Before The King and I, Kate Baldwin Honors Michael John LaChiusa and Will Van Dyke
Baldwin gets ready to kick off her new concert series at the Sheen Center.
This is a busy year for Broadway darling Kate Baldwin. In April, she'll head to the Windy City to play Anna in Lyric Opera of Chicago's production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's The King and I. This summer, she'll head to the Berkshires with her husband, actor Graham Rowat, to headline Nick Payne's Olivier Award-winning two-hander Constellations at Berkshire Theatre Group.
But first up, Baldwin will headline a series of concerts she has curated at the new downtown arts venue the Sheen Center. Kate Baldwin and Friends will celebrate two musical-theater writers she adores: her Giant collaborator Michael John LaChiusa (February 28) and rising songwriter Will Van Dyke (March 21). But don't go in expecting a typical nightclub show. These concerts are crafted so that the audience feels like they're "in my living room."
How did this concert series come about?
Andrew Levine [the Sheen Center's managing director] called me last summer and offered me a series of three concerts, which makes it a bit of a residency. He gave me carte blanche and said, "Do whatever you want to do." I looked at this beautiful proscenium space and it really spoke to me as a theater venue, [so] I said let's do theater music.
The concerts are dedicated to the work of Michael John LaChiusa and Will Van Dyke. What is your relationship with them and their respective music?
Michael John is one of the most prolific musical theater writers we have. I have a personal relationship with him, having worked on Giant. He wrote a song for me, "Your Texas," and nobody's ever done that before. I had to pinch myself. We used to live [near each other] on the Upper West Side, and I would spot him walking down the street and wonder if we would ever meet, trying to scheme in my mind how I could stumble into him or spill my coffee on him. [laughs] Fortunately, I didn't have to do that. He approached me about working on Giant together.
That must have been a dream come true.
I was absolutely floored and thrilled. I thought I had dreamt it when it happened. I called my agent and said, "Michael John LaChiusa stopped me at the grocery store and asked me if I would work on his new show at the Public, so call the Public and tell them yes." The Public had no idea what I was talking about. A whole week later, my agent called back and said, "Oh yeah, the Public did call, you didn't dream it." A happy ending.
How did you discover the songs of Will Van Dyke?
Will is a newer friend. I'm friends with him through Jeff Talbott, who is one of Will's lyricists, and also a playwright and actor. Jeff was one of the first people I met in New York City when I first moved here. He's one of my best friends. When he began to write lyrics for musicals, he began to collaborate with Will and he gave me a piece they had written together. I became a fan of Will's before actually knowing him. They asked me to sing a song on their EP that they released last September, A View of the River. Whenever I walk around the city or get on the subway, I scroll through my iTunes [for their] EP. It's theater music but it has a real pop bent to it. Most people associate me with being a classical soprano, but I love pop music. Will's work is exciting to me.
When do you head to Chicago for Lyric Opera's production of The King and I?
I start in Chicago on April fourth. I'm super excited about it. It's a role I've always wanted to do. I'm from Chicago, so it's a thrill for me.
What are you most looking forward to about playing Anna?
Getting into the bones of it. Finding out why she does what she does. What I kind of love about her is, she says she's not an imperialist, but she's coming to sort of change a culture that's already whole. She's not seeking to dismantle it, but she is seeking to effect change. She really does believe that she is doing the right thing. She has this pioneer spirit about her.
After that, you and your husband, Graham Rowat, will be doing in Constellations at Berkshire Theatre Group, where you both did Bells Are Ringing last year. What drew you both to that particular play?
It's incredibly romantic and also really smart. She's a physicist and he's a beekeeper and they're two people awkwardly trying to find their way to each other. They also have some really huge issues to deal with, not just love and the lack of, or the abundance of it, but life and death, and "where we are in the universe?" They're big ideas to explore. And to do it alongside my husband is going be challenging and fun for us. We really like working together.