Canadian actress-singer Louise Pitre has never performed the Jerry Herman ballad "If He Walked Into My Life" in one of her many concerts because "secretly," she says, she wanted to sing it "for real" — in-character in a full production of Mame, the musical with a score by Tony Award-winning composer-lyricist Herman. She's finally tackling the 11-o'clock number, along with the plethora of other show tunes sung by Mame Dennis, in Goodspeed Musicals' revival of the 1966 show at Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, CT.
In the musical, directed at Goodspeed by Ray Roderick (Goodspeed's My One and Only, Singin' in the Rain and 42nd Street), Pitre is the eccentric Auntie Mame of Patrick, a ten-year-old orphan who is entrusted in her care. Before Pitre and the creative team began to blow the bugle at the Tony-winning regional venue (previews began April 20, opening night is May 9), a sneak peek of Mame was offered to New York City press, where we caught up with the show's leading lady.
What about the character of Mame Dennis attracts you to her?
Louise Pitre: Oh, please — everything. Everything! She is the personification of what I think life should be and the way you should live it, which is with total abandon and not just halfway there, but 200 percent all the time — full-tilt. That's what she is to me. But she's smart, she's well-read, she's thoughtful, she's emotional, and she does everything with abandon. I love her. I like to think I live that way, too, but she's even better at it than I am! [Laughs.]
What are the challenges of taking on a role like this?
LP: You know what… I'll admit, in my darker moments, I get really scared. And, you think, "Oh my God! I don't stop." I do not stop. I'm in every single scene. I will be changing madly between every scene, and I don't stop talking and singing. Like any big role in a musical, it's a taxing thing on the body, so I'll be working at it like crazy, going, "I'll be fine. I'll be fine," but it's a lot. Vocally, it's a big one.
|photo by Diane Sobolewski|
What was your first experience with the musical?
LP: I think seeing the  Rosalind Russell movie, ["Auntie Mame"], which is not the musical. It was the first thing I saw, and I thought, "Wow. What is that?" And so I ran out and got the musical-movie — which was not so good — but then I got the original [Broadway] cast recording of Mame. I mean, that's years ago… I'm talking years ago! And, I've been listening to that ever since. It was the original cast recording that really sold me on this show, so I went out and got the script. I read the script of the musical, which I thought was fantastic, then I read the book "Auntie Mame" [by Patrick Dennis] on which it's all based, and it's even better. It's so much fuller and longer. I think [the entirety of the book] would make an epic movie. There are so many other stories that you have to leave out just because you can't have a six-hour show, but it's fantastic.
Are you pulling from the book to develop your character?
LP: Yeah… I think it will help me. I'm going to keep that book. I'm going to get [Dennis'] other books that have to do with Auntie Mame because there are such wonderful descriptions. He's a brilliant writer and funny as hell, too. Oh my God… Laugh-out-loud-by-yourself-reading-the-book funny! And, the descriptions are so great. Sometimes, it's just a word. It's very subtle — the way she is or the way she thinks or the way she talks when she feels a certain way, [and it's] very helpful.
Talk to me about taking on Jerry Herman's music.
LP: Oh my God! I love him. One of my favorite songs… I've always wanted to sing "If He Walked Into My Life," but I've never sung it. And, I never put it in concerts or anything. It's one of those songs [where] I feel like, "If I ever do the show, then I'll have the right to sing that song, but I'm not singing it unless…" And, now I can sing it! There are other songs in this show that I absolutely adore, but to me, he's the guy who wrote "Time Heals Everything" from Mack & Mabel, and that's one of the most beautiful songs in the world to me. He breaks my heart.
"If He Walked Into My Life" allows you to explore the character's emotions — to go deep.
LP: There's nothing sadder than doubting yourself — than regretting — and then saying, "I don't know if I did everything I could have done." There's nothing worse than regret in life, to me. That's what that song is, [and] that's my big moment to tear my heart out.
Mame will have a run through July 1 at Goodspeed Opera House. Visit Goodspeed.org.
(Michael Gioia's work frequently appears in the news, feature and video sections of Playbill.com. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Watch Playbill Video's interviews with Pitre and Judith Blazer at Mame's press day: