Christiane Noll: The Student's Princess
Beloved of Jekkies everywhere, the lovely and talented Noll is now doing operetta at the Paper Mill. An interview with Richard Ridge.
It's a dream assignment for a young woman who was raised on light opera and operetta. "My mother is a soprano," says Noll, whose parents met at the Village Light Opera in New York City, and where her father has been the musical director for over 35 years. "That's where I got a lot of my original training--through osmosis and observation. I did perform with them a little bit as a child, but I never really wanted to venture into operettaland, because that was their domain."
Noll, whose first time on stage was at age four in a production of The Mikado, saw many shows at Paper Mill as a child. When she got the call to do Kathie in The Student Prince, she told her mother immediately, but wanted to surprise her father as a Christmas gift. "He started crying," she relates. "He couldn't believe it. He was so happy!"
She has nothing but praise for The Student Prince director Robert Johanson: "I am convinced that there isn't any director around anymore who understands the operetta genre like he does. I remember the first day of rehearsal, he said, 'It never fails. This show, not unlike Brigadoon, brings people together. It creates a bond.' And it did. I have to credit Robert and [producer] Angelo Del Rossi for that."
The rehearsal process was "extraordinary," according to Noll, in that the show was basically mounted in a week. "Robert had a concept," she says. "He knew exactly what he wanted the show to look like, and he worked with what people were giving him. It was not about the acting in the first week; it was, 'get it on its feet, give it a framework.' " Noll says that her first reaction to this approach was "Hey, wait a minute!" But then she learned how to work in that context, and spent the rest of the rehearsal period building and fleshing out her role.
Noll's mother warned her about the requirements of performing The Student Prince. "She said, 'All you're going to do is sleep, eat, and sing.' And I was like, 'No, no, no. I'll be fine.' Well, she wasn't kidding! This is one of the most demanding roles I've ever done. For the next two months, I am going to be a very boring individual." As for co-star Jovanovich, Noll consider him "a little gift from God. We have such wonderful chemistry; you rarely encounter someone who complements you so beautifully onstage. I'd love to work with him again. On our way out to our very first orchestra rehearsal, Brandon and I were talking while we were stuck in traffic, and we decided that Paper Mill had to do Carousel and The Desert Song. Later, Robert Johanson suggested The New Moon."
The gorgeous and talented Christiane Noll made her Broadway debut as Dr. Jekyll's fiancée, Emma, in Jekyll & Hyde. "It was four years out of my life," Noll fondly remembers. "It meant everything to me, to create a role; as the piece developed and I became attached to it, it became tailored to me. How many people get that opportunity?" Noll was very impressed by the versatility of J&H composer Frank Wildhorn: "He has an incredible passion, and he gathers people that have the same passion that he does. He has so much to offer. I can't wait to see what he does next."
Her favorite J&H moment was singing the duet "In His Eyes" with co-star Linda Eder every night. "People are still talking about that," she says. "Two chick singers--very different, very strong in their own right--just blending together and, as one critic said, 'Raising the roof!'" How does Noll feel about Jekyll & Hyde's cadre of rabid fans, known as Jekkies? "They're very loyal," she says. "They created a fan base for me that I didn't have before. They showed up when I did Little By Little [at the York Theatre] and when I did my concert. And they're coming out to see me at Paper Mill. That's priceless."
Noll spent years on the road, perfecting her craft in national tours of such shows as Grease, Miss Saigon, and City of Angels. "I was marinating," she says now. "When you travel out on the road for months at a time, you can't help but grow as a person and as an artist. You learn a lot of discipline, a lot about your craft and what is demanded of you. You pace yourself. I would advise any young actor to go out on the road, because the things you learn are invaluable, and you really can't learn them anywhere else."
Last seen on Broadway in Ain't Nothin' But the Blues, Noll found that experience to be "a brilliant follow up to Jekyll & Hyde. It stretched me vocally and dramatically, and people saw a sexy side to me that they hadn't seen before. I get a kick out of people not being able to peg me into any one category." Her still-young career already includes several recordings, including two solo CD's: A Broadway Love Story and Christiane Noll Live at the West Bank Café. Noll also provided the dulcet singing voice of Anna for the recent animated film version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's The King and I. "To be at the opening screening and hear four-year-olds walking out singing 'I Whistle a Happy Tune' and 'Getting to Know You' gave me goosebumps," she says.