Interview – Christianne Tisdale
Bruce Kimmel: Hello, Christianne Tisdale, and welcome to haineshisway.com, soon to be the most popular site on all the Internet. Even though people might not know your name instantly, you, in fact, have been around working like crazy. But, I’m getting ahead of myself which is, I suppose, better than getting afoot of myself or even aknee of myself. So, tell us, Christianne Tisdale, person who’s been around working like crazy, where were you born and raised.
Christianne Tisdale: You’re right, Bruce. I do work like crazy. I’m a lucky girl. And don’t worry about getting ahead of yourself…if you do, I’ll keep abreast of the situation, by gum. Might not know my name instantly? Hell, Susan Birkenhead called me the best kept secret of the 90s. I’m working hard on becoming the best kept secret of the “aughts.” From your comment, I seem to be succeeding…Wooo Hooooo! Oh yeah. To answer your question, I was born in North Shore Hospital out on Long Island in 19none-of-your-bidness, and remained in Glen Head until 4th grade. A bad rep (I didn’t do it, I swear) caused a move to Connecticut, a state much more understanding of my special needs (I’m innocent I tell you).
BK: At what point did you realize a) that you had talent and b) that you wanted a life in the show business?
CT: I have talent? I’m in show business? Did anyone out there know my name instantly?
BK: Did you do shows in school? Did you take classes at an early age. Tell us all about the early life of Christianne Tisdale, person who’s been around working like crazy.
CT: I DO work like crazy…wow! My first foray into show business was a neighborhood production of “Sleeping Beauty.” Yes, I was to play the narcoleptic princess, the beginning of a long run of princesses, cross-dressers and no rehearsal. However, I came down with a raging case of rubella instead and had to bow out at the 11th hour. To this day I have missed a total of 6 performances…that includes vacation…TOTAL.I am the youngest of 5 children and was informed at the age of 12, by my sister, that I was an accident. When I asked my mom if this was true, she replied, “We prefer to think of you as a pleasant surprise.” Not exactly what I wanted to hear, but honesty is a valued commodity…at least to Mom. If ANYONE out there thinks the youngest is spoiled, grow up in my house. One brother shot me with an arrow, tried to drown me, succeeded in breaking my nose and pulling my toes out of the sockets…often. But he loved me, he really did. And still does. Dodging these near-death experiences left little time for extra-curricular activities, but I am adept with tourniquets and holding my breath. I also have an interesting nose and really long, monkey-like toes.
Oh…at the age of five, I could sing “Don’t Bogart that Joint” from the soundtrack of “Easy Rider” and I did sing it…in kindergarten. I was sent home. At the age of nine, I could sing the entire Frank Zappa “Apostrophe” album…I still can. I was a child prodigy.
BK: Okay, where did you end up going to college, and what was your major? Tell us about some of the shows you did in college (if applicable).
CT: I attended a small liberal arts college in New Haven, Connecticut, whose name begins with the 25th letter of the alphabet. People tend not to believe that I’m an Ivy Leaguer…don’t know why. Maybe it’s my constant use of ellipses. I majored in music because I wanted to be an opera singer. WHAT WAS I THINKING? But I did get a year of acting training with the astounding Nikos Psacharapolous, and that was worth the price of admission.
BK: So, there you are, Christianne Tisdale, ready to take on the world and environs. What was the first professional theater job you got? And tell us about some of your regional theater experiences while you’re at it.
CT: My first professional theater job? Technically it was a production of “Two By Two” as Rachel the boring girl at Bristol Riverside Theater in 1992. However, since the “Jewish Times” declared that I showed as much passion as if I’d heard about a sale on paper towels (I DO love a good sale), I declare that my first professional theater job was my next gig…Johanna in North Carolina Theater’s production of “Sweeney Todd,” starring Terry Mann and directed by the much-loved Scott LaFeber. It was a brilliant, passionate cast (and director) and still one of my proudest achievements.
Regional theatre is the meat and potatoes of an actors’ career. We all love the dessert (also know as Broadway), but I don’t think I could survive on it. Regional is where you get to do Shakespeare, new works, weird works and take huge chances because you know the NY press can’t crucify you. I mean really…who other than Scott LaFeber would hire me to play Amalia in “She Loves Me” AND Titania in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” back to back? AND, if you do a great job at a regional theatre, they are more than happy to invite you back. It’s an odd version of job security.
BK: At what point did you hie yourself to New York, New York? Tell us about a young musical theater actress starting out in New York. Did you take classes, go on scads of auditions? Many of our readers are aspiring or perspiring performers and they are interested in such things. Hold nothing back.
CT: I “hied” to NY in 19none-of-your-bidness. Dear Readers: Take “heed” when “hie-ing” to NY. You could “hate” it and “who’d” blame you…especially if you were “hailed” to study opera. Twenty or so opera roles later, I “high-tailed” it out of there, and ended up in the living room of agent, Bret Adams. I plopped down on the floor and asked if I could stay, and he said, “I don’t know…sing for me.” I did, and he said okay. It was as easy as that. I’ve studied acting with the indomitable Sande Shurin for the last five years. Love her, love her, love her. I wish everyone would study with her; theater would be more creative, joyous, personal and instinctual if they did.
I’ve studied voice too much. But if you need to, go see Alix Korey.
I won’t dance, don’t ask me. But if you want to, go to Broadway Dance Center.
BK: Before we get to your Broadway debut, tell us a little bit about this project you did entitled A Tale of Cinderella. That is a very interesting thing, because this small show ended up getting recorded by Atlantic and taped by Warner Home Video for PBS. Tell us all about it, every last thing.
CT: Aaaah…”A Tale of Cinderella” or “The Little Show that Could.” I call it “Cinderella with Cojones.” I took that job with the New York State Theater Institute in ’94 because…well…they offered it to me, I could get my health insurance AND later go on unemployment. Of all the dumb luck, it turned out to be part of a half million dollar grant from Time Warner. All sorts of weird pressure started being placed on opening night, which freaked the Prince (Sean Sullivan…what a doll) and me so badly that we stayed up until 3 in the morning drinking hot toddies while making snowmen in the 10 degree blizzard. A brilliant choice: reviews were great and Atlantic Theater Records decided to do an original cast album. A year later Warner Home Video came in and we repeated it for them. It was shown for years on PBS. Casting directors make fun of me for it, but I was a princess again, dammit!
BK: All righty – now it’s 1995 – and you make your actual real-life Broadway debut as Belle, in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, with exactly two count them two days of rehearsal. Tell us how it came about, what the experience of being thrown out there was like, and then tell us what it’s like to be part of a machine like Beauty and the Beast. Who was your Beast and Gaston?
CT: Ooooh…another princess? Don’t mind if I do. B&B was some ride. I started the show as an understudy and was thrown on as Belle with, yes, a total of two days of rehearsal within my first two weeks in the show. There was no put-in. There was no run-through, and I have never spent a more extraordinary evening in my life. Now here were the issues: I’m not a dancer and had never done “Be Our Guest” on the stage with the company; I had never done the quick changes; I had never worn the 25 pound, $25,000 dress; I had never met The Beast (Jeffie McCarthy); I THOUGHT I knew how the transformation worked; and I didn’t know that there were traps open at the top of the show. It was a recipe for a $10 million disaster, and yet NOTHING went wrong; EVERYTHING went right. Preternaturally right, and I was preternaturally calm. When the final curtain came down, my knees buckled. When I got to my dressing room and was alone for the first time in five hours, I absolutely imploded. The poor ASM (of course the PSM was out of town) walked in to find a huddling, half-naked, incomprehensible shnoog whimpering in the corner, “BLEEP you! I can’t believe you made me BLEEPING do that! That was BLEEPING scary,..” etc., etc. His only response was “The producers were here and they were duly impressed. They will not soon forget what you did.” And they didn’t. When they got the chance, they gave me the role. Now, I know it sounds melodramatic, and I know everyone has understudy stories, but that’s mine, and I was a princess again. BTW, my first run-through was after my 10th performance.
Is Disney a machine? Yes, I think so. Am I a good cog in the machine? No, I think not. But when the brilliant Jeff McCarthy is your neighboring cog and you can lube it up and mesh and crank it out in different ways, it’s wondrous, weird and worthwhile. He is one of my favorite colleagues and the work we did together holds some of my favorite memories.
Am I talking too much?
BK: I’m quite sure that around this time we met – I remember one of my dear orchestrators, Larry Moore, who did the Cinderella project, raving about you and I know we met soon thereafter. Tell our readers about some of the albums I’ve used you on.
CT: Why, Larry Moore is my dear orchestrator, too.
God, Bruce. I remember doing one recording for you and it was for Varese. The song was “Nothing to Do with Love” from “Personals” and if I’m right, I full-belted a freakishly high note. Great people were on that track…Jennifer Simard, Danny Burnstein…James Hindman. I also recall being cut-off Nazi…an ugly “I have a BA in Music” quality of mine. But that track scored. I loooooooooooooooooooooooove those CDs you did. Do more, wouldja?
BK: Let’s talk about some of your other performances. You did Triumph of Love, standing by for Susan Egan, and I believe you got to go on every now and then (in fact, I saw you do the show and you were excellent!). How is it to be a standby – tell our readers how that works. How much rehearsal did you have before actually going on? And, most importantly, how was it to work with Miss Betty Buckley and Mr. F. Murray Abraham, both of whom have reputations of being, well, shall we say, quirky? Hold nothing back.
CT: You liked me. You really liked me. We went out for dinner after that performance, didn’t we, Bruce?
Okay, standing-by differs from understudying only in that you’re not in the chorus (pink contract), but hang out in the balcony, drink TAB and wave to Susan Egan who often waves back (white contract). Sometimes you even get to go out to dinner with the heavenly “Haines His Way” man himself.
“Triumph” was a kick and yes, I did hit that stage a lot as Leonide, the cross-dressing princess. Susan will say that we shared the role. Once you got on that ride you couldn’t get off. I had a little more rehearsal for that, but not much and again, no put-in or run-through. And that, unfortunately, proved dangerous. Not for me, but for the other actors. I almost killed Nancy Opel. No one told me I had to hold that darned trapdoor open for her. Within my first 30 seconds onstage I dropped it…on her head. Since I was her stand-by as well, that wasn’t the best choice. But she lived, and the rest of the performance was silky. Got to kiss Michele Pawk to the delight of the crew, and Fmurray Abraham climbed seven flights of stairs to tell me how much he loved working with me. He is extraordinarily kind and always made me feel like his equal. I love him for that.
Yes, his Oscar did make some special cameos appearances.
La Bettina is quirky and amazes me.
Standing-by is being paid to have a heart attack.
That’s all I’m saying. A girl has to hold something back.
Wait…did I say that I love Susan Egan? No? I love Susan Egan.
BK: You also spent quite awhile touring the country in a musical entitled Titanic, did you not, yes or no? Was the tour different to the Broadway production and, if so, how so? And who did you play, and did you always have a sinking feeling before the end of the show? How did audiences react to the show?
CT: Sail on! How different from the Broadway production? I called it “Titanic Unplugged.” We had one level as opposed to three, which required some creative re-staging. And creative it was, and in many ways created a far more human story. Because it was one level, the sinking could be at a more dramatic angle, which was fantastic. You could see the actors more clearly and follow their stories. My beautiful scene partner, Philip Lehl, chose not to fight, handed over his life jacket and walked calmly and proudly into the water…brilliant. Our roles (Caroline and Charles) had been a major point of contention in the original B’way production. Originally the leads, they had been cut down to cameos, so Richard Jones just let us play. We came up with a delightful, personal and sexy interpretation and had a huge cheerleader in the late, great Peter Stone.
As Caroline and Charles, Philip and I spent maybe 20 minutes onstage a night. I worked out that we earned about $800 an hour…nice work if you can get it. I just would have preferred more hours. We had A LOT of fun onstage and backstage and were often called into the principal’s office…but we never got detention.
Did audiences like the show? I don’t know. I think it might have been more satisfying to do than to see, but don’t quote me. (That was a ridiculous thing to say, wasn’t it?)
Dear Readers: Touring is about making and saving money, soooooooo do as I did and house-sit, dog-sit and cat-sit. That way you only pay for housing for four months of tour. Sometimes you get to drive someone’s 7 Series BMW to take Fluffy to the vet…and take yourself to the show. Remember not to tell Fluffy’s owner that you only learned to drive three months ago.
Am I talking too much?
BK: You were also in Call Me Madam with Miss Tyne Daly at Encores! Who did you play, and is doing Encores fun, or is it a pressure-cooker atmosphere?
CT: Encores! is NOT a pressure-cooker when you’re third bimbo from the left…but don’t discount third bimbo from the left. First, second and fourth bimbos were the brilliant Beth McVey, Colleen Fitzpatrick and Rebecca Spencer. Cast by Jay Binder, I swear to God (the real one, not Jay) that’s the reason I booked B&B.
I just saw Rob Fisher last night at a gala at Goodspeed honoring Susan Stroman. He conducts the Coffee Club Orchestra and is a wickedly wonderful musician.
BK: You were also in some rather weird, yes weird, smaller shows, such as the York Theater’s Fermat’s Last Tango. Tell us about some of these weird smaller shows – are they fun? Do you enjoy performing in a more intimate space like the York as opposed to the Palace for Beauty and the Beast, or do they both have their appeal?
CT: “Fermat’s Last Tango” wasn’t THAT weird. What’s weird about a musical celebrating the beauty of numbers, and Andrew Wiles’ proof of the most elusive mathematical problem of all times? What’s weird about a woman playing Euclid, the founder of Geometry? What’s weird about dead mathematicians going to their heaven, the Aftermath…and singing rock and roll? Okay, it was a little weird and a lot of fun. AND it was a little show that took a BIG chance and I loved it. I thrive on the weird little shows. Trying to compare The York and The Palace is like trying to compare cheese slices and ham chunks…YOU NEED BOTH, n’est pas?
BK: You’ve also done a few workshops, such as The Ballad of Little Jo, The Green Heart and Byzantium. Tell us how a workshop works, and what you think of the whole workshop scene.
CT: Workshops are a great way to get to know a creative team. How the official workshop works is that you work on the new piece for a few weeks, hoping to sand the rough spots, and then present it in a pressure-cooker kind of situation, looking for backers. Because the actors have a creative input in the piece, contractually they get a percentage of it, and either move on with it or are bought out. It’s an expensive way for producers to work and I’m not sure it always pays off. Because actors are amenable folk and are often paid to make the impossible possible, we can easily gloss over problems inherent in a work just to keep the creative team happy. And we want them to be happy because then they will like us and keep us on. But then the show moves with its problems, is creamed by the press and closes and everyone is out of work.
I prefer to take a new piece to the regions, away from the pressure-cooker that is New York, and work on it there. You get more done.
BK: Now, Christianne Tisdale, person who’s been around and working like crazy, you have also appeared on film and television, not necessarily in that order. First of all, you were in a film with Mr. Al Pacino entitled The Devil’s Advocate. Tell us about it – was that your first film? Was it exciting to do?
CT: Tee hee hee! I had left the Beastie show and had some free time…got a call to do background work on a Taylor Hackford film and said, “Sure.” I tried to hide, but the director found me. He threw me on to do some odd cross with Keanu Reeves, and…
Take One: I trip on the steady-cam wires.
Take Two: I walk too fast (trying to get away from the steady-cam).
Take Three: I bump into the steady-cam. Taylor dubs me “Dizzy Tizzy.”
Take Four: I bump into Keanu. Taylor dubs me “Genius,”gives me a line and upgrades me.
I kid you not.
That was the beginning and, so far, the end of my feature film career. Taylor, where are you?
BK: You’ve also appeared on Late Night with David Letterman, Howie Mandel, and more importantly on two very well-known soaps, Guiding Light and Another World. Tell us about each and every one of those.
CT: Sometimes, and it’s a nice time, when you are on a production contract you get to go on a major TV show and sing and dance for all the nice people across the great United States. On Letterman, I danced with Paul. I think he was stoned. On Howie Mandel, I sailed on with Titanic. I’m pretty sure Mandel wasn’t stoned.
Soap operas keep NY stage actors feeling as though they have a bit of a TV career. Called in for a day player or an under five (5 lines or less), you’re paid a pretty penny basically to look pretty and play with the regulars, who tend to be prettier than you and are always paid the prettier penny.
Lord help any girl who’s over a size 4.
BK: Now, what’s this I hear about a rather infamous segment of Lingerie on the E! Channnel? We must know all about this and we must know if it involved THONG underwear because we at haineshisway.com abhor THONG underwear. Tell us everything and hold nothing back.
CT: “Thing, Thing a Thong. Thing it loud. Thing it Thtrong.” What’s wrong with thongs, Bruce? Do tell. Hold nothing back.
My appearance on Lingerie on E! was someone’s brainchild that quickly became a “Basty Baby.” On a Valentine Special, I was interviewed as Belle, showing off my Bloomers, quipping “Well, they definitely make me feel more secure when I’m gardening or doing the can-can with the napkins in the castle.” (I stink at quipping.) Cut to Tizzy kicking up her heels in “Be Our Guest.” This brilliant episode was not aired the promised five times in February, but over 100 times over the next few years. Legendary. I was never paid a pretty penny. Shoot me now.
Speaking of thongs. a little know fact: Belle wears one…along with tights, dance pants, the afore-mentioned Bloomers and layer after layer of petticoats. That’s about 8 layers of underwear. Ponder that.
BK: Tell us about some of your concert work and you work doing opera.
CT: I sing with orchestras all over the U.S. One of the more pleasurable ways of earning a quick buck, I’m paid oodles to put on a gorgeous gown, hang out with some friends, span about 4 octaves, and make an orchestra laugh, all the while creating some beautiful music together. Best concert I’ve done is called “Leading Ladies of Broadway” with Liz Larsen and Kirsti Carnahan. Three strong-minded women should have been a recipe for disaster, but it’s yummy. There is also nothing like the feeling of all those instruments vibrating around you…really visceral.
Opera? Opera stinks.
BK: All right, you, Christianne Tisdale, recently recorded your very own actual CD, which I have been enjoying. It is called Just a Map – A Lullaby to the World. Now, this is not your typical Broadway singer album. Tell us how you came up with the concept and all about the recording of it.
CT: You liked it. You really liked it.
Commercial Break: JUST A MAP-A LULLABY TO THE WORLD is a musical journey around the globe, taking a fresh look at lullabies from 13 countries, sung in 14 different languages. It’s my baby. I researched it, sang it, arranged it, orchestrated about 75% of it (thank you, BA in Music from Yale) and produced it.
I was driving up the Pacific Coast Highway around New Years, radio blaring. NPR announced that the American Dialect Society’s 2002 Phrase of the Year was “Weapons of Mass Destruction.” I cannot live in that world, so I created one on a disc where everybody gets along, at least for a little while. It is my Utopian Society. Included are English, Portuguese, Gaelic, Welsh, French, Spanish, South African, Dutch, German, Yiddish, Hebrew, Russian, Farsi and Aborigine songs. A few of the tracks are multi-lingual and cross-cultural. The languages I didn’t know, I learned in restaurants, churches and gyms throughout NYC…it was a kick. My favorite recording day was during the blizzard. The only way I could get to the studio was to walk across Central Park…it was terra nova…about 16 inches deep and culminated in the best aerobic workout of my life. I think we recorded four sweaty tracks that day. The CD is beginning to get some sweet press and I’m hoping all you dear Readers will pick it up at www.CDBaby.com/Tisdale or www.ChristianneTisdale.com.
A portion of the proceeds are donated to charities promoting peace and human rights awareness, so, not only will the CD make you feel good, but the rest of the world will feel good, too. Buy one, I dare you.
BK: Right this very minute, you are in rehearsal at the Goodspeed Opera House for Very Good Eddie. What is Very Good Eddie, who is in the show with you, and are you having a good time?
CT: “Very Good Eddie?” I think he’s faaaantastic.
“Eddie” is a 1915 Jerome Kern musical that borders on vaudeville, but doesn’t quite step over the line. It is the second time The Goodspeed has revived it, and we’re doing it just as they would have in 1915…no camp…no irony. That’s not an easy task in this day and age, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s rather daring. Dan “Take it from the Top” Siretta (yippeee) is repeating his choreography from 25 years ago, and BT McNicholl is directing. He is damn good. I’ll mention only one other person in the cast, since she’s done an Unseemly Interview with you…yes, Ms. Donna Lynne Champlin. We are seemingly (or unseemingly) the obnoxious twins, separated at birth, only to be reunited years later at The Goodspeed. She’s pretty darn great and plays Madame Matroppo…a voice teacher.
I’m playing Elsie Lilly…an opera singer. Talk about irony.
BK: Well, Miss Christianne Tisdale, you have been an absolutely sparkling guest and we salute you with the official beverage of haineshisway.com, a Diet Coke, and we offer you our official food – cheese slices and ham chunks. And if you’d like to dance the Hora we will not hold it against you. Do you have any final words for our Dear Readers?
CT: Who you calling a hora?
Do you have any TAB? Bring on the ham chunks and cheese slices.
Much love to you. Thanks. I’m hoping this was merely unseemly…not unsightly.