SEATTLE-- If there is one star name that ensures a good time at a musical in the Puget Sound region, it would have to be Lisa Estridge-Gray. The beguiling actress/singer/dancer is one of a select few in the area who never seems to be out of work. And her latest assignment amounts to a rather formidable one, playing the role created for and by Judy Holliday in the Jules Styne, Betty Comden & Adolph Green hit musical Bells Are Ringing,at Issaquah’s Village Theatre beginning Thurs. May 14.
Estridge-Gray and her leading man Timothy McCuen Piggee are both African Americans, possibly the first to do the roles of Ella, the good-natured but nosy answering-service operator, and Jeff, her faltering playwright beau. “When you go back and look at films of the fifties, there is more documentation of how white people were perceived. As a black woman, I can kind of fit in that mode, but every so often the Bronx pops out, and it’s really funny, like when I answer the phone and say “Max’s dog and cat house”, and that Bronx comes out, it’s just different.”
Estridge-Gray’s work encompasses many musical revues, children’s theatre and such major musical theatre roles as Ti Moune in Tacoma Actor’s Guild’s Once On This Island, and Val in their staging of A Chorus Line, but the ballads of Bells like “The Party’s Over” and “Long Before I Knew You” are not the kinds of songs she often gets to sing, and she is savoring them. “It’s so nice” she says “to be able to sing a ballad for once, rather than something that’s up-tempo, rock and roll, or brassy all the time.”
Estridge-Gray and Piggee’s chemistry has a solid basis, as they have done eight shows together. “He had heard a lot about me, and I had heard a lot about him and we car-pooled in our first show Miss Evers’ Boys, and that’s where the friendship started. The two of us on-stage is like, dangerous. We can do the smallest things and just crack-up. But he’s a great person to work with. And in all the show’s we’ve been in, we never played love interests. Playing your best friend’s love interest is really something special.”
Estridge-Gray’s also has a first baby on the way (“I’m in my first tri-mester”), so aside from the show she is staying home and taking it easy. “I keep tripping my husband out saying I’m carrying twins, she says. They run in both of our families. I don’t care, I want a LITTER!” Bells, directed and choreographed by Steve Tomkins, runs May 14-June 28 at the Village’s Francis J. Gaudette Theatre, 303 Front Street N., Issaquah. Wed.-Sat. evening performances are at 8 PM, Sunday evenings at 7 PM, and with rotating Sat. and Sun. matinees at 2 PM. For tickets ($18-$28) call (425) 392-2202.