BWW Interview: Kirsten Wyatt of GUYS AND DOLLS at Guthrie Theater
The Guthrie Theater's summer musicals have been delighting audiences and drawing them inside the theater's spaces during the sultry months of July and August for the past couple of years. This year is no different, and the reviews of GUYS AND DOLLS have been rolling in with positive accolades for nearly every aspect of the production directed by Kent Gash in his local debut. (See link below from our BWW reviewer, Karen Bovard.)
While there is much to praise, the stand-out amongst the talented cast is Kirsten Wyatt, making her debut at the Guthrie as Miss Adelaide, a character that's not always the one to grab the headlines. Wyatt took time to share more about what makes her Adelaide different, the aspects of the production that bring this show up to the current day audience sensibilities and her vast career in 6 Questions & a Plug.
First, I have to say the reviews are all correct -- you are amazing as Miss Adelaide and, frankly, steal the show. I've been in GUYS and DOLLS and seen it a bunch of times but I never would've said Miss Adelaide is the star role before now. Director Kent Gashintentionally stressed the intelligence and power of the female characters in this production. What can you tell our readers about your character development with Gash and how you view Miss Adelaide?
Thank you so much for your kind words! Working with Director Kent Gash was a dream for many reasons, but his emphasis on empowering the women in this production really resonated with me while developing Miss Adelaide. I think one of the ways to make these classic musicals palatable for a 2019 audience is to take a look at the female characters and find ways to make these women three dimensional. For me that specifically meant looking at her relationship with Nathan Detroit and making it one where they were equals - they love each other equally, they respect each other equally. I also consciously chose to make it a relationship where Miss Adelaide doesn't NEED Nathan but CHOOSES Nathan. I mean, why else would she stick around for 14 years?
Exactly! Your onstage relationship with Rodney Gardiner (Nathan Detroit) is the other subtle difference in the way many a production of this show have been done -- and much has been said in other local reviews and write-ups about how these two really, truly love one another. That comes across! It often seemed in other versions that Adelaide is maybe too stupid to leave him but your version stresses that she stays because she loves him and cannot imagine leaving, even when he's at his worst. Can you talk a little about your work with Gardiner on this relationship?
First, let me start by saying having a scene partner like Rodney Gardiner is a huge privilege and working with him on this show has been one of the most joyful experiences of my career. He is funny and smart and we just have a blast bouncing the ball back and forth to each other every night. Kent Gash really stressed that this is a show about love, so with his guidance, Rodney and I worked hard to emphasize the genuine love that Nathan Detroit and Miss Adelaide feel for each other. We wanted to create a relationship where the audience said, "Despite everything, they are 100% made for each other." And Rodney is brilliant at expressing Nathan's love for Miss Adelaide in little ways. He always has a hankie ready for my sneezes, greets me with coos and showers of affection, blows me a kiss in the Hot Box and a ton of other little things that I don't even know if audiences consciously pick up on. But I think it's by putting those little micro-moments together that we are able to create one big loving relationship.
The costumes and wigs in this Guthrie production are stand-outs among many positives. How many changes do you have and what is the most fun to play with?
Oh my gosh!! Kara Harmon (costume designer) designed our costumes and Laura Stearns is the Guthrie's wigmaster. Both are brilliant women who simultaneously know how to tell a story in pictures and make an actor feel amazing. And I cannot say enough about the costume shop at the Guthrie Theater! I mean, they literally sewed my undergarments onto my body so they fit exactly right and do these beautiful costumes justice. The crafts people in that shop are extraordinary and I always loved going to my fittings. And trust me, there were a lot of them...lol. I have eight costumes in total so I change a lot in this show. And I often do it very quickly with the help of our fantastic dressers and wig crew. There are changes where I run off stage and have three people just descend on me and 45 seconds later I reappear in an entirely different costume and wig. My favorite costume to play with is what I wear for "Take Back Your Mink." Let's just say there are a lot of layers to enjoy in that costume.
Your past work involves some serious time as an elf with three Broadway roles (in A CHRISTMAS STORY, ELF AND SHREK) -- were you getting typecast as a Broadway elf? :-) ...Kidding aside, you have been in many Broadway roles, countless regional shows and some fun TV roles. You were in the reboot of GREASE in 2007 (as Frenchie) that starred Minnesota's own Laura Osnes, so that earns you brownie points around here, too. Can you talk a bit about your favorite role to date and working with some of the top notch directors on your resume?
Haha, yes! There was a time where I definitely cornered the market on elf roles. Seriously though, I'm so grateful to make my living as an actor in the theater. What I really like to do is to play characters who maybe, at first glance, seem obvious and then I turn them on their heads a little and explore the character on a deeper level so I can really get to their hearts and their truths. It's one of the reasons I love playing Miss Adelaide (full disclosure - this is my third time playing her), but my favorite role to date is playing Tammy Faye Bakker in a new musical called BORN FOR THIS (if you don't know who she is look her up). It's a new gospel musical based on the early careers of Bebe and Cece Winans with music written by Bebe. Tammy Faye became basically like a second mother to Bebe and Cece when they got their start in the 1980s on the PTL network and I love doing the show because I think the way she is written in this play challenges the audience to see her in a way that is different than they anticipated. We had a great run last summer in Boston at Cutler Majestic Theatre and are hoping to bring the show to Broadway, so keep your eyes and ears peeled for that. (You can follow the show on Instagram: @bornforthisbway)
As for directors, I love working with John Rando. For me, he has the perfect balance of structure and freedom. He makes sure everybody is on the same page and is helming the ship but then he lets us basically throw a bunch of ideas out there and together we decide what sticks. Kent Gash, who directed GUYS AND DOLLS, also does this beautifully and I think it's one of the reasons our show is so successful.
Tammy Faye was originally from Minnesota, too -- the Minnesota connections abound!
What drew you to become an actor, and what was your big break?
As a young person, I always liked putting myself in someone else's shoes and living in their skin for a little while and exploring what made them tick. I also figured out I was good at making people laugh and that made me happy. I was fortunate that my small town in West Virginia had a community theater scene and my high school had a theater program. I'll always be grateful for both of those things because there is no way I'd ever be here now without the early exposure to theater. As for a big break....well....I'm not quite sure that's happened, lol. But something that was really instrumental early in my career was a casting director, the wonderful Jay Binder, pulled me aside one day and said, "You are enough. You don't need to walk into the room and try to give us what you think we want or imitate someone else's performance. You are enough. Just bring yourself to the work." It unlocked something inside of of me and was somewhat of a turning point for me as an artist, so I'll always be grateful to Jay for taking the time to say that to me.
I love that. I'm sure every actor should hear someone say that at some point in his or her career.
You mentioned in a social media post that this role at the Guthrie was a dream for you -- what has your experience at the big G been like thus far, and are you getting any chances to explore your summer home in Minneapolis?
The Guthrie is, well, THE GUTHRIE! It's always been a dream of mine to work here and I honestly never thought it would happen. And let me say it has exceeded my expectations. I've never felt so supported as an artist -- from the dramaturgy to the staff to the creative team to the costume shop to our incredible stage management team... I could go on and on. I knew Minneapolis was a theater town, but wow. There's a reason why every actor in New York wants to work at the Guthrie Theater.
And I am loving Minneapolis! I'm a walker, so I love walking by the river and across the Stone Arch Bridge. I've walked to Northeast, Dinkytown, North Loop and to the Seward Co-op and, of course, to Target. Lol. Olivia Hernandez, who plays Miss Sarah Brown, and J. Oconer Navarro, our incredible music director, and I are all foodies so we've been exploring that aspect of the city. We have been to Travail, which was super delicious, eaten dim sum (always yummy) and I LOVED eating Ethiopian at The Red Sea. If folks have suggestions I'm easy to find on Instagram. Bring 'em my way!! Oh - and I'm excited to go to a Twins game. I hear they're good. And I want to get one of those giant soft pretzels. :-)
We can definitely get you suggestions for food here - you've barely scratched the surface!
This is a part of a series called 6 Questions & a Plug, so what are your plans once you close at the Guthrie on Aug. 25?
As of now, after the show closes I'll head back to NYC and look for my next job. I used to be embarrassed by not having anything lined up, but now I'm just too old to not tell the truth. Lol. I also think it's important to demystify our lives. Being an actor can be fun and exciting, but it also can be unstable and scary. And if it is something you are thinking of pursuing you should be aware of the whole picture. I don't say that to be discouraging. I say that so you can make an informed decision about your life. But if I must plug something, let me plug my teaching because I love it. When I am in between acting gigs, I have the great fortune of teaching both as a private acting coach where I help fellow actors with their auditions and with Lindsay Mendez and Ryan Scott Oliver's Actor Therapy where we train young actors in audition technique, acting, scene study and help them navigate the basic ins and outs of life in show business. You can go to my website for more info: kirstenwyatt.net or find me on Instagram @kirswyatt.
No shame in not having another gig lined up. And you certainly keep busy with all of that, along with helping the young actors coming up. That's admirable! This is a bonus plug opportunity -- because I discovered this researching you and think people should check it out: Feel free to plug your Broadway Nosh web series (fans, this is where Kirsten cooks with other Broadway actors so you get fun personalities plus great recipes to try)-- any big names or spectacular recipes you have planned?
OMG! I had so much fun doing Broadway Nosh. We are on a bit of a hiatus since I've been working so much out of town. But I hope to develop so new episodes when I'm back in the city. You can check out all the episodes on YouTube or at broadwaynosh.com!!