DIVA TALK: Chatting With Bare Star Missi Pyle

By Andrew Gans
11 Jan 2013

Missi Pyle
Missi Pyle

News, views and reviews about the women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.

Missi Pyle
Missi Pyle, who made her Broadway debut in the comedic farce Boeing-Boeing, is currently starring Off-Broadway in the coming-of-age rock musical Bare at New World Stages. The singing actress plays Sister Joan, a progressive nun who challenges the powers that be at the Catholic boarding school in which the often-moving Jon Hartmere-Damon Intrabartolo-Lynne Shankel musical is set. I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Pyle — whose screen credits include "The Artist," "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and "Big Fish" — about her first musical role in New York. The charming artist spoke about her road to New York, her Broadway bow and the importance of her current role; that interview follows.

Question: Since we've never spoken before, can you tell me where you were born and raised?
Missi Pyle: I was born in Houston, TX, and I was in Katy, TX, until I was about 13, and then I moved. My parents got divorced, and I was in Germantown, TN, which is right outside of Memphis, which is where I went to high school [and] junior high.

Question: When did you start performing?
Pyle: I started performing in high school. There was a pretty great drama department at my school, and that's when I started doing plays and musicals.

Question: Were there any actors or singers who influenced you at that time?
Pyle: Well, you know, I'd never seen a play or a musical when I was a kid, outside of the church. I was in a Southern Baptist Church… I saw the movie "The Princess Bride," and I couldn't believe it. I thought it was the most perfect thing I'd ever seen. It was so funny. I must have watched it 50 times, and I think I got some of my sense of humor from that movie. When I got to Germantown, there was this place called the Poplar Pike Playhouse, and there were all these billboards — posters — for it in my junior high. I was like, "What is this place? What is it?" And, it was actually the name of the theatre at the high school that I ended up going to, and so when I got there, it was this crazy great drama department. I just couldn't believe it. There was a man named Frank Bluestein, who ran it. Chris Parnell went to school there, and other people… I was totally blown away by the performances that I saw there at the high school, and that was kind of my first taste of theatre. I was so tall, so they wanted me to play basketball, but I couldn't do both, so I immediately quit basketball and joined the drama club. [Laughs.]

Pyle in Boeing-Boeing.
photo by Joan Marcus

Question: When did performing change from a hobby to when you knew it was going to be your career or wanted it to be your career?
Pyle: Well, I remember thinking, when I was a kid, when I watched TV, "How do people do that? How does anyone do that?" [Laughs.] And, when I was in high school I remember seeing a production of Bye Bye Birdie that I went to see that came through town. Tommy Tune was in it, and Susan Egan. And, I was totally blown away by her voice, and I just thought, "Oh my God!" I was totally blown away by that entire show, and then when I was at Germantown High School, every year they would give a junior a scholarship to go to North Carolina School of the Arts for the summer program. You had to apply for it, and I applied for it my junior year, and I got it, and I thought, "Oh, this is what I want to do. I want to get into this school, and go to be an actress." I really hadn't done any theatre — even seen much theatre — until I was in high school, and then all of a sudden I realized, "Oh, I can do this. I can do this for a living." So I went to the North Carolina School of the Arts… I got an agent early on. I moved to New York for three years and was just constantly auditioning. Doing auditions for a lot of theatre… I loved musical theatre, but it wasn't something that I had studied tremendously. I did a lot of musicals when I was in high school and college, and I did summer stock, but never was quite good enough of a singer. I couldn't actually use a certain part of my voice, and then, just in the last couple of years, I've been seeing some different teachers who have kind of showed me how to sing a little higher. It's funny because I remember thinking, "God, I wish I had known how to do this 15 years ago. I would have loved to have done musical theatre a little bit earlier."

Question: Your Broadway debut was Boeing-Boeing. Do you remember your first night on Broadway?
Pyle: Yes! [Laughs.] I remember standing there — because I had taken over for Mary McCormack, who'd been nominated for a Tony… I remember coming into town. First of all, she had been offered the role, but there was a while she wasn't sure she was going to do it, so initially, I was maybe going to do it if she didn't do it, and then she ended up taking it. I came in early to watch the show, and they were like, "No, you can't watch the show," because it is a well-oiled machine. I don't think they used those words, but they were just like, "You cannot watch it," and so I rehearsed for two weeks, and then they let me watch it. And, I sat in the third row, and I remember I was literally so terrified when I saw it because it was so good and so funny and so fast! I couldn't believe how funny she was, and I thought, "Oh, my God." And, I knew that I was coming in, and I was going to be doing a different performance. It was different, and I was so scared, but I remember standing backstage. I had this big yellow suit on with a big yellow hat and giant blonde wig — it was so big — heels and this giant bag of laundry, and I was just like, "I can't believe I'm about to go!" [Laughs.] Because I had to make this crazy-big entrance, and I walk in and kiss Christine Baranski on the mouth [and I'm] screaming in German. It was just like getting shot out of a cannon. I remember thinking, "I can't believe I'm about to go out on stage on Broadway!" I just couldn't believe it, and then "Bam!" You're just right in it. Humping the furniture! [Laughs.]