Kate Reinders is so funny and charming, I could have talked to her all day. Thankfully for her, she had to get back to work on Something Rotten, the new Broadway musical that’s currently in previews.
Directed by Casey Nicholaw and also starring Brian d’Arcy James and Christian Borle, the show is about two brothers, Nick and Nigel Bottom, who are trying to write a hit play in the time of Shakespeare. When a soothsayer tells them that the future of theater involves singing, dancing and acting, they set out to write the very first musical. Kate, who’s previously starred on Broadway in Wicked and Gypsy, described the show as “if The Book of Mormon and Spamalot and 42nd St. all had a baby.”
In this interview, she tells me a great story about getting the role of Portia in Something Rotten, working with the cast, an awkward audition and how, whenever you want to book a job, plan a vacation and buy a non-refundable ticket.
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You guys are still in previews. Are you still tweaking the show?
Kate Reinders: Oh yeah, completely. It’s only our second week of rehearsal and we didn’t go out of town. So yeah, this is our out-of-town tryout in a three-week period because I think they’re going to try to freeze it before we open. Not just at the last possible moment.
But yeah, were changing things, cutting things down, trimming, adding jokes, trying them, cutting them. It’s good to have an audience for it but at the same time it’s scarier.
I would imagine so. If they changed something on me during the day, I’d feel so much pressure to not screw it up that night.
Kate Reinders: Yeah, exactly, because if it doesn’t work that night then it can be gone the next day even if it’s a really good idea. But Brian d’Arcy James has probably 200 changes per day to put into his show at night and he does it brilliantly and I don’t know how he does it. But new lines, new lyrics, everything. I couldn’t deal that pressure. He’s doing great.
I’d go crazy.
Kate Reinders: Yeah, me too. Heart attack city. It’s like the actor’s nightmare on a loop.
Why didn’t you guys go out of town?
Kate Reinders: Because our show is so awesome, we did have too!
No. Because we did a lab this fall and Casey Nicholaw did so much good pre-production work, he made sure it was really tight and really great and the producers saw that and they said, “I think we’re ready to go right to Broadway. Why go to Seattle?”
But also it was really important that we had Brian and Christian and I don’t know who else but basically the cast that we had this fall was going to go off in other directions if we didn’t move now. Because they are in demand.
You’ve got such a really cool cast. You mentioned Brian d’Arcy James and Christian Borle.
Kate Reinders: I know. And Brad Oscar. And John Cariani, Heidi Blickenstaff, Gerry Vichi and Brooks Ashmanskas. It’s just the best of Broadway’s best.
If I were working with those guys, I would just be in the background watching them work. Like creeping on them.
Kate Reinders: Oh, you know I’m a super-creeper, that was what I was doing whole time.
And it’s hilarious to because Christian and Brooks sort of have an unwritten duel of who’s the funniest. So you have to keep an eye on that because it’s like watching a tennis match.
Ok, for the probably the thousandth time, can you tell me about the show and your character?
Kate Reinders: The show is about two brothers who are writers and trying to make their way in theater during Shakespeare’s time, and it’s all about Shakespeare obviously. And it’s also a time when Puritans hate the theater and hate poetry and I am the daughter of the big Puritan man who is Brooks.
My name is Portia and I literally run into John Cariani, the younger Bottom brother, and it’s love at first sight. And he’s a poet and I love him and of course we’re star-crossed lovers. And that’s not what really the shows about but that’s what my show is about. [laughs]
But the show is kind of like if The Book of Mormon and Spamalot and 42nd St. all had a baby. Because it’s super funny, super silly and has amazing tap dancing numbers in it. It’s just silly and we’re making fun of ourselves, which is my favorite thing to do.
Just you telling me that makes me automatically want to see it.
Kate Reinders: Well, all of my friends, of course they kind of have to say it, but all my friends say they leave with their abs hurting. It’s a good ab workout because you laugh so much.
How did you get involved in the show?
Kate Reinders: It’s actually kind of a weird story which makes me believe that the universe had a hand in it. I was living in LA but I was actually in Vancouver doing a movie and I’m good friends with Casey Nicholaw’s husband, Josh Marquette, we did Gypsy together a million years ago and we’ve stayed friends ever since. And Josh texted me and said, “Just a heads up, Casey’s doing this new show and he wants you to audition for it. They’re sending the stuff to your agent and don’t let it slip by without you telling you about it.” Because sometimes agents filter stuff and I think it was something that would’ve probably fallen through the cracks.
I said, “Ok, let me know when this thing comes in and tell me what’s going on.” They said, “Oh, well it’s for a new musical and it’s gonna be in Seattle during pilot season. It pay’s zero dollars, like maybe twenty-five cents. So, clearly it’s a pass, right? You don’t wanna do that.” And I said, “Well, let me read the script and let me see.” And I read the script and I thought, “This is exactly the kind of part that I’ve been waiting for.” Because it’s an ingénue who gets to sing pretty but is super quirky and a little bit wrong. And it’s a dream come true.
So, I was in Vancouver. I was going to go back to LA and make a tape for my audition but then Josh texted me and was like, “Wait, when are you done in Vancouver because auditions are the 13th in Seattle and everybody will be there.” I said, “I’m done on the 12th.”And so I flew from Vancouver to Seattle and hopped in there and auditioned in person for everybody and then jumped back on a plane back to LA. And I got it.
But I couldn’t let it get away because I loved the show and I loved the part. And of course, my agents, I shouldn’t throw them under the bus, but it’s the kind of thing where they say, “Oh, you’ll audition when it comes to Broadway.” And I said, “No, no, no. That’s not how theater works. You have to get in at the ground… like at the basement you have to get in. And then, it gets to the ground floor and you hope you’re still in it. And then you hold on, hold on until years later it ends up on Broadway.” So, they think I’m super smart because now we’re on Broadway.
But I didn’t plan on it happening this fast and this easily. But I knew it was a great show and a great part with a wonderful director and everybody else involved so it was the one I wanted to gamble on.
How long ago was that?
Kate Reinders: So that was this past summer. I want to say maybe July that I auditioned?
Oh wow. So this was quick.
Kate Reinders: Oh yeah, because I was doing a movie in like May/June. And then I think it was July that I auditioned and then we had our lab for four weeks in October, last fall. I think we were supposed to be in Seattle right now.
So then of course since we didn’t go to Seattle and we we’re coming straight to Broadway, I had to pack up my life. Well, put part of it in storage and get rid of my apartment and everything and move here. So, it was kind of a whirlwind. But worth it.
How do you like being back in New York?
Kate Reinders: Oh, I love New York. It was a little rough getting here in January from LA because my blood did get warmer or whatever happens. So, I was a baby and I was cold all the time. But now, the sun is shining and spring’s here and so I’m happy.
How long were you in LA for?
Kate Reinders: Three and a half years I think? Three and a half, four years. I wanted to try TV and that’s where TV is, so I went there.
When the show is over, do you plan to move back to LA?
Kate Reinders: I don’t know. Right now, I’m just trying to get to opening and then we’ll see what happens with the show. Clearly, I’ll stay with the show as long as possible and then go from there. I can’t really make plans but that’s ok. It keeps life exciting. Or scary.
I find whenever I make plans, that’s when I suddenly get some cool opportunity.
Kate Reinders: Exactly. Or, you’ll always say you have to make a trip but you actually have to buy a non-refundable ticket and then you’ll get a job.
That’s so true. That’s happened to me at least three times.
Kate Reinders: Yes! Yes. That’s the way. My friends and I always say we have to plan our trip to Disney because the three times that we went to Disney, I got a job.
I’m booking my trip now.
Kate Reinders: But make sure it’s non-refundable because that’s the whole point.
You grew up in Michigan. Did you directly move to New York right after you finished college?
Kate Reinders: Well, I went to the University of Michigan for one semester and I was a Musical Theater major and people in my class said to me, “Oh my gosh, you’re so Kristen Chenoweth.” And I said, “Who?” And everybody was listening to cast albums in their dorms and they were wonderful and everybody was great. But, I had taken ballet lessons and I had taken voice lessons and I’d done professional community theater but I also really liked my academic classes. So, I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend all that time and money getting a degree in Musical Theater when I wasn’t even a hundred percent sure. And I think I wasn’t as enthusiastic as some people.
So, I took a leave of absence and came to New York just to try it out my second semester. And I actually sublet an apartment from the guy who played my Daddy Warbucks when I was in Annie in Summer Stock when I was little.
But, my second audition was the Sound of Music tour and then I got it. So, I went on tour for nine months and while I was in the tour, I said, “Well, this is awesome. I want to do this with my life.”
I was planning to move back to New York in September, so I went back to Ann Arbor for the summer term and then while I was there, I flew in to audition for The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. It was a huge hit musical… it was a big bomb. But it was so good. But I auditioned for that and then I got it and I was like, “Ok, all arrows point to New York and Broadway. I’m leaving college. Bye college.”
Nice. That’s awesome.
Kate Reinders: Well, it sounds great when you’re eighteen or nineteen and then when you turn thirty, you think, “Wait a minute. Why did I think that sounded like a good idea?” Because I don’t have a degree and I have no real skills and I hope somebody will keep paying me to say words and sing occasionally.
Well, it sounds like they are.
Kate Reinders: Well, knock on wood. But, you know, there are lean times in between everything. And every job, I’m always convinced this will be the last job.
Oh, you and me both. So, you never really had a regular job to help pay the bills then?
Kate Reinders: Yeah, what I do for money is audio books. Which I think a lot of actors are starting to do more and more of because that industry is booming with iPads and Kindles.
But I only do young adult books because my voice is so tingy. So, sometimes it gets a little annoying with the books about having zits and if a boy likes you. But, I also get to do books about princesses and vampires and werewolves, so that’s fun.
You worked with Sam Mendes and Bernadette Peters in Gypsy. I think working with either one of them, my head would’ve exploded. Obviously, your head didn’t explode.
Kate Reinders: Oh, but yes it did, on a daily basis. The whole experience was a dream and I still can’t believe it would happen.
I was doing Frog and Toad at Minneapolis Children’s Theater. And for my callback, they flew me from Minneapolis to London to meet with Sam and it was the first anniversary of September 11th, so nobody was in the airport and nobody was on the plane. It was really creepy.
I was in London for two hours or something. I sang for him. I read for him. And then he said, “I would love for you to be my June.” And I basically pee’d my pants. And then got back on the plane, went back to Minneapolis to be a mouse and a frog and a bird.
Bernadette Peters has always been one of my idols and she’s also the nicest person in the world. So now I love her on every level there is to love someone. I mean, except the creepy kind. Well, maybe a little creepy. [laughs] And also Sam, the way Sam works, he makes everybody, I think, the best they could possibly be.
And Gypsy was the very first show I did as a kid in Michigan and it’s still my favorite show. Just the overture itself gives me chills every time. So yeah, that was so far, the peak of my career. So, I guess I’m done. But yeah, it was everything you could imagine it was. Absolutely.
What’s the worst audition you’ve ever had?
Kate Reinders: Oh jeez, there have been so many doozies.
Actually, I had a pretty bad audition for Hair for Bay Street Theater in 2001 or something? Because it said they need rock voices and we need multi-ethnicity and nudity is required and all these things that I thought, “No, no, no, no, no. Not me.” But it was right after something closed that I was in. So, I thought, “Oh, I need to get back into the swing of auditioning so I’ll go and I’ll try and I’ll see what happens.”
So, I go in and my friend had given me her Frank Mills music that was in some special key. So, I go in and I’m wearing this little triangle top with strings, as if I’m on board with getting naked. Which obviously, no.
And then I start singing Frank Mills…. And I’m like, “Wait, what’s the key? No, that’s not the right key. Start again.” Just terrible. Terrible. And then they said, “Ok, will you sing something else?” And all I had was ‘I Enjoy Being a Girl.’ I mean, how rock is that? Not at all. And then, they said, “Read for some of these characters and make up the character voice you’re going to be.” And it was like an old man. So I did like an old black man, which I think I do a very good old black man.
Why wouldn’t you?
Kate Reinders: Exactly. Totally in my wheelhouse.
And it was very embarrassing, to say the least. And I kept trying to leave because I knew it was bad. And I ended up getting that job and I did get naked. And my parents came and that was character building.
But at least it was like beautiful nudity and purple and green lighting. And listen, that’s when it needed to happen when I was twenty-one years old. Nobody needs to see that now. Now, I’m in a Puritan full get-up where you can only see my hands and my face. So that’s better.