THE WOODLANDS, TX -- "The musicians are expected to have their part finished before rehearsals even begin," Annalee Jefferies marveled. The longtime Alley Theatre resident company member was recalling the revelation she had had in September 1997, when Christoph Eschenbach, maestro of the Houston Symphony, invited her appear with him and his troupe as narrator of Saint-Saens' Carnival of the Animals, in which the composer set to playful music some wry Ogden Nash verse. "The first time I collaborated with the Symphony I didn't realize this. In the theater we rehearse and rehearse and rehearse."
Over the course of 13 seasons at the Alley, she's played Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire, Harper in Angels in America, and Nurse Ratched in One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest. Jefferies typically has some six weeks to prepare. For the Symphony, she said, laughing, it seemed like six minutes. A few hours before curtain, the first and last run-through occurred. Eschenbach fine-tuned the musicians, while Jefferies felt she was merely warming up. Taking what insights the acclaimed conductor mentioned to her in passing, Jefferies improvised her way through the piece and had fun with it.
Her latest joint venture with the Eschenbach and the Houston Symphony, is serving as narrator of Peter and the Wolf, being performed April 30 at The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion at The Woodlands.
And this time, Jefferies is doing some thespian homework. She estimated she'd put in eight hours of rehearsal by herself before she and Eschenbach and the Symphony gather for an hour or two for final touches on Sergei Prokofiev's classic.
"I don't read music. But I'm very familiar with the piece," Jefferies continued. "My voice will enlighten but not take away from the instruments. My voice is an instrument. It will have to illuminate the characters and bleed into the musicians." Jefferies won't "act" in the typical sense; she'll remain fairly stationary, with her tones doing all the moving. "I won't use my physical self. Maybe I'll use one hand, one movement, but mostly I'll put all my vocal skills into the performance."
A company member of the Arena Stage in Washington DC early in her career, and a veteran of such regional companies as Long Wharf, Hartford Stage, and Great Lakes Theatre Festival, Jefferies will also look to Eschenbach for a theme, an emotion, an idea, to jell what she intends to do with her narration. She will, in other words, find direction. "The maestro and I have discovered will are attuned. We collaborate well."
Jefferies remembers her childhood "way out on a ranch in the middle of nowhere, Texas." Her mother would play the Peter Ustinov recording of Peter and the Wolf, and Jefferies would be transported to another realm, the world of art. It's that childhood magic she hopes to transmit in her telling, she said.
Christoph Eschenbach conducting it and other works by Prokofiev and by Beethoven. For tickets, $13-$59, call (713) 227-ARTS or (800) 828-ARTS
-- By Peter Szatmary