There is no cackle in the world more recognizable than that of Fran Drescher, the nasal-voiced heart behind television's beloved Nanny, Fran Fine. The television star of The Nanny, Happily Divorced, and Living With Fran took to the off-Broadway stage in Neil LaBute's Some Girl(s), Love, Loss and What I Wore, and The Exonerated, but she makes her Broadway debut this week in a role that complements her signature voice and talent. As Madame, the evil stepmother in Cinderella at the Broadway Theatre, Drescher brings her penchant for comedy to a character that is as colorful as the actress herself. Drescher spoke with TheaterMania about appreciating the feminist qualities of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical and preparing to take the stage opposite Cinderella's newest princess, pop star Carly Rae Jepsen.
Why make the move to the Broadway stage at this point in your career?
I love theater and I would do more of it! They offered me the part at a time when I'm not in production in television, so the timing is perfect. Playing the evil stepmother and a character you love to hate is a delicious opportunity, and doing a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical is such a luxury. Douglas Carter Beane's rewrite of the story is much more contemporary. Cinderella is a stronger character, and the prince is a little more lost and in need of a woman who helps him find who he is. It's already funny, and I'm trying to mine more comedy from it.
What has been the biggest challenge in preparing for the role?
Trusting…that eventually it all comes together. And that my body will move where it needs to without me thinking about it. There were speeches and scenes that I didn't have confidence in, and then I learned them and they became second nature. Each time we moved deeper into the script and learned something new, I had to remind myself that this feels strange only because it's new. I thought that getting ready for the ball was going to be difficult because I have a lot to say and do at that point, and now it's one of my favorite scenes and it's one of the easiest for me to do.
What is your first memory of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella?
For me it was Lesley Ann Warren. I wanted to be her. I loved the music in the movie, I loved her dresses, I loved that she got to be with the handsome prince and move to the castle and be a queen. This is the stuff that my generation was fed with a spoon.
Who is your favorite fairy-tale villain?
I probably grew up thinking the wicked queen in Sleeping Beauty and the evil stepmother in Cinderella. I mean, [the latter] gave stepmothers a bad rep to this day! The word "stepmother" has a negative connotation. And that speaks to the character that I am re-creating.
You've worked with many theatrical actors in front of the camera. Did Rita Moreno (Happily Divorced) or Charles Shaughnessy (The Nanny) have any advice for you about taking the Broadway stage?
They just said to break a leg. They're wonderful. My ex-husband, Peter, is well versed in theater and music, and when I go home, I run lines and sing the songs with him. We practice every day when I'm not with the company rehearsing. This is flying without a net. There's no "take two"!
What would Mr. Sheffield say upon learning that Fran Fine is leading a Broadway musical?
He would say, "Miss Fine, brava! Brava!"
What would Fran have to say about Madame's dresses and wigs? They're so very much Fran Fine and Fran Drescher.
Well, you know what Fran Fine always said, "The bigger the hair, the smaller the hips look." And with these huge hoop skirts, I say, "The bigger the hoop skirts, the smaller the waist looks!" I look all the more petite with huge hair and big hoop skirts. It's part of the magic of being an actress...I love wearing wardrobe and I'm not afraid to go big and dramatic.