She's been a Fair Lady and lived in Another World; she's sung in a Ballroom and glittered in Stardust. Now she's the evil but noble but intriguing Marguerite in the new Broadway musical, The Scarlet Pimpernel, opening at the Minskoff Theatre tonight.
Says singer and actress Christine Andreas, "It's always a challenge opening in town, but we've been performing to standing ovations every night. There's obviously a few things we all want to work on, but we have the time, so we will."
Andreas certainly knows what it means to open on Broadway. Back in 1976 she won a Theatre World Award for her debut in a revival of My Fair Lady, opposite Ian Richardson. Since then she's tapped in On Your Toes and played Laurey in Oklahoma! -- and even had a featured role in the semi-legendary Peter Allen musical, Legs Diamond.
Prior to Pimpernel, Andreas starred in a new musical at NJ's George Street Playhouse, The Fields Of Ambrosia, penned by Joel Higgins and Andreas' longtime sweetheart, Martin Silvestri. She and Silvestri have also hit the concert circuit together, a partnership that indirectly led to Andreas' casting in Pimpernel:
"I had inquired about the role [of Marguerite] early on but was told, `we love you, but you're not really right for this. So I went on to other things Then four or five months passed, and they still hadn't cast the role. You've heard of the 11th hour? I'd say at 11:49 I was auditioning again. Now, I've been singing in English and French for several years. I don't even speak the language, but I really enjoy singing in French. So I auditioned with an original song by [Martin] which is partly French, "Love Is Good." I heard all their wheels screeching to a halt when I finished, so I knew I was being heavily considered. Ultimately, it was a surprise to them and to me the way it all worked out." As if to solidify the connections, Andreas has titled her upcoming album, "Love Is Good." To be released within the month (on Touchwood Records' After 9 label, the CD will feature the Pimpernel tune Storybook. Otherwise, "Love Is Good" is a mix of standards and showtunes "with a different and contemporary feel." Songwriters include Billy Joel, Leonard Cohen and Jimmy Webb.
"Concert singing keeps you in shape," says Andreas, "and lets you express things you want to say. Our first concert was the White House! Marty and I had just started working together at the time, so I called him and said, `Guess what? I have a gig!'"
Of course, Andreas is excited and proud of her latest gig, as Marguerite in Pimpernel. Asked how that character differed from her previous ingenues, molls and villainesses, Andreas answered, "She's kind of a lady or-tiger, and I've played one of those before, where you don't know if she's good or bad. But Marguerite is very exotic and very, very French. I recently did someone like her in Fields Of Ambrosia, and it's always fun to play a character who's a bit in question. Plus, on a soap I played an evil shrink. So you get to expand your imagination!"
Continues Andreas, "Marguerite isn't evil, she's misunderstood! She's very heroic, outspoken, spirited, a very conscious and compassionate character (she's supposed to be the most brilliant woman in Europe); she would have made a great diplomat."
Preparing for the role, Andreas read the Baroness Orczy novel and saw the film version of Pimpernel. She's currently re-reading the book, which she finds especially useful because it's written from Marguerite's perspective."
With such a busy schedule, plus a child to raise at home, Andreas isn't one for rituals and superstitions -- not even on opening night. "For me, the ultimate thing is energy. You sense how much energy it takes to do your show. Energy gives you the concentration and relaxation to land every moment simply, clearly and with fun. It's not even a conscious process. So I get enough sleep and try to have the slate clean. I do yoga, I stand on my head, I create beauty around me, light incense in the dressing room for a harmonious environment -- but I try to do that every day."
Continued Andreas, "The danger on opening night is self-consciousness. Actors are used to being observed, but it Is different that first night, though you try not to think about it. At a recent preview, they asked if I wanted to know who was in the audience. I said `yes,' and it turned out to be Rod Steiger and Michael Eisner. It really does stay in your mind, but you still try to maintain perspective."