BWW Interview: Christine Andreas of HERE'S TO THE BROADWAY LADIES at On Stage At Kingsborough
Two time Tony Award nominee Christine Andreas is her own mistress. She controls her destiny by creating new works for herself while looking for her next gig - it's a wise tactic that many actors use to remain creative and to remain flush because, let's face, a girl's gotta eat. And a creative must create. There is no need to sit around watching Netflix when you can write a show -- which is exactly what Ms. Andreas does when not appearing on Broadway or on a tour. Her nightclub acts have become big sellers in New York and have been booked into venues around the world, such is the popularity she has gained through these one-woman shows.
On December 7th, Ms. Andreas will bring her extremely popular show HERE'S TO THE BROADWAY LADIES to On Stage at Kingsborough in Brooklyn. Usually, a show that plays to an intimate cabaret room, it turns out that the tribute show to the great ladies of Broadway is also appropriate for larger venues like On Stage at Kingsborough, an organization with a mission to bring varied and diverse forms of art to the communities of Brooklyn. Christine Andreas' status as a Broadway leading lady with a history of excellence, On Stage at Kingsborough invited her to be a part of their exciting season, and the holiday season.
Deeply entrenched in rehearsals for Saturday night, Ms. Andreas was gracious enough to get on the phone with me for a few minutes to discuss the show and her work as an actress, singer, writer and creator of her always-interesting and successful cabaret shows; I only wish that there were a way to make clear, in print, the fun, the laughter, the exuberance, the joie de vivre that comes out during a 20 minute chat with Christine Andreas.
This interview has been edited for space and content.
Hi, I'm Stephen Mosher.
CA: Yes you are!
How are you, Christine Andreas?
CA: All very good, Stephen Mosher, how are you?
I'm so happy to be talking to you!
CA: I'm so happy you want to talk to me!
Oh my goodness. I've been a fan of yours for the longest time. I'm kvelling right now.
CA: (Laughing) It feels good. Me too! I was just rehearsing.
What were you singing?
CA: I was singing the entire show that I'm going to be doing on Saturday.
Oh my gosh. This Saturday your show at On Stage At Kingsborough - It's the Here's To The Broadway Ladies show that is a companion piece to a CD that I own.
CA: Well, exactly! The show came first! It was the mommy and daddy and that (cd) was the baby!
This was your first show?
CA: Actually, no, this wasn't my first. This was my second show at the Carlyle. 2002, I think. I was there and they wanted a theme. My first show was more eclectic and that's another CD called The Carlyle Set. But The Carlyle Set CD came out, I think, before Ladies. The Carlyle Set - that was the first, and then the second year they said: "would you please come up with a theme?" And I was new at writing shows, so that was a little bit of a challenge. And then, I don't know, a bolt of lightning hit because I was raised on these girls, as many of us sopranos were, and I just thought , "Well let me honor them," and it ended up just pouring out of me, the whole piece in a very fluid and wonderful way.
It's funny how once you have the idea, it just all floods out of you, isn't it?
CA: Well no, not always, cause now I'm writing another one and it's taking its time. I guess it just depends. I had so much affection for those women, and they were such a huge reason why I sang. I guess all of that appreciation made it come out of me so easily.
When you were growing up, what was your first exposure to the Broadway musical as an art form?
CA: Just records. My mom was a very natural singer with a really pretty sort of alto voice. And she sang all day long. I mean, she literally just sang to the radio and the old 45 on the fridge. The show is a lot of autobiographical accounting of the effects of this music, and how it came to my life, and what it did to me. So it was my mom. I would say -- almost every score of the older shows I knew by heart by the time I was 10 because of my mom. I never saw... I hardly saw any of these ladies on stage. I saw Angela Lansbury, I saw Glynis Johns, who I honor at one point. And that's it. None of the other ones. I never saw Merman, I never saw Julie, I never saw Helen Morgan or Gertie Lawrence. I saw Barbara Cook in concert, but not in a show. I only saw Streisand in concert, not in a show. But on the records, they fully embodied what they were singing; and usually, the show albums were done after you'd been running a couple of weeks. So between rehearsal, and relating to the audience, and getting the feedback, and having the character just begin to inhabit you -- by the time you got in the studio, in my experience, by the time you get in the studio to record, the first thing out of you... it's so dimensional because you brought it to life on a stage and shared it with an audience. It makes such a huge difference
As that little girl of 10 did you have a favorite record?
CA: The one I was listening to then. You know, the one that... I mean it was King and I for the longest time. And then My Fair Lady. And then, later on, it would be The Sound of Music or Funny Girl. It was just the one at the time that would sort of just wash over me. Cause I would listen to all these shows on different devices. So there was the 45 on the fridge, and then the hi-fi in stereo in the dining room. And then at one point, there was even the old '78 in the cellar that you had to crank that I heard Helen Morgan on. I can remember running in to hear... the newest one out there was Mame and it was, I just, I... I see myself... the feeling, the adrenaline, running through the front door after school, throwing your books in a corner and just rushing to the hi-fi to put the record on the turntable and reset the needle to the same two cuts I'd been listening to for days and days, and just crying (cause they make me cry) between Jerry Lanning and Angela Lansbury I didn't have much of a chance
Did you have a favorite Broadway diva that inspired you in your work?
CA: I suppose Julie because we have similar clear, pure sounds. So that voice, and of course Streisand later on because she was such a monstrously, talented, gifted, unique interpreter. I guess those two sort of stand out as being the biggest, in terms of sheer vocal presence and power.
Well, here's something for you. When I was in college studying drama, one of my girlfriends, there was a soprano and her idol was Christine Andreas.
CA: (Laughing hard) Okay!
How does it make you feel, knowing that there are sopranos out there to whom you are their Diva?
CA: It's a high compliment, of course, because I know what it means because I've worshiped different artists. And you sort of open up your heart to them, you let them wash over you, you're not in any resistance to them. So It's a beautiful thing to allow somebody to inhabit you like that. I felt that way about Julie. So when I did the 20th-anniversary production of My Fair Lady, and the Times literally had a picture of Julie's flower girl and my flower girl opposing each other. It was like it had to be in resistance and it shocked me. I guess that press, they have to have a conflict; but there was no conflict. When you love an artist, you let them in and they work you over but you never sound like them. If you're smart you don't sound like them, but you pick the pieces of them that touched you and it comes through you differently. You know what I mean? I always listened to all of those... when I found a show, I would listen to the album, I would read the play that the show's based on. I would get as much information as I could and I knew I would never sound like Julie Andrews or any of the other girls whose I shows I did. How could I? It was never a problem.
But you had a sound there was all your own. How did you cultivate that sound?
CA: I don't know. It was there when I woke up, I don't know. I just try to get out of the way. You know, your body gets tense, your jaw gets tight..., I just try to keep the body somewhat open and flexible because it really is just sound on air. So the more that I allow the air to flow through my body, and stay out of the way -- and I mean in every way, ego-ically too. You know, let the words wash over you, let the notes wash over you. Your voice is colored in much more interesting ways than if you were Producing. The. Perfect. Tone. You know? So I just try to treat it all like I'm an instrument and I'm being played by the music. Those are the sounds that come out. I'm sure the sounds now are not the sounds when I was a younger artist but I think they're still valid and good and enjoyed.
You've performed Here's To The Broadway Ladies in cabaret rooms like The Carlyle -- have you ever played it to a space as big as the On Stage at Kingsborough space?
CA: With this show, I've done it symphonically as well. So I performed for a couple thousand people. OUT DOORS!! (Laughing) It was great! Yeah, I've done it a couple of times in that format and love it, and hopefully it will go out again. I'm hoping. (Laughing) That's there, in my arsenal.
How many musicians will you have with you on Saturday night?
CA: I will have the grand presence of my husband. And his wonderful hands on the piano equal, I would say, at least 6 to 10 pieces, cause he's a composer. So in his head when he plays, he hears everything he wants, you know, and he feels the space, it fills the house.
What's the experience like getting to make music with your spouse?
CA: It's terrific. I mean, I don't know if it's that way for everybody. My husband is Martin Silvestri. He's a composer and he's a terrific showman. And we met over a show that he wrote called The Fields of Ambrosia. So I starred in that show on the West End of London, and here in regional theaters, and we met making music. It was the easiest, most fluid, most compatible relationship, musically, I'd ever had. We just, sort of, thought the same way musically. And then when you're on stage together... I mean, he's really funny. He's a real cut-up. so I'm never quite sure what's going to be coming from the piano bench. And I like that. Actually, our energy together is as big, makes as big an impression as music. People comment all the time after, how much they've enjoyed us as a couple. In this show he's less of a presence because it's about the ladies. It's not about us. We have a great show that's about us and that's when that kind of magic really happens. But it's wonderful having somebody you trust on stage with you. Cause it's pretty lonely out there in cabaret - it's just you. (Laughing)
You can go out there and be front and center knowing that you're up there with someone that's got your back. You've got a safety net.
CA: Yeah! Yeah. Sometimes he goes, "Oh honey... honey, that's a good song. But it's not the next song." "What do you mean?" "It's not the next song, Christine, you're singing the wrong song." "Oh, okay." (Laughing) People love that kind of stuff. You know, it's honest and true and, and that way I can relax. Just rewind, do it again. There's no mistakes really. You know, because it's just an enjoyable love-filled, fun, entertaining, relationship and presentation.
You've been doing a lot of cabaret lately. I understand that you have a Piaf show and that you've got a show coming up on January 29th at 54 below.
CA: Yeah! That's the new one I have to write, that I'm working on right now. The Piaf show was also... well this is something funny, cause Ladies was about real people, and then I started writing whatever I wanted to write and it wasn't about a particular... it wasn't biographical in any way. And then Piaf happened. Of course it's totally about only one person and it's a little bit terrifying, you know, writing about a person because they're known. You can't fudge or.. you've got to really tell the truth as much as you can. And she actually haunted me, as do the Ladies in Here's To The Ladies.You get haunted after a while when you write about real people, and I don't mean in a bad way, I really... I'm a little psychic. I start to feel stuff. I'll tell you a funny story. When I was in The Carlyle on opening night of Ladies, I had this beautiful green gown and it needed a repair, and I sent it off to be repaired. Five minutes before I was getting on stage, I go to the closet and I realize there's no gown in the closet. Now it's four minutes to when I'm supposed to go down in front of the New York times. Well there's no gown in my closet and this is a brand new show and it's very complicated and I'm terrified already, and there's no gown! All there is is a beautiful Olive Green raincoat, and that's it. And at that very moment when I was absolutely dumbstruck freaked out, I hear the voice of Ethel Merman go "Honey, if they came to see a gown, they should've stayed home!" I swear to god, I heard her voice say that. And when I heard her say that, I just let out the biggest laugh. Everything in me relaxed. I grabbed the raincoat, I sewed up the flap in the back because it went up to my butt and then threw on my gold shoes. I went on stage and I did opening night in a raincoat. And I sang Some People in a raincoat !
CA: Are you telling me that after all this time the great Christine Andreas still gets nervous before going on stage?
I think all artists do, I mean it's funny 'cause it doesn't necessarily feel like.. and that was a brand new show! Brand new shows can unnerve you. And I was rather new at concert and cabaret at the time. So it's very different being a stage performer, doing shows. You know, I'm singing to you as Eliza or Laurie or Margaret Johnson in Light in the Piazza. I'm singing as these people. When you have to go out there and sing as Christine Andreas, it's you, and you have to have a very good relationship with Christine Andreas. You can't go out there and push -- it's just flat out vulnerable and open-hearted, to make the best connection. And being that comfortable in your skin... I just wasn't born that way. So it took that second show -- Here's To The Ladies, maybe, was my third cabaret show ever. You know, and I'm doing The Carlyle! I mean, it's not like I'm cutting my teeth out of town -- I'm in the biggest room in the country doing it. So there was a reason to be a little bit nervous that night. That's why Ethel came -- I have good guardian angels (Laughing) So that kind of chilled me out and I had a much better time. But now, to answer your question to being nervous, I don't feel nervous acutely, like cold chills, but there's always this apprehension of... there's this sense of all the details, the points you're trying to make, a new space, and new sound system. There's always a difference on every stage, the way it feels to you. If you're warm, can you see the audience, you know, every space has its own personality and life. So there's a thousand little details involved. And somehow, no matter what those... I mean if you get a difficult space, then you just have to almost like hypnotize yourself into being comfortable because it has to feel good. You know, if you're the audience and I'm the performer, it has to be a good conversation. So what does it take to be like that? Those are the things that can make you nervous. And of course that's exactly the wrong way to handle it because if you're nervous, then you're not wide open and comfortable, so, you know, do you get what I'm saying?
CA: I do completely. Christine, is there a chance we're going to get you back on Broadway sometime soon?
I would love it but, you know, the girls of a certain age... there's a handful of us and there's some who are first in line. So it would have to be somebody who wants my voice for that part, you know? And that can happen! But in the meantime,Piaf has become my theatrical experience. This show is like a one-woman theatrical show. Columbia Artists has picked it up and they're going to be touring. It's a little bit longer in the making than we had hoped, but it is nevertheless going to be a big beautiful tour. We think we're starting in March. So that would be great. And it's all theater. I mean, it's like doing theater and a lot of artists now have decided to write their own vehicle because theater isn't what I remember. It's not the same, you know, and I'm sure all through time artists comment on that "It's not like it used to be when I was young!" (Laughing) Well, I don't want to sound like that! (Laughing) But it's really a different musical. I'm old school. I want great lyrics and great melodies. That's what I want. I was raised on that. And obviously great character.
Photos courtesy of Christine Andreas