"So much being patient.
So much blind acceptance. . .
So much holding breath and keeping fingers crossed."
"Well, that's been the last 20 years," says Christine Andreas, when citing the Adam Guettel lyric from The Light in the Piazza, the powerfully moving, award-winning musical that she will bring to cities across the country during the next year. Andreas is specially suited for the role of a mother trying to protect her child while on vacation in Italy, for she, like Piazza's Margaret Johnson, is the parent of a developmentally delayed child.
In fact, during a work session while auditioning for the Guettel-Craig Lucas musical, Andreas thought, "'Are they peeking in on my life?' Because it so does embody the issues of somebody parenting a kid who is not in the loop of other kids." Andreas is mom to 19-year-old Mac, who just over a month ago began a new life in a group home. "Mac started to say to me at 17, 'I can do this. I can do that. I want to do this,'" explains the ever-youthful singing actress, "and he was indicating that he really wanted to move on and be independent. . . . And this group home opened up, and it's 15 minutes from my house, and it was perfect. Wonderful guys in the house, really cool guys with similar issues, and he's really happy. And," she adds with a laugh, "Now he'll go, 'Hi, Mom. Bye!'"
With Mac's independence, Andreas is able to tour, something the acclaimed performer has not done since the 1991 tour of My Fair Lady. "Mac was about four [at that time], and he hated it! I could no longer tour because [raising him] was the bigger job. . . [Then] this job came about. It's not a new chapter, it's a new book in my life, our lives. And it's starting with Light in the Piazza." Andreas is currently in the midst of rehearsals with director Bartlett Sher, who was nominated for a Tony Award for his direction of the Lincoln Center Piazza and who Andreas says knows "every dot and comma [about the show]. . . [The show's creators] know every second, every nuance, every breath of what should be there. . . We started to run through it yesterday, and when you run through it and the director has told you 5,000 nuances in one scene, they all begin to make sense. It's truthful writing, meaning lyric and book, so you very happily link all the dots, connect all the dots. They've given you all the dots — it's just there's a million dots! You go on overload, and then the only way to combat overload is just to open your arms and go, 'I surrender.' I've never had a work experience like this, and I'm very grateful for it.'"
Asked whether she is being allowed to develop her own Margaret — one that differs from the version created by Victoria Clark, who originated the role to Tony-winning effect — Andreas says, "Absolutely, but you know what, at the moment, they know more than me. I know the depths of having a special kid, and they're very respectful of that. Bartlett said to me during our work session, 'Well, that's really different what you did. But you know what, you've been there. You've lived it. You just do what you got to do, and if it goes too far left or right, I'll rein it in, but you go where you got to go."
Sher has also encouraged Andreas to speak with Clark about the role, but Andreas says she wants to wait a while until she's "a little more in the rhythm of [doing the show]. Then I can have a more specific discussion." She also adds, "Vicki's worked so hard, I don't want to bother her now. I don't want to make her come back here. Let her go have a vacation in Tahiti, and then I'll talk to her!"
Margaret Johnson, Andreas believes, is one of the more complex women created for a Broadway musical in recent history, one who is waking up to painful truths about her life. "When you have a special kid — maybe when you have any kid," Andreas says, "you do live in sort of a duality. You're perceiving life for your own need, but you're really perceiving life a lot for the need of your child, and that's appropriate, but it can become like two separate lives. And, eventually, it can become more about your kid than about you. And when it becomes more about your kid than about you, suddenly the husband's taken a back seat, and all of your creativity — which everybody is entitled to — is taking a back seat. It's very painful when you kill your expression. Your expression can be anything — it can be baking — but if you kill your passion in the name of your child, you're heading down a bad road. You really are because you're killing your individuality. . . . If you're raised in any kind of religion, sacrifice is a great thing, but it doesn't work because you feel empty. [Margaret is] waking up to the emptiness of her life. That's a rough place to go, and [the creators have written] it so eloquently."
In fact, it's a role that Andreas believes can affect an audience greatly. "Bartlett actually said to me, 'If you really internalize this part and deliver it — across America basically — you will send out a message.' . . The truth is that it touches people on a very deep level. You're looking at a woman who's suddenly waking up. She realizes her life doesn't work. On the outside, it's a totally successful life, but on the inside so many things have happened. She's at a real division with her husband. She's really not awake to herself, her own feelings. . . . How many people out there could use a jolt? . . . It's a role that can really send a shockwave."
Just how draining is the role for Andreas, whose life echoes the story in so many ways? "I don't know about the role yet," she says, "just about the work process so far. It's as if you totally brushed through your emotional life . . . [It's an] emotional detox, it's totally draining, but you revive because it's cleansing." She is also enjoying exploring Margaret's sense of humor and irony, joking that the character is "the most straitjacketed optimist I've ever met. She's totally put herself in a straitjacket because she can't face her guilt. And yet, she goes to the next day [saying], 'We're going to do this [tomorrow], and we're going to have fun.' And you know what, that is what a special mom does. You look at your problem, and you go, 'Yes, but tomorrow: Tomorrow we'll learn the number 7 and then will go to 8 and . . . ' You just think that way because there's always a possibility [of hope] because you don't know how the mind works."
It was in the early eighties when Andreas, who is blessed with a lush, soaring soprano, received Tony nominations for her performances in Oklahoma! (1980) and On Your Toes (1983), two productions with music by Richard Rodgers. And, now, more than two decades later she is starring in a show featuring music by Rodgers' grandson, the aforementioned Adam Guettel, who Andreas says saw her perform years ago in On Your Toes. "He's never forgotten me since then. . . and he was excited that I was voicing his score. So that's really sweet." Like his grandfather, Andreas says Guettel is a "great craftsman, yet Adam has assimilated a lot more of the modern style. Adam also is a romantic in his writing . . . but he [has] his own voice. Adam really writes to the rhythm of your thinking, the rhythm of your thoughts. And if the thoughts are true, and you put enough of them in a line, something happens and people open up. It kind of hits you right in your solar plexus, in your heart, and people in the company have opened up and had emotional catharses."
Andreas, it should be noted, is also mom to stepdaughter Emilie, who is the same age as her own son Mac. She and husband-composer Martin Silvestri began dating when both their children were four. "In [Emilie's mind] no family was complete without a Mac. That's how she was raised. She's very beautiful about it, always was and still is. Right now, now she's working on a farm in Italy. She's about to go to George Washington University. There's my boy, who can barely write much more than his name, and there's Emilie going to George Washington University to study Japanese."
Asked whether the disparity between her two children can be difficult, Andreas says, "You know what you do, you learn to redefine what perfect is, what success is. You redefine every notion of what it is to be buoyant in life. . . . Margaret's great thing is she still has that sense of beauty, she's able to see beauty in the world. And I have that big time, and I relate to that. Even when it's rough, you can still go to Florence and look at the light. And that is Margaret's saving grace."
[The national tour of The Light in the Piazza, starring Christine Andreas, will begin Aug. 1 at the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco.]
Tony Award winner Chita Rivera, who was again Tony-nominated this past season for her work in Chita Rivera: The Dancer's Life, will head Down Under next month. The legendary performer will play her first performances in Australia in August: From Aug. 12-19, the actress-singer-dancer will perform at the Sydney Opera House's intimate The Studio, and she'll then head to Melbourne's Sofitel Supper Club for performances Aug. 26-29. Concertgoers can expect to hear such tunes as "America," "All That Jazz," "Big Spender," "Kiss of the Spider Woman," "Carousel," "Our Love Is Here to Stay" and "Every Street's a Boulevard." Rivera will be accompanied on piano by musical director David Krane. Tickets for Rivera's Sydney engagement are available by calling 011 61 2 9250 7777 or by visiting www.sydneyoperahouse.com. Those who wish to see Rivera in Melbourne should call 011 61 3 9653 7744 or visit www.sofitelmelbourne.com.au. DRG Records is scheduled to release "Liza Minnelli: The Complete Capitol Collection" Aug. 8. The two-CD set contains all the tracks from three vintage Minnelli recordings: "Liza! Liza!," "It Amazes Me" and "There Is a Time" as well as the performer's singles for the Capitol label. The 55-track recording will include Minnelli's early versions of "Maybe This Time," "A Quiet Thing" and "Say Liza," among others. Liner notes detailing Minnelli's entire award-winning career will also be included. For more information visit www.drgrecords.com.
Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This week's column is dedicated to the memory of Claire Kaabe (1929-2006), who passed away earlier this week following a long illness. Claire was my nursery school teacher, my Hebrew teacher and a remarkably kind and generous friend to me and my family. She loved musical theatre as much as anyone, and we enjoyed countless theatrical outings together, including the first time — as a high school student — that I met Bernadette Peters after a performance of Song & Dance. Claire, as a rabbi remarked at her funeral, "lived to give," and the world is a lesser place for her absence.