With one gesture — removing a cigarette that was hidden beneath her pink, childlike costume — Kate Reinders provided one of the most comical, yet revealing moments in the wonderful Gypsy revival that starred two-time Tony Award winner Bernadette Peters as a Momma Rose for the ages. Reinders also brought to her role as Dainty June a powerful voice, most evident in her first-act duet with co-star Tammy Blanchard, "If Momma Was Married." The talented Reinders was back on Broadway earlier this season in the Beach Boys jukebox musical Good Vibrations, and although the show was short-lived, Reinders' performance did catch the eye of Wicked producer David Stone, who recently cast the actress as Glinda in the current sit-down production of the hit Stephen Schwartz musical at Chicago's Ford Center for the Performing Arts. I recently had the chance to chat with Reinders, who spoke about her newest stage role; her Wicked co-star, Ana Gasteyer; and the first time Bernadette Peters sang for the company during Gypsy rehearsals. That interview follows:
Question: How are performances going in Wicked?
Kate Reinders: They're just great. It's really been wonderful here in Chicago. We finally opened last week, so now we can get into a groove. The audiences — previews and now — they're just so welcoming and so excited about the show, and they all seem to really love it.
Q: How did the role of Glinda come about for you?
Reinders: I had actually auditioned for it about a year ago when they were just looking for future people. I went in, and they said, "We'll put you on the list for the future, and we'll call you later." And I thought, "Okay, that [could be] good or that [could be] bad — I don't know, but it's over!" [Laughs.] Then I got a call this March that said, "We're calling to gauge Kate's interest in a Chicago sit-down [production] of Wicked." Then I went back in for [director] Joe Mantello and [book writer] Winnie Holzman, and I auditioned, and they called me later that day. I think it really helped, too, that [producer] David Stone saw me in Good Vibrations. I think that maybe put a little bug in his ear. Q: When you went auditioned originally, did you go in specifically for the role of Glinda?
Reinders: Yeah, I went in for Glinda.
Q: What did you have to perform at that audition?
Reinders: They have their definite Glinda audition regime: You sing the opening part to check your high soprano, then you sing part or all of "Popular," and then you do two scenes. You do the scene before "Popular" and then you do the scene in Act Two after the house has fallen, the fight scene.
Q: What were your thoughts about leaving New York to be in Chicago for a year?
Reinders: Of course, it's hard to leave home, but I'm not here for a full year. I'm just here until the end of January. Ana [Gasteyer] and I are here until Jan. 22. Actually, Chicago really appealed to me because I'm from Michigan. My parents are still in Michigan. I have lots of friends there, and my brother and sister-in-law and nephew live in Madison, Wisconsin. So, Chicago's actually right in between those two places. I haven't gotten a lot of family time yet because we've been so busy, but I'm looking forward to driving up to see my nephew on a Sunday night and spending Monday with him and then coming back.
Q: You mentioned working with Ana. What's that been like?
Reinders: Working with Ana Gasteyer excited me from the very beginning — before we even met. We have some friends in common, and we have the same voice teacher, Liz Caplan. Liz and our friends kept saying, "You and Ana are going to get along so well. You are very alike." Plus, I have admired her always. And, because she came highly recommended by people I also admire, I knew they had to be right. Immediately, we clicked. And, I think that has been something that has made this production of Wicked so strong. We have this strong friendship, this great relationship [offstage].
I noticed maybe a week or two ago that in the show, we're onstage a lot but there isn't [enough] time in the show to really cultivate that amazing friendship. You spend a lot of time in the "getting to know [period]," and then you have a little time as friends, but at the end of Act One, [Elphaba is] flying away, and then we reconnect toward the end of Act Two. So, it really helps that we have this relationship offstage because it fast forwards our feelings to where they need to be for the show without actually going through the motions every night.
Q: Both Glinda and Elphaba are such demanding roles vocally. How do you find the demands of doing the show eight times a week?
Reinders: I have to say I'm fortunate because I've had such good models in my life and my career. For instance, Bernadette Peters — when she's doing a show, she lives like a nun. She has to. I remember she would be on vocal rest from Sunday through Tuesday, and she would be quiet when she could, and she wouldn't talk on the phone a lot. And, that's actually been difficult being away from home and trying to rest my voice. . . . Ana and I joke, "Oh no, we're living like grannies!" We can't go out and drink after the show. Even one drink and we'll feel it the next day. And, our days off are really days of rest, they're not days of play — but it's worth it. Part of me [thinks], "Oh no, am I missing all my mid-20's fun?" But, no, it's definitely a small price to play.
Q: Do you have a favorite moment in the show for Glinda?
Reinders: Well, I'm learning to love more moments as we go. I love "Popular," but it's not even the song and the fun of that so much as Ana and I get to play every day. It always changes, and she makes me laugh. I also love our big fight scene because it's really fun to let it rip. And then I love "For Good" up to the end of the show where it's really sad and heartbreaking. I feel like, as a person, it's so great to feel such deep emotions and love and experience that every show. I guess that means all my favorite moments are when it's me and Ana [laughs], but the show is so great, and these are dream roles for any women to play.
Q: Any chance you might get to play Glinda in the New York company?
Reinders: You know, it's so funny, there's definitely a buzz about that. People keep asking me that. Nobody's officially said anything to us though . . . . The producers of Wicked — it's definitely a family. From the first day, [producer] Marc Platt said, "Welcome to the Wicked family. We're glad you're here, and we hope you'll be with us as long as you want to be." People say that a tone is set at the top, and it filters down, and that's very true. From our producers all the way down, there's a lot of love and camaraderie. Of course, it's hard to imagine a better show, a better role right now. I would be interested in going to New York, and I think Ana would be, too, but we haven't officially been asked, so we'll see. But it's definitely something we're both interested in. . . . It's a different thing for Ana because she has this huge career, and people want her everywhere for lots of things. I could do Glinda for years and be happy, but it's hard to imagine doing it without her, so that's also going to influence my future in the show. I'm sure I would get along with other Elphabas, but right now it's just so new and so fresh, and it's such a partnership that we have.
Q: Have you gotten to see other productions of Wicked? Did you get to see the New York company?
Reinders: I saw it in New York after I was cast, right before we started rehearsals. I saw it with Stacie Morgain Lewis [as Glinda] and Saycon Sengbloh [as Elphaba]. I actually saw two understudies, and they were both fantastic. I'm a little sad that I missed it with Idina [Menzel] and Kristin [Chenoweth] and Jennifer Laura Thompson. I missed it then because I was busy doing my own show, but now looking back on it, it may have been a blessing to not have people to do impressions of. This way, it's definitely more of my Glinda. I went into rehearsals with an open plate and I said, "Okay, Joe, who is she? Tell me what you want." He's such a fantastic director that in a few words I basically became Glinda because he's so direct and he's so clear, and he's so smart that it was very easy. . .
Q: Anything you particularly remember him saying?
Reinders: He basically just said that [Glinda is] really sweet. She's had everything go right in her life up till now, so she doesn't understand when things aren't working out, when her dreams aren't coming true. Glinda, I feel, in a way, she's a very simple, straightforward character, but on the other hand, she can so easily be tipped to the place of bitchy or just completely empty or she can become a caricature of herself. She's a real person with a big personality, but I really try to get the heart of her, and that's one thing that Joe encouraged me to do. I kept saying to him, "I need to bring it down first. I need to start at the truth, I need to start with the reality, and then I can make her grow, and I can make her bigger, but I need to start small." And he was like, "Absolutely, absolutely, that's exactly what you should do, and I support that fully."
Q: I think one of the most moving moments in the show is during the dance scene — when Elphaba is dancing alone and Glinda goes over to her and also begins to dance.
Reinders: Actually, [book writer] Winnie Holzman commented opening night — she told me that that was one of the most moving moments for her in our show and that she really felt that Ana and I got it right . . . . I remained Glinda that entire time because I feel like [Winnie's writing is] so clear that in the moments of silence, my thoughts are even hers, and I bet they're probably what Winnie was thinking there, too, which is why she responded so positively to it. That, of course, is a moment where Ana and I, our relationship, really helps because we know what the other person is thinking a lot of the time, looking into each other's eyes, whether it's as Glinda and Elphaba or as Kate and Ana! [Laughs.] That's a moment of connection, a real moment for Glinda. She's stuck between how people perceive her and what her true heart is telling her, and in the end she goes with what she knows is right. And, maybe she's risking her popularity, but it's worth it.
Q: Going back a bit, when did you start performing?
Reinders: The first show I did was when I was 12. I did Gypsy in Michigan at the Cherry County Playhouse, and Rita Moreno was Momma Rose, which was exciting. I was a Newsboy, and then I started doing shows there every summer. The producer of Cherry County, Neil Rosen, would do a show for me every summer. I did Annie, The Wizard of Oz, The Secret Garden, all those good shows for young girls. And, he would bring in great directors from New York and other actors from New York. For instance, Russell Kaplan, who was Susan Schulman's assistant on the Broadway Secret Garden, he came and did Secret Garden [in Michigan]. And, really, that was my training, all those experiences.
Q: When do you think you knew that this would be your career?
Reinders: What's so funny is I never really knew. I just kept doing it, and I kept loving it. And, then, when I was thinking about going to college, I didn't know what to go for. I thought, "Well, I'll see if I get in for musical theatre at the University of Michigan." And then I did get in, so I tried it, but I left after a semester because I still wasn't sure if I could handle the rejection or the instability [of the business].
Q: You talked a little before about Bernadette Peters and Gypsy. What are your memories of that production — what sticks out in your mind?
Reinders: Well, I have to say that one of the highlights, if not the highlight of my career so far was the first time Bernadette sang in rehearsal. [Director] Sam [Mendes] has this very cool rehearsal process. He brings everybody together, and he works through scenes and you work through the show but in these different ways that really help you find [your character]. He doesn't start blocking or he doesn't start with the choreography [at the beginning]. He starts with exploring who we are in the show and what our relationships are with each other.
One of my favorite memories is Tammy [Blanchard] and I were doing the scene before "If Momma Was Married." We did it once where I was sitting and Tammy was moving. Then, we did one where Tammy had to [sit], and I had to walk around. . . . And then [Sam] said, "Bernadette, go and sit in the middle of the girls. Kate, address everything to her." So I have these lines that are basically I hate my life and I hate my mother, and I hate what my mother has done to my life. And, so I was looking at [Bernadette] in the face, and I was just screaming at her, "Momma can do one thing! She thinks this and she thinks that," and Bernadette's face, I could see just the blood drain from it. I was just exploding, erupting with all this emotion I didn't know I had. It was Sam's way of tapping into the anger for [Rose] because he's like, "You're talking about her. This is really how you feel, so say it to her." It was so powerful, and that was the turning point for my character.
My whole point, to go back, is he would have Bernadette speak her songs for at least a week, maybe even longer. And, she was wonderful because she is a wonderful actress. Of course, she has an amazing voice and she's a wonderful performer, but she really is a great actress, so we were really getting to experience that. But then the first time she opened her mouth and started singing "Everything's Coming Up Roses," everybody in the room had instant chills. "Oh my gosh, this is Bernadette Peters! And she's singing, and I love her, and I used to watch 'Annie' over and over, and she was Lily St. Regis, and I've loved her for years and years, and now here she is!" And that was just one of the best moments of my life I think.
Q: You also had that great moment in Gypsy where you light up the cigarette after Rose leaves the room.
Reinders: Sam is just so cool, because he said to me, "What does June do? What does she do in her free time?" I said, "Oh, come on, she's been the bread winner for her family since she was three years old. She's been going from theatre to theatre dressed up like a little girl, hanging out with the stagehands, all these farmboys. Don't you think she goes out with them? She totally drinks, she totally smokes. She sleeps in her mom's room, but she sneaks out and then comes back in since Mom's off with Herbie." And Bernadette was like, "What? June's drinking? June's smoking?" Which is, of course, perfect because that's how Momma Rose would react. But Sam was like, "Yes, yes, exactly." I said that I'd like to pull out a cigarette from the dress because I'm in this pink, puffy dress with these little Shirley Temple curls, and I have been this big-smiled Dainty June up until now, and I really want everybody to see that underneath she's a young woman, who's actually grown up really fast and is trapped in this situation. I said I want to cut through the pink fluff and show that she's a really person who is struggling with [her life].
Q: You've had such a busy year. What was it like being a part of Good Vibrations, which didn't fare well with the critics?
Reinders: Well, everything has good points and low points, and every new show — I did Tom Sawyer way back when. I knew what taking on a new show could entail. It's always different than a revival because you're changing lines, you're changing order, you're changing songs — everything is completely being restructured all the time, so that's a challenge in itself. And, also wearing a bikini onstage was a challenge! [Laughs.] But that which does not kill you only makes you stronger. I wouldn't take it back, but it's been a very nice change to come do a show like Wicked. It runs like clockwork, and the audiences love it, and I really feel like I have this flushed out character with real relationships. But I think that that's a fault of the jukebox musical. Not to say that they're not great or that they're not fun and there's not a place for them — because I think there is — but it's a different animal for an actor. Especially after doing Gypsy, where I felt I was an actor first, finding that place was difficult in Good Vibrations, but a really good challenge and I really learned a lot, and I made great friends. And I'm glad that I had the experience.
Q: Are you involved in any other projects at the moment?
Reinders: Not really because I'm in Chicago. But, of course, I do have my sights set on one thing in particular. . . I want to do Legally Blonde, but that's a dream. Whether or not it will come true, I don't know. [Chicago's Ford Center for the Performing Arts is located at 24 West Randolph Street. Tickets are available at all Broadway in Chicago box offices (22 W. Monroe Street, 24 W. Randolph Street and 151 West Randolph Street) or by calling (312) 902-1400.]
The highlight of "Broadway's Lost Treasures III," which premieres on PBS stations across the country Aug. 7, is easily the late, great Ethel Merman, who dazzles with portions of three of her biggest theatre hits: "I Got Rhythm," "You're Just in Love" and "Everything's Coming Up Roses." The Merman segment dates back to the 1978 Tony Awards, and her inimitable voice is in remarkably good shape — she was 70 at the time — belting the high notes with ease. One gets a glimpse of the joy Merman brought to her singing in the first two offerings, and her version of "Roses" hints at how powerful a Momma Rose she must have been. There's even a tear in her eye as she belts out, "Everything's coming up sunshine and Santa Claus! Everything's gonna be bright lights and lollipops! Everything's coming up roses for you and for meeeeee!" I also enjoyed the late Jerry Orbach, who today would be an unlikely romantic lead, putting his all into Promises, Promises' "She Likes Basketball" and a young Debbie Allen gliding through Jerome Robbins' original West Side Story choreography of "America." Other highlights: Michel Bell's powerful version of "Ol' Man River" from the Hal Prince-directed Show Boat revival, Chita Rivera and the company of Kiss of the Spider Woman in "Where You Are" and the always moving Ragtime opening, which concludes the PBS special.
Broadway regulars Marin Mazzie and Douglas Sills will head the cast of the upcoming Actors' Fund of America benefit concert of On the Twentieth Century. Artistic producer and musical director Seth Rudetsky told me earlier this week that Mazzie will play Lily Garland and Sills will be Oscar Jaffe in the Sept. 26 concert at the New Amsterdam Theatre. "Be prepared for Douglas Sills to take [all the songs] up two whole steps," Rudetsky said, adding that the one-night-only event will also feature the talents of Christopher Sieber (as Bruce Granit), Brad Oscar (as Oliver Webb) and Brooks Ashmanskas (Owen O'Malley). "There are going to be cameos as well," said Rudetsky. "One of the reasons I'm so excited about this concert is we're going to have a big fat string section." The cast, in fact, will be accompanied by a 26-piece orchestra. Tickets for the benefit are priced $75-$2,500 and are available by calling (212) 221-7300, ext. 133 or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information visit www.actorsfund.org.
Eden Espinosa, who will soon be seen in the San Francisco engagement of Wicked, will join Euan Morton for the second night of the First Annual Broadway Cabaret Festival at New York's Town Hall. The Oct. 22 evening, entitled Euan Morton & Eden Espinosa Sing Broadway, will feature a first act with the Tony-nominated Taboo star, and the second half will spotlight the talents of Espinosa, who is expected to perform a program of popular Broadway music. (Mamma Mia!'s Louise Pitre was originally scheduled for the double-bill with Morton but had to withdraw due to a scheduling conflict.) Town Hall is located in Manhattan at 123 West 43rd Street. For more information call (212) 977-1003 or visit www.the-townhall-nyc.org.
Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to email@example.com.