belter?

KR: Soprano, I guess. I sang in choir forever and ever and ever, so I was sort of a pretty mix, but not a belter at all - sort of a princess-y type of voice. I have to say, Liz Caplan helped me so much and I can sing soprano now because of her - and, having that is everything because once you have it it is so much fun to sing up there!

PC: You don't know how useful it is until you can use it.

KR: It's true! I love singing soprano now. When you grow up, you start to appreciate things like that. I mean, why would I belt when it hurts? I would rather support and float.

PC: This was so amazing today, Kate. I can't thank you enough. SOMETHING ROTTEN! is so fresh.

KR: Thank you so much for the support, Pat - I'm so glad you love our show. This was perfect. Bye.

Photo Credits: Walter McBride, Joan Marcus, etc.

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Pat Cerasaro contributes exclusive scholarly columns including InDepth InterViews, Sound Off, Theatrical Throwback Thursdays, Flash Friday and Flash Special as well as additional special features, (read more...)