DIVA TALK: Chatting with Guys and Dolls' Kate Jennings Grant Plus News of Prince and Ripley

Diva Talk   DIVA TALK: Chatting with Guys and Dolls' Kate Jennings Grant Plus News of Prince and Ripley
 
News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.
Kate Jennings Grant
Kate Jennings Grant

KATE JENNINGS GRANT
Although Kate Jennings Grant has appeared on Broadway in the Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning Proof and the late Wendy Wasserstein's An American Daughter, the current revival of Frank Loesser's Guys and Dolls at the newly refurbished Nederlander Theatre marks the singing actress' musical theatre debut on The Great White Way. And, Grant is making her Broadway musical debut in a starry cast, one that also boasts multiple Emmy nominee Olivier Platt (also a Tony nominee for Shining City) as Nathan Detroit, "Gilmore Girls" star Lauren Graham as Miss Adelaide and stage and screen star Craig Bierko (Tony nominee for The Music Man) as Sky Masterson, the love interest of Grant's Sarah Brown. Directed by Des McAnuff with choreography by Sergio Trujillo — the same pair responsible for the Tony-winning exploration of the lives and careers of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, Jersey BoysGuys and Dolls will officially open at the Nederlander March 1. Last week I had the pleasure of chatting with Grant, who can also be seen in the film version of the Broadway hit Frost/Nixon and who says her current Broadway role leaves her feeling like a kid in a candy store. My interview with the charming actress, who sprinkles her conversation with much laughter, follows.

Question: How did the role of Sarah Brown come about for you?
Kate Jennings Grant: I got a very sudden call saying, "I know that there's no notice of this audition, and it's very last minute, but can you come in tomorrow morning?" It was a 6 PM surprising call. It was probably the best thing that could have happened because I didn't have time to really panic or overly prepare and try to be perfect. I kind of stormed in the next morning and read some scenes. They said, "Do you happen to know any of the songs from the show?" which I fortunately did. They let me just have fun and fumble my way through things. Des [McAnuff] was incredibly supportive and enthusiastic, and then things happened very quickly.

Question: When was that audition?
Grant: That was, gosh, back in November.

Question: Did you have a callback after that?
Grant: I did have a callback, again, with almost no notice. [Laughs.] . . . [Music director] Ted Sperling couldn't be at my original audition, so they said, "Would you go and meet with Ted?" I had to be out of town the day that Ted was available, and they said, "Well, can you come in today at five o'clock?" I think it was noon, [and they said], "And can you sing, basically, the score of Guys and Dolls?" [Laughs.] I remember where I was standing when I got that phone call, and I thought, "Okay, here we go!" And again, no time to panic. You just had to frantically prepare and go in.

Question: What was the rehearsal process like? What was it like working with Des McAnuff?
Grant: Des is incredible because he's a director who really takes his time to give you support and tell you what's working and to walk across the room at the end of rehearsal and say, "That was a fantastic scene today" or "What you did there was great, go further in that direction." He never really lets you go off track, and he does it in a very positive way. He's got this incredible energy and passion for his job. He's somebody who really loves what he does and loves to come to work, and it's contagious. Question: How are previews going so far?
Grant: It's thrilling! I'm still shocked that I get to play this part in this show. I sort of walk into the theatre every day like a kid in a candy store. I'm incredibly grateful and incredibly honored, so that informs how I approach everything in the show. My parents came to see it last weekend, so that was thrilling, and the audience has been incredible. I think my favorite part of doing the show so far is the children that wait afterwards, from all around the country, who are playing Nathan Detroit and Sarah Brown in schools across America. It's such an American legacy this piece. There was one little five-year-old girl who was playing Big Jule. [Laughs.] The most adorable, angelic child, and she says, "I'm Big Jule!" It just cracked me up.

Question: This is your first Broadway musical?
Grant: Yes.

Kate Jennings Grant in Guys and Dolls.
photo by Carol Rosegg

Question: Have you done other musicals elsewhere?
Grant: I have. I was in a few of the musicals that were supposed to come to Broadway: Finian's Rainbow that Lonny Price directed with Brian Murray and Denis O'Hare. We went out of town with that, and it didn't come in. My first job out of school, actually, out of Juilliard — two weeks after I graduated — [I was] in Applause as Eve Harrington with Stefanie Powers in a slightly ill-fated production. So there was that, and then I did Summer of '42 Off-Broadway, which was wonderful. The last musical I did was Radiant Baby, so I hadn't really sung in public in four or five years when I got that 6 PM phone call! [Laughs.] As soon as I got the part, I called my old singing teacher [Candice Goetz] and said, "We have an emergency," and she put me into vocal boot camp, which has been wonderful and hopefully has paid off. Question: How do you find the demands of doing a musical versus doing a play eight times a week?
Grant: Oh, my gosh. It's just a different set of muscles. It's the most thrilling thing to stand onstage and sing and do a musical, and [it's] twice as exhausting as anything else I've ever done. It really is a marathon. I'm actually lying in bed as we're having this phone call right now! [Laughs.] I haven't quite made it [out of bed yet]. Everything else has to fall by the wayside while you get this on its feet.

Question: How would you describe Sarah Brown?
Grant: Sarah Brown is a woman of great faith and, unbeknownst to many others, great passion. It's fun to see how both of those things collide and erupt during the show when she runs into her destiny, Sky Masterson. A lot of people consider her uptight or a prude. There are these one-word descriptions of Sarah and, to me, she just seems like a wonderful, complicated woman who is trying to juggle work and love. [Laughs.] Actually, Sarah Brown was the first part I ever played when I was 17 years old. I used to play the piano for musicals in high school. A new teacher came in and said, "I really want you to audition for the musical this year." It was Sarah Brown in Guys and Dolls, so I have this sort of distant memory of playing this role. I wish I could remember what I did last time. [Laughs.] I ransacked my parents' house trying to find the video of that production. I have this wonderful nostalgia and love of this character because it's what made me fall in love with musicals, really, and set me on this path.

Question: Were you able to find the video?
Grant: No! There's a reward out for it! [Laughs.]

Question: Do you have a favorite moment in the show for Sarah?
Grant: I have to say the whole Havana sequence in this production, with the new orchestrations, is just smokin'. It's smokin' hot. And the fact that I get to dance is hilarious and thrilling and shocking, especially to people who know me. [Laughs.] So that's wonderful. And I think singing with Craig Bierko is a dream. It transports you to another world, the duets that we get to sing.

Kate Jennings Grant with Craig Bierko in Guys and Dolls.
photo by Carol Rosegg

Question: Are you enjoying working opposite Bierko?
Grant: He is literally the perfect leading man. I wish I could clone him and work with him for the rest of my life. He's unbelievably warm and charming and supportive and made me feel welcome in this cast and deserving of a place in this company. I can't say enough about him. Question: Is there any word yet on whether you will be doing a cast recording?
Grant: I haven't heard a peep yet. I would love to do it. Never have done one, so it would be another new thrill for Kate Jennings Grant. [Laughs.]

Question: You're also in the Frost/Nixon film. What was that experience like?
Grant: It was like a master class in making a movie, to quietly watch the big boys at work. Frank Langella was incredible to me. I got to watch him. I got to spend time with Michael Sheen, who I've known socially, and had the pleasure of watching how he works. And, of course, Oliver Platt was in it, so I knew him from spending time with him on the set. [Director] Ron Howard was great. He let us do a lot of ad-libbing. We were called to the set quite a bit over the period of a few months. And Frank Langella was in character as Richard Nixon at all times, so that was fascinating and a challenge and fun. His commitment to that part was incredible. I'm so excited to see what's happening for him now.

Question: How do you find the challenges or demands of working on screen versus onstage?
Grant: I'm definitely more comfortable and at home onstage. It's really my roots and where I began and where I trained. Again, I have that feeling of a kid in a candy store when I go to a film set, because it feels like both a privilege, and it feels like a class, really, to me. I get to learn as I go, which is nerve-wracking but really exciting. It just works a different part of my brain. I've had great luck and great fun with people that I've worked with. I like the variety of doing so many different things, playing so many different parts, working with different directors.

Question: Since we haven't spoken before, I just want to go back a bit. Where were you born and raised?
Grant: I was born in New Jersey but raised in Guilford, Connecticut.

Question: When did you start performing?
Grant: I always played the piano for musicals and was the accompanist and music director and started performing in Guys and Dolls my senior year in high school. Question: When do you think you knew it would be your career?
Grant: I think Guys and Dolls was when I secretly wanted it to be my career, but it took me another four years to get up the courage… When I graduated from Penn, a friend gave me some advice and said, "Why don't you just go for it and audition for the Juilliard School of Drama?" And I did and got in, and I figured, "Well, if I got in, I probably should give this a shot."

Question: What was that program like?
Grant: It was a four-year odyssey. [Laughs.] It was very intense. Actually it was a very similar schedule to opening a Broadway show. We had 12-16 hour days. Just working with 15 people for that many hours for four years, you develop a camaraderie, a friendship and a sense of teamwork that really sets you up for the rest of your life.

Question: What was your first Broadway show?
Grant: My first Broadway show was An American Daughter, taking over on Broadway, with Kate Burton. Dan Sullivan directed that.

Question: Do you remember your first night on a Broadway stage?
Grant: I do. I remember standing on the Cort stage. We were rehearsing at the put-in rehearsal or at the tech. The voice teacher from Juilliard was also the vocal coach for American Daughter, and I remember he brought me a very nice box of chocolates and wished me luck. Some friends stopped by backstage and dropped off mostly candy. [Laughs.] I remember a lot of candy that night that got me through!

Question: Going back to Guys and Dolls, what's it like singing the Frank Loesser score?
Grant: It's like stepping on a magical ski slope and not needing to use poles. You ride the score. It answers all your questions and does all the work for you and transports you emotionally to the next place in the story.

Question: How long are you scheduled to stay with the show?
Grant: A year from the first preview.

Question: Do you have any other projects in the works, or are you just focusing on this for now?
Grant: Well, I just shot the season finale of "Damages." I have a recurring role on that, so that's about to air. . . . And I did this movie, "The Rebound," with Catherine Zeta-Jones — a lovely, hilarious, fun part in that. We're waiting to hear when that will come out. Otherwise my life is 100 percent Guys and Dolls until further notice! [Laughs.]

[Guys and Dolls plays the Nederlander Theatre, 208 West 41st Street. For tickets call (212) 307-4100 or visit www.ticketmaster.com or www.guysanddollsbroadway.com.]

Faith Prince
photo by Aubrey Reuben

DIVA TIDBITS
Tony Award winner Faith Prince, most recently on Broadway in A Catered Affair, will return to The Great White Way in April in Disney's The Little Mermaid. Prince will begin performances as the evil Ursula, the role currently being played by Heidi Blickenstaff and originated by Sherie Rene Scott, April 7 at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. In a statement earlier this week, Thomas Schumacher, producer and president of Disney Theatrical Productions, said, "We are beyond thrilled that Faith Prince is joining the cast of The Little Mermaid. She is that glorious creature — a leading lady in the great Broadway tradition and we think a perfect match for the role of Ursula, one of Disney's most uproarious villains. We can't wait to see what happens when she dons Ursula's trademark wig and tentacles." For more information visit Walt Disney Theatricals at www.disneyonbroadway.com. Cabaret and theatre veteran Julie Wilson will debut her brand-new cabaret act, A Tribute to Billie Holiday, next month at the Metropolitan Room. Show times at the Manhattan venue are March 4-7 and March 11-14 at 7:30 PM. Cabaretgoers can expect to hear Wilson's renditions of "The Very Thought of You," "God Bless the Child," "Body and Soul," "Good Morning, Heartache," "Them There Eyes," "Don't Explain," "Ain't Nobody's Business If I Do" and "My Old Flame." The evenings, according to press notes, will also feature "a few personal reflections from a legend in her own right whose trademark gardenia has always been worn as an homage to Billie, her friend and favorite singer." The Metropolitan Room is located in Manhattan at 34 West 22nd Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenue. There is a $25 cover charge and a two-drink minimum. For reservations call (212) 206-0440. For more information visit www.metropolitanroom.com.

Misty Cotton, who played the role of Missy in the Laguna Playhouse production of The Marvelous Wonderettes, will step into that role in the Off-Broadway production of the pop musical comedy beginning March 6. Cotton succeeds original Wonderettes cast member Farah Alvin, who will play her final performance at the Westside Theatre March 1. Cotton will join a cast that includes Beth Malone, Bets Malone and Victoria Matlock. The Westside Theatre is located in Manhattan at 407 West 43rd Street. Tickets, priced $75, are available by visiting www.telecharge.com or calling (212) 239-6200. For more information visit www.marvelouswonderettes.com.

Casting has been announced for the fifth edition of Flopz n' Cutz, which features songs from flop shows and cut songs from others. Jamie McGonnigal will produce the March 15 evening at Joe's Pub, which, press notes state, aims to "acquaint theatre enthusiasts with shows and songs that, while not quite successful in their original incarnations, still have merits that can be showcased in a concert setting." Show time is 9:30 PM. Currently scheduled to perform are Loni Ackerman, Kathy Deitch, Santino Fontana, Ann Harada, Tyler Hanes, Carly Jibson, Leigh Ann Larkin, Ashley Fox Linton, Alli Mauzey, Liz McCartney, Kerry O’Malley, Kate Shindle, Christopher Sieber and Jake Wilson. McGonnigal will also direct the evening with musical direction by Michael Lavine. Joe's Pub is located within the Public Theater at 425 Lafayette Street. For tickets, priced $20, visit www.joespub.com or call (212) 967-7555.

Complete casting has been announced for the upcoming Broadway production of Rock of Ages, which will begin previews at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre March 17. Following an acclaimed run at Off-Broadway's New World Stages, the eighties-scored musical will officially open on Broadway April 7. The cast will be headed by "American Idol" finalist Constantine Maroulis (The Wedding Singer), who will reprise the role of Drew that he performed Off-Broadway. He will be joined for the Broadway run by Amy Spanger (The Wedding Singer; Kiss Me, Kate) as Sherrie and James Carpinello (Saturday Night Fever, VH1's "So NoTORIous") as Stacee Jaxx. The company will also feature Adam Dannheisser (The Coast of Utopia, Twelfth Night), Mitchell Jarvis (Fiddler on the Roof), Michele Mais (Roza), Lauren Molina (Sweeney Todd), Paul Schoeffler (Sweet Charity, Nine), Wesley Taylor (See Rock City), Ericka Hunter (Flower Drum Song, 42nd Street), Jeremy Jordan (Little Dog Laughed tour), Michael Minarik (Les Miserables), Angel Reed (Saturday Night Fever tour), Bahiyah Sayyed-Gaines (Pal Joey, The Color Purple), Katherine Tokarz (White Christmas, A Chorus Line), Andre Ward (Xanadu, The Producers), Savannah Wise (Les Miserables), Tad Wilson (The Full Monty) and Jeremy Woodard (Glory Days). The Brooks Atkinson Theatre is located in Manhattan at 256 West 47th Street. For tickets call (212) 307-4100 or visit www.ticketmaster.com.

Alice Ripley in Next to Normal.
photo by Joan Marcus

And, finally, I was thrilled to report earlier this week that Next to Normal, the acclaimed new musical seen Off-Broadway at Second Stage and more recently at Arena Stage, will arrive on Broadway March 27 at the Longacre Theatre. Michael Grief, who directed both the Off-Broadway and Arena Stage productions, will direct on Broadway as well. The Broadway production will also boast the entire Arena Stage cast: Side Show Tony nominee Alice Ripley (this year's Best Actress in a Musical Tony race just got much more interesting!), J. Robert Spencer, Aaron Tveit, Jennifer Damiano, Adam Chanler-Berat and Louis Hobson. The producers also announced that they will close the balcony of the Longacre to create a more intimate feel. Tickets, priced $25-$115, can be purchased by calling (212) 239-6200 or by visiting www.Telecharge.com. The box office will open March 2. Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.

PHOTO OP: Seth Rudetsky, Betty Buckley and director Richard Jay-Alexander at Feinstein's at Loews Regency, where <i>Broadway By Request</i> is playing through March 7..
PHOTO OP: Seth Rudetsky, Betty Buckley and director Richard Jay-Alexander at Feinstein's at Loews Regency, where Broadway By Request is playing through March 7..
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