Right before she dashed off to rehearsal for Into the Woods at the Lyric Stage Company, naturally effervescent lady Erica Spyres sat down with me and, over burgers and a beer, dished on Sondheim, gave me some tips on building an outdoor fire pit, and told stories from her secret past as a child pageant star.
Erica Spyres: I’m excited to be here! I’m a little bit nervous!
Kyle Thomas Hemingway Dickinson: What do you have to be nervous about?!
ES: I don’t know!
KTHD: I’ll edit everything and make you sound much more smart and funny than you actually are.
ES: Please! Hemingway me!
KTHD: I love that—that’s perfect! So, one of my favorite people in the whole world, fierce musical queen Erica Spyres. What the hell are you up to?
ES: Into the Woods, it’s the third day of rehearsal!
KTHD: What’s that?
ES: It’s this great little musical we’re doing at the Lyric Stage. I’m playing Cinderella.
KTHD: Do you talk to birds in real life?
ES: I’ve tried.
KTHD: Do they talk back?
ES: You know, if you really listen, yeah, sometimes they will. But does it make sense to me? No. My husband Andrew always says that I try to be like Snow White with animals. I think that they all love me, but then I’ve gotten burned a few times.
KTHD: What is it like stepping into the shoes of your friend, [Broadway’s original Cinderella] Kim Crosby?
ES: It’s exciting. I wrote her a message the other day saying “I always knew you were talented, but I didn’t realize how much credit I should give you until I started studying this music.” I don’t typically like to listen to recordings when I prepare for musicals, I really like to completely have my own voice; but it doesn’t bother me to listen to her. She also wished me well when I saw her around Christmas and she told me “Good luck, it’s going to be tough, but you’re going to be great.” I feel a strength of support from her.
KTHD: Have you done Into the Woods before? Is it something you’ve always wanted to do?
ES: I’ve not done Into the Woods before, but it’s definitely something I’ve always been interested in. Like a lot of people, I grew up watching the version that was on PBS. I’ve done Sweeney Todd, Marry Me A Little, and A Little Night Music. I’m excited to add another Sondheim show to my resume!
KTHD: So you’re a Sondheim buff.
ES: I am a Sondheim buff, I love Sondheim. This one is, I think, the hardest that I’ve done. The timing is ridiculously difficult, it’s freaking me out! But it’s not just me, everyone’s like “What? Huh?!”
KTHD: And are you loving your cast?
ES: Yes! At this point, it’s really exciting. A couple years ago, every time I’d go into a cast I had maybe only worked with one person in the cast. At this point, I’ve worked with several of them and a lot of them are friends, so it’s really exciting. You have to keep yourself on task, though, because you just want to catch up! We have fabulous people here. I’m back with Aimee Doherty and John Ambrosino, we have a little too much fun sometimes, we get in trouble for talking!
KTHD: I’m so damn excited for this show! I’m bringing my mom, she doesn’t know you’re in it yet, I’m going to let that be a surprise for her.
ES: Aww! I love your mom!
KTHD: She loves you!! So outside the realm of theater, you do so many different things! Recently, you taught me how to build a safe outdoor fire pit, gave me information on low-cost cell phone plans, and you just went back and got your bachelor’s degree from Lesley University!
ES: [laughs] Did you see that?
KTHD: Of course! I’m absolutely in love with your spokesperson persona. How did you get into that?
ES: I love doing that stuff. Sometimes it’s easier because you get to be a little bit of yourself, but it’s “professional” you. I started doing speech and debate in high school and I think that’s what really got me into it. I learned how to do public speaking, and that’s a very different thing from acting. I also gave my senior class’ graduation speaker in college, there was no valedictorian speech but instead there was a submission process and I won. So I got to give my speech at graduation, but then the year after that they decided no more graduation speakers. I guess they didn’t like too much what I had to say!
KTHD: So you have this crazy talented musical family. Music teacher parents, composer husband, singing brothers—what’s going on in the water in your hometown!?
ES: We always just said, some families are full of doctors, and some are full of accountants. Ours is full of musicians, it’s just what we do! My brother Sean is an amazing singer and we always talk about what we’re learning and how we can help students.
KTHD: That never occurred to me (as an only child) that you have that fabulous support group in your siblings in the same profession that you can all sort of bounce ideas off one another! That’s so cool!
ES: Yes! And my brother Michael has an incredible opera career. When I was doing Camelot, we were talking on the phone, and he said he watched a video of me doing a number and gave me some great advice about how I was approaching the music.
KTHD: Other than what we’ve learned from you today, what is one thing most people don’t know about you?
ES: Did you know that I was in Little Miss of America when I was 8 years old?
KTHD: NO! That’s amazing!
ES: Yeah, my mother put me in Little Miss Missouri, they had two categories: talent and beauty, and I didn’t win for anything in the beauty competition but I did win in talent, so I got to go to Florida and Disney World and perform. I sang and played the violin.
KTHD: Shut up. Did you wear fake eyelashes and a flipper?
ES: No! I was pretty natural compared to the other girls.
KTHD: So this was not a glitz pageant?
ES: It actually probably was, but my mother didn’t like the idea of making me up that much, which is probably why I didn’t place in the beauty competition.
KTHD: Terry Lee Spyres! You ruined Erica’s chances with your aversion to whore makeup on children!
ES: I had forgotten how much you love pageants!
KTHD: What is a recent Boston arts thing that you saw and you loved?
ES: The most recent thing I saw and thought was awesome was Hairspray at Wheelock Family Theatre. I loved it! I was crying within five minutes. You know that feeling you get when everybody is just so incredibly joyful about performing? They were just giving it all they had. It was great.
KTHD: And finally, what is your favorite cocktail?
ES: I’m more of a beer drinker, I like hefeweizens. My favorite beer right now is probably Golden Monkey from Victory Brewing Company.
KTHD: Maybe you can be their spokesperson next!