BWW Interview: Lynne Wintersteller of THE DROWSY CHAPERONE Talks About Her Favorite Roles at Broadway at Music Circus, Iconic T.V. Shows, Staying Positive, and More!
When it opened on Broadway in 2006, The Drowsy Chaperone boasted an all-star cast and garnered five Tony Awards, including Best Book of a Musical and Best Original Score. You can expect that same quality in Broadway at Music Circus' third production of the summer, with Lynne Wintersteller returning to Sacramento in the title role. Lynne was last seen here in 2017 as Dolly Levi in Hello, Dolly! and as Mother Superior in Sister Act, where she solidified her place as Music Circus royalty and left audiences anticipating her return. We are now lucky enough to witness that event and Lynne was generous enough to speak with Broadway World Sacramento about her newest role and what we can expect from her in the future.
Broadway at Music Circus is so lucky to have you as a staple! You had a remarkable run here in 2017 in Hello, Dolly! and Sister Act. What keeps you coming back to Music Circus?
I have to say, honestly, and I know this sounds so hokey but, when you keep returning back here it's like returning home. You know everyone and everyone knows you. Everyone shows up. We had a 4th of July party last night in the Fab 40s. It's a vacation but you're back home. Glenn and I have worked together so much that we have an unspoken language...louder, faster, funnier, I get it. I get to play incredible roles here and...the costumes!
What has been your favorite role to date at Broadway at Music Circus?
I have to say, and it was a challenge, Dolly. I never thought I would be able to do her. I thought she was a character role or a big star name like Bette Midler or Barbra Streisand. I also did Kate here in Kiss Me Kate. You guys have some of the most forgiving, loving audiences. They just appreciate the fact that we're all coming here to do it. It's indescribable and you feel it from the audience.
How did you get your start in musical theatre?
I'm from Sandusky, Ohio and at 13 I was Pocahontas in an event in our town and I remembered wanting to do this forever. I did a normal route in college and learned to type for survival skills, went to college and finished my degree at the University of Maryland in theatre and worked in the D.C. area when I booked Annie in New York. I did something at the Kennedy Center where someone saw me and told me I should audition for Grace Farrell. I've been led by the nose here. I remember at 13 that was a conscious moment of clarity.
You made your debut on Broadway in 1993 in the Rodgers and Hammerstein revue A Grand Night for Singing. Can any other experience compare to your very first opening night on Broadway?
First I moved up in the role of Grace Farrell and covered on Broadway in 1982 and then A Grand Night for Singing was 1993. Because you're being put into a company that was already running (Annie), it was sort of lackluster. I'd been on the road for 2 1/2 years so I knew the show but was put in a running group of people. In a weird way they all know each other and they don't know you, where in Grand Night, where you create the role, you're that person.
You also were on the 1st and 4th national tours of Annie as Grace Farrell. Would you be up for another run as a different character, like Miss Hannigan, or have you had your fill of Annie?
I would love to do it, but they already did a revival. Danette Holden, who is in The Drowsy Chaperone, covered Hannigan in the revival. She was swing on that. I think I remember James Lapine saying they didn't want anyone who had done it before. They want someone younger, a different background, a different ethnicity. I'm an avid believer that we all get what we're supposed to get. I've ben discouraged by so many things and then gotten something else and realized I'm supposed to be here. It's a much better role for me and at this time in my life. It leaves you open for something even better to come along. A lot of times we'll go into an audition and you can slay it and I'll walk out thinking it's just not right for this particular project. I always tell young students to give a good audition because 9 out of 10 times I've gotten a role from an audition where I didn't get the role but they remembered me for another role. It's taken practice but I've learned not to take any of it personally. I learn from criticism and you can't manipulate things at all, especially in show business. I need to still find joy in this and get paid for my passion but if it gets to be tedious and hard and if I can't develop a good attitude, then why do it. Then a role like Dolly comes along.
It seems that you've been busy on television lately and were recently on one of my favorite shows from my younger years, "Murphy Brown". How was that experience?
I love doing television. I had a regular role in a sitcom early on on The Family Channel called "Big Brother Jake". Jake played this guy that ran a very interesting home base for all these adopted kids. I came in as a one-time crazy opera singer who was in the wrong house to do a benefit and the neighbor fell in love with me and it became a regular role. You do it in front of a live audience. It's easy and fun and stressful and I loved it. A lot of the writers were from the Cosby show and they said I should try L.A. My husband is an actor, as well, and was on Broadway in The Scarlet Pimpernel and I missed him. I was in L.A. from 1995-2000. You get a commercial hit and it runs forever and it's a whole other set of problems. Eight shows a week is a different discipline. It can be very easy to get lackadaisical in New York. We're so used to hustling, going from one audition to the next, that there's a gypsy mentality. It's weird to do a series and say, "I can buy a house and stay in one spot." I liken it to the lottery. You've won the actor's lottery. I have security and a steady job. I remember seeing my first Broadway show by myself and I remember looking at the Playbill and thinking, "How do these people get all these credits?" and now I have all these credits. You make it work. I get joy from performing for people who appreciate it, who spend their hard-earned money on a ticket. There's nothing glamorous about this, we are serving the audience. We are storytellers who help the audience forget their problems for 2 hours.
I did the pilot of "Murphy Brown". I was there when Hillary Clinton was on it. It was a surprise. Diane English, the head writer, and Hillary Clinton are good friends. I used to watch it, too. They brought back the original cast. Murphy Brown went on a date with Donald Trump! We were all scared, including Murphy. We were all nervous and it was so exciting and exhilarating. It topped any of my tv experiences because it was so new and they didn't know how it would be received. She brought in all of the original writers and then brand new young writers. With the two different perspectives and Murphy Brown-the old people remembered her old stuff and the millennials brought in new stuff like cell phones and told Murphy she had to learn how to tweet. They didn't renew it but I don't know why. We remember the curmudgeonly Murphy Brown. The original actors had put the roles away and had to shake them off again. The audience that was invited was thrilled to see the characters back. When we all went for our bows there was standing and screaming. I thought I was in a hit. It was so fun but a lesson and you think, "I have to let it go."
You have the title role in The Drowsy Chaperone. Can you tell me about your character? Is it difficult to play someone that's inebriated the entire show? It sounds like there may be parallels to Miss Hannigan!
The whole premise is how one lonely man finds solace listening to show tunes. We reenact the album in his mind. It's zany and fun. A 1928 musical. I get to be drunk in the round. A parody of a parody. The message is how you find solace in whatever you listen to. It is so freeing to play a character like that. I did Sunset Boulevard and when she goes crazy in the end it was so easy because crazy is, "What is that?" It is so liberating. What is drunk? What is that? You can be slovenly drunk or just a little out of it. It is fun and freeing. There is no set way to do this.
Bruce is ridiculously sweet and we have a moment. We don't interact with him the entire show. I actually touch him at the end and I liken it to an agoraphobic who doesn't leave his house. His character is called The Man In Chair and he just is heartbreaking. He does have a past but I don't want to give it away. He says, "In particular, my favorite character is The Drowsy Chaperone because she reminds me of my mother." Everyone is a clown in real life. Glenn cast most of us that he knows and he knows our humor and timing. We're generous clowns. We know where our jokes are and will wait for each other. This cast is one of the most cohesive and amazing casts that I've worked with in a while. Everyone is a star in this cast.
New York Magazine called The Drowsy Chaperone "the perfect Broadway musical." Do you agree?
Yes, it is basically an homage to musicals, the old-fashioned musicals. It's a valentine card to musical theatre. I think that's what they meant. The Man in Chair likes going back to the old ones, doesn't like the mics and cell phones going off. This is when musical theatre was musical theatre kind of thing. It's really sweet.
What projects are next for you?
I'm doing a thing with a group of actors that's a pilot in October. It's their own web series/pilot. "Shut Up Astoria". I'm going to have auditions coming up, also.
I hope that we'll see you at Broadway at Music Circus again next summer!
I hope so, too! I have the utmost respect for these guys. What they do and so fast, they are amazing. Glenn is doing 3 shows and he knows theatre in the round. He knows the room and knows the theatre and knows how to do it best. He knew my plate was full with Dolly and by the time we do a run for the designers we're not ready, but he does it so fast. That's why I trust him. If the audience knew how unusually fast it is, I think they would appreciate it even more.
Tickets for The Drowsy Chaperone start at $45 and are available by phone at (916) 557-1999, online at BroadwaySacramento.com, or in person at the Wells Fargo Pavilion Box Office, 1419 H Street in Sacramento. Evening performances are Tuesday through Saturday, July 9-13, at 7:30 p.m.; matinee performances are Thursday, July 11 and Saturday, July 13 at 2:00 p.m., and Sunday, July 14 at 3:00 p.m. For more information, visit BroadwaySacramento.com.