BWW Interview: Christiane Noll in DEAR EVAN HANSEN at the Curran on finding the right voice
As the Broadway production celebrates its second anniversary, the eagerly anticipated tour of Dear Evan Hansen opens this week at the Curran for a month-long visit. A happily familiar name in the cast is Christiane Noll who originated principal roles in Jekyll & Hyde and Chaplin on Broadway and was Tony-nominated as Mother in the 2009 revival of Ragtime. Off the Main Stem, Noll has extensive regional credits, can be heard on dozens of cast and studio recordings, and survived NBC's The Sound of Music Live! Her current role is Cynthia Murphy, the stay-at-home mother desperate to hold her family together in the face of the tragic event that sets the musical in motion.
RS: You grew up New York-adjacent in an entertainment friendly household. Did that predispose you to the vagabond life of a performer?
CN: It must have - (Laughs) - because here I am. My parents were on the road a lot, and many times I'd get thrown in the back of the car or the back or tour bus. They played American Conservatory Theater for a summer way back when I was in elementary school, and I wandered along with them. That was I fell in love with San Francisco.
RS: Were they favorably or unfavorably disposed toward you joining the family business?
CN: Neither, really. They were always supportive of me being focused, well prepared, and doing my job well. Doing it to the best of my ability. They really let it be my decision, and they really encouraged me to do it properly.
RS: Is there a road you didn't take?
CN: Well, I at some point thought I was going to be a computer programmer or something with math. I was very good at math, but I also was in all of the choruses and the plays. That's how Carnegie Mellon came on my radar. They have a fantastic computer department, and they have music and theatre, so I thought maybe I'd be a double major and just do all of it. I was an overachiever, I suppose. The audition process happened before the applications for the schools. I was accepted into the college of fine arts and thought, "I'm in college. Yay! Done. So I just went that direction.
RS: When touring, do you prefer the sit-downs or the in-and-outs in a week?
CN: I'm not really sure. I guess it depends on the city. Touring has changed a little. Now, with Airbnb, people tend to spread out and do their own thing, which is kind of what it's like when you're working on Broadway because everyone goes home.
My history with touring used to be that everyone, crew, musicians, actors, for the most part, everyone would stay in the same hotel. So you'd come back after the show, you'd wander into the hotel bar, whether you partake there or not, and you sit and talk and get to know everybody. Now you have to put in more of an effort to make time and plan things. I just tend to hide. I don't mean to hide, but I'm just less of a social butterfly than some.
RS: Your resume is an interesting mix of classic musical theatre roles and new works. Do you have a preference?
CN: Yes. (Laughs) I like to put my spin on whatever it is I'm doing, whether that's something that's been done before or something that's being written and then because of what I bring to it, that causes them to write something else.
When I'm teaching, young artists will ask if I have any advice? Well, for starters, you're gonna be compared to a lot of people. That's what this business is based on. What I try to remind people of is that, no, there actually isn't anybody else like you. You are very unique. Do what you do because you're special.
Rob McClure did a wonderful interview early on in his career. I knew him when he was a teenager doing Carousel at Paper Mill Playhouse, and he played my son. He was a big Jekyll & Hyde fan at the time and he was wanting to sing the big songs from the show which was so funny because he was this wonderful little mensch-ey guy. I guess he did that for a while [for auditions] and he didn't have that much luck. He said this in the article, that he finally realized, "Oh, I'm not that guy. I'm this guy. I'm this other guy." Then, when he embraced who he was, when he walked in the door you couldn't keep a good man down. He hasn't stopped since, which is wonderful.
RS: You booked a side-gig Feinstein's at the Nikko soon after you open Dear Evan Hansen. It caught my eye because of the Sondheim reference of "Losing My Mind" in the title. Was that inspired by your recent run in Next to Normal?
CN: Are you coming? I'll ruin the beginning of my patter if I tell you too much!
RS: OK. Don't tell me.
CN: What I will say is that it's a new show that was inspired by an evening that also was inspired by shows that I have done with a specific director and then shows he wanted to do with me, ideas that he had for me. So doing Next to Normal definitely has inspired that. Doing this show on my night off also inspired that title.
RS: It's a legitimate question. "Wait, I have to do this other thing here eight times a week. What am I doing? Am I losing my mind?"
CN: Why am I doing this? Then, when I looked at our holiday schedule in San Francisco... (Laughs) It's always fun, though, and unlike Next to Normal, I'm not carrying this show at all, so I have a bit more vocal reserves left at the end of an evening to be able to sing and sort of flex other muscles on the off night.
Next to Normal was amazing. I learned really quickly how I couldn't do the show and decided to go down a very daunting and ego-bruising journey. As an actor and as somebody who tends to lead with their voice, when you're not going at 95 percent or 110 or whatever, you feel like you're cheating the audience and cheating yourself by not giving your full performance. That is a death trap with Next to Normal because there are so many peaks in there that do require you to hit it in a manner that is appropriate for the emotional impact of what's going on. However, what I learned, is that if that's not something you can sustain, then that is not the most honest performance. So I had to figure out really quickly, "OK, where are my peaks and where can I find a different color? Does finding a different color inform the character in a different way?" It's not that I was giving less of a performance, but for a while it was, "Okay, I'm going to do my B show." Then it was, "Wait. This doesn't feel like a B show. I found a new tack. Now I'm zagging over here."
If you allow your ego to kind of let go of the expectation of what you think your performance is supposed to be, you can open yourself up to finding so many richer and deeper colors and dimensions that will take you in places you never thought you could go. Places you would never have imagined because you would have put a limitation on yourself. It was so rewarding. I loved it.
A digital ticket lottery will offer the chance to purchase a limited number of $25 tickets available per performance. Visit luckyseat.com/dearevanhansen for details.