By Andrew Gans
20 Sep 2013
Rachel Bay Jones
Rachel Bay Jones, who made her Broadway debut in Meet Me in St. Louis, is currently bringing her special brand of magic to the role of Catherine in the Tony-winning revival of Pippin at the Music Box Theatre. Jones, who also appeared in the short-lived musical version of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown — where she had the chance to go on for two-time Tony winner Patti LuPone — brings a quirky charm to Catherine, the love interest of the musical's title character, played by Matthew James Thomas. Jones, who is one of the shining lights in this celebrated revival, manages to unearth previously undiscovered comedic moments and also delivers a stirring version of Stephen Schwartz's "I Guess I'll Miss the Man." I recently had the pleasure of chatting with this gifted actress, who spoke about portraying Catherine in the Diane Paulus-directed musical, trailing LuPone backstage at Women on the Verge and combining motherhood with an eight-show schedule; that interview follows.
Question: How did your role in Pippin come about originally?
Rachel Bay Jones: Well, I’d worked with Diane Paulus in Hair, and just happened to be talking to my friend Nadia [DiGiallonardo], our musical supervisor for Pippin, and she said [they were] casting this Pippin thing. [She said], "You should come in!" And, I said, "No, that’s a part that's usually played by a woman in her twenties, and I’m not in my twenties." [Laughs.] But she mentioned it to Diane and Nancy Harrington, and they said yes, so I came in and auditioned and booked it.
Question: I loved your performance. You have such a different take on the role. Was that your idea or Diane's take or both?
Jones: Well, I’ve never seen it, so I think that helps when you don’t have it in your head. And, also, because I am a bit older than the typical Catherine, I’m not an ingénue anymore and I’ve lived a little bit of a life, and I think that has something to do with it, and I think that inspired all of us to create something new out of her. I just saw the potential — there’s so much humor in this person who’s always late and wrestling between realities — we just sort of dug into that and went and saw what happened, and this is what we’ve got. [Laughs.] It was great to be able to develop it over such a long period of time, especially at A.R.T. in Cambridge. It’s a gift to be able to work on a role this long and develop it with the freedom Diane gives you as an artist. That’s really what created her.
Jones: She’s not afraid to let you go where you want to go. She doesn’t put up a lot of walls for you, and she’s really open to what everybody wants to bring, and she’ll sift through the wreckage if necessary. [Laughs.] But she’s really open to you saying, "How about this, and how about this? And how about all of these things, too, and a how about some more of this!” And she’ll say, "Whoa, slow down," or "Yes, more!" So that’s really inspiring. We can continue to create, and it doesn’t turn into concrete. It’s always alive.
Question: Now that you’ve been playing Catherine awhile, how would you describe her?
Jones: She’s a delicate mess, who really can’t be contained. I think that’s it; that’s her in a nutshell. She wants so much, and she can’t be contained, and she’s ready to break out of the thing that she's been doing for a long time. She’s ready for something new, and she's ready to blossom finally. She's a late bloomer, but she’s also a clown. I don’t know if you noticed, but the Player that plays Catherine also plays a clown in the first act in this reimagined circus world that Diane has created. I thought that fit in really well with the way that she manages to see through the veil, because clowns typically have that outsider perspective. She’s an outsider.