DIVA TALK: Chatting with The Ritz/In the Heights' Andrea Burns Plus News of Testa and Marcovicci

DIVA TALK: Chatting with The Ritz/In the Heights' Andrea Burns Plus News of Testa and Marcovicci News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.

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ANDRÉA BURNS
It's a busy time for singing actress Andrea Burns, who will reprise her role as the sassy hairdresser Daniela in the upcoming Broadway mounting of In the Heights, the acclaimed Off-Broadway musical that will begin previews at the Richard Rodgers Theatre Feb. 14, 2008. Not only has the Broadway belter just released her wonderful debut solo recording, "A Deeper Shade of Red" on the PS Classics label, but she is also currently the standby for Rosie Perez in the Roundabout Theatre Company's revival of The Ritz at Studio 54. Seth Rudetsky, who co-stars in The Ritz, arranged the purposefully tacky medley of show tunes that Googie Gomez (Perez/Burns) sings during the Act One finale of the Terrence McNally farce. Rudetsky told me earlier this week that "it's so fun to do understudy rehearsal with Andrea because she is so hilarious as Googie Gomez. She makes the medley at the end of the first act her own with amazing quarter-tone-flat singing and an interpolated Eydie Gormé high note at the end that's brilliant." On Nov. 8 I had the pleasure of chatting with Burns, whose New York theatre credits also include Songs for a New World and Broadway's The Full Monty and Beauty and the Beast. The charming actress spoke about her stage work, her new CD and motherhood; that interview follows.

Andréa Burns

Question: Before we get to the CD, let's talk about The Ritz. How did the standby gig come about?
Andrea Burns: I knew that we were going to have a little time off before In the Heights [moved to Broadway]. I'm actually a fan of the play. I had done one of the monologues from The Ritz in college. A friend of mine had given it to me and said, "You know, you're Latin, and I think this would be a really funny audition monologue for you." I used to do it a lot, so I always just really liked it. I had no idea that the show would ever be revived and when that happened, I knew it was coming with Rosie [Perez], but I said, "Gee, I would just love to be a part of it." So I went in and read the role for [director] Joe Mantello, and I got it right there, which was really exciting. Question: Is this the first time you've ever been a standby?
Burns: Yes.

Question: What's the rehearsal process like for a standby in a play?
Burns: It is so bizarre. [Laughs.] You sit in the audience or sit in rehearsal and watch the whole time. It's just so unusual to me. In musicals swings are often dancing to the side and rehearsing with the rest of the company. But in this particular situation, I pretty much sat and watched the entire time.

Question: Once the show starts, do you have rehearsals of your own?
Burns: Understudy rehearsals happened the night after opening . . . . There was one point in the very beginning where Rosie was very exhausted from the preview process and wasn't sure if she was going to be able to go on. They were getting me costumes and emergency wigs. I hadn't set foot on the stage at all. Question: Especially that stage, which is so intricate…
Burns: It was pretty nerve-racking. I will say I was grateful I did not have to go on that first preview week because that would have been a test.

Question: I love the musical number that Seth [Rudetsky] has put together. Have you gotten to go through that?
Burns: Absolutely. It is utter genius, isn't it? He's so outrageous. Seth and [choreographer] Chris Gattelli have done such an amazing job staging it. I get to do that in understudy rehearsal once a week, every Thursday. It is a joy. It's like a free pass to do everything you're never supposed to do. There is an unbelievable freedom in that.

Question: Would you like the chance to go on?
Burns: I would absolutely love the chance. Are you kidding? [Laughs.] But [Rosie] is a very strong lady — I'm not sure that that's going to happen, but if it does, I'll be ready.

Andréa Burns' new CD, "A Deeper Shade of Red"

Question: Now getting to the CD: When did PS Classics first approach you about making a recording?
Burns: I had worked on a couple of recordings with PS Classics, so I had a relationship with [producers] Tommy Krasker and Philip Chaffin. They've always been extremely supportive of me, so I invited them to my [cabaret act]. I was doing a show at the Metropolitan Room last year. It was the first time I had ever put an act together. I just wanted to see what that would be like, and I had a lot of stuff that I had wanted to do. They came to the show and were so supportive, and then afterwards they said, "We really feel like you have something to say, and we really like that. Would you like to do your album with us?" And I said, "Are you kidding? I'd be thrilled." So, we started to do work on that in October of last year, and then Tommy Krasker had some health issues, [and] he had to sort of lay low for awhile. I went into rehearsals for In the Heights, which [had] an incredibly demanding previews process. I was kind of in no shape with the five-show weekends to be recording on my days off. So I said, "Let's just put the whole thing on hold for awhile." This summer, when In the Heights was wrapping up and Tommy was doing much better, he called and said, "What do you say we finish it up on this break before In the Heights moves to Broadway? Let's do it, and see if we can get it out by November." So, we did it. It was actually pretty quick. We did half of it last year, and then half of it this year. Question: You mentioned doing your first cabaret evening. What was that like for you — not performing in character but performing as yourself?
Burns: I find that I really enjoy it. I'm the kind of person that tells a lot of stories in my living room and at dinner parties. [Laughs.] I'm a talker, so I feel really at ease in that environment. It's a joy to just be hanging out onstage. It's like standup with songs, which is just so much fun, especially when you have so many friends in the room, so many people you shared a history with. I was so lucky — so many people came out last year, and then [also recently] at Joe's Pub we were [also] sold out. It was just a joyous event. It's just fun. To me, it's very low-key. I feel almost like in one way the pressure is on more because it is just you, but in some ways the pressure's not on at all because you're not required to honor the story [or] the vision of the director. It's really just you having a great time. My husband, Peter Flynn, who is the director, makes it just an effortless, really fun [experience]. He knows how to put together a show where I can just be myself, and yet it's so well structured that people feel like they've seen a show.

Question: How did you go about choosing songs for the recording?
Burns: I basically thought of everything that I really love or that has moved me in my life. I found that I had this strange love of two different things: musical theatre and 1970's singer-songwriters — "chick singers" of the seventies. I think that what they have in common is story songs. There's a lot of storytelling, and I really enjoy that. There's a song on the album called "Through the Eyes of Grace" that was written by Melissa Manchester. It's on her greatest hits album, and a lot of people have asked me, "What show is that from?" It just tells a very specific story in a way that a lot of pop music doesn't really do anymore. . . . It's more of a tradition in country songs, but that particular music hasn't been what really moved me. I was really more into the pop and, particularly, the seventies kind of pop.

Question: Tell me about the title of the CD.
Burns: Well, there is a lyric in this Melissa Manchester song, "Women don't get older, just a deeper shade of red." . . . I've done a lot of cast recordings, but people mostly know me from the original cast recording of Songs for a New World. That was something that was such an important show in my life, especially because I was just right at the gate. I was about 22 years old when I did it. It was the first thing I did in New York that sort of put me on the map, and I was at such a time in my life and just starting out. . . . I thought for a long time about doing a solo album, and it's like 11 years later. Now I'm married, I have a child, and I thought, "My gosh, this record is not going to be this exact person from Songs for a New World." There are many other layers now, and I just loved that image about being a deeper shade of red.

Question: Did you enjoy the recording process?
Burns: I love it. I mean, you're in a room with the most talented people. You're just making music, and you get paid! [Laughs.] There's nothing better.

Question: How does it feel that the CD is finally out?
Burns: It feels amazing and surreal. It's a great relief because it's finished, and at the same time I feel like the way I felt after the birth of my son. "My gosh, this thing is actually out in the world. It happened and it has its own life, and I have to let it go and let it be what it is." It's exciting and surreal. I got a letter from somebody who had bought an advance copy, who lives in Duluth. [Laughs.] They wrote this lovely letter back, and I just thought, "I can't even believe this. I feel like we were just here, listening to it in my house, deciding, 'Is this gonna be good enough? Is this the order we want?'" It just felt like I blinked, and now it's out there.

Question: It's probably hard to pick, but do you have a favorite track or one that means the most to you?
Burns: I think they all represent such different parts of me. It's really hard for me to pick to be honest. They're all sort of tributes to different parts of my life. One thing that I am proud of and that I love is that there are three songs by three New York composers. John Bucchino's "Love Quiz" is on here, Steve Marzullo's gorgeous song "Some Days," and Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote In the Heights, has a song on there called "BTW, Write Back," which is terrific and hilarious. That was really important to me, too. I wanted to make sure that all of these new writers that are here that don't often get a forum [were represented]… Luckily, these three guys are doing pretty well, but it's so hard to get a show produced these days, to get people to hear your music, that I was really happy to have some original stuff on there, too.

Andréa Burns in the Off-Broadway production of In the Heights
photo by Joan Marcus

Question: You mentioned In the Heights before. Will you be part of the Broadway company?
Burns: Yes, I will. Question: What was the experience like Off-Broadway?
Burns: Fantastic. I've been lucky enough to have a career where I have pretty much a fantastic experience with every show, but every once in awhile there's the one that you can never forget. I had that experience with Songs for a New World. I'm still extremely close with everybody who was part of that process. They are like a family to me, and this is the way I feel about In the Heights. We all became incredibly close, some of us from previous workshops right through the Off-Broadway run. I think we're all extremely proud, not only to be a part of theatre that we all just think is excellent and powerful, but we're all Latins in the cast. It's the first time I've ever been part of anything that is a show about Latins written by Latins. It's a very authentic telling of the experience, and when we get together we really celebrate our heritage. It's so fun to be in a rehearsal room and be working on stuff, and someone will say, "I can't believe you did that — you reminded me of my aunt when you did that!" or, "Oh, that's just like my grandmother," when the grandmother [character] is doing her stuff. It's a very deeply connected group, and it's just been a joy.

Question: Do you know when you start rehearsals for [the Broadway production]?
Burns: Yes, Jan. 14.

Andréa Burns

Question: Going back a bit, where were you born and raised.
Burns: Miami, Florida. Question: When did you start performing?
Burns: I was in fourth grade and did a production of Really Rosie, [laughs] which begins the whole seventies connection because Carole King [wrote the score]. So right there is where the two things sort of got tied together. Question: Who were the singers or performers growing up that you particularly admired?
Burns: In both realms, I loved Carole King [and] Joni Mitchell, but also I was a huge Broadway fan from a very young age. Liz Callaway was a huge influence. Of course, I always loved Bernadette Peters. Who doesn't? And, later, when I came to New York, I was really taken by Nancy LaMott. I just thought she had an incredible way with a lyric and finding her own truth in a song. I just always was a huge admirer of hers as well.

Question: When did you know that [performing] would be your career?
Burns: I knew at a very young age. I was one of those kids. It's like the cool thing now to say, "I wasn't even doing theatre, and then suddenly I found myself on Broadway!" [Laughs.] I am so not that kid! My dad always loved movie musicals and was showing them to me at a very young age. As soon as I found out I could sing, which was early, I said, "I really just want to do this." I wasn't professional or anything like that until I went away to college at the Boston Conservatory and then promptly left. I had transferred to go to NYU, really just because I wanted to be in New York. I couldn't get here fast enough. And while I was at NYU, on a lark I went to an audition for the European company of West Side Story, really just thinking to be a Shark dancer and understudy the role of Maria. I thought, "This would just be a fun audition to go to." I did West Side Story in high school, and I just wanted to be in on a real New York audition. And before I knew it, the phone rang and I had gotten that job. It was just an amazing thing. I remember thinking, "I don't know if I should leave school," and I remember turning on the television and the balcony scene from West Side Story was on because Leonard Bernstein had died that weekend. I said, "Oh my God, I don't know. It's a sign. I'm going!" So I went, and I have not looked back.

Question: What year was that?
Burns: That was 1990.

Question: How has it been combining being a mom with working in this business?
Burns: It's hard, I won't lie to you. [Laughs.] It's not easy, but it's the same kind of thing as being in the theatre. You do it because you love it. You're a parent because you love it, and you do the theatre because you love it, and you take all the hard things that come along with it as part of the whole package. There's definitely been times when I've shown up to rehearsals on no sleep or no voice or with pureed vegetable in my hair! The tradeoff is my son Hudson, who is going to be four in December, has this incredible life. He's surrounded by all these adults who sing and tell stories. He's met so many wonderful people. It's just an amazing thing. I think it is hard, but I wouldn't have it any other way. I wouldn't trade one for the other, ever.

Question: And what does he think of his mom's singing and performing?
Burns: I don't think he thinks there's anyone who doesn't sing and perform. [Laughs.] Everybody in his life has an amazing voice. Julia Murney was over here for dinner the other day. Sometimes when I want to introduce him to someone who's coming over who he hasn't met before — because he loves music and appreciates singing so much — I'll say, "Wait, I'm gonna play you a recording of them singing." And then he gets really excited when they walk in the room. So by the time Julia was sitting at our dinner table, he was literally singing "Raise the Roof." [Laughs.]

(The Ritz plays Studio 54, 254 West 54th Streets; for tickets, visit www.roundabouttheatre.org or call (212) 719-1300. To purchase "A Deeper Shade of Red," visit www.psclassics.com.)

DIVA TIDBITS
Liz Callaway will host Bound for Broadway VIII, part of the Kaufman Center's Broadway Close Up series. The concert, which offers a sneak peek at five Broadway-bound musicals, will be held at The TimesCenter Dec. 3 at 8 PM; Sean Hartley directs. Those scheduled to lend their voices to the evening include Mary Testa, Chip Zien, Kelli O'Hara, Jan Maxwell, Lisa Howard, Erin Dilly, Colin Hanlon, Sarah Stiles, Tracey Gilbert, Laura Daniel and Carmel Dean. The featured shows will include Ever After (music by Zina Goldrich, lyrics by Marcy Heisler); Vanities (book by Jack Heifner, music and lyrics by David Kirshenbaum); The Tragic and Horrible Life of the Singing Nun (music and lyrics by Andy Monroe; book and additional lyrics by Blair Fell); The Road to Qatar! (music by David Krane, book and lyrics by Stephen Cole); and Next Thing You Know (music by Joshua Salzman, lyrics by Ryan Cunningham). The TimesCenter is located within the New York Times building at 242 West 41st Street, between Seventh and Eighth Avenues. For tickets call (212) 501-3330 or visit www.merkinconcerthall.org.

When Gay Marshall, who was recently seen in the York Theatre Company's production of The Baker's Wife, returns to the Zipper Factory, she will do so with an all-new concert. Marshall, the acclaimed singing actress who starred at the Zipper in the revival of Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, has titled her new show Are You Havin' Any Fun? Marshall told me earlier this week that she will be singing that tune as well as "Calling You" (from the film "Bagdad Café"), "Sons Of" and "The Dove" (from Jacques Brel), "La Foule" and "Milord" (Piaf) plus Tom Lehrer's "A Christmas Carol," David Friedman's "My Simple Christmas Wish," "Nobody Knows You," "There But for Fortune" and A Chorus Line's "What I Did for Love." "Plus, I'm doing a new monologue of the queen of the Jet Set and my French and New York sales ladies," Marshall said. Marshall will play the Zipper Nov. 27, Dec. 4, 11 and 18. Show time each night is 7:30 PM. She will be backed by Mark Hartman on piano, Steve Gilewski on bass and Michael Croiter on drums. The Zipper Factory is located in Manhattan at 336 West 37th Street. For tickets, priced $25 (in advance) and $30 (at the door), call (212) 352-3101 or visit www.thezipperfactory.com.

Twenty-one Rodgers and Hart songs are featured on "Andrea Marcovicci Sings Rodgers & Hart," the latest solo recording from the acclaimed cabaret singer. The single CD, which features the rarely heard "What's the Use," is currently available for sale by visiting cdbaby.com and is also for sale nightly at the Algonquin's Oak Room, where Marcovicci is performing the songs of Rodgers and Hart through Jan. 12, 2008. "Andrea Marcovicci Sings Rodgers & Hart" (Andreasong label) features arrangements by musical director/pianist Shelly Markham. Marcovicci is also backed by Kevin Axt on bass. Song titles include such R&H standards as "My Funny Valentine," "Thou Swell" and "My Heart Stood Still" as well as rarities like "Jupiter Forbid," "If I Were You" and "Can't You Do a Friend a Favor?" The recording was produced by Markham and Lesley Alexander.

Additional casting has been announced for the City Center Encores! production of No, No, Nanette, which will be presented at the famed Manhattan venue May 8-12, 2008. Directed by former Encores! artistic director Walter Bobbie, Nanette will feature the previously announced Rosie O'Donnell as Pauline and Tony winner Beth Leavel as Lucille Early. Joining the duo onstage will be Sandy Duncan as Sue Smith, Fred Willard as Jimmy Smith, Shonn Wiley as Tom and Mara Davi as Nanette. Randy Skinner will choreograph the production with musical direction by Rob Fisher. This mounting of Nanette will utilize the 1971 version of the musical. That production featured a book adapted by Burt Shevelove with the original Vincent Youmans (music) and Irving Caesar and Otto Harbach (lyrics) score. The show features such tunes as "Tea for Two" and "I Want to Be Happy." Show times are May 8 at 8 PM, May 9 at 8 PM, May 10 at 2 and 8 PM, May 11 at 6:30 PM and a gala performance May 12 at 7 PM. City Center is located in Manhattan at West 55th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues. Tickets are available by calling (212) 581-1212 or by visiting www.nycitycenter.org.

Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.

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