Fynsworth Alley: 10 Questions with Barrett Foa

Originally published on Fynsworth Alley. 

10 Questions with Barrett FoaHow did you get your start in the business? What brought you to New York?

I was born and raised in New York. I went to the University of Michigan musical theatre program. When I graduated, along with everyone else I came here to make it big.

What did you think of Godspell before you were cast in the show? How did this production change your idea of the show?

Actually, I’ve never seen it. I owned the recording and knew some of the songs, but I definitely had pictures of flower children and face painting, hippy-dippy stuff. It was refreshing to revisit it and make it our version of hippy-dippy.

Godspell is the kind of show where the cast really shapes a lot of the action. What was the rehearsal process like for you?

We stripped the script of all of the old jokes. We had our first read-through, and I’ll never forget it, because it was the most boring thing ever. It was Jesus talking for ten pages, with someone saying a line here or there or telling a small parable. We were all falling asleep, it was just atrocious. Then we broke the script down into the separate parables, we sat in a circle and said, “Okay, this parable about the Pharisee and the Tax-Gatherer, what could this be?” We thought, “This could be an infomercial, this could be a football game.” “Football game! All right, someone go out into the hall and make this a football game.” So Chad Kimball jumps up and says, “Hello everybody, and welcome to Synagogue Stadium…” And then Tim would jump up and it would just go on from there. It took about three days just to do the first one, but then we found a rhythm and it just clicked.  

The cast of the show seems really close, both on-stage and off. Why do you think you guys clicked so well?

We had five weeks of rehearsals, which was great. The first week we didn’t even touch the script. It was mostly improv and trust exercises. At first I thought, “ehhhh…. Let’s just get into it! We’ve got a lot of work to do!” But it was really important, because we didn’t really know each other, and to create this musical you really need to know each other intimately. And by the end, we were such a family, we functioned as a family, we fought as a family, we made up as a family… it was amazing. We were inseparable.

Even though the story of Godspell is explicitly religious, it really speaks to people regardless of their faith. Why do you think this is so?

I think it’s almost the opposite of the religion part, it’s the human part of the musical. The thing you kind of have to get off on is Jesus’s teachings and what he’s doing through his teachings – bringing this community of totally disparate people together, so that by the end he leaves them and they can still go on functioning as a family, as a community. It is so much about a community and man, and not so much about religion and God. That’s how I thought about the play, and that’s how I had to motivate everything.

What was recording the show like for you – was it harder than a regular performance? Why?

It was different, because we were in a line, each of us facing our own microphone. We didn’t have connections to each other, we couldn’t really see each other except out of the corner of our eyes. And of course, you’re thinking “This is it! This is the one!” Actually, Catherine and Lucia had me go on the other side of the plastic window… they wanted to look at me for “Day by Day” and “By My Side.” The songs start so intimately, and they have such a connection with Jesus and I have such a connection with them, singing the song and looking at each other were one and the same, they go hand in hand. We got through it. I think it was successful.

How did working off-Broadway compare to working in regional theatre? Was it any different?

It was almost less professional than some of the things I did before like Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera and Musical Theatre of Wichita, which are these really efficient, ten-day summer stock places. They know what they’re doing, they hire these great directors and choreographers, and you just do it. This was a tiny black box theatre on 34th Street, on the fifth floor… Really out of the way, really downtown (even though it was on 34th Street). It was very different, because it was so much about us, about making it small and classy and cute and great for us and for the city.

What’s next for you?

I’m doing a musical called Just So, based on the Rudyard Kipling Just So stories, like “How The Elephant Got His Trunk”, “How The Leopard Got His Spots”… and I’m the Elephant Child. Cameron Mackintosh is producing it at North Shore Music Theatre, in June.

What shows have you seen lately that you’ve enjoyed?

The Full Monty. I was so into it, I totally ate it right up. And Proof – yum!

What CDs are in your CD player these days?

All the Fynsworth Alley CDs! Actually, I just bought The Sondheim Album, I haven’t listened to it yet. It’s eclectic. There’s been a little bit of Joni Mitchell and James Taylor lately. And then there’s N*Sync and the Cranberries and KD Lang. I love KD Lang.

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