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Kate Baldwin Gets Her Irish Up

The Finian's Rainbow star discusses her character, working with Cheyenne Jackson, and her new CD. logo
Kate Baldwin
Kate Baldwin has spent the last decade dazzling audiences in New York and around the country in musicals and concerts. But her greatest triumph happened earlier this year when she took on the role of Sharon in the acclaimed City Center Encores! production of Finian's Rainbow, which she is now re-creating at Broadway's St. James Theatre. TheaterMania recently spoke to Baldwin about the show, working with leading men Cheyenne Jackson, Christopher Fitzgerald, and Jim Norton, and her new CD, Let's See What Happens.

THEATERMANIA: What was your first exposure to Finian's Rainbow?
KATE BALDWIN: My first exposure to the show was in 1998. I was living in Chicago at the time -- having just graduated from college -- and I went in and auditioned for the role of Sharon and was cast at the Marriott Lincolnshire Theater.

TM: It's now 10 years later. Are you playing Sharon differently?
KB: Of course. I think I'm more in touch with her Irishness. I also want to give Sharon a real sense of rootedness. She's someone who appreciates her home and her family and the connections and relationships, versus her things, and she's really focused on making a life for herself. At the end of the show, it's like Dorothy coming back at The Wizard of Oz when she realizes that everything I need is all here and it was with me all along. I think that's a wonderful message.

TM: When you think about the story of Finian's, it's almost amazing that anyone ever produced it, never mind revived it. Do you agree?
KB: The show is definitely this weird patchwork. When people ask me about Finian's, I find it's sort of easier to talk about the themes that are in the show, because if you try to talk about how there's a black man in the show and the people are white, and the leprechaun, and the pot of gold, and the tobacco, and the girl who doesn't talk, it's really difficult. You just have to say to someone: "Dive in and come to Missitucky, where things might seem familiar but they are also a little wacky."

TM: One of the great things for an actress about Sharon is that you get three leading men, right?
KB: Oh yeah, and you get to do different things with each one. I have to be the realist, the pragmatist, and the good girl with my father, and I have a really daughter-daddy thing going with the wonderful Jim Norton. I get to swoon and be romantic with Woody, which is so easy to do with Cheyenne Jackson, and then I get to be a goofy silly little girl with Og, played by Chris Fitzgerald, who's a dear, dear friend. You're right -- it's so much fun to have all that wrapped into one character.

Kate Baldwin and Cheyenne Jackson
in City Center Encores! Finian's Rainbow
(© Joan Marcus)
TM: Did you know Cheyenne before doing the show together at Encores?
KB: We were understudies at Thoroughly Modern Millie together, and I remember doing understudy rehearsals with him, and he was so open and positive and happy to be there. It's lovely to rediscover each other now through this process. We're having a lot of fun. He makes me laugh and I can be a nerd with him. He's also incredibly dreamy and forthright with how he presents himself, which is a perfect quality for Woody. And he's nice and tall.

TM: Chris Fitzgerald is new to the cast. So was it an easy adjustment having him come in?
KB: I did She Loves Me last year with his wife, Jessie Stone, and when Chris was around, we would just laugh ourselves silly. He adds the right amount of fanciful to the show. I can't believe I just said fanciful, but I did.

TM: So let's talk about your upcoming CD on P.S. Classics, Let's See What Happens, which is devoted the music of E.Y. Harburg and Burton Lane. How did you choose the songs from such an extensive catalogue?
KB: Well, I'll give you the Tommy Krasker method. [Krasker is the CD's producer.] You choose the seven songs that you couldn't live with yourself if you didn't do them and you don't pay any attention to whether they're all ballads or all up-tempos. You just do them the way you want to do them, And then you sit back and listen and think "I have too many ballads, I need an up-tempo" or "I have too much wacka-wacka funny or too smart-alecky, so I need something sweet." So you get your balance that way. There are about 15 songs on the CD and they are all pretty short, but there's a great variety from "How Are Things in Glocca Morra" to "Moments Like This" to "I Don't Think I'll End It All Today." It's a good mix.

TM: You've done so many great musicals already, including Hello, Dolly, A Little Night Music, and South Pacific. What's next on the Kate Baldwin wish list?
KB: I haven't done Show Boat yet, and I really want to do that. And I want there to be a revival of The Most Happy Fella where I play Rosabella. I mean I walked down the aisle [at her marriage to actor Graham Rowat] to "My Heart Is So Full of You." That is my wish of wishes!


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