Anne Runolfsson
Anne Runolfsson
Anne Runolfsson has had three truly life-changing experiences. The first was the birth of her daughter Tess, now age 4. The second was being cast as the standby to Julie Andrews in the Broadway production of Victor/Victoria, which led not just to standing ovations and a profound friendship with the legendary star but also to marriage to one the show's producers, Tony Adams.

The third was a chance meeting a decade ago with a composer named David Friedman. "Somehow," Runolfsson recalls over lunch at the Applejack Diner, "I got asked to do a demo recording of this song of his, 'Two Different Worlds.' Since his house was just two blocks from mine, it was easy enough to go over there and do it. And we've been great friends ever since."

Friedman is known for his beautiful melodies and inspirational lyrics; such songs as "Help Is On The Way" and "We Live On Borrowed Time" have become modern standards. Now, his music will reach an even wider audience through Listen to My Heart: The Songs of David Friedman, a new revue featuring Runolfsson, Alix Korey, Joe Cassidy, Allison Briner, and Michael Hunsaker. Directed by Mark Waldrop, the show is playing Upstairs at Studio 54.

Despite their long friendship and professional collaborations -- Friedman played a major role in the production and writing of Runolfsson's 1997 album "At Sea" -- the performer had no say in what she will be singing in Listen to My Heart. Nor did her fellow cast members. "We had no input at all," she says. "None! David had a very set idea of who would sing what and there was no changing his mind. I am happy that I get to sing 'We Can Be Kind.' And 'Two Different Worlds', which I get to sing again, is a very beautiful song. I predict that if Josh Groban hears it, he will want to record it. What's so joyous about David's songs is that they're so melodic and so accessible. I think audiences really appreciate that."

So, was there a song in the show that got away from Runolffson? "I would have loved to sing 'Let Me Be The Music,'" she admits, "but I think it's only fitting that David will sing it himself. It really is his story. In a way, all the music is David's story and all the actors in this show become the voice of David. Our voices blend beautifully but we're all different. We were cast because we're all facets of this beautiful diamond. Alix is incredible; in addition to being her friend, I'm one of her biggest fans. And the two guys are both amazing to listen to and beautiful to look at."

Crazy World: Anne Runolfsson in Victor/Victoria(Photo © Carol Rosegg)
Crazy World: Anne Runolfsson in Victor/Victoria
(Photo © Carol Rosegg)
Much the same could be said of Runolfsson, whose thrilling, multi-octave voice kept her steadily employed from her arrival in New York from Southern California in the late 1980s through the mid-'90s, including stints on Broadway in Les Misérables, Aspects of Love (wherein Brad Oscar was her fellow swing), and Cyrano, The Musical, the ill-fated Dutch import in which she was aptly cast as the gorgeous Roxane. But little did she know the amazing changes in store for her when she was chosen to be Andrews's standby (and, later, Liza's and Raquel's) in Victor/Victoria. Oddly, Runolfsson's first meeting with the Oscar-winning actress wasn't at the show's home, the Marriott Marquis, but in a different theater: "I went to see Love! Valour! Compassion! at Manhattan Theater Club and all of a sudden, there was this big laugh behind me. I turn around and it was Julie and Blake [Edwards, her husband and V/V's director]. Since I had already been cast, I decided to introduce myself to her. She gave me a big hug and said, 'Oh, Anne, I can't wait to work with you.' After that, I didn't know what to say, so I went back to my seat."

Her relationship with Andrews was great from the get-go -- "she was always helpful, supportive, and made me feel part of the process" -- but it deepened after she married Adams, who, Runolfsson says, is practically Andrews's surrogate son (and Edwards's frequent producing partner). "In some ways, it's still weird that Julie's such a significant part of my life," Ms. R. reflects. "She's practically my mother-in-law."

Runolfsson didn't expect that she would actually have to go on for Andrews; nor did the show's producers. But, over the course of the show's run, Runolfsson took on the starring part over 100 times. Her virgin outing, during the blizzard of 1996, was particularly memorable. "I found out the night before and, I swear, my knees were shaking from the moment I got the call until I went on stage," she recalls. "I had never done the show before -- never rehearsed with the other actors, never sang with the orchestra, never done the costume changes, and there were about 15 of those. I didn't even have my own costumes, and Julie and I are not the same size. They had to go out that day and buy me a tuxedo. The only thing that made it tolerable is that the audience was pretty small because of the weather. I think it was about 400. Tony Roberts quipped that there we so few people there, 'Maybe they could all go home in a cab together.'"

Anne Runolfsson and David Friedmanin Listen to My Heart(Photo © Carol Rosegg)
Anne Runolfsson and David Friedman
in Listen to My Heart
(Photo © Carol Rosegg)
After the Broadway run of Victor/Victoria ended, Runolfsson did the first two stops of the show's national tour (before being replaced by Toni Tennille) and then came back to New York, where she concentrated on her recording and cabaret appearances. The work paid off, and she earned the 1998 MAC Award for Outstanding Female Vocalist. Since then, she's kept a fairly low profile -- standing by for Blair Brown in The Dead, starring in the Storefront Theatre's concert production of Rags, and doing a too-brief run of her very fine Alan and Marilyn Bergman show So Many Stars earlier this year at the Duplex. Recording-wise, she has appeared on the last two Jamie deRoy & friends CDs (her cover of Joni Mitchell's "River" is extraordinary) and is seeking financing for another album of her own.

The reason for the infrequency of her appearances on stage in recent years is simple: She has been concentrating on motherhood. In many ways, that's her favorite role -- one that doesn't always jibe easily with that of working actress. "I love being at the playground with Tess," Runolffson enthuses, "or being home at six, cooking dinner, and then putting her to bed. I find that all very fulfilling. This show is the first time in a while that I will be working in the evening steadily -- I do a lot of symphony dates, but those are only a few days at a time, so it's going to be a real challenge to readjust to the schedule. I'm also the type of person who gets consumed by a project; I find it hard to shut down after rehearsal and focus on being a wife and mother. There's always a tape playing in my head. I don't like being distracted while I'm home, so balance is really what I'm working on right now."

But that's not all she's working on. Like many other performers, including Andrews (and Madonna), Runolfsson is trying her hand at writing a children's book. Her first foray is A Cup of Nurse, about the weaning process. "It's very emotional to wean a child and no one prepares you for it," she says. "I think it will be very helpful to a lot of people once it gets published." She is also working on some projects with her husband: "I really enjoy using my head that way. Tony and I are both people with a lot of ideas. Thank God for prime-time television; it's the only way we get to unwind."

With so much on her plate, Runolfsson isn't ruling out a return to Broadway, but that's no longer her top priority. "I used to think that being in a Broadway show was 'the answer,' but I've learned that there is no answer," she remarks. "So, as for my career, it's really wherever the wind blows me."