DIVA TALK: Chatting With Pippin Star Rachel Bay Jones

By Andrew Gans
20 Sep 2013

Jones in Pippin.
Photo by Joan Marcus

Question: Do you have a favorite moment for her? Is there something you look forward to each night?
Jones: Aside from working with Matthew James Thomas, who I think is just so alive and is rare, I think dealing with the audience as much as I do [is a favorite]. There’s so much direct address, and that’s a completely new experience with each audience. To have that opportunity is quite beautiful. When they break away from everything and I sing “I Guess I’ll Miss The Man," it’s a lovely opportunity to be simple and be with that particular audience in that particular event in that particular moment and see what we both can make out of that together with no music coming in until later, with nothing on a bare stage but one light. Just being with the audience and singing something a cappella is really terrific. Like Church.

Question: What’s it been like sharing the stage with the acrobats?
Jones: What’s so gorgeous about this is Diane has collected this ensemble, a true ensemble of extraordinary people. Everybody is a star, and everybody does something different. Everybody really is a star; everybody has this specialized talent that they do that nobody else can do. We’re this huge bag of tricks. Everyone has different tricks, and somehow they all work together. I feel like I’m in a wonderland when I’m out there on the stage with all of these people. And, I feel tremendously untalented. [Laughs.] I feel like I have no gifts. I have no special skills. It took me a while to not feel that way. But it’s fun; it’s so much fun because there’s no competition among us because we’re all so very different. It's a really great shared experience out there.

Question: Going back a bit, where were you born and raised?
Jones: I was born in New York, and raised a little bit in Puerto Rico and in South Florida.

Question: When did you start performing?
Jones: I was 12 years old. My parents were Shakespearean actors in New York. They [later] opened up health food stores and had a family. My mother and father both started doing regional theatre in South Florida occasionally. My mom had a script open for something she was auditioning for, and I saw in the script there was a part for a 13-year-old heavyset girl, and I said, “I want to audition!” And my mother said, "You’re not heavyset, and you’ve never done anything before." [Laughs.] I was the shy kid with the book. So my nana, who had been a dressmaker, built me a padded dress, so I would look heavy, and I went to the audition and booked the job and my mom didn’t.… They were surprised to know that I wasn’t a little chubby kid, so they used my nana’s padded underclothes as part of my costume in the play. That was it, and then I just kept doing it. It was fun and rewarding.

Question: When did you get to New York City?
Jones: I moved when I was a teenager. I started working right away, but I've never been completely satisfied with the idea that I was going to be an actor because I just felt like I’ve always been doing it. I never really thought, "Oh, this is what I’m going to do with my life. I’m going to be an actor now," and I don’t even know if I’m there yet. We’ll see. It’s going alright for now! [Laughs.]

Question: What was your Broadway debut?
Jones: Meet Me in St. Louis.

Question: What was that first night on Broadway like for you?
Jones: It was really different than what I thought it would be. I’ll never forget the first day of rehearsal – that was amazing. To go to the old 890 Studios and be there in this big room with a big cast and big sets. There was an ice-skating rink... I think I had over a dozen auditions for it. One of them was an ice-skating audition. It was crazy. So the whole process was just all brand new and huge. Everything about the production was huge. I think it was eye-opening in that it was so big that I didn’t know if there was a place for me and the delicate kind of work that I was really interested in doing, that I am interested in doing now. I see now that there is; it just took me a while to figure it out.