Next weekend, Kleinhans Music Hall is drinking a big, bubbly toast to the old-fashioned love song.
The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra will present “A Broadway Romance.” Presiding will be guest conductor Ted Sperling, a Tony-winning Broadway veteran who orchestrated the music for “The Light in the Piazza.” He is bringing along two Broadway stars.
One is Santino Fontana, who is cast as Prince Charming in next year’s Broadway production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella.”
The other singer is Tiffany Haas, who starred as Glinda, the Good Witch in the Broadway touring production of “Wicked.”
For Haas, the concert is quite the change of pace.
Together and separately, she and Fontana will be singing songs from such golden-age Broadway musicals as “Camelot,” “Guys and Dolls” and “West Side Story,” as well as songs by Rodgers and Hammerstein, and numbers from newer dramas. The songs are creatively arranged to track a couple through the course of a romance. Sweet as many of the songs are, the drama is about real life.
Which is very different from “Wicked,” set in the fantasy world of the supernatural.
In “Wicked,” Haas was a sunny creature in a poufy princess dress. She drifts down to stage in a bubble.
Hearing her talk about it, you have to laugh. “The beginning of the show, when the curtain is down, I get in the bubble, and the head carpenter, the man in charge backstage, hooks my dress. There’s a harness in my gown,” she says. “He says, ‘OK, bubble up;’ he’s on headset with another man who does animation. The bubble goes up into the rafters, and the show begins. I come down to stage in a bubble. It’s one of the best entrances I ever made.”
Could “A Broadway Romance” measure up to that? Haas says it can.
She welcomes the chance to branch out. “It’s kind of a nice opportunity for me as well, to take a break from the ‘Wicked’ world, to kind of work on music I’ve never sung before,” she says.
“For example, the song from ‘The Light in the Piazza,’ a gorgeous song called ‘Dividing Day.’ Typically the character I would be right for wouldn’t sing that song. The mother sings that song. I have the opportunity to sing that because it’s out of context. That’s what’s fun.”
‘I was a classical girl’
Haas was always drawn toward the bright lights.
“My mother owns three dance studios in Virginia. I grew up in the dance studio,” she says. “I was instantly bitten by the performing bug, singing and dancing.”
She giggles. “I had a red, curly Annie wig. I always put the wig on when my parents had people over for dinner. I’d sing ‘The sun’ll come out ...’ – I would always do that.”
Her parents, trying to channel their daughter’s energy, tried her out in one activity, then another. “They put me into soccer, and I ended up picking flowers during the game,” Haas says. “They kept wondering, where did she fit? This doesn’t work, that doesn’t work.”
Finally, fatefully, her mother had the idea to call the Virginia Opera.
“She said, ‘I don’t know much about the singing world, but my daughter loves to sing,’ ” Haas says. “They put me in the children’s chorus. My first performance was ‘La Boheme.’ It was so great!” On the phone, Haas begins singing the syncopated, staccato number the children’s chorus sings in the Puccini opera.
“I did a few performances with them. I loved the classical training. It’s all I knew vocally.”
Haas attended the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. She was named Miss Ohio. And she began branching out from opera into Broadway.
“I didn’t want to stand still,” she says.
Opera singers, she points out, are often asked to be patient while their voices develop. “And I’m just dying to get on stage.” She laughs. “I auditioned for the musical theater program and was accepted there. I graduated in a class of 10 or 12, and I came to New York City. And I was very fortunate. I got to New York in May, and in November, I was cast in ‘Wicked’ on Broadway.”
The thought of Broadway auditions brings to mind ‘A Chorus Line,’ with singers trying a rainbow of different approaches. Haas had a unique strategy.
“Here I was, auditioning for a pop musical!,” she says. “I knew ‘Wicked,’ but I didn’t have that kind of material in my book. I had a lot of Carlisle Floyd ‘Susannah,’ ” she says, alluding to the respected American opera. “Mozart arias, too. But very few Broadway standards. So I sang ‘I Could Have Danced All Night’ with a British accent. I look back and think, that’s so funny. I can’t believe they hired me.”
“It was incredible, such a competitive business – left, right, all sides, you’re surrounded by incredibly talented people. I know that at any given moment there are 100 other girls to do my job, just as well, if not better, than me. So much timing, preparation. So I was incredibly grateful, and still am.”
Out of the bubble
It is easy to imagine Haas having the personality of Glinda, the Good Witch. She projects that vibe on the phone, and listening to her sing, it’s obvious she puts it into her music.
“Am I allowed to say which songs I’m going to be singing?” she asks.
Without giving everything away, one song is “Come Rain or Come Shine,” the bluesy anthem by Buffalo native Harold Arlen.
Judy Garland sang this song, and Haas has a great admiration for her.
“She’s always been considered the world’s greatest entertainer. That’s how I view her. I grew up listening to Judy Garland, listening to her singing, her movies with Mickey Rooney!” she says. “I also grew up watching ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ It’s ironic that now I perform in ‘Wicked.’ I think she knew how to command the stage and audience, whether she was singing or not. That’s what a performer does.”
Haas, though she is barely 30, already has a similar show business spirit.
As Glinda, she gave 200 performances straight. “I never missed a performance,” she says.
“A lot of that is the training I had. The classical training. I feel very fortunate,” she says. “I didn’t want to miss a performance. I didn’t want to be sitting in my hotel room bored. I love the show. I love the people. I wanted to be there every night.
“It becomes a habit. Your body knows what to do. It kicks into action,” she says. “In a way you can compare it with other jobs – whether you’re exhausted or not, you can do your job.”
That practical sense helps her through the inevitable bumps of show business.
“I feel very comfortable on the stage. Things don’t always go perfectly – it’s rare that you have a perfect show. The audience is different every night, you have different actors on stage,” she says. “That’s what makes theater so great, it keeps you on your toes. In live theater, people drop lines. The bubble doesn’t work. I’ve had to walk on stage before. It happens!” She laughs.
She is smart enough – and sweet enough – to appreciate the love from the audience.
“Before the show even starts, the audience is on your side,” Haas says. “That’s a great feeling. They come to see the performance. They come to have a good time. They’re on your side.”