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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 18, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 46
The sweet duo behind the wicked stepsisters
An interview with Nick Garrison and Sarah Rudinoff
Arts & Entertainment
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The sweet duo behind the wicked stepsisters
An interview with Nick Garrison and Sarah Rudinoff

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN Contributing Writer

Cinderella
5th Avenue Theatre
November 25-December 31


The 5th Avenue Theatre's holiday musical is the lesser-known Rodgers & Hammerstein classic, Cinderella. Not waiting for the stroke of midnight, the cast was announced - and it is nothing short of magical. Seattle Gay News sat down with local personalities Nick Garrison (Cabaret) and Sarah Rudinoff (On The Town) to discuss their views, their careers, and their roles as Cinderella's stepsisters.

Eric Andrews-Katz: Who were the people that influenced you to become a performer?

Nick Garrison: One of the first movies I was conscious of seeing - at 5 years old - was Looking For Mr. Goodbar, and I became obsessed with Diane Keaton. Then it was with Woody Allen films. There was Maggie Smith and Meryl Streep, all female actresses in movies I probably shouldn't have seen at such an early age. I remember seeing a friend of mine playing one of the children in The King and I. After the show they went to Red Robin and drank mock-tails. I wanted to go into theater because I wanted to drink mock-tails at Red Robin.

Sarah Rudinoff: I grew up on Kauai [Hawaii] and didn't see much theater. My mother was in the Kauai Community Players, but I didn't see a lot of plays. As I got older I went to New York and saw A Chorus Line in the early 1980s. That definitely started to turn me on. Later I lived in London and saw Fiona Shaw perform Antigone and Hedda Gabler.

Andrews-Katz: What were your first stage roles?

Garrison: I think it was in The Hobbit.

Rudinoff: I was in The Hobbit too! I had this huge starring role as Bilbo Baggins in seventh grade and I got to glue brown cotton balls on my toes with spirit gum. That's the kind of actor I am. My first role was the Maid in The Velveteen Rabbit. It's still one of my favorite stories.

Andrews-Katz: Why do you think the music of Rodgers & Hammerstein continues to be so appealing?

Garrison: It just feels so good to sing it! It feel likes a warm bomb. The songs age so well. There's a reason why those lyrics are so timeless.

Rudinoff: R&H aren't afraid of a beautiful melody. There's an interesting thing in the lyrics, but the music is something else. It follows the theme of the show. The songs are written for a character like an actor would perform with words, except they are written in music and lyrics. You can follow it.

Andrews-Katz: Are there any morals or lessons in Cinderella?

Garrison: Ours is a very female-empowering version that we are doing. It's very: 'You Go, Girl! You don't need to wait for a prince!' You make your own destiny in life, and nobody is going to make you happy except for you. In relations to our characters [the Stepsisters], there is always someone telling you that you are not pretty or good enough. I want kids to see this and think: 'I'm not so bad. Look at those horrible people on stage!' Our characters have some redeeming values in this version as well.

Rudinoff: There's also a kind of twist and surprise in our version with the Godmother, but I won't give it away. I think it updates it to a modern sensibility. The lessons that are learned are as modern as a Prince and Princess can be. The Stepsisters get caught up in Cinderella's fantasy also. We blame our mother for being horribly raised!

Andrews-Katz: Cinderella was originally a made-for-television musical and has had two subsequent revisions. Have you seen any of them?

Garrison: I've seen the Julie Andrews and the Lesley Ann Warren versions. I think our performances are more like the original with Kaye Ballard and Alice Ghostley.

Rudinoff: I'd never seen either the Julie Andrews or the Lesley Ann Warren ones. A gal who works at the 5th said they had both versions to watch. I went over and saw them. Some of the modern dialogue in ours is more like the Brandy version.

Andrews-Katz: Nick, what challenges and advantages do you find in performing 'drag' roles?

Garrison: I don't know about challenges. I've done so many drag roles that the kind of challenges for me are being true to the character and finding specificity to it. I like to get as specific as possible and hope that when I do drag roles the audience can suspend their disbelief and not just think about a man in a dress. You don't want them to think about it being a guy. They know it is one, but I want them to believe the fantasy that I am the character. I don't have any confusion about my gender at all. For me, I can make that switch easily, maybe because I have a direct link to my female side because I was raised by women.

Andrews-Katz: Sarah, what challenges and advantages do you find in performing a role that is 'over the top'?

Rudinoff: A lot of that is the same way as Judi Dench said: 'You can never play bigger than you are.' I never think that I'm playing over the top. I have a big personality in life and I do the same thing when I'm an actress. I have a great love for the Vaudeville style and comedy, but if you go back and watch it, it's over the top, but not in a snarky way. There are other levels when playing characters that big.

Andrews-Katz: Past productions have offered the Stepmother in drag. How does it differ with a Stepsister?

Garrison: I haven't thought about it. I didn't really know I was a man until I went to the ball. It's not really in my consciousness that I am a man and my character isn't. I would love it if people came to this and didn't know I was a man.

Rudinoff: The Stepmother is kind of the heavy. The Stepsisters are more ridiculous while the Stepmother is cruel. I think that a man playing an evil heavy opposed to a woman is more acceptable. Nick can do the believable kind of drag, but in this kind of show it doesn't matter. Comedy is like math; you know if it's working or not immediately.

Andrews-Katz: Do you think a woman playing a man's role gets the same results in a show as when a man is playing a woman?

Garrison: It's a different thing. There's a power problem because of the way our society works. When a man dresses as a woman he's going down in power - according to society's view. Laughter comes from a place of discomfort. But when a woman plays a man's role, it's empowering. When Sarah does it, it's really funny. I think it freaks people out when drag becomes sexual, though. Being Gay should give you a pass to explore and experiment. You shouldn't have to follow anyone else's template.

Rudinoff: You don't find a lot of women playing a man to be comedic. A man playing a woman is usually a comedic role. There's more women-to-male drag in burlesque. The drag king is much more prevalent, and I see it a lot more now. They are 'gender warriors.'

Andrews-Katz: Regardless of written gender, which roles would you like to play?

Garrison: I have a lot of vanity projects. A role I'm dying to play is [Luis] Molina in Kiss of the Spider Woman. I have another crazy dream that would be completely inappropriate: I'd love to play the title role in the musical Piaf. I'd love to play Fosca in the musical Passion. I'm the one actor who doesn't want to play Hamlet; I'd rather play Cornelius. I'd love to do anything by Tennessee Williams.

Rudinoff: I would love to do a version of The Godfather with me as Don Corleone. I want to explore a character that has that kind of intense male energy, one that is a very particular part.

Cinderella was written in 1957, featuring music by Richard Rodgers and a book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. It is the only one of their collaborations to be written as a television broadcast. Originally it starred Julie Andrews in the title role and Edith Adams as the Fairy Godmother. A 1965 version had Lesley Ann Warren as the enchanted lead and included several songs ('Loneliness of Evening,' 'Boys and Girls Like You and Me') that were cut from previous R&H musicals. Another televised remake appeared in 1998 produced by Whitney Houston, who cast herself as the Fairy Godmother, and Brandy in the title role. Other cast members included Bernadette Peters, Jason Alexander, Whoopi Goldberg, and Victor Garber. This version includes the Richard Rodgers song 'Falling in Love with Love' and the breakout song hit from the 1962 Richard Rodgers Broadway musical No Strings, 'The Sweetest Sound.'

Let the shoe fit!

To continue the magic of Cinderella, the 5th Avenue Theatre is teaming up with Treehouse, a local non-profit charity to donate shoes for foster children. By either bringing a new pair of shoes to the box office or donating them in the lobby of the theater, patrons will receive a voucher good for a 25% discount on tickets for future 5th Avenue productions of Oklahoma!, Titanic: The Concert, Damn Yankees, or Rent. Help a foster child share in Cinderella's magic!

To contact Eric Andrews-Katz, email eric@sgn.org.

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The sweet duo behind the wicked stepsisters
An interview with Nick Garrison and Sarah Rudinoff

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