Recently, I sat down for tea with bonafide lady Leigh Barrett and, to the sound of the same Sarah Brightman song playing on a loop for over an hour, discussed safe words, aging gracefully, and Pinterest.
Kyle Thomas Hemingway Dickinson: Don’t worry about the tape recorder, it’s just so I don’t have to take notes—unless you cross me, then it ends up on the Internet.
Leigh Barrett: Duly noted.
KTHD: Let’s get this started, I have a lot of questions for you! Just let me know if you say anything you don’t want published.
LB: So you can star those answers for when I cross you?
KTHD: Exactly. I think this interview might need a safe word!
LB: Crumb cake.
KTHD: So, this is your first time doing Company, and what a role for your first time!
LB: I know! When I was first going in to audition, I assumed this would be the only role I’d be considered for, unless they were casting it slightly older. I think traditionally, she’s cast a bit older than me, but I am approaching a certain age…
KTHD: 35 again…
LB: That’s right! How many times can you be 35? Eleven?
KTHD: As many as you want.
LB: As long as there’s Botox. I confess that because I’m a Gemini, I float between aging gracefully and getting everything done I can possibly get done.
KTHD: I forgot we’re both Geminis!
LB: That’s right! So there’s four people at this table!
KTHD: Getting back to Company, is Joanne one of those roles you’ve always wanted to play?
LB: Not really. Whenever I’ve thought of Company, I’ve thought about Bobby, so I kind of pushed it aside. I’ve accidentally been working my way through the entire Sondheim songbook. There are unfortunately roles in his lexicon that have passed me—I won’t get to do Merrily We Roll Along until I move into Brooksby Village, but then the list is long, my friend. I’ll be young enough for everything! Someday we’ll have another lunch and I’ll give you the new list.
KTHD: So “Ladies Who Lunch,” the three-act play…
LB: I’ve played a few roles with songs that are iconically attached to certain people who have done them, and I think that my approach is always I’m not them. If you want that, get the recording. But I understand that feeling, you always want to hear how you heard it first. So I bring my experience to my performance of the song, and I bring that to Joanne. I’m not saying I’m going to purposefully do this differently, but I’m not Elaine or Patti or Debra or Barbara, I couldn’t possibly be them. There’s very little book to this show, so it’s really interesting to explore all the space—what’s said in the silence. Eat your cupcake!
KTHD: Yes, ma’am!
LB: So many people are afraid to be still and be silent, because if we’re not doing something we’re not active, and that’s so not true!
KTHD: What is it about Sondheim?
LB: For me personally, he is my favorite person to sing because he’s smart. He writes for a thinking actor, not just a singer. He writes a certain way because he wants it delivered a certain way, and if you listen to that and trust that, he’s right. We don’t often think that because we think we’re smarter than everybody. I love that so much, especially coming from an opera background where it’s voice voice voice, just a beautiful noise; but I knew there had to be more. Somewhere in my career, I finally started to discover meaning in saying something, just singing like I speak. Sondheim does that, he writes the way people speak. So as I’ve gotten older and more confident in my craft that’s just increased my love of it and my passion for it.
KTHD: That’s another Sondheim show you did!
KTHD: Was Passion your first Sondheim show?
LB: The first was Putting it Together, and then I did Sunday in the Park with George. I was Frida, lower left-hand corner, flower in the hat. Everyone knows her, right? And then by the time I played Fosca in Passion, that was it. Done. I was hooked.
KTHD: So, outside your theatre work, I discovered while stalking you on the Internet that you are an avid Pinterester! It seems you have a penchant for crafting and home improvement, which is something I did not know about you!
LB: [laughs] Yes! One time, I was doing Jacques Brel in Gloucester, and my family was away for some reason and I decided that I was going to turn my boys’ room into a jungle!
KTHD: By yourself.
LB: By myself. The girl who can’t read a ruler. My husband says “You’re dangerous because you think that you’re Martha Stewart, but Martha has a team of 50 who all kind of do it for her, and you kind of don’t.” I am dangerous. When I have too much time, I think “I could paint that!” But really, I can’t.
KTHD: So we’re not afraid to ask the tough questions here at Ladies* Who Lunch, so it’s rapid fire time. Other than your Pinteresting hobbies, what is something that most people don’t know about you?
LB: I have a hypnotist and I dabble in the occult.
KTHD: I just adore you. Two: What is a recent Boston arts happening that you just loved?
LB: It was recent in my mind because I think I have dementia and everything seems like yesterday, or years ago, but I freaking loved PigPen Theatre Company that came in and did The Old Man and the Old Moon at the Calderwood, their self-written and self-produced show. Magical—no bells and whistles. It was brilliantly done, and now they’re Off-Broadway with it!
KTHD: And finally, which is probably the most appropriate for your character Joanne, what is your favorite cocktail?
LB: Unlike my character, Joanne, I actually don’t drink. At all. But, having said that, I did back in the day. Like, a lot. My cocktail of choice used to be—Joanne would hate this with a passion, like really hate it—I loved a mudslide, because it was like a chocolate milkshake but you were like “Ooh, I’m getting drunk? Who knew?” That or a Midori sour.
KTHD: Well done.
LB: Joanne is all about denial, so she’d appreciate that. I never wanted to get drunk until I was like “Oops, I’m drunk.” Fun fact, I got pregnant the same way! My 18-year-old came up to me recently and said “So, you were playing Russian roulette, basically.” Basically, yes.
KTHD: You’re truly an inspiration.