DIVA TALK: Chatting with Promises' Katie Finneran, Plus Seven Questions for Barbara Cook

News   DIVA TALK: Chatting with Promises' Katie Finneran, Plus Seven Questions for Barbara Cook
News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.

Katie Finneran
Katie Finneran

Katie Finneran, a Tony winner for her performance in the 2001 revival of Noises Off, was nominated again this season for her equally hilarious work in the revival of the musical comedy Promises, Promises at the Broadway Theatre. "I was just so excited [to hear the news]," the charming Finneran told me the day the nominations were announced. "You know, it happened, like eight, nine years ago, and it's so thrilling. You just can't help but feel like a little kid when it happens. It's like every little kid's dream. I was very eager to know who else got nominated for the show and [was] kind of disappointed the show didn't get nominated for Best Revival, because I think it's just a perfect evening in the theatre. And, I was disappointed that Kristin [Chenoweth] didn't get nominated. There were a few disappointments, but I am completely thrilled, and the way I see it is that my nomination is everyone's nomination, really."

Finneran — who doesn't appear in the musical until the second act, but quickly makes up for lost time with two laugh-filled scenes — said the only challenge of the role was she "didn't get called to rehearsal for so long! [Co-star] Dick Latessa and I would call each other and say, 'Well, how are you doing? What are you doing with your time?'" she says with a laugh. "He's in the first act for like one minute, and I'm not in it at all, and we were starting to get worried. It was like the fourth week of rehearsal, and we really hadn't been called very much, so I just sort of tried to come up with something. My whole approach to the character was to be the opposite of Kristin Chenoweth's [character]. It's funny because the both of us go up for very much the same roles … At first, the idea was to have a blond wig with dark roots. I decided, though, that I should just be the complete opposite of [Kristin's character] and have really dark red hair and drop my voice a lot. And, that's basically how I came up with everything, 'cause I figured Chuck [Sean Hayes] would [be seeking] the complete opposite in a woman."

"He makes the right choice [at the end of the show]," Finneran adds with a laugh.

When asked whether she feels pressure because there has been so much positive buzz about her performance, Finneran says, "You know, it's sort of funny. I'm so old school. There was buzz about an article written by a gentleman a few weeks ago, and it was quite extreme what he said in the article about my performance. It's sort of like being at a dinner party with 12 people, and people say, 'Okay, now my friend here is going to tell the funniest story you've ever heard in your entire life! You've never laughed so hard! It's going to make you choke on your corn.' And then they look at you and go, 'Okay, go ahead! Go ahead! Chop chop! Chop to it!' So it's a little bit of pressure, but you know, I truly don't read much of anything. I remember once I got on the internet looking for our [show's] commercial, because I heard it was so much fun, and I couldn't find it anywhere, but I did see my name pop up and certain people's opinions. [Laughs.] I'd so much rather just stay out of it. My two agents, Gary Gersh and Brian Davidson, read everything, and if I have to know about something, then they tell me. But otherwise, it's just too bothersome. It's fun that people get excited about one thing you do but, you know, if you believe all the hype, you have to believe it when they tell you you're terrible, so I like to sort of stay neutral."

Sean Hayes with Katie Finneran in Promises, Promises
photo by Joan Marcus

About co-star Sean Hayes — with whom Finneran shares her biggest scene — she says, "He is so much fun. He breaks up. He's a giggler — that boy is a giggler. It's so encouraging when you're in rehearsal to have a comic genius like Sean Hayes think it's funny, what you're doing. So it's always been extremely encouraging, but once in a while onstage – I am not a big laugher, I'm really not — but one time, we go to kiss for a second time, and we lost our balance, and we just started slamming into the furniture. And I just started laughing in his mouth, hoping that I could hide it in his mouth, and then of course he starts laughing. So we're basically laughing while we're kissing…. I'm not into the staged break, the planned break. I'm not into that at all, I just think it's icky. But that night, I think it was in the second scene, where I come to him and we kiss, and I just knocked him over, and we both just started slamming into the walls trying to keep our balance. It was just the funniest rhythm. It was the rhythm of it more than anything that made us laugh. So yeah, that's the only time I've really broken in this show. I've never [broken] in any other show, except Noises Off, when we were just so psychologically exhausted by all of the goings-on in the world that I would laugh at the drop of a hat in that show." And, Ms. Finneran, was any owl harmed in the making of your feathery costume? "Hopefully not," she laughs. "Isn't that such a genius concoction by Mr. Bruce Pask? I think he saw it at a trimming store on Sixth Avenue and, like, bought the entire bolt of feathers. I [do] leave about a feather a show [on the stage] — I'll tell you that much."

"It's so much fun to do," she adds. "It's the best job on Broadway, really. Just when I'm getting tired, I get to leave the stage."

[Promises, Promises plays the Broadway Theatre, Broadway at 53rd Street; for tickets call (212) 239-6200 or visit Telecharge.com.]

Barbara Cook
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Tony Award winner Barbara Cook was nominated earlier this week for another Tony for her performance in the new Stephen Sondheim revue, Sondheim on Sondheim. Following her nomination in the Best Featured Actress in a Musical category, Cook had a few moments to chat about the show and her nomination; that brief interview follows. Question: How did you learn of the Tony nomination?
Barbara Cook: My publicity person called me this morning to tell me.

Question: What was your reaction to the news?
Cook: Well, I'm pleased, of course! I'm very pleased. It's a very nice thing.

Question: What does it mean to you to be recognized at this point in your career?
Cook: Let's see, the first time was 1958, so how many years is that? I can't even count that fast, but that's pretty amazing, you know? … 52 years, then I was nominated for Mostly Sondheim, the show I did about Stephen. I think that was 2002-03, something like that . . . and that's the year that Elaine Stritch won for her wonderful show. We were nominated in the Special Theatrical Event category.

Question: What's it been like being back doing eight shows a week?
Cook: Well, it's hard! It's not easy doing eight a week, and you don't have much life. I think anybody in the theatre will tell you that. It's mainly, you know, you eat, sleep and do the show.

Question: Have you enjoyed working with a cast again?
Cook: Very, very much so. And, I've particularly enjoyed working with [director] James Lapine very much and David Loud, who did the arrangements. They both are just wonderful.

Barbara Cook with Vanessa Williams in Sondheim on Sondheim
photo by Richard Termine

Question: Is there any song in the show, performed by you or another cast member, that has struck you in a new way?
Cook: Well, there's just so many of them! There are two things that really struck me about Stephen's songs in general, and that is the diversity of them is amazing. And, secondly, even some of the lesser-known, at least lesser-known to me, rhythm songs have great melody. I think there are fewer and fewer people who say Stephen doesn't write melody, but the melody is so obvious to me, again and again and again. It's surprising that he's had that thrown at him all these years, that he doesn't write melody, but that's not true at all. Not at all. Question: Is there any song you look forward to doing each night?
Cook: Let's see. I really enjoy the song from Sunday in the Park, the one that I do with Euan Morton. "Beautiful," that's a lovely song. I really look forward to doing them all, to tell you the truth.

[Sondheim on Sondheim plays Studio 54, 254 West 54th Street; for tickets call (212) 719-1300 or visit roundabouttheatre.org.]

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

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