DIVA TALK: Chatting with Mame's Christine Baranski Plus Wicked News

By Andrew Gans
16 Jun 2006

Q: Did he have any advice for you about playing the role?
Baranski: He was so supportive. He had a few things, but I thought he'd have a lot more to say. My main concern with playing this role was the musical, unlike the book or the play or the movie, the musical because it has music you have to play the story and the love affair. An audience has to be emotionally involved, so my first priority was not the character's flamboyance or campiness or eccentricity. My first priority was telling the story and developing the relationship with Young Patrick and then with Older Patrick. You have to earn the right to sing that extraordinary song in Act Two, "If He Walked Into My Life." It's a great inner monologue it's really an acting piece. You can't sing that song and have it pay off if you haven't invested a great deal into the relationship and the telling of the story. So we worked a lot on relationships, relationship with Ito and Agnes and Vera and Lindsay all of the people onstage.

A musical number like "[We] Need a Little Christmas" could just be saccharine and sweet, but people really adore that number. They sometimes start applauding before it's over with because they're so delighted. And, things happen to Mame. Mame's flying high it's 1928, everybody's making money in the stock market, but shortly into the show she loses her money, and she's sitting there sobbing because she keeps getting fired from jobs. There's an emotional journey that's made for that character. The one thing she realizes, the true one thing in her life, is her love for this boy who walked into her life. And, then, of course, Patrick also makes a journey. It's like they save each other. He kind of saves her from a life of just decadence and superficiality, and she rescues him from a life of stultifying safety and conservatism. Jerry and I were always talking about how much emotion this particular production has.

So, now, I've been working on just broadening the character. I've found laughs I had no idea you could just bring down the house walking onstage in a pink dress; then you can bring down the house being carried on with a fox in your arms. If you just give it enough time, the audience just goes crazy. And, Jerry knew all this. . . . And when you read the history of this, and how it evolved in all its various transmogrifications, it definitely is a show that people adore.

Q: Do you have a favorite moment in the show for Mame or one that you particularly look forward to performing?
Baranski: Honestly, I have so many. . . . There are so many moments. It's almost like every little moment has either a grand or a quiet bravura to it because she's a woman who finds the imaginative life more interesting than reality. And she's self-invented. . . . Mame is from Buffalo, and I'm from Buffalo. The fact that she's from Buffalo she's a self-invited personality. This is not someone born in New York or Paris. She and Vera Vera's from Pittsburgh, and Mame's from Buffalo. They have these invented personalities, and you see Mame throughout the show go from one little personality change to another. She's a Southern belle, then she's an authoress, then she's on her way to India and she's found spirituality. She's always seeking her next image and her next role, and in that way she's a terrifically modern persona.



Q: I know you have two children. How old are they now?
Baranski: Twenty-one and 18. They're absolutely beautiful girls.

Q: I was wondering if the show resonates for you with the idea of a child or children leaving the roost.
Baranski: Yes, I can't tell you how [much]. I'm playing this at a time in my life when I just understand so much more about life. When I sing "If He Walked Into My Life," I know I'm singing a lot about what I know as a mother raising children and those questions people ask. "What went wrong? Did I do this? Did I do that? Was I too tough? Was I too strong? How did that moment happen?" Fortunately, I have two wonderful, well-adjusted children, but there are moments when things go wrong where you really beat up on yourself. In the first part of that song, I do it very much to myself, but by the second part of the song, as it gains momentum, I really start singing it to various seats in the house like back row, stage right, stage left sharing those questions with the audience because there's not a person who would hear those lyrics, who's been in a loving relationship, who hasn't said, "Oh my God. What did I do wrong? Where did I go wrong," especially if you feel you've lost someone you love. So, it's wonderful the musical takes a really dramatic turn with that song, and then bounces back again, but I love how serious and internal it gets there.

Q: Do you have other projects in the works after Mame?
Baranski: I've been talking with the Manhattan Theatre Club. There's a Paul Rudnick play that I've been asked to do, and it's a glorious play. I keep talking to [artistic director] Lynne [Meadow], but I'm just kind of waiting. I'll wait to see what happens [with Mame].

Q: Hopefully Mame will get to New York.
Baranski: You know, honestly, it's such a wonderful theatre experience. People come backstage and say, "We start smiling the minute the overture starts." They really don't write musicals like this anymore, and I know there are so many people who would just get such pleasure sitting in an audience and hearing those songs and laughing like that. It's just a totally satisfying theatre experience, but that said, we've made a lot of people in Washington very happy. I mean, how many actresses even get to do Mame? It's very hard to just get in a production of it because it's so hard to mount, so I've been the luckiest of actresses. I'm not going to feel bad if it doesn't go on I will have had one of the great experiences of my career.

[Mame will play the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts through July 2. Tickets, priced $25-$90, are available by calling (202) 467-4600 or (800) 444-1324. For more information visit www.kennedy-center.org.]

WICKED NEWS

Shoshana Bean and Megan Hilty who have played the roles of Elphaba and Glinda, respectively, in the Broadway company of Wicked will reunite this fall for three stops of the hit musical's national tour. Bean and Hilty will head the cast of the Wicked tour when it plays Portland, OR; Seattle, WA; and Toronto, Canada. Bean, it should be noted, is a Portland-area native, and Hilty hails from Seattle. Wicked will play Portland's Keller Auditorium Sept. 6-17, Seattle's Paramount Theatre Sept. 20-Oct. 1 and Toronto's Canon Theatre Oct. 6-Nov. 26. The latter is a return engagement for the Stephen Schwartz musical.

A preview performance of London's Wicked, which begins its run Sept. 7 at the Apollo Victoria Theatre, will benefit the Elton John AIDS Foundation. Proceeds from the Sept. 19 performance will be donated to the non-profit organization, which has assisted over 12 million people affected by HIV/AIDS. Tickets for the 7:30 PM performance are priced 75 (call 0870 4000 751) or 250 (includes post-show supper; call 020 7348 4840). Wicked co-starring Idina Menzel as Elphaba and Helen Dallimore as Glinda will officially open in the West End Sept. 27.

The open-ended Chicago production of Wicked will celebrate its first anniversary in the Windy City with a public celebration at Water Tower Square Park. The June 20 festivities will kick off at 12:30 PM and will feature a sing-along led by cast members of the Schwartz-Winnie Holzman musical. Wicked fans will be able to join the show's current Elphaba, Kristy Cates, in a sing-along version of the show's anthem, "Defying Gravity." Attendees are also invited to attend the celebration dressed as Elphaba, the not-so-Wicked Witch of the West. The first 365 witches Wickedly dressed and fully greenified will be given a pair of tickets to a future Wicked performance. The Water Tower Square Park is located at the corner of Michigan and Pearson.

Visit www.wickedthemusical.com for more information.

DIVA TIDBITS

Several more performers have joined the July 10 concert version of Michael John LaChiusa's Little Fish at Joe's Pub. As previously announced, the 7 PM performance at the intimate cabaret will feature the talents of Alice Ripley, Laura Benanti, Lisa Howard and Mary Testa. New additions to the evening include original Little Fish cast members Lea DeLaria, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Marcy Harriell, Celia Keenan-Bolger, Ken Marks, Jennifer Laura Thompson and Eric Jordan Young. Steven Pasquale, Manoel Felciano and title of show's Susan Blackwell and Heidi Blickenstaff will also be part of the one-night-only event, which is being directed and produced by Ferguson. Composer LaChiusa will be featured at the piano, and proceeds from the concert will be donated in Wendy Wasserstein's name to the Theatre Development Fund's "Open Doors" project. Tickets for the Little Fish concert are priced $30 and are available by calling (212) 239-6200. Joe's Pub is located within the Public Theater at 425 Lafayette Avenue.

Tony Award winner Judy Kaye, who received another Tony nomination this past season for her performance in the now-closed Souvenir, will bring that Stephen Temperley play to the Brentwood Theatre in Los Angeles in the fall. Kaye will reprise her role as the vocally challenged Florence Foster Jenkins Oct. 5-Nov. 5. Tickets, which are not yet on sale, will be available through Ticketmaster, www.ticketmaster.com. The Brentwood Theatre is located at 11301 Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles, CA.

On June 19 at 5 PM and June 20 at 3 PM free readings of Marc Castle's Love Incorporated will be presented at the Snapple Theatre Center. Directed by Chris Presley, the readings will boast the talents of Becca Ayers, Heather Ayers, Jim Stanek and Rich Affannato. Jana Zielonka will be the musical director for Love Incorporated, which follows the "adventures of a young woman, Faith Stillman, a successful business woman who is hopeless when it comes to her own romantic life. She decides to use her business skills to catch the man of her dreams." The Snapple Theatre Center is located at 210 West 50th Street. For reservations call (212) 391-2434.

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