DIVA TALK: Chatting with A Little Night Music's Leigh Ann Larkin

By Andrew Gans
27 Aug 2010

Larkin, with Ramona Mallory, in A Little Night Music
photo by Joan Marcus

Question: How would you describe Petra?
Larkin: The more I find out about her, she's very closely related to myself in a lot of ways. [Laughs.] She's the observer. She's a very observant girl, and she's kind of the voice of reason within the whole play. She's very feisty, but she's also very playful. She has big-sister qualities to Anne, but she's also always up for a good time. She also knows the difference between reality and, I guess, fiction. She knows where her place is, and she's fine with that, but in the meantime, she's gonna have a great time before anything happens permanently, which she sees very differently from what everybody else is going through in the show. And a nice thing about her — she never has to put up a façade. She never has to be something she isn't. She always is what she is. She has a lot of comic-relief moments, but the nice thing about "Miller's Son" is that she gets to kind of awaken the audience with almost the meaning of the play, really. She gets to finally let loose on what she's been observing for the time period that she's spent with these people. But gosh, she's a sexy lady [laughs], and she's not afraid of her sexuality and she kind of, in a lot of ways, has been given the liberty to have not a lot of boundaries, not a lot of restrictions.

Question: What is it like getting to sing "Miller's Son" every night? You're really the last big song of the night.
Larkin: Yeah. It's thrilling and terrifying in the same moment, just because it's a roller coaster of a song. There are a lot of sections to that song and there are a lot of thoughts to that song, and it's important to be able to communicate that to the audience. ... And to be able to tell the story through that is a challenge, and it's definitely something you have to gear yourself up for every night. But then it's so thrilling, because I'm so in love with the song and so in love with her and so in love with what Trevor has allowed me to do and what Trevor has created in the piece and to get to sing an 11 o'clock number, I think, at my age —what other shows have that? So to be able to sing that number after two-and-a-half hours of the play is such an honor. It's incredible. It's thrilling. And every time at the end, when I finish, it's like, "I can't believe I just did that!" It's not a piece you can phone in. You have to be very focused at every performance, and it could go wrong at any second. I have forgotten the words a few times, and that's terrifying. You can't catch up with yourself. But I don't know if I will ever experience anything else like that, you know? Because Night Music is so special and that song is so special, and I'm just so lucky to be able to do it every night.

Question: Whose idea was it for the pause before the last "everything passing by?"
Larkin: Well, that was Trevor's. Trevor will take full credit for that. . . . I don't have a lot of experience. I haven't run the gamut of roles in my life, so you kind of go in there, when you're working on a piece like that, as just an open book with a clean slate. You don't really have the wealth of knowledge that other performers might to say, "Oh, that would work or that wouldn't work" … I just headed into it with Trevor bringing what I thought. And he could have said, "No" or "That's not what we're going for," and instead he was like, "Let's keep going with this and add to it and not change a thing." And, at that moment, he thought — and there's a lot of discrepancy about that moment — but the cool thing that both he and I felt about that is that it's the realization that life is definitely passing by. It's not about that it's passing by casually. Gosh, [it's here], and then it's gone. And that's a very deep and powerful statement of thought.

Question: I thought it was a very interesting take, and I thought it made the song fresh.
Larkin: Oh, thanks! I don't have a lot of history with people who have done it before, but I don't think that is usually how it is done, and I think that it is a very powerful beat in the song. But it's so true in life. I mean, life does pass you by. Every night during that moment I have an image of something that was before and has gone, and it gets me. It's like, gosh! There I was, taking my sixth grade school picture, and where has [the time gone]? There are little moments that I think [are] true for everybody in that statement.

Larkin at the show's "re-opening"
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Question: So you're in the show with Angela Lansbury and Catherine Zeta-Jones, and then you hear that the show is going to stay open. What was your reaction to hearing that two more stars, Bernadette Peters and Elaine Stritch, were coming in to it?
Larkin: Oh, gosh! What a roller coaster that was. Of course, when these people are leaving and they're not finding replacements … you keep hearing rumors and then something falling through on rumors … and you're like, "Oh, my gosh! Are we really gonna close?" And then you get the notice that you're closing, and you're like, "Oh, gosh." It was heartbreaking. I've never reached a point where I've felt like, "Okay, I've done this show." Any show I've done, I've never felt that. Maybe one day, I'll be able to say, "Yes, that show I felt like I did that." But it just felt way too soon for that to be the case. And then when I heard about Bernadette and Elaine and that it actually was coming true … that it was going to happen — it was literally a miracle. Because you had been given your closing notice — I mean, I don't know if that's ever happened. But, besides the fact that, next to Patti LuPone, right on her heels is Bernadette Peters for me. Bernadette I came to know when I was more in college, but she is somebody that I aspire to be and watch and learn [from] and, ashamedly to admit it, copy off of. [Laughs.] You know, there are aspects in my career and what I've sung, for even auditions, because Bernadette sang it on her CD.

And then Elaine — I remember in Musical Theatre History watching her "Ladies Who Lunch" and hearing the story about her not getting the take and then the next day coming in and nailing it. The first day, when we were doing the table read with the two of them, it's like, "Oh, my gosh. There she is! [Laughs.] And she's gonna sing 'Send in the Clowns!'" And [Bernadette] is so sweet. This woman is the sweetest woman you'll ever meet, ever. And Elaine, of course, is her own person and makes me pee in my pants every night, and the two of them have such affection for each other.

Question: How do you think the show has changed with them?
Larkin: Dare I say completely? I mean, completely is a pretty absolute word, but I would say, if it was on a scale from 1 to 10, I would say a 7 or an 8. Just because Catherine and Bernadette are so different, and Angela and Elaine are 180 opposites. When you have two people steering a show and they're replaced with two other people, the show changes. I remember even our first preview, walking on stage and I was like, "What am I doing? Am I in this show? What am I doing?" because it was such an adjustment to where the show was before and what the tone of the show was and the mood of the show was before. And, now it's become something that's funnier. I mean, people are flipping out over it. They're really enjoying it, and enjoying the humor that is brought to it and what Elaine and Bernadette bring. I think the cool part about that is, it's really reaffirmed for me that it's okay to be who you are and bring something different than somebody else. It's okay that [some] people aren't going to understand what you're doing, and some people are going to think it's the best thing they've ever experienced in their lives. It's okay because these people are artists, and they're true to what they want to bring and to what they do. And look at where they are — above-title, top-of-the-marquee, billboard-in-Times-Square legends. I think that's what the coolest thing is about me getting to witness the transformation is that you just have to do what you do and what you believe in, and that's what's most important. There are a lot of moments in this business where you think, "Oh, gosh. Everybody hates me, I'm terrible. What am I doing? I'm never gonna work again. Where am I going?" And then you see people like that who are pretty much certified Broadway star/legends, who do what they do and do what they believe in doing, and it's served them just brilliantly. Yeah, but it's definitely seeing a different show.

Larkin in A Little Night Music
photo by Joan Marcus

Question: I thought it was much more fun, and the whole cast had upped their performances. . . I thought you did "Miller's Son" terrifically.
Larkin: Oh, thanks! I think it's brought out a lot of controversy, and not on purpose. I don't go through scripts and go, "What can I do that's gonna be so different and bizarre?" [Laughs.] I do what I and what the director thinks is going to serve the piece, and it's been quite controversial, and it's been a learning experience to be able to just keep doing what Trevor and I and Stephen believe is the right way without getting caught up in people being positive or negative. Not believing either side, just keeping on going, and I appreciate you saying that.

Question: I think it's important not to listen to the good or the bad, because there will always be people on both sides, no matter what you do.
Larkin: Absolutely. You know what's so funny? I had a friend, [and] that's exactly what she said. She was like, "Don't believe people if they say you're great, and don't believe people if they say you're bad." 'Cause if you believe one, you have to believe the other, and you can't really fall into that trap. . . . Aaron Lazar so wisely pointed out, "Humans are walking egos." That's kind of part of the structure of our selves, and so then in turn, it's hard because you always want validation. But I think what I'm learning, more so, is what I mentioned earlier, which is, it's just important to be an artist. It's more important to stay true to yourself and be an artist than it is to be anything else or to conform to anything else, as long as you can go to sleep at night feeling like you did the best you could and believed in what you were doing — that's what's important. And, of course, I just revere Trevor and Arthur so much and trusted them with every bit of who I am, and rightfully so . . . I mean, what they've brought to musical theatre is quite remarkable . . . they're both quite brilliant, brilliant men, and I feel so lucky to have worked with them.

Question: Do you have a chance to work on any other projects while you're doing this, or are you mostly focused on Night Music?
Larkin: Well, goodness, I'm a very low-key kind of girl. [Laughs.] My first priority is the show, and I never want to compromise that by spreading myself too thin and doing a hundred million other projects, because I just have faith that everything happens for a reason, everything falls into place and everything will work out, and no need to be going crazy in the meantime thinking about, "What's your next job? What are you doing next?" because it's really important to live in the moment. But I've done a reading of a project and have been working on broadening my resume with TV and film stuff, and that's all keeping me really busy. And I just feel really lucky that I'm on Broadway doing a show in the moment. I think that they're so few and far between that when you live your life thinking, "Okay, now what's next? What am I going to do next?," you don't really appreciate what's going on in the present and enjoying that you're on stage, singing "The Miller's Son," something that you were dying to do. I just have all the faith in the world that something next will pop up that'll be just as glorious and exciting. And until then, I'm doing this. It's most important to me that I go on that stage every night, proud of what I'm giving and not [giving] anything less than 110 percent.

[For more information, visit nightmusiconbroadway.com.]

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