Andréa Burns. Note the accent over the e in the lady’s name. That puts the emphasis on its second syllable and indicates something latina in her background. And sure enough her mother Leda is a Venezuelan beauty with a love for music that she passed on to her daughter, who discovered she too could sing when she was very little.
Raised in Miami Beach, Andréa knew early on that she was headed for the stage, and Leda and her husband Richard Burns encouraged that ambition, and still remain firmly supportive. Add to the team Andréa’s husband Peter Flynn (director/actor) and son Hudson Flynn, (a pre-teen and already on film in Birdman. This lovely lady is becoming a very welcome Broadway regular, showing up virtually each season to add sparkle and class.
In her last few outings, we’ve had her playing Daniela, a hair dresser in the long running In The Heights, Vicki Nichols, a loving and flexible spouse in The Full Monty, Carmen, a stripper in burlesque in The Nance. She replaced Rosie Perez as Googie Gomez in The Ritz, and I’ve seen her do Miss Adelaide in Guys and Dolls, Celete in the tour of Jason Robert Brown’s Parade, one of the featured leads in Stephen Sondheim’s Saturday Night as well as Diana in Next to Normal which is about as big a stretch as you can get from her current Broadway role as Gloria Estefan’s mother (Gloria Fajardo) in On Your Feet!, and she’s been stunning in all of them.
I visited with her recently in her dressing room at the Marquis Theatre before a matinée, and found her affable and accessible, surrounded by photos and gifts from writers, directors, family and friends. One cherished gift is a set of pastel pillows which once lived on a sofa in Elaine Stritch’s dressing room, given to her on opening night by a dresser who had worked with Stritch and Burns.
Richard: When were you first aware that performing was to be a major part of her life.
Andréa: I knew I could sing when I was very little. My mother sang all the time and my father was a big fan of movie musicals so I was exposed to all that from the start. But unlike some kids, I really relished it all, and wanted desperately to find a way in to that world.
Why is it that, like so many other theatre artists – like Brian d’Arcy-James, Christian Borle, and Bernadette Peters – you have spent most of your working life on stage, not on the large or small screens of film and television.
When I first started auditioning, there was a clear division between the coasts — actors either began here or there. I always favored theatre as a first love, and those who put the projects together either have a New York viewpoint, or they prefer the other. I’d love to do more film and tv work; I’ve done some, and I enjoy it, but with a home, family, friends and work keeping me occupied in New York, I sense that when it’s right, the other will come too. In the beginning, the opportunities were not there — the casting people were totally different. But that’s changing. There is now a greater integration between the coasts, and Brian and Christian have begun to show up on screen, and even I have done an independent film, and I look forward to doing more of them.
How do you manage a career, motherhood, and marriage each day?
Carefully. Some days I manage all three, some days two, and once in a while I fail at everything. But I’m so lucky to have a family that totally understands the pressures we sometimes must work with, and we all are rooting for each other, so actually it’s been quite exciting. Even Hudson is just great about adjusting to the curviness of it all, and seems to be thriving on it. We’re lucky that we got one of us.
How do you handle a long run, in terms of remaining fresh and interested? For example, In the Heights.
That was a long one! “Three years! But the management allowed me the summers off so I could be with my husband Peter Flynn who was directing at the Hangar Theatre in Ithaca, and I was able to perform in full productions and some reading/workshops as well.
Each time I returned to Heights I was fully refreshed. Any time spent around Lin-Manuel Miranda is exhilarating; in fact this musical as well, that Latina energy is everywhere and I’m enjoying this run enormously.
Did you find that same energy backstage at a play – at The Nance for example?
No! (and she laughed).
What was it like working with Nathan Lane, who starred in The Nance? Was he a private person, who didn’t communicate with the company?
No, it wasn’t that. He’s just impossibly demanding of himself, and there were times when he felt he’d not hit the high standard he set for himself. But no, he was gracious and it was a joy to watch his work in that play, for it was a stretch for him, and he was very funny and very moving in it.
Are there any roles that you have coveted, and are there any career ambitions that were unfulfilled?
No. I love being part of the creation of a new work. When it comes to the future, rather than praying for a special role, I’m more interested in what writers like Jason Robert Brown, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Adam Guettel are writing for me. Musicals are developed slowly and the exciting part for me is in the second phase, when readings and workshops begin and I can explore the possibilities in my own role, and possibly be of some help in shaping the piece as a whole.”
A good example of what she loves to do is a Willy Holtzman play, Smart Blonde, in which she plays the star Judy Holliday. She’s done a production of it that was commissioned by City Theatre in Pittsburgh, and last fall she had the opportunity to try it out there.
The results were most promising, and she and her husband, who directed it, are pursuing the interest in its future that was generated there.
What are the dangers of a long run? It looks like you’ll be having another with her current vehicle.
For me, it’s only the concern about being distracted during the performance. The first year is a joy, because you are not only still exploring your character, you’re aware that critics are often present, that there are judges making notes about future awards to be given, there are friends and prominent theatre folk out front at all of these earlier performances. The first year is for me an unalloyed joy. It’s a ride! It’s later that one must be careful to concentrate. If you drive a car along the same route often enough, your mind might well wander. On stage, “phoning it in” is not an option. That’s why those summer sabbaticals were so important to me in Heights.”
Andréa Burns is not yet a household name. Some star careers are born, not made. Others are nurtured, and it takes years of good work in supporting roles for a Shirley Booth, a Barnard Hughes, an Eileen Heckart, an Angela Lansbury, a Robert Preston, a Cicely Tyson (and these are merely examples) to mature into a genuine over-the-title box office theatre star. I predict that will happen to this talented artist. If it doesn’t it might well be because she doesn’t really care about top billing. Her life is rich and full and she has room in it for those she loves, and time to help them in their own pursuits. She prefers to choose roles based more on how they fit into her personal life, how much fun she thinks she can have trying to inhabit them, and other matters that have nothing to do with building a career.
There are many talented folk in On Your Feet!, but Andréa Burns is surely a shining light.
On Your Feet is playing at The Marquis Theatre – 46th Street between Broadway & 8th Avenue, in New York City. For tickets, go to the box office, call Ticketmaster at (877) 250-2929, or purchase them online.
Richard Seff reviews On Your Feet on DCMetroTheaterArts.