Christiane Noll, the silky-voiced soprano who was Tony-nominated for her work as Mother in the short-lived, but critically acclaimed revival of Ragtime, is currently in previews for the new musical Kid Victory, which is making its world premiere at Virginia’s Signature Theatre. A new musical from Tony winner John Kander (Chicago, Cabaret) and playwright Greg Pierce (Slowgirl), the production, which is directed by Liesl Tommy, casts Noll as Eileen, the mother of 17-year-old Luke, who returns home after vanishing a year earlier. Profoundly changed, Luke (Jake Winn) and his parents struggle to adjust to life following his return.
“After we finished our musical The Landing, John and I started thinking about what we wanted to write next,” lyricist and book writer Pierce recently stated. “We got interested in the stories of missing people. We were especially intrigued by the question of what happens when someone who's been missing comes back home. With that in mind, we developed the character of Luke. We put him in a small town in Kansas and built a world around him. His story started to twist and turn, and before long there was music and words to go with it.”
During rehearsals, I posed a set of questions to singing actress Noll, whose Broadway credits also include Jekyll and Hyde and It Ain't Nothin' But the Blues as well as the Signature stagings of Ace and The Witches of Eastwick. Her answers, via email, follow.
Question: How did this role come about for you?
Christiane Noll: I auditioned. I specifically remember how warm and engaged the director, Liesl Tommy, was. To be honest, that feeling was my main memory of this audition experience. Always nice to be in a friendly room!
Question: How would you describe Eileen?
Christiane Noll: She is a mother, devoted to her family, her friends and her church. She is fiercely protective of her son and determined to fix what may indeed be an unfixable situation. The biggest challenge and the biggest reward of portraying Eileen has been been watching my opinions of her change. When I first read the script, it was very difficult not to judge her and her actions, but thankfully, with Liesl and John Kander and Greg Pierce’s feedback, we have all gained new insights and a deeper understanding of this flawed but ultimately human individual.
Question: Do you have a favorite moment in the show for her?
Christiane Noll: There is a moment where Eileen finally connects to her son in a way she has been unable to up to that point. I sing “There Was a Boy,” remembering my son at a simpler time and hoping that a more tender approach will assuage some of his anxiety and bring him back to me.
Question: Tell me about the score. What songs do you get to sing?
Christiane Noll: John Kander is a wonder. This show explores difficult themes. How do you find levity in a story about a teenage boy who has been imprisoned for a year? And, yet, he has created musical moments that capture both the humor and love and the intense pain and terror of this scenario. There are some beautiful melodies that I wake up singing, haunting and eerie moments that I wake up singing. Ha! Along with the beautifully thoughtful “There Was a Boy,” I also sing the fervent “A Single Tear” as well as a fierce duet with the brilliant Sarah Litzsinger entitled “The Last Thing He Needs.” You can imagine there are a bunch of loud and high notes in that one!
Question: Since you are a mom and you're playing a mom, does this story of a missing child have a special resonance for you?
Christiane Noll: When we read about a family who has suffered through this kind of tragedy, we all have an idea of how we think that family should behave. And, yet, I have absolutely no idea how I would personally feel or how I would survive. It’s a devastating notion that I honestly try not to think about. In that way, I think Eileen and I may be more alike than I had first believed.
Question: Tell me about working with director Liesl Tommy.
Christiane Noll: I loved seeing the press photos of Liesl Tommy's modern day Les Miz. I was so excited to get into the room with her. She is warm and thoughtful and an actor’s dream. I have watched her be free and forgiving, allowing the actors to try different things every time they do a scene as well as firm and specific, really focusing in with a more careful hand. It is a lovely balance and a joyful process to be a part of. We did a lot of table work as a group that allowed for further layering when we got on our feet. Greg and John have written such specifically complicated characters, and she helped everyone blossom. It’s been compelling to watch and to be a part of this particularly courageous and gifted company.
Question: What do you think the message of Kid Victory is?
Christiane Noll: Hmm. You can never go back to before? Ha! Sorry, couldn’t help myself. I can’t wait to discover what the audience walks away with.
Question: Are there plans for a New York life for Kid Victory?
Christiane Noll: Well, this is a joint production with The Vineyard, so I can only imagine that there may be a NY opportunity down the road if warranted. But for the moment we are thrilled to be at The Signature in Arlington, VA.
Question: What are some of the challenges and rewards of combining a career in the theatre with motherhood?
Christiane Noll: How much time have you got? Daily, I am grateful for my daughter and my husband! My heart has opened in ways I was never prepared for or expecting. Any good work that I do is their fault! However, there isn’t a day when I haven’t told myself that two actors having a child is an insane idea, and what do we think we are doing? Generally, folks are compassionate and seem to appreciate how much my family means to me, but ultimately I’m an annoyingly boring mom who can’t stop talking about her kid (she is amazing by the way!) and is always looking for folks to help her out. There is always juggling of schedules involved at our house. Whose turn is it to be the stay-at-home parent? Which jobs can we take? When is an artistic endeavor more important than a paycheck? How to stay at rehearsal but still sprint to the early train to get home in time to read to her and put her to bed? How to wake up at 6:30 AM to get her off to school when on a show schedule?
But she is growing up surrounded by extraordinary people who are passionate about what they do. She has seen lots of shows and had the privilege of learning the backstage secrets of most of them. The wonder and magic of the theatre is not lost on her, but she is more interested in debunking the mystery! I spend a fair share of time traveling. Mommy doesn’t like being away from her more than she hates me being gone, but she has been incredibly resilient and understanding for the most part. I believe that whatever she chooses for her life, she will attack with conviction and commitment and joy and passion! At least I hope so!
Question: Do you have a favorite John Kander musical?
Christiane Noll: When you can’t pick just one — And the World Goes Round! Getting to perform the recent studio recording was a real thrill. It’s wild that David Loud worked on that show originally and he is still an integral part of John Kander’s creative process, currently working on Kid Victory and The Visit. He and John make a great team. A brilliant musical director — which is a lost art by the way. Most aren’t given the time to help craft and guide the performances. They have to quickly plunk out notes and then give the actors back to the director. It’s been a real treat to collaborate with David.
Question: What are your dream musical theatre roles and why?
Christiane Noll: This piece and how it deals with post-traumatic stress has gotten me thinking about that amazing piece Wings that was done in the early 90’s. It’s about a woman who has had a stroke. I would love to work on that one! There are a bunch of Sondheim’s I haven’t done yet. I know I have Mrs. Lovett from Sweeney Todd in me!! Love to do the Witch in Into the Woods. Dot in Sunday in the Park. Desiree or frankly Madame Armfeldt at some point in Little Night Music. I understand there is a revival of Falsettos happening!
Question: Do you have any other projects in the works?
Christiane Noll: Luckily, I am still doing orchestra concerts all over. I’ll be going to Hong Kong in early summer and possibly to Russia in the fall. [Performances continue in Signature Theatre’s MAX Theatre through March 22. Tickets start at $40. For more information visit signature-theatre.org.]
Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to email@example.com.
Diva Talk runs every other week on Playbill.com. Senior editor Andrew Gans also pens the weekly columns Their Favorite Things and Stage Views.