By: Martha Hobby and Sarah Taylor
At the 2010 Tony Awards, Christiane Noll took to the stage to perform “Back to Before” from Ragtime. That year, she was also nominated for Lead Actress in a Musical for her role as Mother in the same show. Christiane also originated the role of Emma in the Broadway production of Jekyll & Hyde. Her voice can also be heard in the animated movie version of The King & I. Other productions include Chaplin, Urinetown, Grease, Miss Saigon, and South Pacific.
On March 15, we were able to sit down with Ms. Noll for a brief interview about her life and career.
M: Do you have a go to audition song?
C: “Gift’s of Love” from The Baker’s Wife or “A Quiet Thing.” Most of the time, now, if…well, not if! When I audition, they just give you a big packet and say, “Here. Learn this!” I’m much happier [with that]. Sometimes, I’ve done “Glitter and Be Gay,” but it’s very specific when you would need to do that. For comedy songs, sometimes I do “Not Getting Married Today” – but all three parts. So, it’s like she’s really schizophrenic. But I’m so grateful when it’s like, “Here. Learn this! Do that.”
S: Your mom was an opera singer. But what spurred your interest in musical theatre specifically?
C: My parents took me to see a lot of different shows. Because my mom was an opera singer, I knew what that sounded like and I knew I didn’t sound like that. And so, growing up, a lot of me didn’t even want to attempt it because I wasn’t good at it. There was more operetta and, of course, I sang a lot of it just for fun. But, in terms of really trying to create something that you’re good at (not just the family business), I can actually open my mouth and do it. So, musical theatre is very accessible for young voices because you can, basically, open your mouth and it’s whatever sound comes out.
You don’t have to really study to train the voice to do musical theatre [in the same way that you do for opera]. A little training certainly helps, vocally, to learn how to sing. I could sing along to A Chorus Line or whatever my favorite show happened to be at the time, when I was growing up. I was just able to do that.
I was not interested in doing it, even as I was becoming a teenager. When I got into high school, though, I was put into the class with the other artistically talented students and with a teacher that was in charge of the talent show. He mounted the whole thing with me in mind. So, different things started happening. I was in chorus, also. My choral director also had me audition for the county and regional and state choruses. It was encouraged by the people around me. It’s great, but there are so many people who were not raised in that same environment. They have that hunger, when they hear it or watch it – they realize, “Oh! I want to do that!” I never had that because I grew up in it. It was really a matter of having people, surrounding me, to remind me that this was something I was good at. I did, and do, love it.
S: What is your favorite project to date, and what made it special?
C: It would have to be Ragtime. I was eight months pregnant when I auditioned. My daughter was six weeks old when we started rehearsals. I was so single-minded about her and then I’d show up at rehearsals. And not think about it, which is probably the best place to come from as an actor. You do your best work that way.
It was only supposed to be a limited run at the Kennedy Center. Then, for it to get moved to New York was not in the cards, not planned. It did and people got to see what was the synthesis of what was happening in my life – on stage. I got recognized for that, with awards or nominations, which was mind-blowing. I was grateful because it was a great show and I wish it had run longer. An unexpected blessing.
M: What would be your dream role, if you could eliminate the factors of voicing and gender?
C: I had wanted to play Anna in The King and I, which I got to do this past summer. But, I would like to do it again, on a larger scale. I would love to play Mrs. Lovett [from Sweeney Todd]. I don’t think that it’s out of the realm of possibility for me, because I’m aging in that direction. I’ve wanted to play her since college. I did a character study of her in one of my music classes and followed her characterization in the musical score.
S: Your 54 Below album came out last year. Are there any new projects on the horizon?
C: Well, my mother has been giving me suggestions of songs I should do. The songs that she’s given me were varied: some theatrical, a Johnny Mathis tune, a Carole King song. I’m trying to come up with a concept for a new show or an album, maybe. I think I may be doing 1776 this summer, which is another role (Abigail) on my list of things that I’d like to do. But nothing specific yet, but I’m in the creative process.
M: How was the Sound of Music?
C: It was really weird (laughs). In television, they expect you to, sort of, know what to do. They give you a mark and as long as you hit it – you’re good. And you have to hit the mark, because it’s all about the camera. The rehearsal process was done in the studio, in a similar way to a Broadway show. The director blocked the scenes, but there was very little discussion. There were some extraordinary musical theatre people on the set, like Audra [McDonald], Christian [Borle], and Laura [Benanti], who know their way around a television set. Even then, we were having the discussion that it was television and not film, where the frame is just on your face. But the camera is still much closer, as opposed to an audience that is farther away. Whenever you do musical theatre, you have to portray a different reality, which is much more difficult to do on film. You’re doing a live feed of the musical, but there is no audience, which usually gives you the timing. And if you deliver a funny line, you won’t know if it’s funny or not.
Everyone was so excited and I felt that what we were doing was very historical. It was monumental – in what was accomplished on all parts. Carrie Underwood could not have been sweeter. She was committed to what she was doing, prepared and so game and terrified. Stephen Moyer wrote notes to everyone, which he didn’t have to do. Everyone was so lovely. I am thrilled that it got the viewership that it did and that this tradition will continue. For people to be able to see these productions in their living rooms is awesome!
S: Barbra Streisand has a new “Duets” album coming out.
C: Oh, really? Good for her! Is she that old now? I guess she is a legend, so…(laughs).
S: If you could eliminate all barriers, like…
S: …who would you want to duet with?
C: On the spot, I would have to say: Anthony Warlow. He was recently Daddy Warbucks in the Broadway revival of Annie. He is an Austrailian superstar. He sings opera, musical theatre, pop. He has a voice that is unreal. I was exposed to him through the concept album for Jekyll & Hyde, before it came to Broadway. When I first heard his voice, I was like, “Who is this? What is – Oh my god!” It was ridiculous how good he was. Later on, we would put my voice on a recording with him – so I kind of got to sing with him.
But I will say, he is the only artist to ever make me act like an idiot. At opening night of Jekyll & Hyde on Broadway, I got to meet him and I acted like a dufus. I had met Julie Andrews, for an audition, and said, “Hi! How are you?” Like a normal person. But with him, I was all over the place.
I would like to be able to duet with him for real, because he is a friend of mine, now.
M: Finally, what piece of advice would you give to young, aspiring actors?
C: Make sure you love musical theatre and it feeds you, because it’s not easy. And there is more rejection than anything else. At the beginning of your journey, you may feel inclined to mold yourself into what you think the directors want to see. The best advice, that I can give, is to find the things that make you special. Everyone has something that makes them special. Even if everyone sings the same songs, because of who you are and what you’ve done and how you’ve lived and what you’ve experienced, you are going to bring something unique and very special to that song. Even if you emulate other performers, the words are still coming out of your mouth. When you walk into a room where you are contributing something, you say, “These are my gifts. This is what I bring to this.” If their perception of what your gifts are going to be matches the gifts you possess, then things will work out. So, find out what makes you special, hold on to that and be proud of it.
After our conversation, we were able to sit in on her sound check and, later, attended her show: “Christiane Noll: Gifts.” In the show, she dramatizes her musical journey. The music was phenomenal and her stories were heart-warming. Her energy, throughout the show, and constant interactions with the audience pulled us into her own reality.
If you get the chance, you should definitely go see Christiane live!