Sara Gettelfinger may just have the best job on Broadway. The statuesque singing actress, who co-stars in the hit new David Yazbek-Jeffrey Lane musical Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, wows the audience with just fifteen minutes onstage as the fiery heiress Jolene Oakes and her show-stopping country-western number "Oklahoma?" She is also prominently featured in the hilarious "All About Ruprecht" scene with new Tony Award winner Norbert Leo Butz. Then, the actress — who replaced Jane Krakowski as Carla in the Tony winning revival of Nine — has the rest of the evening to herself before she returns to the stage of the Imperial Theatre for her final bow. Gettelfinger, whose Broadway credits also include The Boys From Syracuse and Seussical the Musical, recently spoke with me about her newest role; that interview follows.
Question: How did you become involved with Dirty Rotten Scoundrels?
Sara Gettelfinger: It was very funny because I had had friends who had done the workshop. I had heard of other actresses that were working on the part, and they were either very different types than me or in a different age bracket than me, so when my agent and called and said that they wanted to bring [me] in for Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, I said, "Well, that's silly. There's no part for me in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels!" They said, "We'll send you the sides, and see what you think." Then I saw that it was basically an insane sort of Southern belle with a gun, a kind of Scarlett O'Hara [meets] Annie Oakley. And, I thought, "Well, [I'm] born and raised in Kentucky. I know these women. I can definitely at least give a crack at a good audition."
I was certainly at a point and quite frankly still am where I would play a piece of shrubbery for [director] Jack O'Brien if he needed me to. [Laughs.] I thought the scenes looked amazing, and if I could get in the room and finally do something for Jack, that [would be] worth it, and thankfully they let me hang out after that . . . . I actually went in [to audition] twice. The first time I went in, there wasn't a song yet. I was doing some concerts in Canada over the weekend, and I'll never forget [when] the song "Oklahoma?" was faxed to me at a hotel in Canada [and] me reading a piece of sheet music that had the lyrics printed on it: "Watch me blow those little f****** heads off!" When I actually read the music for this song, that's when it sort of hit me, "I have to play this part!" [Laughs.] Q: I think it's actually one of the best numbers in the show.
Gettelfinger: Well, we have a great time. It's a rare treat to get to go out there and go haywire like that, so I feel very spoiled. . . . It never gets boring. . . . It's definitely that feeling of being shot out of a cannon. There's not really a slowly working up to letting the audience in on her personality or letting them get to know her. You have to go out full force, and then usually the reward is that the audience is shocked and a little frightened, but they seem to really embrace her. And, then, the other reward is after going out in full force 15 minutes, I have a nice leisurely break until my bow. [Laughs.]
Q: What do you do backstage during the whole second act?
Gettelfinger: It's a wonderful thing when you are lucky enough to be in a great show with great people and have been fortunate enough to have a nice response to the work you're doing, there's usually other scripts to read or benefits that you're doing. So I have disciplined myself to not put a television in [the dressing room] because it's become my study hall — working on new material or on other things. Sometimes it can be as simple as "You must pay the Con Ed bill tonight." [Laughs.] I've yet to have too much time twiddling my thumbs during that break, which I'm very grateful for.
Q: It seems like it's a very close cast. . .
Gettelfinger: It is almost nauseating how beautifully we all get along. There's so many elements that go into being a part of a show, especially a new show in a company where you're not just relating with people as actors and performers but as human beings. Other than the fact that we all feel very passionate about the actual show and that it's a wonderful piece of work, we just genuinely have such love for one another and really click as people. We have a very, very tight-knit group to where we miss each other if someone is out. . . . There's just a lot of closeness and joy between everybody. We're very fortunate.
Q: How long do you think you'll stay with the show?
Gettelfinger: Right now I am definitely there until February, and I have certainly not ruled out resigning. As we all know, you never know what's around the corner, and you kind of keep looking for things, but it would definitely take something pretty special for me to not want to stay on board. I have no plans on going anywhere at this point. [Laughs.]
Q: Are you involved in any other projects or workshops at the moment?
Gettelfinger: Actually, I am getting ready to do a second reading of Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman and Terrence McNally's Catch Me If You Can. It's in the very early stages, and we're just doing readings at this point. Also, the captain of that ship is Jack O'Brien. Like I said, anyplace he would ask me to come play in the sandbox, I will be there. . . We're actually doing it in a couple of weeks. It's pretty wonderful material that we're all excited to see what we can do with it.
Q: You also had the chance to play Carla in the revival of Nine after Jane Krakowski left. What was that experience like for you?
Gettelfinger: That was honestly a complete dream come true. It had always been a role that I very much dreamed of playing some day. A big part of the reason — other than being very excited to work with [director] David Leveaux — that I took the job initially was it would include the opportunity to understudy that role. I was thrilled just to know that I would get to work on that material even if it was just on Thursdays and Fridays in rehearsal. So when the circumstances kind of went in the way that they did and I ended up actually getting to take over for the remainder of the run, I was pretty thrilled.
Q: What was it like making that entrance every night, being lowered down in a sheet?
Gettelfinger: I have to say, for me personally, it is one of the accomplishments I am most proud of because I am terrified of heights! It was the kind of thing where I just had to really put mind over matter. Of course, the creative team could not have been more supportive. At one point they were even saying things like, "If this is going to kill you to do this, there's another option," but somewhere in the back of my head [I thought], "No matter how frightened you are, this [role] has a little bit of an expectation that there's going to be a woman coming down in a sheet, so popping up from behind a table is really not going to have the same effect." [Laughs.] But it was thrilling because once I was able to get over my fear, it was my own personal accomplishment. . . . There's not too many times as an actress that you're going to get an entrance like that — it's pretty spectacular.
Q: How exactly did the entrance work?
Gettelfinger: We had incredible people from AntiGravity that came over. . . . The material that [I was] lowered down in — even though it gave the impression of being a bed sheet — [was more like the] most heavy-duty pantyhose. The material worked under the same principle as those Chinese finger traps from when you were a little kid. When you put your fingers in them, the harder you try to pull them out, the tighter it goes on your finger. It was almost like the more of your body that was wrapped into that material and the more weight that was put on it, the tighter it locked you inside. So, really, I was much more secure exiting upside down because it had the bottom three-quarters of my body in the material than I was when I entered, which was just sitting up and cradling under your bum. It was sort of a fascinating lesson in physics, too. [Laughs.]
Q: Tell me a little bit about your background. Where were you born and raised, and when did you start performing?
Gettelfinger: I was born in Louisville, KY, and spent my time growing up on both sides of the river, in Kentucky and Indiana. I was very fortunate because growing up in the area there was Actors Theatre of Louisville and Kentucky Center for the Arts and Stage One, just an incredible theatrical community. I was actually very well-rounded growing up — very into sports and grades came first. I always enjoyed theatre as sort of a treat that you got to do on the weekends — going to shows. When it was time to go to high school, I realized it might be something I really wanted to pursue, and there's a youth performing arts school in downtown Louisville that is a wonderful, incredible program. Through that school I was led to the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music for college, which lots of folks in the Broadway community went through. I graduated and headed here and have thankfully have had places to show up and rehearse since then.
Q: What was your first professional job in New York?
Gettelfinger: A production in Nyack, NY, at the Helen Hayes Theatre [Company] of Stephen Sondheim's Company. . . . I played April, the stewardess. It was very funny because I'm sitting there for my very first show, [and] I show up to rehearsal, and Norm Lewis is on one side and Donna McKechnie is on the other side. I wasn't Equity yet, so I also drove the van for the commuting from Manhattan to Nyack. [Laughs.] I was thrilled out of my mind. I knew then as I was driving the red van and going to rehearsal with these incredible people that I had really made it.
Q: Do you want to continue with Broadway or would you like to try film and TV?
Gettelfinger: If the right projects presented themselves for television and film, of course I would be open to doing it, but my first love and my first home will always be onstage. That is definitely where I'm happiest.
[Dirty Rotten Scoundrels plays the Imperial Theatre, 249 West 45th Street. For tickets call (212) 239-6200.]
Congratulations to the company of Broadway's Wicked, who produced a star-studded benefit concert Sept. 25 to raise funds for Second Harvest and Quilts for Kids, two organizations working directly with victims of Hurricane Katrina. The evening at the Gershwin Theatre raised over $200,000 for the worthy organizations and boasted performances by Bernadette Peters ("No One Is Alone"), Idina Menzel ("I'll Cover You"), Ben Vereen ("Corner of the Sky"/"Memory"), Liza Minnelli ("New York, New York" and "What Did I Have?"), Julia Murney ("It's Amazing the Things That Float"), Bebe Neuwirth ("And the World Goes Round"), Megan Hilty ("Alto's Lament"), Brian d'Arcy James ("When I Reach the Place Called Home"), Susan Lucci ("Winning Isn't Everything"), Judy Kuhn ("Finding Home"), Shoshana Bean ("Coronet Man"), Patrick Wilson ("But Not for Me"), Shuler Hensley ("You'll Never Walk Alone") and Adriane Lenox ("Ordinary People"). The evening also featured the casts of Wicked ("Conviction of the Heart"), Light in the Piazza ("Migratory V"), Hairspray ("I Know Where I've Been"), Avenue Q ("For Now"), Spelling Bee (an interpretive dance), All Shook Up ("If I Could Dream"), Mamma Mia! ("Beautiful City") and Rent ("Seasons of Love") as well as appearances by Bill Irwin, James Naughton, Phyllis Newman, Jill Eikenberry, Michael Tucker, Elizabeth Parkinson, Keith Roberts, Jai Rodriguez, Rue McClanahan, Rosie Perez, Patrick Quinn, Jed Bernstein, David Hyde Pierce, Christopher Sieber, the Broadway Inspirational Voices, Jack Klugman, Carole Shelley, Isabel Keating, Phylicia Rashad, Denis O'Hare, Felicia Finley, Nicole Sutherland, Frederick Weller, Daniel Sunjata and Bryan Batt. (To learn more about the charities that benefitted from the evening, visit www.secondharvest.org and www.quiltsforkids.org.)
Congratulations also to the Actors' Fund of America and artistic producer Seth Rudetsky for their fifth fabulous benefit concert. This past Monday evening at the New Amsterdam Theatre featured Douglas Sills and Marin Mazzie delightfully hamming it up as theatrical producer Oscar Jaffe and theatre-turned-film star Lily Garland in the classic Cy Coleman-Betty Comden-Adolph Green musical On the Twentieth Century. Both Sills and Mazzie dazzled with their thrilling voices and wonderful comic timing. Mazzie was especially impressive, her voice soaring on "Never" and "Babette" while offering the most comical performance of her career. The evening also included delightful turns from Brooks Ashmanskas and Brad Oscar as Jaffe's sidekicks, Joanne Worley as "the nut" Letitia Primrose, Christopher Sieber as the square-jawed film star Bruce Granit and Kathleen Turner as the vocally challenged Imelda Thornton. The original Altar Boyz — Cheyenne Jackson, David Josefsberg, Andy Karl and Tyler Maynard — also scored as the "Life Is Like a Train" porters, who delivered a show-stopping special arrangement of that tune. To date, the Actors' Fund has presented terrific evenings of Dreamgirls, Funny Girl, Chess, Hair and Twentieth Century — let's hope this tradition continues next year.
Original Phantom of the Opera star Sarah Brightman will release a second collection of Andrew Lloyd Webber tunes in October. "Love Changes Everything: The Andrew Lloyd Webber Collection Vol. 2" is scheduled to hit stores on the Decca Broadway label Oct. 25. The 14 track disc features six previously unreleased Brightman tracks as well as duets with Michael Ball, John Barrowman and Cliff Richard. Song titles include "Probably on Thursday," "The Perfect Year," "Love Changes Everything," "Only You" (with Cliff Richard), "Seeing is Believing" (with Michael Ball), "Think of Me" (with Steve Barton), "Any Dream Will Do," "I Don't Know How to Love Him," "Too Much In Love To Care" (with John Barrowman), "The Phantom of the Opera" (with Steve Harley), "Make Up My Heart," "No Llores Por Mi Argentina," "Everything's Alright" and "Whistle Down the Wind."
Side Show Tony nominee Emily Skinner will be part of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts' upcoming production of Mame. Skinner will play Agnes Gooch in the Jerry Herman musical, which begins performances at the D.C. theatre Feb. 18, 2006. The actress joins the previously announced Christine Baranski (as Mame) and Max von Essen (as Patrick Dennis). Tickets for the Kennedy Center's production of Mame will go on sale to the general public Nov. 7. For more information visit www.kennedy-center.org.
Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to [email protected]
This week's column is dedicated to Michael Wittenberg, Bernadette Peters' husband who was tragically killed in a helicopter crash earlier this week. Donations can be made in Wittenberg's name to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, Broadway Barks or Standing Tall. The latter was an organization that meant a great deal to the late investment advisor. A message on the Standing Tall website says, "Mike was the beloved Director and Treasurer of Standing Tall, a program for the most severely disabled and multiply handicapped children. Mike was one of the strongest and most physically able people in the universe. He protected a population of disabled children at Standing Tall that must work very hard just to sit, stand, walk and speak. They are the least physically able in our society. He was Standing Tall's guardian angel. The families of Standing Tall drew from his enormous outward and inner strength to find purpose and hope in their lives. His energy, enthusiasm, vision and kindness will be sorely missed."
There will be a private memorial only for relatives and close family friends. Our thoughts and prayers are with the much loved Bernadette.