Laura Pitt-Pulford on Starring in the U.K. Premiere of Falsettos and What Makes Her Feel Like 'Breaking Down' in Real Life

Laura Pitt-Pulford on Starring in the U.K. Premiere of Falsettos and What Makes Her Feel Like 'Breaking Down' in Real Life
Laura Pitt-Pulford
(Photo courtesy of Emma Holland PR)

Laura Pitt-Pulford was a 2016 Olivier nominee for her zesty alfresco performance at Regent’s Park in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, but the English performer has cut a distinctive swathe for herself in more contemporary American musicals—local airings of Side Show, Little Miss Sunshine and, any minute now, the European premiere of Falsettos, which starts performances August 30 at The Other Palace and co-stars Joel Montague, Oliver Savile, and Daniel Boys. Cast in the part of the ex-wife, Trina, that often brings award nominations in its wake, Pitt-Pulford sounded thrilled to be headlining her second consecutive William Finn musical when phoned for a chat.

Was it intended that you would follow the recent Arcola Theatre British premiere of William Finn’s Little Miss Sunshine with a second local premiere—this time of Finn and James Lapine’s career-defining musical double bill, Falsettos?
It’s been entirely circumstance! I finished Little Miss Sunshine and heard that they were doing Falsettos and said that I would love to be seen for it, But it wasn’t as if William Finn called and said, “I want the girl that did Little Miss Sunshine.” That would have been really lovely.

How does Falsettos, written in 1992, feel compared to Little Miss Sunshine, which is a far newer show even if it got to London first?
So far, they feel vastly different. There is more of a book in Little Miss Sunshine, whereas Falsettos is pretty much sung-through, which means musically it is that much more challenging.

Are you finding a particular way into his work?
I’ve found that when I learn [Finn’s] music, I go, “This is absolutely insane,” and can’t make any sense of it. And then there’s this incredible moment where it all makes complete sense and clicks in and you understand every reason why he’s written that note and it becomes utterly enjoyable to perform.

Did you know much about Falsettos beforehand—from drama school, for example?
When I was at [Mountview] drama school, everything was very much Jason Robert Brown: he was the sort of god and that was where it was. I discovered William Finn later and began to do my homework. When you audition for something, you pad yourself out with as much information as possible, so I knew the concept of [Falsettos] and had a strong idea of what it was. But at the same time, that can only prepare you so much.

Did you search out previous interpreters of the role such as Barbara Walsh or, more recently, Stephanie J. Block?
One of the reasons I’m finding this very hard is that I haven’t allowed myself to listen to past recordings. When you do listen, you just naturally and without knowing it can take on other people’s choices that sort of stunt you from growing your own version of Trina. As a result, a lot of the songs are incredibly new.

What do you make of Trina, ex-wife to Marvin [played here by Daniel Boys], who has taken up with a male lover, Whizzer [Oliver Savile, late of Wicked]?
In my head, Trina suffers quite a lot in silence, which is what I find. It’s often the case that people who are going through anxiety express themselves when you least expect it. With Trina, it’s as if she is the most together person who in fact is suffering in silence inside, which then manifests itself in this unbelievable number.

Speaking of which, how are you coping with Trina’s bona fide showstopper, “I’m Breaking Down”, which folds an entire emotional spectrum into one musical theater meltdown?
Every time someone says that title, I feel as if I’m breaking down! I first sang it at [open-air concert] West End Live in June when we weren’t even starting rehearsals for another month and a half, and I think all of us were petrified. Actually, now in hindsight I’m really glad we did it; it threw us all into the deep end a bit.

What’s the after-effect of the number for Trina, do you think?
We see her sort of unleash something and then close the closet again. It’s as if a lion has roared that we only get to see now and again.

How do you think Falsettos stands up amid an era in which AIDS is no longer the death sentence, thank heavens, that it was when the show was written?
I think it definitely stands on its own for today: partners break up all the time and people are left and there’s often a child involved, as in our show. The desire to rebuild a life must resonate with so many people, and loss and grief, of course, don’t go away.

How do you look back on Side Show, which you did in another London premiere—that one at Southwark Playhouse in the fall of 2016?
That’s was one of the best jobs I’ve ever done. It was so thrilling to do and to be a part of and to develop the sort of bond that I built with Louise [Dearman, playing her conjoined twin] was incredible. It’s hard to describe: I feel as if everyone should do a show with someone attached to you [laughs]!

Didn’t the show’s composer, Henry Krieger, come over for that one?
He and [book writer and lyricist] Bill Russell were at the first preview in the front row! Louise and I went into a mild sweat: we shared a lot of bodily liquids on that show.

Does all this American work in London make you want to check out what’s happening in the New York theater firsthand?
Oh God, I mean, I probably should do that more than I do. I do my best to be aware of what’s happening over there and am intrigued, especially if it’s new work. It feels as if we’ve had quite an influx of late!

Do you sometimes wish the British new musical scene was comparably active?
I want that more and more every day! It feels as if the climate is more accepting over there [in the U.S.]. Here it’s such a sell, such a push, and it feels so sad that we haven’t got that support. Even things with five-star [reviews] can struggle. That’s one of the reasons I’m so pleased our show is at The Other Palace: it’s got a good loyal audience and my hope is that we bring in a new audience as well.