BWW Interviews: Andy Jones of RODGERS & HAMMERSTEIN'S CINDERELLA National Tour
Coming to the Durham Performing Arts Center from November 18th-23rd is the national touring production of Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella featuring Andy Jones in the role of Prince Topher, a role originated on Broadway by Tony Nominee Santino Fontana.
A graduate of The University of Michigan, Andy's Broadway credits include Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella (Original Broadway Cast), Bullets Over Broadway; International Tour: West Side Story; Regional: The Muny, NSMT, Maltz Jupiter; TV: Today Show, Late Night with David Letterman, Tony Awards (2013, 2014).
JK: Do you remember what your first introduction was to live theatre?
AJ: I don't remember my first introduction to live theatre, but I do think that it was probably when I was 6 or 7. I'm from Boston, and it was at a regional theatre on the North Shore called North Shore Music Theatre. I forget what show it was, but I think that was my first experience knowing that I was interested in maybe pursuing this as a hobby or as a profession. I think it was when I saw a high school production of Pippin in my local town, and I thought 'that looks really fun' and I was also completely captivated by it, I think it's something that we've all experienced, even if we aren't part of the industry. I think that everyone can really benefit from being taken away by a story onstage.
JK: Was that one of your inspirations for wanting to be a performer?
AJ: I think that my inspiration for wanting to be a performer came from my love of storytelling and my love of people. I think that there were definitely some performances that I saw when I was younger that made me think 'oh, maybe this way I can be apart of that', but I think maybe my inspiration to do this came from within. That's one of the messages of Cinderella, that even if you feel like everything is working against you, or things aren't going your way, there's a song in the second act called There's Music in You, and the message is you really have the power to change your world around you.
JK: You made your Broadway debut as an understudy in the original cast of Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella, so to turn back the clocks, how did you first get involved with that production?
AJ: Well, I had been performing in and out of New York and around the country for a couple of years, and I was auditioning for everything I could audition for, and I went to an open dance call for the original Cinderella. What was exciting about this production, almost 60 years ago, it debuted in 1957 with Julie Andrews on national TV, and since there were only a couple TV channels in 1957, I think about 100 million homes tuned in, it was a nationwide event! Rodgers & Hammerstein intended to bring it to Broadway, but they then got all caught up and it never happened. So the Broadway production in 2013 was the first time it's ever been on Broadway. For me, it was my Broadway debut, and I had always wanted to be on Broadway and something about this rags-to-riches story I think was fitting for a Broadway debut, where you know you had wanted to do this your whole life, and then you go into an audition like any other audition which is what I did, and it just worked, I'm so lucky that I'm able to be playing the part on tour.
JK: How familiar were you with the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical adaptation of Cinderella prior to getting involved?
AJ: Well, I really was not familiar with their musical adaptation at all. I was familiar with the music because although these songs had not been heard on Broadway, I think there was a tour a couple decades ago, the televised version with Julie Andrews in 1957, and there was the Lesley Ann Warren version in the 60's, and then there was the Brandy and Whitney Houston version in '97. So I was familiar with the music, but I wasn't particularly familiar with the storytelling and I think that actually probably helped in my experience because Douglas Carter Beane had rewritten the script, so he updated it and made it accessible for a contemporary audience. I think what's so cheerful about this version is we know how the story ends. It's about two people falling in love, come together, and go from rags-to-riches. Usually, that happens because the girl has been transformed and she has a makeover, which is great and that's kind of why they fall in love in the story that we're familiar with. What's so great about this version that Douglas Carter Beane rewrote, is that they fall in love because she's kind and she shows something about herself and he shows something about himself. So it's really a story about two people who fall in love because they make each other better, as opposed to two people who fall in love because they're wearing nice clothes. It's really an empowering story. I think it's been interesting to hear audiences react to the differences, because there are some plot twists you're not expecting, and I think people are left pleasantly surprised they didn't know what was happening, or that they were being surprised. It's been exciting to hear the audience react that way.
JK: Yeah, a friend of mine is hoping to see you guys when you come to Cleveland.
AJ: Oh, great! Well, I would love to say 'hello' to them whenever they make it.
JK: How does it feel for you to now be touring with the show, but this time as Prince Topher?
AJ: Well, something that was so exciting in the original Broadway production, was that as the understudy, I went on a whole bunch of times for Santino Fontana, who originated the role of Prince Topher. He was off to do some voice-work (as Hans in Disney's Frozen) in the recording studio a few times out in LA, and promoting the film from time-to-time. So I got the chance to do the role quite a bit in New York...
AJ: Yes, they did! I'm not sure if this is true, but I think that some celeb magazine picked up one of the press shots that we did, so that was great. I think that was maybe a Saturday afternoon, I was expecting to go in and do my ensemble parts in the show, but I came and found that Santino was out of the show that day, and I was surprised that both Ms. Parker & Mr. Broderick were there with their (twin) daughters, so that was a nice surprise. Something about understudying a role is that you don't get a whole lot of rehearsal and you live in the part basically when you're doing it onstage, and when you're not doing it in front of an audience, you don't get a whole lot of time to work on it, which is something that was so exciting about this experience is we rehearsed for about a month before we opened in Providence, RI about a month ago. Getting to revisit the role, and to do so with a new cast is incredibly gratifying. And it's so exciting to share this message with the audience every night, it's my favorite part about going on and I'm lucky that I get to experience that every night instead of a couple times a week.
JK: Is that what you are enjoying most about traveling around the country doing this show so far?
AJ: I think what we're enjoying the most is getting to meet the people around the country who know Cinderella, and know this story, and know the Rodgers & Hammerstein music of this version, but don't know our version of the storytelling. It's exciting to meet people around the country who are surprised to have such a great time. I think a lot of people are expecting to have a pleasant experience and we've had a lot of people come and say 'this is one of my favorite stories growing up and I am so pleased with the treatment that it's been given to it!' I think the people are pleasantly surprised with the experiences that they're having with the show.
AJ: I grew up doing community theatre, and one of the reasons Rodgers & Hammerstein are such a big part of every young performer's experience is because every musical in the Rodgers & Hammerstein canon is a solid musical with beautiful music that has a strong moral message. And I think that also because it's from the golden age of musical theatre, those musicals are done a lot in schools and community theatres. So when you're starting out, that's the bread-and-butter of learning this craft, because the Rodgers & Hammerstein craft is so strong. I mean South Pacific, The King & I, Oklahoma!, or Carousel, they're all so wonderful. And I think that's what's great about Douglas Carter Beane's book, he's taken the moral message that Rodgers & Hammerstein have had in all of their shows, and he made it stronger. Some of the earlier versions of the Cinderella tale had to do with how kindness is one of the most important things that you can possess, and that is the greatest tool that Cinderella does in this show. There's a big part of the show about how much power you're able to have when you're kind to people, and I think that it's a great message that Rodgers & Hammerstein have had in their original show, and I think they would be proud how it has been used in this production.
JK: What is it like getting to work with your co-star and friend Paige Faure?
AJ: Like you said, Paige and I have been friends for a couple years now. Our stories with Cinderella are kind of complicated. Paige was a part of some of the original workshops that our producer created neatly, figuring out how to tell this version of the story. And she was not in the original Broadway production as she was pursuing other things. Then we were both in the ensemble for a couple weeks, she came in for a brief stint. When I left Cinderella, we both did Bullets Over Broadway together this past spring. Then for the past three months when I was not there, she played the role of Cinderella in New York. So we kind of worked with each other on-and-off on pretty much every Broadway production we've done for the past year and a half. What's so great about her story and getting to do this role with a friend, is the character has to fall in love every night and I think that's so much easier when you're doing that with someone that you respect. I think that the audience can feel that. She's a joy in the show, and it's a treat to work with her.
JK: Since you brought up Bullets Over Broadway, what can you tell us about your experience with that show?
AJ: Something that was so exciting about Bullets Over Broadway was that it was a big 1920's jazz musical. It was such a different experience from Cinderella because the music was so different and the comedy was very different. Getting to work with (director/choreographer) Susan Stroman and (playwright) Woody Allen was honestly a great way to prepare myself for revisiting Cinderella because I think a lot of Cinderella is surprisingly very funny with how it's been updated for a contemporary audience. I think getting to work on a big musical comedy like Bullets Over Broadway kind of helped get me ready to revisit Cinderella with new eyes because I didn't do it in New York for a year. Then I spent about ten months away from it before coming back on tour so I think it kind of affected my experience with Cinderella that made it new, it doesn't feel like this long experience. It feels like every night with a new audience, it's a new experience.
JK: Did you ever had to go on for Zach Braff? If so, how many times?
AJ: I did, I went on for Zach probably about eight or nine times. The first time I went on for him was in the middle of previews in New York before any of the understudies had any rehearsal, so that was like being shot out of a cannon, but it was a really exciting night!
JK: As a performer, how are you able to keep up with performing eight times a week?
AJ: Something that's great about being able to tour in a production like Cinderella around the country is that we're in a new city every couple weeks which means that life constantly feels new. We're discovering new things, where I think that really helps when we're doing a show eight times a week. The other thing that's interesting about going to different cities is different audiences in different cities react to different parts of the show differently and it's exciting to hear how audiences are going to deal with certain things. But something that every audience around the country responds to with unanimous praise is the dress transformation that Cinderella makes from a girl into a woman...
JK: Which I'm sure is a different transformation from what was on the Tony Awards last year.
AJ: It is! Something that I think people are surprised about when they see the show across the country is when you see a movie or a TV show, you do expect magic to happen, but with computer-generated images, and different types of editing, etc. But something that's so cool about this production is the magic happens without anyone leaving the stage, then coming back in a new costume, Cinderella spins around into a new dress. I think that no matter what the reactions are for the show, every single audience is flabbergasted, it takes people a second to grasp what just happened, people aren't expecting it. It's so exciting to hear the audience roar when Cinderella becomes who she's meant to be.
JK: Do you have any dream roles you'd love to pursue in the future?
AJ: Honestly, Prince Topher is such a great role to be playing right now because unlike princes in past versions of Cinderella who are kind of archetypes who are just there for Cinderella to fall in love with, Prince Topher is easier to relate to people like myself and for audiences. He's young, he has all of these responsibilities in terms of governing this kingdom and he doesn't really know what to do because he has really been taught how to govern. I think that's something everyone can relate to, having responsibilities that you're capable of, but you feel unsure in your own shoes. I think that experience can be gratifying for portraying this role. For the future, I feel like there are so many great roles that have been written for men in the musical theatre, TV, and film in general. But I think that I'm excited about keeping my eyes and ears open for the next great role. I think there are so many great roles that I would love to play, but the one I wanna play most of all is one that hasn't been written yet. And I think that uncertainty and possibility is very exciting. And that's another big theme about Cinderella, 'Impossible Things Are Happening Everyday'.
JK: Is there any advice you would like to give any aspiring young performers out there?
AJ: I would. I think that what has been so exciting about this experience with Cinderella is that it was my Broadway debut. That was almost two years ago, and a bunch of exciting things happened since then. It was really a big stepping stone for me and it happened just because I showed up to the auditions that a bunch of people went to. Before I got cast in Cinderella, I was working steadily. I would go to any audition, knowing that I wouldn't get cast, but I knew if I made it a habit to be persistent and to work hard, when the time was right, something would strike. So I went into the Cinderella auditions like any other audition. And I didn't do anything differently, they just happened to say yes this time. So I guess my advice for young performers would be to stick with it, work hard, and know that it really is possible.
JK: Andy, I thank you very much for devoting your time to this interview, and I wish you the best of luck with Cinderella!
AJ: Thanks Jeffrey! I look forward to meeting your friend in Cleveland!