Andréa Burns stars in ‘Bad Dates’ streaming from George St. Playhouse
By ALAN SMASON, Exclusive to the CCJN
When the worldwide theatre community shut down last March, Andréa Burns was riding high. She was getting ready to fly out to San Diego to be one one a group of actors who would be mounting the world premiere of multiple Tony Award-winning nominee Michael John LaChiusa’s “The Gardens of Anucia.” Inspired by and based on the life of the Broadway legend Graciella Daniele, the dancer, choreographer and director, the show was to feature choregraphy and be directed by Daniele at The Old Globe, where she currently resides as artistic director.
Burns was literally in the audition room vying as one of the finalists for the replacement role of Heidi Hansen, Evan’s mother, in the Broadway production of “Dear Evan Hansen.” That’s when she got news of the shutdown.
Like so many others in the Broadway world, Burns, the subject of a previous CCJN 2016 article, thought it would be just a matter of a few weeks, maybe a couple of months, before the $1.7 billion Broadway juggernaut began anew. Within a few weeks, though, The Old Globe’s announced 2020-21 season – including the staging of The Gardens of Anucia – was cancelled.
Luckily, she had just finished the principal shooting on the set of Steven Spielberg’s remake of “West Side Story.” Burns, who began her stage career singing the lead role of Maria, played the role of Fausta, a part specifically created for the film screenplay and not found in the original book by Arthur Laurents. The release date of the updated Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim movie musical will be in December.
So she found herself trapped inside her New York home with her director husband Peter Flynn and her high school student and fledging filmmaker son Hudson, who was dealing with the reality of distanced learning. Burns had to resign herself to the reality of the new normal. There would likely not be any performances offered to her for some time to come.
For the veteran Broadway performer, who had seen success as the brassy hairdresser Daniela in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony Award winning Best Musical “In the Heights” and as Gloria Estefan’s domineering mother Gloria Alfano in “On Your Feet!,” inertia was something foreign and oddly disquieting to her.
For a while, she handled the Monday night broadcast hosting duty on “Stars in the House,” the internet show started by Seth Rudetsky and his husband James Wesley in the wake of the shutdown. In her role as an identified woman of Jewish and Latinx persuasion, she was able to tackle several issues regarding Black Lives Matter and other questions revolving about equity, diversity and inclusion. However, after school started up again, she knew she would not have the time to dedicate to the show, so she gave that up.
Her prominence during this period kept her in the public eye and might have been responsible for her being offered an unusual opportunity.
The creative team at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick, New Jersey was quite familiar with both Burns and her husband. In fact, Flynn had directed there previously. Artistic director David Saint and his staff started to weigh options of how to engage their very dedicated in-person season subscribers and to do so in a manner that was safe for both audiences and the artistic and creative personnel.
They thought about using their facility to film one-person shows and to use a streaming platform to show them. “George Street has a spectacular, big (and) beautiful theater and I think initially they may have thought: ‘We’ll just build a set, do the play and you can just do it without an audience. We’ll film it,'” Burns told the CCJN in an exclusive telephone interview.
But even then, the number of film crew members, actors and creatives inside the theater was far more than the COVID safety protocols of the two unions – Actors Equity Association (AEA) and Screen Actors Guild/American Federation of Television and Radio Actors (SAG/AFTRA) – would allow.
One of Saint’s patrons at George Street, Sharon Karmazin, a Broadway producer in her own right, made him an offer that proved to be a more attractive option than opening up his theater. She was being a snowbird in Palm Beach, Florida at her winter home. Her two-story mansion in New Jersey was empty. “‘Use my home,'” Burns recalled her telling Saint. “‘I’d love you to do it.'”
Knowing that Burns was available and that she was in the same pod with her director-husband, Saint asked her if she would be interested playing the role of Haley in Theresa Rebeck’s one-woman play “Bad Dates” and if her husband might be interested at being attached to the project as director.
Then, came even more pleasing news. Instead of leaving her high school senior alone at home, he could come along as the director of photography, or cinematographer, for the film. As this was the first non-stage direction for Peter Flynn, it made sense for him to consult with someone who had worked in the film medium.
The three were tested for coronavirus and then moved into the downstairs of the mansion for the 10- to 12-day shoot in January. The scenes were rehearsed and her husband and son conferred on the shots that were planned and then filmed in the upstairs bedroom. “We just thought ‘Wow, what an incredible thing to do,'” Burns revealed.
Confined to the home during this short period, many of the traditional job duties were blurred. “We were all in,” she explained. “We even had the makeup artist holding a light at one point. We were just so happy to be in a room together working.”
The poignant and funny script by Rebeck was challenging for Burns, especially as there was no audience present. The lack of a connection from the stage to the audience and back was particularly telling, especially as “Bad Dates” is a one-woman show, Burns admitted. “The audience is your partner,” she said.
Burns added that audiences should keep in mind that performances of this type given under COVID protocols have never been attempted before. She had to learn and rehearse each scene out of sequence, not the way the play was written. “Keep in mind that they are witnessing something that has never been done before,” she continued.
Playfully, she added: “They are going into new territory. It’s important for audiences to know that every artist that is working at this particular time has taken on a new way of doing this that does feel like everything that we’ve learned and trained to do – except on ice skates!”
Now that the film has been edited, lucky internet audience members across the globe will be able to see Burns perform the role directed by her husband and shot by her son in just a few more days. It will be available to stream starting February 23 here and on-demand through March 14. The second work on the George Street Playhouse schedule is “Fully Committed” by Becky Moore starring Maulik Pancholy and like“Bad Dates” costs $33. Two other larger vehicles with more cast members – “Tiny Little Things” by Nia Vardalos and “It’s Only a Play” by Terrence McNally are slated for later in the season.
In this age of COVID protocols and social distancing, dating is ever more challenging, Burns acknowledged. “For someone married a long time, it’s easy to be grateful that I’m not out there right now,” she admitted.
Even so, Burns laughed about what her character endures in “Bad Dates.” I think I had better luck than Haley, our protagonist of “Bad Dates,” she concluded. “She had some doozies!”
“Bad Dates” starring Andréa Burns is directed by her husband, Peter Flynn with choreography by her son Hudson Flynn. Streaming February 23 through March 14, it is presented as a production of the George Street Playhouse. Season tickets for “Bad Dates,” “Fully Committed” and the final works of Nia Vardalos’ “Tiny Beautiful Things” and Terrence McNally’s “It’s Only a Play” (casting not yet announced), is $132 or $33 per show individually. For more information, click here or call 732-659-0377.