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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 13, 2017 - Volume 45 Issue 41
Kendra Kassebaum is Americana
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Kendra Kassebaum is Americana

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN A&E Writer

TIME, THE MUSICAL
5TH AVENUE THEATRE
October 15-November 5


Kendra Kassebaum is a local and national treasure. She's appeared on Broadway in RENT, WICKED, Assassins, and Leap of Faith. She has performed on the Seattle stage in Assassin, Come From Away (which she went with to Broadway!), and now in Ragtime at the 5th Avenue Theatre. As this powerhouse gears up to take on the role of 'Mother' in this Americana classic, this reporter of the Seattle Gay News had the pleasure of interviewing her once again. Eric

Andrews-Katz: You told me that Bernadette Peters was among your earlier influences. How did she influence your desire to be an actress? Have you had the pleasure to meet her since? Kendra

Kassebaum: For me, as a young girl, Bernadette Peters was awesome. She was such a talent and didn't sound like everyone else. That was my insecurity as a child was that I didn't speak like the girls I heard, and the actresses I saw. When we were doing Come From Away on Broadway, Bernadette came back stage. I was so silenced by her talents. She was lovely, and I hope to see her in Hello Dolly on Broadway.

Andrews-Katz: What was the first show you saw and how did it affect you?

Kassebaum: I had an amazing childhood, but in all honesty, I didn't grow up around a lot of theatre. Theatre to us was Branson, Missouri with all the glamour, glitz and country music kind of melting all those forms together. There was a play in my high school. I remember sitting in the gym and watching these girls do (I think it was) Dial M for Murder. It affected me so deeply because I wanted to know what the next thing out of their mouths were, what they were thinking, and I thought of these girls to be so brave.

Andrews-Katz: When you worked with Stephen Sondheim (in Assassins (2004)), he added a song that you had the pleasure to introduce. How was it decided that you would get that honor?

Kassebaum: I remember, literally, we were in the rehearsal room. Joe Mantello was the director and we were learning the song. There are all these vocal assignments and Anne Nathan was sounding so amazing. I was told to sing her part, but I was too high, so we switched the parts. It's an ensemble song definitely, but it's so wonderful to start that whole part of the show. It came down to that. Being a part of that show was like a Master's Class in acting. I was on the side as much as I could so I could watch. People were at the top of their game in that show.

Andrews-Katz: You were part of the Pre-Broadway and Original Broadway cast of Come From Away. How did you first get involved with this show?

Kassebaum: It's tricky when you first hear about a show dealing with the events of 9-11. I read the script and loved it. I had just had my baby and came in to audition for the workshop. I initially went in for the pilot role, but ended up doing Bonnie, who takes care of the animals. I did the workshop and then the Broadway opening. That's how Seattle rules. People want to come and try out their stuff here.

Andrews-Katz: Since the characters are based on 'real-lives,' how involved were you in the forming of your character(s)?

Kassebaum: Chris Ashley the director said we have to tell a story; we didn't have to be exactly like the people. A lot of the cast was, coincidentally, very much like the people they were portraying. We tried our best to honor their story, using pretty much direct quotes. They were just as involved on this journey as we were. We saw the real people and we became like a family. I know about them and their kids, and they know about us.

Andrews-Katz: Come From Away is a powerful piece of theatre. How do you summon the strength each night? What do you do to come down from it after?

Kassebaum: The beautiful part of the show is the ending - it's a celebration. You think we are at the end of the show and then there is this fast-forward. When we get off stage, we are jazzed. We're talking to each other in excited voices: 'Did you feel the energy exchange?' 'Did you see that reaction or this one?' We are so excited it's hard to come down, energetically. The actors and the audiences share so much and exchange so much about their own experiences.

Andrews-Katz: Ragtime is a different form of Americana musical. How does it contrast with something like Come From Away?

Kassebaum: That's an awkward question. It's also a great question and an important one. I'm finding so many similarities to both processes. Peter [Rothstein] (Ragtime's director) wants us to be involved with each other. We are telling each other's stories in this musical as well. It's not like you come out, sing your solo and are off stage for another twenty pages. We are all helping out on stage, off stage because we are all responsible for each other in this show.

Andrews-Katz: The character 'Mother' goes on an emotional journey. How do you find yourself identifying with this character?

Kassebaum: We are in a time right now when you can't unsee what we are seeing on the news, on TV. It forces us to see it, and I can't help but take it in. I wonder, how I can help in some way, help our world, help humanity. Ragtime takes place in 1904, and 'Mother' starts to introduce the opportunity of helping; 'there's something not working so let's open ourselves up to what does work.' She sees after the smoke has lifted, and when it comes to her husband, she sees what he's not able to; how the world is changing, there is unfairness in the world, and not to shut our eyes to it. We have to teach our kids that there is hope. We are stronger together.

Andrews-Katz: Ragtime deals with so many different parts of Americana. How do you think - if at all - it mirrors today's environment?

Kassebaum: There are younger audience members that don't recall the events of 9-11. They have witnessed other acts of terrorism and they can identify with the injustices portrayed in Ragtime. There are injustices with the inequalities of the world, the inequalities of women, the inequalities of minorities. We are seeing the same type of violence, even police violence, and the horrible things happening in our country. Some of these haven't changed. One of the characters in Ragtime is 'Emma Goldman' [based on the real life anarchist]. Her words still ring true, what we are still striving for in our country then, reflects our current society.

Andrews-Katz: The last time we spoke, you said you would love to play 'Mable' in the ill-fated musical, Mack and Mabel. Since then have there been other roles you coveted (regardless of limitation) or is this still your dream?

Kassebaum: Shoot; I've gotten so much older and wiser in the year and half since we talked. (Laughs). Mable I'd always love to do. Let's see, what others. I would love, LOVE, something delicious, a fun world to get lost in. Sweeney Todd as Mrs. Lovett would be it!

ra Kassebaum is playing 'Mother' in the 5th Avenue production of Ragtime. Based on the E.L. Doctorow book by the same name, the story tells the sweeping saga of America at the turn of the 20th Century, by mixing real historic characters along with the fictional to tell the tale of how immigrants and African-Americans fit into the scheme of Americana.

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