BWW Interview: Ann Kittredge Of Fancy Meeting You Here (An Evening Of Ahrens And Flaherty) At 54 Below
When Ann Kittredge decided to dip her toes back into the waters of performing after taking time off to raise a family, she couldn't have known what surprises awaited her in the cabaret world. After debuting her show It's About Time, Ms. Kittredge found herself working with renowned director Richard Jay-Alexander, winning a MAC award for that debut and, then, creating a new show with cabaret doyenne Andrea Marcovicci. That show, Fancy Meeting You Here: An Evening of Ahrens and Flaherty opened at Feinstein's/54 Below in May to notices of such acclaim that an encore presentation was put in place. With Maestro musical director Alex Rybeck by her side, Kittredge will not only play New York with songs from Ragtime, Anastasia, Rocky and Once On This Island, this cabaret star on the rise will soon land in Los Angeles for a West Coast debut.
Before all the excitement of new performance dates was able to sweep her up in a whirlwind of activity, Ms. Kittredge was kind enough to spend a few minutes on the phone with me.
This interview has been edited for space and content.
Ann, you've become quite well known as The Comeback Kid of Cabaret. Do you find other show business moms wanting to chat you up about the process of going back to work after an extended hiatus to raise a family?
I think that one of the things about today is that our lives have become chapters. My parents' generation, they got a job when they graduated from high school or college and that was their security for the rest of their lives. And then our generation started to change that, and our childrens' generation is completely different. I think that we mothers who took time off to raise our kids - it does get to a point where you kind of decide, because you've learned so much being away from the business, that when you get to that point where your children don't need you as much, you get to really have a very clear understanding of "is my passion still theater, do I need to go back there to fulfill myself?" Or has the direction of my life sent me somewhere else, where I can still use my skills, but not in performance. I think that's something that happens a lot to moms! In my case I did use my skills when my children were in school - I volunteered and did a lot of theater work with children, and when that moment came I was like "Man, I miss doing it myself" (laughing) So that was the impetus to see if I could get back into it.
And the great news is that it didn't go anywhere, it was here waiting for you.
I feel like I've grown much and I have so much more to offer now than I did when I was younger. I think I was so self-contained. I think raising children really made me look at things much more meaningfully. I think I have more to offer. I'll be honest with you, I didn't know if I could do it again, that's the first huge hurdle to get through. When you've been away from it long enough that you go "oh my gosh, I have no idea"... I will give myself the credit that it takes courage for any of us, whether it's for motherhood or for any reason that we leave and we come back, to jump in and say "OK, let's see - can we do this, still?"
When you began preparing to sing in public again after years off, how did you get yourself vocally prepared?
Well even though I did not sing professionally for ten years, I was working with children a lot, and when you're working with children you're still using your voice. So I was a little surprised but glad that when I decided to step back in.. of course I went back to my voice teacher, THE most phenomenal teacher in New York City, probably in the world, she's an AMAZING voice teacher. I went back to her to get back in shape. It did turn out that it helped that I was still using my voice, (laughing) I just wasn't using it for professional purposes.
Are you still involved in education?
Last year I was finally, I've been dying to do this, I was finally allowed to start a drama program at a High School near where we live. It hasn't had a drama program for four years, and I felt like that was an abomination! I couldn't fathom that a public school in New York City has no drama program! But they didn't have the money. I finally talked them into letting me come and start one up, and we're waiting to see if we're going to be able to do it again this year. It was so rewarding, it was so wonderful. I've never done that before, so I was experimenting, but it was VERY fun!
You are making an encore presentation of your Ahrens and Flaherty evening at 54 Below. Why did you decide to bring the show back for just one night rather than a run, when it's such a popular show?
That's so lovely of you to say. I still am building a reputation, the show is still building a reputation, and it doesn't matter ultimately, sincerely, if the room is full or not, but 54 Below wants to know that you're going to be able to be successful in marketing. And I'm still so young in this and so many people still don't know me. So we feel like it's the most respectful thing to do, to say "Let's keep trying, and keep plugging." But we DID get invited to do it out in LA! We're taking the show to LA!
How wonderful, to play other cities with a show, it's a great thing.
I'll admit I cried a little when I got the email, I was like "(gasp) Oh my GOD!" (Laughing)
Do you write your shows yourself or is it a collaborative effort between you and your director?
When I have a director it's extremely collaborative. Andrea Marcovicci and Alex Rybeck were my collaborators, and, seriously, it was like taking a master class for 8 months. It took us quite a long time to get this show together because we knew that we wanted to work together but we didn't know what we wanted to do. We were playing around with different ideas but none of them were really clicking for us, and then we came up with the Ahrens and Flaherty idea, and all of a sudden we were like "Oh my gosh, this is it!" I know most shows don't take eight months but we were just trying different things. I sincerely say this: I don't know whose idea is whose, throughout the show, it was a wonderful creative process with them. And they're so respectful of me, and I'm in awe of them. It was lovely, it was a really lovely experience. I would work with them again in a second. Alex and I are working on another show together - and I am eager to work with Andrea again -- the sooner, the better!
What is it about Ahrens and Flaherty that speaks to you so resonantly?
Their humanity. They're so good at creating something authentic. Their Signature Sound... they don't have one. To them, telling the story is the most important thing. Stephen (Flaherty)... I don't even know how he does it. Stephen and I met each other many, many, many years ago, way before I met Lynn (Ahrens), and I don't know how he does it. You know an Andrew Lloyd Webber song, you know a Kander and Ebb song. You don't know it's their music unless you actually know that they wrote it. What comes out of that, what I realized as I dug deeper, is that authenticity comes from the fact that they are so in tune with the humanity of their characters, and the people that they write. That's why when they write a funny song, it is really funny. They really get it. When they're writing something about someone who is tortured, it takes your breath away, because they hit it right on the nose. So it's their humanity that ultimately is so exciting to bring out in both the funny and the dramatic.
Are there creational differences when you are putting together a composer-specific show like Fancy Meeting You Here, as opposed to a collection of songs like It's About Time?
Yes! Well, first of all, my very first show was not very good because I didn't have a director and I didn't know what I was doing! (Laughing) I did my best! And then Richard Jay-Alexander came in and saved me and fixed that show up pretty well. He was amazing, he was very kind. It was really funny because I wasn't thinking tribute - that wasn't the angle that I wanted to go, but what I found out, doing this, it suits my skill set, because I get to use my talent to highlight somebody else's creativity. It makes me feel so much less self-conscious. I think that in my first cabaret I felt self-conscious. You don't want to feel self-conscious, but I did. It was because I was telling the story of being a mother and getting back into the profession. It was talking too much about me, and it's not something that I'm comfortable with. When we landed on this Ahrens and Flaherty thing... Man, I don't have to talk about me at ALL! (Laughing) It has nothing to do with me, it's ALL about THEM! That suits me.
Now, you said that your first show wasn't very good, but didn't you win a MAC award for that show?
I did. A version of it. Richard Jay-Alexander was encouraged by an old business associate and my husband, Bob Hofmann to check out my YouTube channel. After watching it, he arranged a call. We chatted, he said, "I think you're really good but you need help." The rest, as they say, is history. This new version is what made people go "there's something here." I love that man. He is the most generous, brilliant, funny. I just love him.
Having conquered the world of cabaret, when the music from Rocky plays in your show, do you have feelings of great triumph, like a Champ?
(Laugh) Who says the Rocky music is going to play? (Laugh)
I saw a photo online from the show and I LOVE your outfit for the show - will we see it this time around?
Thank you! You know what, I choose an outfit for a show and if I do that show, I'm in that outfit. I don't think I could do this show in a different outfit. There's a lot going on in the show and you need something that is fluid, that allows me to be masculine, feminine, goofy, sexy, and I think that outfit does all that.
So you started acting on stage and you've gone into cabaret where you're playing Ann Kittredge instead of a character. Do you have a desire to go back on stage and screen, playing characters?
Yes, I do. I think that cabaret is its own artform, and I thought it would be a great challenge. It is such a different animal from what I used to do. I really want to do both. That's what I'm working toward. That said, I still have a child at home and I'm not at my own choice of scheduling.
As you've entered the cabaret world it's sort of like learning to walk in a new way.
Yes! That's a really good way of putting it.
So how old are your kids now?
My son is 15 and my daughter is 19.
Have your children shown signs of wanting to go into show business?
My daughter has a stunning, sultry, smoky voice. I'm pretty certain she's going to save that for parties. I don't think she has the bug to do the work and get up in front of audiences like that. She's the person who, when everyone's singing at a party, and then she opens her mouth and people go "Oh my gosh!" And my son, I've always told him that I think he's a natural. He's an innate actor, I don't know what'll happen. Right now he's into hockey.
I've heard it said that everyone gets three careers in their lives. You've been an actress, an educator, a wife and mother, and a nightclub singer. Do you see something different on your horizon, or are you going to stay the course you're on?
It's funny... You separate it by careers and I separate it by chapters. I do think that I'm on a new chapter, I do believe that, and I don't know where it's going to take me. I have learned about myself that I think that something I really can give to people is time to escape and to feed themselves in a different way than just sitting on the subway and reading a book. I think I have something to offer people, to make their lives a little better for an hour here and there, but I don't know yet what that's going to look like. I'm kind of trying to figure that out myself, to be honest with you.
It's nice to have something surprising waiting for you.
(Laughing) My children still provide lots of surprises!
Ann Kittredge Fancy Meeting You Here: An Evening of Ahrens and Flaherty plays Feinstein's at Vitellos's in Los Angels Tuesday November 12th at 8 pm