You were just the lead in Spamalot at the 5th Avenue, outsinging Sara Ramirez on the original Broadway cast recording like crazy.
I was really intimidated by Sara's performance, so I had no idea how I was going to live up to that. I know most people here probably didn't see her, but maybe they'd heard the recording, and I decided I was going to have to find a way to make it my own, to obliterate any memory of what she did. "Obliterate" is maybe the wrong word—
No, I think obliteration is exactly what you achieved.
[Laughs] Well, that sounds a little full of myself. But I wanted people to forget what the template of the role was. I forced myself over and over to make different choices. For "Diva's Lament," I went: What is she trying to do? She's trying to bring down the house. So what would I do if I were trying to bring down the house? Well, I'd sing some really high notes.
You cracked everyone's jewelry.
Well, good. I had a lot of fun with it. I felt like I had this great interaction with the audience every night.
And your acting's amazing. I've seen more productions of The Music Man than should be legal, but I'd never seen a Marian the Librarian like yours last season.
I love that role. I feel very close to her. I get where she's coming from, and I've been single for a while, and being able to relate to Marian—you know, there's a loneliness there, but it's covered over with busyness and hope and the things she does to keep her family together. Her intelligence is sort of a hindrance and an asset. And that's something I see in Lucy Honeychurch, too. Both of these characters have a real, deep longing, as well as an equally strong need to feel in control.
Lucy Honeychurch is the character you're playing in A Room with a View this spring. E. M. Forster names crack me up. Miss Lavish, the Reverend Eager, Lucy Honeychurch. Tell me about this church full of honey.
She is a young woman living in England at a very distinct moment in time, on the verge of a cultural shift out of Victorianism. And she has a deep longing but doesn't even necessarily know what she's longing for. She wants to go out in the world and experience more than what she's grown up with, but she also finds comfort in the rules that have been set up for her.
She's torn between a sexy athlete and a skinny bookish guy. Who would you take?
Oh, wow [laughs]. I can't say. I don't think I really have a type that way. But I do know I'm not sporty. I find athletes to be—you know, they want to watch sports. And I don't.
In the 1985 movie, Helena Bonham Carter plays Lucy. What's the most amazing thing about that performance to you?
I love her. She can just sit and stare out a window, and it's riveting. And I hate to even mention it, but I'm obsessed with the size of her waist—
No, no, it's remarkable.
It's remarkable. Like I sit there and I look at it and I go: She must have had ribs removed. She is a perfect-looking doll, with the tiny waist and the beautiful hair and the porcelain skin, but she has such depths of storminess underneath.
You've done work in Seattle for years, and you finally moved here last September. Where were you before that?
I grew up in LA. I went to college in New York and stayed and did a bunch of Broadway shows, but I always had the feeling I wasn't going to stay permanently. It never really felt like home. And eventually, like a lot of people, I hit the wall—too crowded, too noisy, too expensive. The daily assault of New York City wore on me. We were doing South Pacific, and I had it really good and thought: I think this is a good time to go, on an upswing. So I moved out to LA, because my brother had a baby and I wanted to be there for that, but it became pretty obvious after a couple years that I wasn't going to be satisfied doing theater in LA. I think I underestimated my need to be doing work that I found compelling. And I really missed having a community around theater, because that's something you just can't find in LA. Everybody's there to do TV and film.
Would you say that other vocalists in Seattle are very jealous of you or extremely jealous of you?
[Laughs] If they are jealous, I don't see it. I think the wonderful thing about working here that's different than New York is we all appreciate each other's talents and know that we all have something unique that we do that's amazing. Sarah Davis, who was in the ensemble of Spamalot and is an incredible vocalist herself, turned to me one day and she's like: "Do you even know what note you're singing at the end of 'Find Your Grail'?" And I'm like, "No, not really, I don't think about it." And she said, "Well, I do because I'm belting at the top of my range and you are singing an octave above me." And I was like, "Huh, wow, okay." And it was meant in a celebratory way. We really do all celebrate each other.
How do you take care of your voice?
All the singer things. No caffeine. I try not to drink too much alcohol, or any at all. Caffeine and alcohol dry your vocal cords out. And I steam. But mostly it's about shutting up. Candide was the worst—ask anyone in that company, I literally did not talk the whole run. It's really about not using your voice when you're not onstage. It can make for a really boring social life.
And you swallow tablespoons of Vaseline like Mariah Carey.
No. Oh my god, I've never heard that. That's disgusting [laughs]. You know what I will say, singing high parts, I get why someone like Mariah Carey—I get why they're a little crazy. Because there's so much uncertainty, if you're really pushing your voice to its edge, about how it's going to respond from day to day. If you're having a weird day, and you've got to go out there and you've got to produce, and you're not sure what's going to come out of your mouth, yeah, you would swallow a tablespoon of Vaseline if you thought it was going to help.
We are lucky to have you in Seattle. Which neighborhood did you choose?
I'm living on Queen Anne and I love it. I have a view.
Laura Griffith stars in the new musical adaptation of A Room with a View at the 5th Avenue Theatre from April 15 to May 11.