BWW Interview: Anastasia Barzee of THE MOST BEAUTIFUL ROOM IN NEW YORK
Anastasia Barzee is not just another theatre and television actress who can sing. She can blow you away with her strong voice and definitive interpretation of songs. You can see her in the world premiere of The Most Beautiful Room in New York at the Long Wharf Theatre in May.
The veteran actress got her first professional role when she was just six years old. She and her brother did commercials as kids. Then she was cast in Miss Saigon. As an adult, she replaced Judy Kuhn in the role of Betty Schaefer in the first production of Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. She signed on for another year with Faye Dunaway, but the show was abruptly cancelled just before Dunaway would take over Glenn Close. "I was told on Friday," Anastasia recalled, and she was suddenly unemployed.
But not for long. She received a telephone call from Johnson-Liff, the same casting agency that worked on Sunset Boulevard, and she was asked if she knew the material for Ellen in Miss Saigon. She admitted she didn't, but they faxed her 14 pages of the script. She learned it all and flew to New York to audition for it on the following Tuesday. She did the second national tour of Miss Saigon for a year and was then asked to play the role on Broadway. She philosophizes, "You end up where you're supposed to be."
And she's been everywhere that matters. After studying at the University of Miami, she got a job as an apprentice at Burt Reynolds's Jupiter Theatre in Florida. Arthur Marx directed Groucho: A Life and Revue. The show got a booking at the Pasadena Playhouse. A lot of people came to see the show. It was a time when agents actively sought out actors, she notes, whereas now it's the other way around. That's how she got her first agent.
Anastasia also studied her craft under Charles Nelson Reilly, both in Florida and on and off when she was living in California. "He was always very encouraging," she said. He gave her valuable advice when he said that he believed that acting "should be fun....Yes, it's your career, and you need to pay your bills, [but there's] so much anxiety wrapped around [it]... I believe some actors get discouraged and that the whole life of an actor can be quite a grueling roller coaster of highs and lows." She remembers that Reilly "was always joyful." He advised her to "hold onto the good moments. They'll come back again." She says she feels "blessed [to] sing with an orchestra, to tell a story every night."
Some of her favorite roles include Kiss Me Kate, which she performed at the Hartford Stage Company. "Kate is one of the great divas in musical theatre," she says, that she can "wrap her teeth around." She also loved played special agent Olivia Dillon in the final season of CW Network drama, Beauty and the Beast. "It's something that I had not done in the past," she says. She played a "real tough gun carrying DOJ special agent. It was a lot of fun, a big challenge."
The story Anastasia helps tell in the upcoming musical at the Long Wharf uses her acting and musical abilities. She plays Claire, who co-owns a family Union Square restaurant with her husband, David. They find out that the rent for their restaurant goes up from $5,000 to $35,000 per month. "Learning that this kind of lease increase was a real thing happening to family restaurants and businesses in New York was a real eye opener." Claire, David, and their two children have to save the restaurant and find another way to live and be happy. "It's a a wonderful romantic comedy by Adam Gopnik with a gorgeous score by David Shire," she says, and it has drama and some skeletons that come out of the closet. "I love working on stuff that's new. That's why this is so exciting for me," she enthuses. "We're changing things every day...Working on a new piece from the beginning is thrilling to be a part of. The show is shaped with you and by you with the creatives. It's an extraordinary experience to get to be in the room where it happens with this remarkable team."
Previously she created the role of Betty in White Christmas. One thing she finds most challenging in musicals is dancing. "I'm not a dancer," she claims, but they work with performers to help them as necessary.
She certainly doesn't need coaching in singing. You can hear her sing on the cast album of White Christmas and her solo album, The Dimming of the Day. Visit her website, www.anastasiabarzee.com.
The Most Beautiful Room in New York, written by Adam Gopnik with music by David Shire and directed by Gordon Edelstein, plays from May 3 through May 28 at the Long Wharf Theatre's Claire Tow Stage in the C. Newton Schenck III Theatre. 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven. For tickets, call (203) 787-4282 or visit www.longwharf.org.