DIVA TALK: Catching Up With Pippin Star, Two-Time Tony Nominee Charlotte d'Amboise
By Andrew Gans
May 24, 2013
News, views and reviews about the women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.
Charlotte d'Amboise, the triple-threat who has been a Broadway mainstay since making her Main Stem bow in Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats, is back on The Great White Way in Diane Paulus' critically acclaimed revival of Pippin at the Music Box Theatre. And, the two-time Tony nominee is in terrific form, bringing a sexy charm and a zest for life to the role of Fastrada, the manipulative wife of Charles, played by her real-life husband, 2013 Tony nominee Terrence Mann. Earlier this week I had the pleasure of chatting with d'Amboise, whose Broadway resume also boasts such musicals as Song and Dance, Carrie, Jerome Robbins' Broadway, Damn Yankees, Company, Contact, Sweet Charity, A Chorus Line and numerous stints as merry murderess Roxie Hart in Chicago. In fact, she's one of the best Roxies this writer has witnessed, her delivery of "Roxie" a true tour de force. The no-nonsense actress, whose good-natured laugher filled much of our recent conversation, spoke about the genesis of Broadway's first revival of Stephen Schwartz's Pippin, sharing the stage with husband Mann and the pride she feels about the entire production, which was nominated for ten Tony Awards. My chat with the gifted performer follows.
Question: How did this role originally come about? Charlotte d’Amboise: Initially, they called me to go in for it, and I didn’t think I was right for the part. Mind you, I didn’t really look at it, I just never really thought I was right, so I wasn’t really interested. I didn’t go in for it and that was that. Then my husband went in for it, and they said to him, “Where’s Charlotte," and Duncan, the casting guy, said, “She’s busy – she's out of town," and then Fran Weissler, the producer who I’ve worked with many, many times, said, "I’ll call her. I'll find out where she is." [Laughs.] And she called me at home and said, "You need to come in for this. It’d be so great — everybody’s going to Cambridge." And, of course, they didn’t offer it to me! I had to audition for it. [Laughs.] So I looked at the sides, and when I started working on them, I thought I actually could find something in this that I could hold onto and that I might be right for.
d'Amboise with Terrence Mann in Pippin.
photo by Joan Marcus
Question: When they asked you initially to audition for the role, what went into your thoughts about whether you wanted to take the audition or not? I imagine at some point in your career you would audition for everything. D’Amboise: I do audition for everything. I have actually never been offered a job except for once. I’m serious, I audition for everything. Actually, the one thing I did get offered for they did ask me to audition for it [initially]. It was out of town, and I said no. It was for Rob Ashford, for Parade. Then he called me later and offered it to me, but they probably had auditioned everybody and didn’t find anyone and said, "Ok, let’s just offer it to Charlotte." [Laughs.] And I ended up doing it, thank God, because one of the high points of my life was doing that show. But, you know, I hate auditioning nowadays, and to me, truthfully, I don’t have the drive in my life like I used to. I feel like I’ve done a lot. I have kids at home, so it’s not like I have to audition for this and that. If something really calls my name and it’s something I’m really right for, then I’ll go for it. But most of the time I don’t feel that way anymore. And I don’t mind auditioning… I get auditioning, I understand the director wants to see you. I'm totally fine about it, but I just hate doing it because I never feel good about most of them, and then I feel like sh*t for the rest of the day. [Laughs.] I’m not a very good auditioner, actually; it’s not usually what I’m very good at.
Question: Did you and your husband find out at the same time that you had both gotten the roles? D’Amboise: I think we did. I knew when I walked in the room and I did the audition and I walked out, I had that feeling like "I nailed that." I did as best as I could possibly do. It was one of those kind of things where you can just tell everybody is on your side, and it was just one of those great, nice-feeling auditions. But you still never know, you just never, never know. I think they offered us at the same time, but Duncan, the casting guy, had given me a heads up that they "love you, love you, love you. The offer will come in." And, I remember us waiting and talking with my husband saying, "Are we really going to do this?" But then the offer came in, and I'm so glad we decided to do it.
Mann and d'Amboise on opening night
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN
Question: Since you have kids, what went into your decision about whether to take the parts? D’Amboise A lot. Terry and I have kids now, they’re nine and ten, and pretty much it's always been one of us working at a time doing eight shows a week. A couple of times we’ve overlapped, but usually it’s been one of us. And then one other time we did have a bit of an overlap, and we took the kids out of school and brought them with us, but that was an out-of-town thing. We’ve never had this kind of problem where we knew if we took this, it could be a year of eight shows a week. But I feel like the kids are old enough now. If they were younger, I would have a harder time, but because they’re older now, they can be okay going to sleep without us putting them to sleep. So I think the timing is okay. But, otherwise, I think it’s difficult because they just want you there all the time. And we’re there – we're there in the mornings, and then we're there in the afternoon to pick them up from school. And, they live with us: All they want to do is come hang out at the theatre with us, so on the weekends they’re with us, Saturday and Sunday. And then in the summer they’ll be on our schedule. They’ll come hang with us at night and then we’ll put them in bed. I just believe in them being with us as much as we can have them. We took them out of school for Cambridge for two months, and they had the time of their life. I worried about doing that, and I’m so glad we did because, to me, it was such a growing time for them in a really amazing way. Truthfully, I think all of it’s great for the kids. They see us working, and they get to hang out with musical theatre people – what could be better than that?
Question: What was the original rehearsal process like in Cambridge, combining the acrobatics into the show? D’Amboise: The whole process was, I have to say, a very slow process, even though it moved. Diane works in a very collaborative way. Everybody’s kind of throwing ideas up, including actors and dancers, and Chet [Walker] and Gypsy [Snider] and Diane and Nancy Harrington. Everybody, literally, even the person working at the theatre, is throwing ideas out. [Laughs.] Diane sees what sticks. She listens to everybody, and it slowly molds into something. She starts to mold it, and it was that kind of a process, step by step. And they knew they wanted it to be seamless, that part of it, the dancing and the acrobats, and that just took time of slowly building a number. We did a little workshop of it in Cambridge for a month. We went up there in the summer for a month, and that’s the first time they really saw it was going to work, it had possibilities. But they also saw we’re really going to have to work hard at collaborating these two worlds. And a lot of their work was just trying to make that happen, which I think they did very successfully. But it wasn’t like, "Oh my God, one day it just happened, or this is what did it." It was a process of us all working together. Really, that's what it was. It was us all getting to know each other and understanding who we are, and giving each other room, and making it one family, and then it just happened. And the out-of-town thing – I swear, shows that don’t go out of town, I don’t understand how they do it. It just makes such a difference to go out of town and work in front of an audience. To have that is so great because that’s how you grow, performing in front of an audience, and seeing what works and what doesn’t. And, Diane works through the whole process. We rehearsed the whole time we were there in Cambridge. But what else are you going to do in Cambridge — we loved it! And the kids were with us, and it was so fabulous. It was like a vacation to tell you the truth. We had a ball, and it was a really fun time in Cambridge creating this beautiful show.
Patina Miller and Matthew James Thomas
Photo by Joan Marcus
Question: What’s it like performing on the stage now that everything has come together, with the big cast and all the acrobatics going on around you? D’Amboise: I do have to say that I hate that Diane is not around anymore—that she left us and Chet and Gypsy! [Laughs.] You miss all that. You have people watching you and taking care of you every second, coming to give you notes every night, working to make it better, and then suddenly they’re gone. It’s so weird! You almost feel like a kid that’s been left.
But it's been great, it’s so wonderful the audience reaction to the show. I’ve never been in a show with such an incredible response. It’s like a rock concert almost, right from the beginning, from the first chords. That's just thrilling. We're all so proud of the show because we all feel like we contributed to and have been part of the whole process. I feel more proud of the show than anything, more than my part. It’s more about the show. I really do, I feel completely proud of everything that the show is and what Diane and everybody wanted to create and what it's become. It feels great. It feels wonderful; it’s a really special group of people. But doesn’t everybody say that? [Laughs]. I’m listening to myself thinking, “Hmm, I’ve heard myself say this before”…
Question: It really is an amazing cast with Patina Miller and Andrea Martin... D’Amboise. Everybody is so professional and cares about the work, and those acrobats, the way they work and process things – they’re so professional. They’re never out. Never. That is the world of circus. They're just never out. Mind you, they don’t have to sing. They sing in the show, but singing is another whole thing.…They’re really incredible people. So that’s been wonderful to have them be a part of it all and us learning from them.
Question: What’s it like being a married couple and playing a married couple who doesn’t have the greatest marriage? D’Amboise: It’s fun. They don’t have the greatest marriage, but they kind of have fun together. It’s all about the sex as my husband says! And, he gets to throw knives at me. [Laughs.] But, it’s a joy. I go onstage and I see his face, and I just relax and go with it. That whole process has been a joy and surprisingly good because I was a little worried about it. It’s been nice to, truthfully, just watch him in his element and how amazing he is to see him work. I notice he never says that about me. Do you ever say that about me, honey? [Laughs.] But he does watch my dance most of the time, and afterwards he'll say, "You nailed it tonight." He's always positive about my dance, even if it’s a little iffy [laughs].
Question: Had you seen the original production? D’Amboise: I had not, but I did it in high school. I remember the commercial. I was a kid, and I remember my brother always talking about the commercial and us watching it. Then we started listening to the music, but we didn't see the show, and then I did it in high school. So it's very much a part of my life, a huge part of my life because it was this fun, social thing in high school. I remember having a good time with the Collegiate boys doing that show.
d'Amboise in A Chorus Line.
photo by Paul Kolnik
Question: The choreography for Fastrada—how much of it is new and how much is Fosse? D’Amboise: All of it’s new. We completely re-thought that number, and it’s different music… One day I remember seeing Diane. We talked about it for a long time with Chet, and we started to choreograph it without any music. Chet was just making up steps. And, it was kind of a last-minute thing, and then finally we got into a studio with Diane and Nadia [DiGallonardo], and we had a drummer, and they just came up with this kind of groove and move. We kind of fiddled one day, and bam, it was there! It was really fast. [Laughs.] And, again, a very collaborative effort from everybody. Sometimes when things are done so easily, it’s right. And then you can go away from it and try something else, but you ultimately end up back where it was because it was meant to be that. So that’s all been re-thought completely. And from Cambridge to New York, the choreography is exactly the same, but we added the quick changes, so that was new from Cambridge, and some other changes. But, yes, it’s all been completely re-choreographed and re-thought. It’s not Fosse choreography.
Question: How would you describe Fastrada? D’Amboise: Obviously completely self-motivated and ambitious and will kill anybody that gets in her way, including her son Louis, who she loves and adores. She doesn’t [kill him] because he’s the one that’s going to get her where she wants to be, so she adores him. But she’s able to do it. She’s done it for so many years, manipulating, she’s found it’s the perfect way to do it. She does it with love and joy and sunshine, and that’s what’s going to get her the furthest. She’s figured out a technique. That’s who she is. She’s completely self-motivated, and she does it through sex in most cases. She’s manipulative in every way she can possibly be to get what she wants.
Question: Do you have a favorite moment in the show either for her or something you look forward to watching? D’Amboise: I have to say I love it all. I don’t have that much, you know? I love my first scene when I come out and I’m introduced, and I have that great exit, but I have to say, I love my last line in the play. I back up and whack the floor and say, “After all I’m just an ordinary housewife and mother like all you housewives and mothers out there.” I love that because it’s just how powerful a mother can be. I love it. So that’s my favorite moment, the ending of the whole dance there. And, it’s all set up so beautifully. But in the show there are so many magical moments I love and I can watch every night, like when the hand comes through. Terry, when he grabs his knife – that moment I think is so eerie and creepy and interesting. And then I love "Right Track." I love the simplicity of Matthew [James Thomas] and Patina dancing “Right Track.” I love to sit in the wings and watch that number. There are so many moments.
Question: Do you think the show has a message or what does it say to you? D’Amboise: Yes, I do. It's interesting because everybody comes away with a little bit of a different message. But, for me, it’s saying what human nature is—that everybody wants to be extraordinary at some moment in their life, and everybody knows that feeling at some point. Some people keep it with them for the rest of their lives, and some people have it at moments in their lives. And, ultimately, in the end what you realize on your deathbed is that it’s really about family and that’s what you leave behind. Family and the people you love, not the Tony Awards you won. Ultimately, that's what life is about in the end, but we all have to strive for this, and that is human nature. And, therefore, that's why the world gets made. That’s why things get done. It’s part of our nature, and it's an important part of who we are. I feel that’s what I get from it – that’s what it’s saying. Now it’s saying it in a story where “we’re here to take your soul and have you burn so we can say we saw something amazing.” It’s told in a way that’s a fable, but that’s what I get from it ultimately. And, here we are grabbing another child, another person, and there’s always somebody you can get.