Christine Andreas: The Best is Yet to Come
CHRISTINE ANDREAS, Broadway's quintessential ingenue in the '70s and '80s, gets intimate at The Oak Room.
I sat with this enchanting lady in the lobby of The Algonquin a week before her opening to discuss her show in particular, her career in general, and her family life. She kicked off her heels and curled up in an armchair, excited to talk.
Andreas' last show at The Algonquin was in the spring of 1999. "This year, I had to come up with something in a few months," she says. "And I'm not working with Marty Silvestri, who is normally my partner for these kinds of things. It's like starting a new affair!" (Her new musical director is Joe Thalken.)
"The last show I did started off low-key," she continues. "This time, I'm starting 'up' and going from there. With the whole millennium thing. I didn't want to look back, so the title is The Best is Yet to Come. I'm going to start with that song, move into an upbeat 'Make Someone Happy,' kick into 'New York State of Mind,' and then do a little light pop. I'm doing some standards and some show stuff--a little autobiographical tour of shows that I've done."
Andreas loves working at The Oak Room. "The last thing I did before my show here last year was The Scarlet Pimpernel in a 1,500 seat theatre," she notes. "And then, within a few months, I found myself performing in a 90 seat room. I think everyone is genuinely happy to have me singing here, from Arthur Pomposello [manager of The Oak Room] to everyone out here in the lobby. That automatically makes you feel like you have a home away from home."
Music has been a part of her life from the very beginning; young Christine's mom had a wonderful, natural singing voice. "I was brought up on Frank and Ella and Sammy and Tony, and all the show stuff my mother used to play," she says. "When I was very little, it was obvious that I was gifted in that way--that there was something in my throat. I was born with it, and I cultivated it."
Andreas made her debut in Sammy Cahn's Broadway musical Word and Music, directed by Jerry Adler. "That was a lot of fun," she recalls. "Sammy was a great showman. He did one of the first concert-type shows, a retrospective of his work.
"Then I went into Angel Street," she relates. "What I enjoyed the most was Dina Merrill, who still is a really good friend. At that time, I was learning about what I wanted to do. Because singing was so easy, I didn't want to be a singer. I wanted to be an actress, because that was a lot harder for me. I'm contrary! So, I got this show where I just acted--and I found I missed singing."
Well, Andreas had a lot of singing to do her next show: the 20th Anniversary production of My Fair Lady, which catapulted her to Broadway stardom overnight. "Sometimes, in life, you can get very psychic about things," she says of that experience. "I always loved the plays that the great musicals are based on. I remember reading Pygmalion, and thinking, 'Yes, I'm in here somewhere!' So when My Fair Lady came around, I had this huge intuit that, no matter how many girls auditioned, it was my show. I just waited for them to ask me to sign the contract. It wasn't ego; it was way beyond ego.
"The hard part wasn't getting the role of Eliza, but delivering it," she says. "I realized when we opened in Philadelphia that I didn't have a clue. I was really new at this and I had no idea what it was like to have the full weight of a Broadway show on your shoulders. In 1956, when Julie Andrews was rehearsing My Fair Lady, she almost lost the job; Moss Hart took Julie and spent three days drilling every line reading, everything, into her. But I did not have a Moss Hart. We opened in Philadelphia and I bottomed out. I wasn't happy with my performance until about five months into the run. I learned a lot from the wonderfully talented people that I worked with: Ian Richardson, George Rose, Robert Coote. They had such gallantry. I suppose they remembered what it was like to be a beginner, and their encouragement helped me to find my way. I got to do My Fair Lady again 15 years later with John Neville and Clive Revill. It was Neville, Revill, and Andreas. It was like a vaudeville act."
In 1979, Andreas received her first Tony nomination for her performance as Laurey in a revival of Oklahoma!, but that show almost didn't happen for her; though director Billy Hammerstein offered her the role immediately following her audition, she initially turned him down. "I really wanted to do The Most Happy Fella, which didn't work out," she says. "I didn't expect to love Oklahoma! as much as I did. When I think back, I was such an idiot! The great Agnes De Mille choreographed. She mainly worked with the dancers--but I had this exit to do after 'Many a New Day,' and I said, 'Agnes, how do I get myself off the stage?' She had really been watching me, so she looked at me in that way she had of sizing someone up, and she said: 'You'll figure it out.' For Agnes, that was a compliment! She was just getting over a stroke during rehearsals, but her heart was totally in the project. What a genius!"
The smash 1983 revival of Rodgers and Hart's On Your Toes brought Andreas her second Tony nomination. " I originally turned down that show, too," she tells me. "Can you imagine George Abbott asking you to do a show, and turning him down? I said, 'I have to move on from these ingenues. I want to play a leading lady.' They went with someone else. But I got Dina Merrill into the show. She called me when the show was in Washington and said, 'Why don't you come down and check us out?' So I went to Washington, and I found out that they weren't happy with the ingenue. They wanted me to sing for the conductor and then go backstage and try on the girl's costumes. I thought, 'When opportunity knocks twice...'
"We get to Boston," Andreas relates, "and Stratas is making herself ill with nerves. During a preview, halfway through the show, she comes offstage and says, 'You're on.' I had not sung a single song except that afternoon with the rehearsal pianist, Paul Ford, who said, 'Let's go through your stuff.' I had never been blocked, I had never done a scene--and I was on halfway into the show. It was like putting your money where your mouth is! But I thought: 'I know this piece. I know what makes the character tick.' I went on, and after my first song, I got a standing ovation. Still, to me, the piece never quite came together because of all the push and pull of egos. Unfortunately, that's how it happens sometimes."
What came next for Andreas after Rags was another epic flop: the Peter Allen musical, Legs Diamond. "Peter was completely wonderful," she says. "We all started out with great expectations. I loved the score, and my character was fun because it was something different for me; I got to talk with a Brooklyn accent! It was kind of a sweet little character part: Alice, the love interest. The problem was that the book wasn't very good, so they brought in Harvey Fierstein, and he decided, 'Let's make this a funny piece.' My character wasn't funny--she was just winsome and sweet. So, bam! I was gone. I remember being stunned, because I had some of the best songs in the show. I had a great rapport with Peter, and some sweet and tender moments. Peter was devastated when the show failed."
After the Legs Diamond debacle, a small musical titled The Fields of Ambrosia came along and changed Andreas' personal life forever. Joel Higgins, a dear friend, had written the musical with Martin Silvestri. "It's about the pioneer spirit," she says. "I listened to the demo and thought, 'This is fabulous. I have to do this.' So I did--and I met Marty."
Thus began Andreas' personal and professional relationship with Silvestri. "Marty and I began building a new concert act for me," she says. "Our first gig was in 1992 at The White House, for President Bush. From '92 to '96, I was basically concertizing and not doing a lot of shows."
The title song of Andreas' first solo CD, "Love is Good," led to her role of Marguerite in The Scarlet Pimpernel when she auditioned at the eleventh hour for the show's producers. "I sang 'Love is Good' in French and English, and you could hear the wheels in motion," she says. "Frank Wildhorn stood up and said, 'That's Marguerite, that's the girl!' So it was time for me to come back to Broadway. I loved working with Douglas Sills and Terry Mann; we had a blast. There were structural things in the show that needed to be addressed, but there was never enough time to do that. I suffered the most because my character was the most underdeveloped. The show didn't do for me personally what I wanted this comeback part to do; it just wasn't there on the page, so I couldn't make any more of it. But there were some really fun things to sing. It was great to be back."
When Pimpernel was retooled months after its opening, Andreas decided to leave. "After a year I was really tired," she says. "Terry was leaving, and I was going to leave after a year anyway. So it was fine--though it piqued me that they made all the changes after I left. I had suggested a lot of them!"