Christine Andreas knew growing up that she would someday play Eliza in My Fair Lady. The actress was 24 when she was cast in a Broadway revival also starring Shavian scholar Ian Richardson and George Rose. Richardson was apparently wary of the specter of Rex Harrison (the original Henry Higgins). Andreas suffered no such feeling about Julie Andrews (the first Eliza) “…I had the accent, could sing like a bird, and the score was in every cell of my body.” So far, this is the young woman most of us would’ve expected.
The vocal part of auditions had always been a breeze, but lack of theater training erupted in panic during out of town previews. “My Achilles was the inability to ask for help, for coaching…I didn’t eat or sleep…” Andreas particularly struggled with the famous slipper scene at the top of Act II. “I was completely self conscious. Then one night it just clicked. Oddly, there was a bolt of red material from my stage right exit trailing full length all the way to the dressing room. Ian (Richardson) met me at the end of the carpet. `Dahling girl, you did it, you did it!’”
In most fairy stories, a gesture from the iconic thespian would have turned the tide. When the show opened in New York, Clive Barnes of The New York Times wrote, “A newcomer, Christine Andreas, makes a glowing Eliza.” Reviews, she notes, implying dissatisfaction with her own performance, were kind. Without an internal compass, the young actress was not on firm ground.
Three months later, perhaps manifesting her turmoil, the dressing room ceiling at The St. James Theatre literally fell on her. She had voluntarily switched “star” accommodations with Brenda Forbes, who played Mrs. Higgins. Andreas’ smaller space was not secure. Out several days to recuperate, “I realized even then that this was an act of God. I was grateful for the break, the rest it allowed me.”
The regal, confident artist we see today reinvented herself over time. In fact, she’s avowedly a work in progress. Little is publicly known of a background which in some ways held her back while also creating the tenacious, independent, meditative woman she is today. Andreas is candid. Folded onto a couch dressed in stylish, comfortable black, she looks like the lady she presents…but sounds like a broad. (This is an observation not an insult. Liz Taylor and Ava Gardner were broads.) She talks emphatically, often exclaiming. Unfinished thoughts dam up while I speak and surge ahead when I stop. A formidable spirit.
Christine Won Second Place in this Baby Parade (Here with Her Father)
Andreas’ mother listened to the American Songbook, big bands, and musicals on the radio and constantly sang around the house “…in a lovely, joy-filled voice. One of my gifts is a keen sense of beauty. I heard her really connect with music and lyrics.” When the little girl emulated her mom, she found making sound felt good.
The second of eight children, “Nina” assumed ersatz paternal responsibilities when still a child. “I was little mother #2” Her handsome, Catholic father “had only to look at” his wife to get her pregnant. Andreas realizes now that closing the bedroom door exacerbated existing stress. Unfortunately an alcoholic, Mr. Andreas deteriorated before the family’s eyes. There were money and health worries. “Denial is a family disease.” She speaks of him with compassion and understanding.
Though shy, chubby, and awkward, Andreas was involved with local productions and competitions. She briefly took singing lessons from “a terrifying, Wagnerian, spear – carrying soprano.” That was it for training. Just days after high school graduation, clutching the trades and Michael Shurtleff’s How To Audition, the young woman was on a bus from New Jersey to Manhattan. When I ask whether her parents were all right with this, she shrugs,“I was greener than grass, but there was no reason not to trust me.”
Early Headshot by David Rose
A familiar trajectory followed. She worked in summer stock, waited on tables, and shared an apartment in Queens with two other nascent actresses. Two years later, Andreas played Hodel on the last leg of a bus and truck production of Fiddler On the Roof. “We were religious about honoring Jerry Robbins work …even wore no make-up…there was humility in the writing and the process.” Here she met and impulsively married the “gorgeous guy” who played opposite her. Andreas was 21, awkward and naïve. He was 30 and sophisticated. “It was the first time I was on my own and I thought, Freedom or Keith, Keith or Freedom.”
Her husband “…was a womanizer and a mama’s boy. He wouldn’t let himself be successful. We had a horrible apartment and no money.” The actress’ voice is matter-of-fact. Trials and mistakes are to be learned from. Young Christine has been forgiven by the woman with whom I talk today. It took time.
Without the emotional support she needed, Andreas nonetheless got on with her career. After a stint with The New Christy Minstrels, she was cast in the Broadway production of Angel Street on which the Ingrid Bergman film Gaslight was based. Dina Merrill played anxious wife Bella, with Christine as Cockney maid, Nancy.
Having just lost her mother and son in a tragic boating accident, Merrill “adopted” the young performer, even helping to physically groom her. Andreas had no idea of her new mentor’s social or economic status. During previews, they went to Saks Fifth Avenue where the older woman was fawned over. “I asked her about it. She just did her sweet little giggle and said, Oh, that, I don’t pay any attention to that. When I found out who she was, I remembered how she laughed off people’s envy.”
The two grew close. In later years, she visited her “fairy stage-mother” in East Hampton and Palm Beach. When Merrill was too ill to see the performer’s show at The Colony, Andreas sang the whole thing a capella in her friend’s bedroom “complete with anecdotes, holding her hand…”
Here’s where My Fair Lady comes in. Though always at home on stage, the combined pressure of singing, acting, and helping carry a show was acute. By the time the run was over, she was thoroughly debilitated. “I couldn’t boil water.” What saved her was John Kenley’s invitation to appear as Magnolia in an Ohio production of Showboat. The three leads stayed at his house.
By the time Billy Hammerstein offered Andreas Laurey in the Broadway revival of Oklahoma!, she had secured a divorce and felt able to get back on the boards. Still, having played the role in stock and hungry for new challenges, she initially turned it down. If you’re in the business, read that sentence again. Her agent set her straight and she took the part, but pointedly not learning her lesson, she would later initially refuse On Your Toes for the same reason! Each theatrical appearance strengthened the performer on stage, while real life maturity languished.
“Miss Andreas…is a revelation… There’s a real streak of the potential wanton in her, enough to justify her wild curiosity about the slimy likes of loner Jud Fry…” Walter Kerr – The New York Times
On the road with the show, still yearning for “support as a woman,” Andreas committed to her second marriage, in retrospect worse than the first. A charismatic manager with fixed ideas and an ego to support them, “Kevin was powerful in a world where I never belonged. I didn’t ‘get’ business, promotion, wasn’t letting it happen… He wanted me to sing Dusty Springfield, had no regard for my profession, and was distancing me from theater. I was told to choose between my husband and my valued agent and I made the wrong choice.” She had traded a weak man for a bully and felt battered.
Retrospectively three important things came from the relationship. First, she learned “to sing from rhythm.” Kevin was friends with Barry Beckett from Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. She asked the musician why his sound was so different. “Baby, ya just find the pocket. Ya sing in the pocket,” he told her. “I learned to listen. In theater, you’re not listening to the orchestra. You’re going out over and carried by it.” Second, Andreas realized through their interaction that she was unable to take in a victory. “It was all about him. I avoided my inner work.” Third would be her son.
During the Broadway revival of On Your Toes, Andreas worked with Kitty Carlisle Hart who told her she walked like a duck and taught her otherwise. “I loved watching her put on her stockings, bending over and carefully manipulating those perfectly manicured nails over long, elegant legs. She’d slowly guide each stocking up her leg off the sides of her pinkies. My four spinster aunts used to do that… Kitty said she wasn’t a great beauty and had to make the most of what she had. She’d been finished in Europe in order to marry royalty and did just that. I married a prince, she told me, my Mossy.”
When, as the love interest, she ended on the cutting room floor 0f the musical Legs Diamond, Andreas decided to do something completely under her own control and mounted a cabaret show at The Ballroom. She didn’t realize protean seeds were being sown. “I liked the intimacy and Holden (reviewer Stephen Holden) liked me.” Jettisoned Peter Allen songs lie in a trunk somewhere.
At 36 years old, the light of Andreas’ life, son Mac, was born. The artist never wanted children. She couldn’t have imagined the change this new little soul would make. “I suddenly got what life was about.” Mac was oxygen deprived and on the spectrum. He would become epileptic. “I could make mistakes for me, but I wasn’t going to screw things up with him… I felt washed clean, ready to forgive myself and move on. It was time to take a deep look at my life.” Within a year Kevin was gone.
Today Andreas calls herself “an intuitive, a healer, an artist, and a shepherd – shepherding starts with oneself.” With new inspiration, she buckled down to work on Christine “…finding emotional and physical balance, not taking simple things for granted…avoiding careless, stressful choices.” She’s extremely aware of her body and what passes through it from food, to emotion, to music. “I believe Stanislavsky’s creed: relaxation creates concentration creates imagination. You can make yourself think anything, but you can’t fool your body…If I didn’t sing, I’d be in the healing arts.”
A year on a soap opera was more satisfying than expected “I was half way decent.” The money was good, but Andreas missed singing. She signed on for a Theatre Guild Cruise (“people would go poor Christine, now everyone wants them”) and then a tour of My Fair Lady, this time taking Mac along. (He was not yet epileptic.) At last she felt “encouraged as an actress, a performer, and a money earner… I was too long away from theater though. People forgot. I’m in my 40s at the peak of my powers, but there’s a new guard of girls…”
Christine Andreas at Feinstein’s 54/Below- Photo Stephen Sorokoff
One day, a recording of the new musical Fields of Ambrosia, (a malaprop of Elysian Fields) arrived in the mail. By the time she got around to enthusiastically listening to the piece, writers Joel Higgins and Marty Silvestri had hired someone else. Things happen, however, and Andreas stepped in, performing the premiere in Brunswick, New Jersey. Based on reviews, the show moved to London a few years later. Andreas was sure stardom waited. The fates decided otherwise. She talks about the piece, currently in circulation once again, with unconditional appreciation.
“That’s how I met Marty. Joel told him I could sing anything. Marty thought of me as an ingénue and called me my fair dumpling. He didn’t know he was dealing with the last of the Mohicans.” Andreas sees none of her iconic musical theater leads as ingénues. She finds strength of character in every one, inevitably interpreting roles with her own distinctive spin. Go back and read Walter Kerr’s words about her pithy, unconventional Laurey. (Oklahoma!).
She went in twice to read through the script, but already having been cast felt no need to prove vocals about which she was confident. “Marty was convinced I couldn’t sing anymore. Then, the third time I blasted him to the wall…He’s strong and meticulous but knows to hand over material. I go, wow, that’s what collaboration is. He was a man totally present. And I fell in love with him.”
They began to date. He lived in Los Angeles so the pair went back and forth. One day on a road trip, Billy Joel’s “And So It Goes” came on the radio. In every heart there is a room/ A sanctuary safe and strong/To heal the wounds from lovers past/Until a new one comes along.. Andreas had never heard it. Silvestri pulled over and they sat in silence. “It’s about getting in the ring again after having your heart broken.”
“I’ll Be Seeing You” Sheet Music Signed to Andreas by George H. W. Bush After a White House Performance
Dina Merrill recommended Andreas to President George H. W. Bush whose secretary telephoned to request she entertain at The White House. (The vocalist assumed it was a joke and sarcastically parroted the woman’s accent.) Needing a musical director/ pianist, she called Marty. (The show was lengthened and recorded as Love Is Good.)
Performance was a success and they decided to continue making music together when Silvestri wasn’t developing his own musical theater pieces. Going out and back meant that Andreas could give Mac more time. It took ten years for her to say yes to his marriage proposal. “FINE!” she ultimately exclaimed, throwing up her arms in real time demonstration.
Christine Andreas Working with Her Husband Marty Silvestri
There were four more musicals, two regional, two on Broadway. Mac turned 18 during the national tour of Light in the Piazza. Then living with Andreas and Silvestri, he made it clear he wanted independence. A group home was found. “I was a mom letting go of a special kid playing a mom letting go of a special kid…I’d rather have a happy special guy than an unhappy genius. He works at short term jobs through a program and likes the variety. I visit.” She beams with pride.
The artist continued to appear in concerts and cabarets around the country. What began as her take on musical theater heroines carried over. Andreas will not perform “victim songs.” A wreck after breaking up with her second husband, she sang “every big pain number I could think of and maybe for the first time no one listened. I never did like pain songs. Victims suck you dry. All those I’m nothing without you songs…I don’t want to sing them. It’s a state of mind…”
Towards the end of 2018, Christine Andreas will take her one woman Piaf show on tour. Silvestri, who has his own musical theater projects, will fly out and accompany her when possible. The couple are symbiotic on stage and, I suspect, off. Based on Street Singer, a performance she narrated for Rioult Dance Company in 2015, and rewritten with Raphael Dirkson, the piece has been getting its sea legs locally. I reviewed a 2017 iteration.
At first glance, one wouldn’t imagine the two a likely match. Piaf was wiry, scrappy, and seemingly untucked even when groomed; a street-bred voice of the people and passionate “monster sacré,” who exhausted herself and those around her, taking life in her teeth. Andreas is womanly, elegant, meticulous, and worldly.
Piaf- The Show-photo Maryann Lopinto
Still, there are parallels. Like her heroine, the artist has been challenged by adversity. She’s authoritative, tenacious, ardent, and clearly empathetic. Unlike imitators, Andreas neither overacts nor engineers vocals to copy Piaf. “Tonight I’m going to do my best to disembelish your life,” she says, addressing the muse about whom so much has been romanticized. Without mimic—except similarity of gesture—she channels her muse.
“Do you really get Piaf,” I ask. “Not yet. I don’t have her energy or her need to hurt herself, but I’m so happy and open with her…Piaf said if she had to give up some of the good in exchange for ridding herself of the bad, she wouldn’t have taken the chance.” Andreas bursts into Piaf’s signature “Non, je ne regrette rien.” No, absolutely nothing/No, I regret nothing/Not the good that has been given/Not the bad, it’s all the same to me…
“Theater, cabaret, concerts, I’m open to anything. I express through sound and music whether I’m teaching it, singing it, on the stage as a character or as me…I think of myself as work in constant transition. You can never be ‘done.’ Hopefully people are drawn to what I’m putting out there. I need to be used. Use me up. This is a communal experience.”
All unattributed quotes are Christine Andreas
Christine Andreas by Marty Silvestri
Cover Photo: Christine Andreas by Stacy Sullivan