As part of our Broadway Buzz program, Buzz Extra writer Alicia Hansen will take you behind the scenes of each KeyBank Broadway Series show and interview a member of the show’s cast, crew or creative team.
The 2015-2016 KeyBank Broadway Series at Playhouse Square keeps the laughs, musical numbers and hilarious plot lines coming with its second show, A Gentleman”s Guide to Love and Murder. In this interview, Kristen Beth Williams, the actress who plays the character of Sibella, provides an in-depth look into her life as a performer in the touring production of this 2014 Tony Award® winner for Best Musical.
Tell us about yourself.
I started dancing when I was 3 years old. At that age, much to the dismay of both my parents, I “couldn”t carry a tune in a bucket,” as my mother says. My dad is a phenomenal bass/baritone, and my mother has a lovely singing voice as well. Luckily, I figured out how to match pitch around the age of 7 or 8, and I have been singing ever since. My parents took me to see the national tour of CATS when it came through Dallas when was 9 years old. I think that is when I knew I wanted to do this for a living. I did children”s theatre over the summers until high school, then I did the high school plays and musicals, along with choir and choral competitions. I went to the University of Oklahoma to study musical theatre, moved to New York after graduation, worked all over the country, all before landing my first Broadway show. Four Broadway shows, a stint in London”s West End, a LOT of auditions later and here I am!
What was your process in preparing for the role of Sibella?
I saw Gentleman”s Guide twice in its first year on Broadway, and I absolutely fell in love with it and the role of Sibella. Most performers watch shows with an eye on what role they could play in them. Sibella was the one that called to me. When I got the audition, I read the script, learned the sides and music, and forced my wonderful husband to go through everything with me. When I got the job, one of our writers gave me a bit of insight that helped shape my initial take on the character. Additionally, our director, Darko Tresnjak, encouraged all of us to find our own way to the characters and not to do an imitation of anyone we had seen play them previously. Sometimes in this business, you find a role that just fits you like a beautifully tailored suit. Sibella is one of those for me.
Would you provide a glimpse into a “day in the life” of an actor of a touring production, including some insight to what audience members might not know is a part of your regular routine?
The wonderful thing about touring is getting to see new cities all over the country! I have never been to most of the cities we are going to, and I can”t wait to explore them! The hard part is packing your life into two suitcases and a trunk. For example, you have to ask yourself, “what clothes am I going to need in Tampa, Florida versus Cleveland, online casino Ohio?” Many of us are married and have husbands and wives at home in New York, so we have to figure out when we are going to see them. My husband (fellow actor, James Ludwig) and I sat down with both of our work calendars about a month before I started rehearsals to map out a schedule of when we could see each other.
On days when we only have one show, we try to get out and about to see what there is to see wherever we are, like The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame & Museum and the Christmas Story House in Cleveland. There is a group of us who are finding yoga studios in each city we visit, which has been really fun. Sometimes when we get to our hotel on the first day, we will put on our running shoes and go for an exploratory jog – finding the theatre, seeing what restaurants are close, etc.
I have to eat a very early and somewhat meager dinner before the show because of our costumes. All the women are wearing corsets (yes, real corsets) under our costumes, and a big dinner right before the show would just make you uncomfortable for the rest of the night! Also, I talk to people all the time who do not realize we all do our own makeup for the show!
Are there specific musical numbers in the show that are favorites for you? For the audience?
I love all of my songs and scenes, but I think the obvious favorite for everyone – cast and audience – is “I”ve Decided to Marry You,” right at the top of Act II. The staging is exciting and pristine. In my opinion, the song itself is one of the best musical theatre songs written in the last 20 years.
This show has been described as “uproarious” – what’s the secret to musical comedy success in your experience?
Timing is everything, but I think the key with the comedy in our show is the honesty behind it. Every character has something they want so badly they would lie, cheat, steal, or even kill for. It”s the way each character goes about achieving their goals that makes the show so incredibly funny because they all believe with absolute certainty in what they are doing. You cannot just try to be funny. It does not work that way.
What makes A Gentleman”s Guide to Love and Murder stand out to you from the others you’ve worked on over the years?
My last Broadway show was Pippin, so this is a completely different experience! Up to this point, most of my career has been based on my dance ability. Gentleman”s Guide is giving me the chance to rest my dancer legs a bit, put on my actor/singer hat, and step into a beautifully complex role in a fresh and exciting new musical that I get to share with audiences all over the country. I think that sounds pretty amazing, don”t you?!
A Gentleman”s Guide to Love and Murder plays in Cleveland November 3 – 15 in the Connor Palace at Playhouse Square. For more information, please visit the show’s page on the Playhouse Square website.
Alicia Hansen is the writer behind Poise in Parma, a healthy balance blog for Clevelanders. A graduate of Baldwin-Wallace College’s theatre program, Alicia is a yoga teacher at Evolution Yoga, an event and marketing professional and proud Northeast Ohio arts supporter. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.