THEATERMANIA: How are you handling the stress of working on a new musical? You know the old joke: "If they really wanted to punish Hitler, they would have sent him out-of-town with a musical."
BROOKE SHIELDS: Our musical director, Michael Kosarin, was the first one to say that to me, and now we quote it daily. But you have to be a trouper. And really, who should be complaining about getting notes from people like [composer] Alan Menken and [director] Rob Ashford. It was my first "tech" period, and it was tough, but I lived. Actually, I kind of liked it. I made entire scrapbooks of the numbers I am not in just to keep my brain intact.
TM: You've been a replacement on other musicals, but this is the fist time you've originated a role. What has that been like?
BS: I had never really found my own creative voice with this musical format, and the thing I've been most amazed by, vocally and emotionally, with this show is having an opinion and having it make a difference. Alan said to me on day one, "I want to hear your sound." And I'm still finding it. I've never taken the time to nurture it, in part, because in other shows, I had to sing in specific accents or in a specific time frame, and that's not true here. And it's not always comfortable -- it's like being honest in a relationship -- but there's also a freedom in having an opinion and owning up to it. Remember, I grew up in the modeling business, where if you smile and do what you're told, they like you. When I was in college [at Princeton University], that was the first time I learned I can have an opinion.
TM: You talk about finding your sound. How do you do that?
BS: I listen to a lot of other singers, and sometimes it's just by imitating the part of their sound I like. Today, I was all about Rihanna. And trust me, I do a mean Rihanna!
TM: You're one of the world's most glamorous women and you're playing this plain-clothed Midwestern woman. Are you enjoying that change?
BS: Marva wears no makeup, no fake eyelashes, and she wears jeans. I've never done that on stage. And honestly, not having the clothes and makeup to hide behind was not something I found refreshing at first, because those are my safety nets. I am used to seeing photos of me in the dressing room and not recognizing myself without makeup. But I will admit that her look makes getting ready easier. And I've found there's something beautiful by not focusing on outer beauty.
TM: Marva's had a hard life, but she's a real woman. And I like the fact that she calls this guy on his game and holds her own against him. I'm still working on making her smarter and stronger; otherwise, he has no reason to stay with her.
TM: Marva's a waitress. Have you ever been a waitress?
BS: Not for real, but I did it a few times when I was younger for charity -- and I took it way too seriously. I was always telling people there was a better system.
TM: Does the fact that you are a mother of two influence your take on Marva?
BS: I think the mother part was one of the reasons Rob Ashford gave me this job. I will say that in some scenes, it has made my questions clearer. For example, I know you're not going to stand there and do nothing if you think your child is going to get hurt; you're going to do anything to protect your kids. I always say I go totally New York when it comes to looking out for my kids.
TM: Are your kids aware of what you do for a living?
BS: They have never not known their mom is a performer; but I don't think they always really knew what they meant. For a long time, Rowan just thought I tried on clothes for a living, because she was with me at so many fittings.
TM: What is it like working with Raul Esparza, your leading man?
BS: I kiss the ground every day. I have never worked with a more generous actor, and he is so exceedingly talented. We're all so lucky to have him; he's our lead and he leads by example. He works harder than any of us.
TM: Have you been surprised at all by the audience reaction during previews?
BS: Yes, when the house lights come up; Raul and I stay on stage a bit, and we see that they don't want to leave. They're so emotional they don't want to go outside. I've never seen anything like it.