BY: Jim DeBlasi
Drama Desk Award Winner, Andrea Burns is currently appearing as Gloria Fajardo in the Broadway musical ON YOUR FEET. Previously Burns created the role of Daniela in the musical IN THE HEIGHTS. Andrea’s other Broadway credits include THE NANCE, BEAUTY & THE BEAST, THE FULL MONTY & THE RITZ. Her Off Broadway credits include SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD and SATURDAY NIGHT.
CUE: How did you get started in theatre?
AB: My father was a lover of movie musicals, so as a young kid I would sit with him while he played things like OKLAHOMA!, CAROUSEL or WEST SIDE STORY. So he introduced me to musical theatre. When I was in the 4th or 5th grade there was a kid’s playhouse that put on musicals and I started to go there and my love of theatre was born.
CUE: So was theatre something you always wanted to pursue?
AB: I don’t know if I would say that I always knew I wanted to do this professionally, I just knew I loved it. By the time I was a teenager I did realize that this is what I wanted to do. I always sang and there was something about acting and singing at the same time to tell a story that I found most satisfying.
CUE: was there a particular event that led to your decision?
AB: When I was 11, I went to a summer theatre camp in the Catskills and being surrounded by other kids like me was satisfying. I had always felt a little awkward being a young girl in Miami interested in Broadway. So to see other kids that had that same passion was wonderful.
CUE: What do you consider your first big break?
AB:I did an Off Broadway show, SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD, by Jason Robert Brown. We had originally met when we were 12 years old. We both moved to New York and we would run into each other and always supported each other’s work. He was getting his show produced and he asked me to be part of it. He could have chosen other actors who were more established but he chose me. That was my first job in New York and from that a lot of doors opened up to me.
CUE: What’s been the biggest obstacle to overcome?
AB: The biggest obstacle for me is trusting the fact that I know I should be doing this and believing that the right roles will appear if I work hard. There is just so much rejection with not being the one that they choose. You definitely learn to appreciate and realize what a wonderful thing it is when you find that needle in the haystack – getting the right role at the right time in a show that runs. The biggest challenge is choosing every day to keep wanting this and not give in to the rejection.
CUE: Is it hard to stay motivated?
AB: It is really easy when you are starring on Broadway in a hit musical. When you are not, it is a bit more challenging.
CUE: How did you get involved with ON YOUR FEET?
AB: I was lucky, Jerry Mitchell, the show’s director, reached out to me and asked me to be a part of the developmental reading. I was excited about the musical, although I was a little unsure when he wanted me for Gloria’s mother. I feel very fortunate to have been able to work on creating this role from the beginning – really co-creating this with Gloria and her mom.
CUE: Is it more difficult to portray a real person versus a factious character?
AB: Yes, because in the end you can take everything you’ve learned in your research, which is useful but the material that comes through you is going to create its own person and it has to be what serves the piece best. So in the end, you create a Gloria Fajardo that is the best version that works for ON YOUR FEET. I try to pay as much homage to her incredible spirit as I can.
CUE: Do you have a favorite moment in the show?
AB: Yes, it is the flashback scene where she goes back to Havana and you see what might have been. She was a very talented lady in her own right and in the scene, she is performing at a nightclub. You see her as a woman in complete control and it turns out to be one of the most dramatic nights of her life because she realizes she must leave her homeland to protect her family and yet she must go on with the show pretending as if nothing has happened. It feels as though everyone involved collaborated to make that scene a one-act play and I love taking that ride every night.
CUE: Any aspect of the show more difficult than you had expected?
AB: I would say that the difficulty came up front – you have any idea how hard it is to sing Gloria Estefan songs to Gloria Estefan? That was hard – do you pay homage, do you imitate – what do you do with the songs? In the beginning, that was very intimidating. Gloria took me into a rehearsal room early on and said she wanted to sing the songs with me to be sure I got the rhythms. I was nervous but then I needed to take that leap and realize and trust that they picked me for a reason, so I had to go off and just do what I do and it became this beautiful collaborative thing.
CUE: How involved was Gloria in the overall production?
AB: She was extremely involved. Gloria was with us every hour of every day. She was always encouraging and passionate about the project. She and Emilio were there all the time and they are just great collaborators. For the actors, it was great having the opportunity to be able to get into it with them. We were all so lucky that they wanted to be there in the trenches.
CUE: What types of roles attract you?
AB: I like complex people that the writers create, not just 2 dimensional characters. I like characters with authenticity and sometimes in musicals that can be tough. Often times musical can get a bad rap. I have a strong belief in the power of musicals, so I like to be part of a project that has dramatic storytelling with real, human, complex characters.
CUE: How do you deal with auditions?
AB: You just have to make friends with the fact that sometimes they bother you and sometimes you can just let them go. I think of it as I invite them into the party to present my wares. They either decide they need them or not. I try to make peace with that. I try to remember that it is just such a joy to be able to walk into the room and throw my hat into the ring. To me that is exciting so when it doesn’t work out, it can be a real disappointment. You need to keep in mind that it is a privilege to even be selected to walk into the audition room and get that appointment when so many can’t even get that.
CUE: How have you seen Broadway change over the years?
AB: It is a very exciting time on Broadway culturally. I am half Latin and half Jewish so I am now what the industry calls “Ethnically Ambiguous.” When I first came to Broadway that was a problem. No one knew what to do with me or how to categorize me. Now everything I bring to the table people are interested in. Broadway is now open to diversity so that everyone doesn’t all look the same. Also the roles for Latinos have changed from just stereotyped roles like drug dealers, domestics or low socio-economic characters to more socially diverse characters.
CUE: Is it harder to get to Broadway or stay on Broadway?
AB: Both. I think staying might be a little harder but not to say getting there is easy. You can bring your skill, talent and drive but if the show is only about a particular subject matter that you don’t fit, you’re not going to be seen. You need to be just what they are looking for. Sometimes just being in the right place can land you your Broadway debut, after that it’s your showmanship and talent and willingness to collaborate that start speaking for you.
CUE: Is Broadway too much the measurement of success?
AB: It can be and that is in no way diminishing Broadway because I love it and am honored every time I get to come back but it doesn’t make me any less of an actor when I’m doing theatre any where else. I’ve had extraordinary experiences on tour or regionally. Broadway is great because you work with the highest budgets and with people who are masters in their field.
CUE: How do you know it’s time to leave a show?
AB: When you’re on stage and your mind starts drifting so far you forget your lines. When you are in a scene but thinking about your grocery list, it’s time to go. If you are not having a good time, there are so many other people who want your job. If you are not enjoying every minute, then someone else deserves to be there.
CUE: What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
AB: Trust what you bring to the party. Trying to turn myself into a blank slate or cut off pieces so that I fit into a particular box is foolhardy. I need to embrace my qualities & know at some point they are exactly what someone needs.