Laura Griffith has recently starred in both The Music Man and Candide (going backward in time) at the 5th Avenue Theatre, to much acclaim! Her soaring soprano is clean and precise and so easy to listen to. My own personal favorite, though, is her turn as the leading lady in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers a few years back, which is still one of my all time favorite 5th Ave shows!
Laura has also starred elsewhere in The Light in the Piazza at Lincoln Center, and was a Helen Hayes Award nominee for Light at the Kennedy Center. The next chance we’ll have to see her is this week as Spamalot opens at the 5th! But even better news is that I interviewed her as she sat in her new apartment on Queen Anne Hill having relocated here! Yay for Seattle!
Laura says about the move, “I’ve done six shows here and it’s always been one of my favorite places to work and I call David Armstrong and ask when I can come back. I know they try to keep it (casting) as local as possible. I was in Los Angeles, but there really was no community around theater there. They’re all focused on tv and movies. But I’ve always been a theater girl. So, this seemed like a really nice family for me.”
If you’ve lived under a rock, Spamalot takes off with a lot of material from the Monty Python classic King Arthur and the Holy Grail. Written by Python Eric Idle with music by John du Prez, it promises all the silliness of the best of Python humor. Yes, you’ll see the Knights Who Say Ni, the killer rabbit, flying cows, and the classic song, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Your Life.” It will run until March 2nd. Director Josh Rhodes makes his 5th Avenue debut at the helm. Most recently, he created the musical staging for the 5th Avenue/ACT Broadway transfer of First Date, the Musical.
Laura plays the Lady of the Lake, a diva who sings in the style of many of our most beloved divas of the last 30 years. Laura says, “I rise up from down below. A true ‘diva’s entrance.’ I’ve been doing a lot of research on my divas. I saw a great video of all the ways Mariah Carey is a true diva and how she makes a great entrance. Something that (often) involves hydraulics.”
She reports that there is a lot going on in this staging. “Lots of things flying in and out and timing is everything. Figuring out where all the bodies need to be and how to get everything around them is tricky. I have several entrances on an elevator and it takes time to figure that out.”
She recently worked at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and described how hard she had to work there. “OSF does all their shows in repertory and they’d do two different shows at once, an afternoon and an evening. You have to keep two (shows) in your head, performing one and rehearsing another, and you also have to understudy other shows, like Romeo and Juliet. I had to carry four shows in my head! They were very physical shows. I ended up dancing a lot in one of them.
“I took a lot of Pilates classes, and would go take a class before matinee, and take half an hour of warming up my voice. I was put in both musicals. I think they’re finding out how hard it is on the actors to do that many (musical) shows at a time. It’s hard on your voice and hard on your body. I really had to be disciplined. It’s like being an athlete.”
Asked if there is a difference in how she approaches comedy or drama, Laura says, “The approach isn’t too different for me. I try to figure out and be truthful to the circumstance of my character on stage. This show is different because I don’t have a scene partner; the audience is my scene partner. I’m pretty isolated from the rest of the company. That’s tricky. It’s difficult to rehearse because if I have no audience, I find myself singing to the curtains.
“What we’ve been discovering is that it’s all about timing and it’s very technical. Really ironing out those moments and nailing them down. It’s all written into the music (the comedy beats) and you really have to deliver the material as is. (Director/writer) Mike Nichols used to say the show is funny, not you, trust the show. The problem with comedy is an actor gets a laugh and they think they’re funny and they try to do more and more and they’re not funny anymore.
“I think about Candide, (the song) Glitter and Be Gay is the big diva moment I’ve had in my career. You have to stand center stage and live that number. I think that’s what we’re tapping into: a character who lives in the glory of the song and tries to inspire people around her. I think if you lose track of what you’re doing in the show, it becomes gimmicky and winking at the audience isn’t that funny. The audience wants to be swept away in that moment. I think that is the tricky thing about comedy.
“The Lady of the Lake is a bit of a siren, mystical creature, she gives Arthur the sword and is his muse, so it’s in order to inspire Arthur that I channel the divas of the world.”
A Room with a View (April 8-May 4) is a completely different musical. It’s based on the movie with Helena Bonham Carter, Maggie Smith, and Daniel Day Lewis and from the novel by E.M. Forster. The 5th Avenue blurb says: Proper Lucy Honeychurch takes a vacation to Italy and has her life turned upside down by an unexpected romance. If you love Downton Abbey, you’ll be enchanted by this romantic new musical.
Laura says, “It’s romantic. It’s British and we all have British accents. It’s beautiful. It’s great to be working with writers, working on new pieces. We had a three week workshop with the writers and worked really hard, and I’ve become really invested in that character. Lucy is an incredible woman. That’s very exciting to me. I’ve been very vocal about wanting to make her a fully three dimensional woman. She’s young and passionate and smart but confused, as people can often be about how they fit into the world around them. So, I think the piece has an incredible journey. But doing a new musical is very hard. They’ve completely rewritten it since they did it in San Diego.”
Laura says that she was a bit concerned about whether she’d feel connected here, when she relocated. “I didn’t know if I’d have a community around me, but it’s been really warm and supportive. This is the best of all worlds. I’m grateful for all the years I spent in New York and they definitely shaped me as an artist. But the day in and day out living in New York, I didn’t see the long term satisfaction. I wanted a balanced life. I think that’s a lot of why people come back here.
“Commercial theater in New York is a really tricky thing and sometimes things you love don’t do well there and you don’t have as much opportunity to take a risk and do something the masses don’t respond to. Here I think there are a lot of different types of projects going on.”