Louise Pitre: YPT, Potato Chips and “Great Advice”



Sesaya specializes in music and arts education.

Louise Pitre

Louise Pitre is a household name. Especially in my house, where three of the toughest critics I know (who happen to be my children) regularly discuss her talent and pose questions about her career. They are fascinated to hear that she originated the role of  Fantine in the Canadian production of Les Misérables, (for which I interviewed her for my radio show years ago). And that she introduced the role of Donna Sheridan to North America, in the Canadian and then the Broadway production of Mamma Mia–and earning a Tony Award nomination for her portrayal. On top of these and other notable roles on stage and screen, she’s won Dora Awards, received honourary degrees and co-founded a Toronto-based musical theatre company. Though to my children, Pitre is first and foremost the quintessential Toad from 2010′s A Year with Frog and Toad at the Young People’s Theatre (YPT). Even now, 3 years later, they maintain it was hands-down the best show they’ve ever seen (and for youngsters, they’ve seen quite a few) –in no small part because of Toad, who was “amazing.”

To say that they are excited to see Pitre as the gleefully-menacing Miss Hannigan in the current YPT production of Annie would be an understatement. Wide-eyed, they volunteered question after question when they learned that I would be interviewing her on her return to YPT . . .  starting with “why come back to YPT?” Her answer: for her, Frog and Toad was a “special show.” In dozens of lead roles in musical theatre, she had never before done children’s theatre. “I loved my experience at YPT,” she says. “That’s why I’m back. Because I love (Artistic Director) Allen MacInnis and the kids’ reactions!”

Judging from my own children, these reactions last long past the curtain call. A new generation of musical-theatre fans are keen to know about her and curious about how to become like her. Having first seen Pitre at YPT and having heard of her distinguished career which spans theatre, television and concert stages across North America and Europe, my children were surprised to learn that she herself hadn’t found her way into the theatre until she was 22 years old–and that she studied piano at university with the intention of becoming a teacher. Those days behind her, she has gone on to perform in some of the most coveted venues worldwide. Of all the roles she has played, the title role in Mame at Goodspeed Opera House in 2012 remains her favourite: “I love the character. She’s full of life! In addition to the strong script and great score, it’s the biggest role for a female –she’s in every single scene and changes costumes for each one (all quick changes!).  AND the costumes were all incredibly beautiful! I got to look amazing and act, do comedy, play the bugle, sing great songs and dance! I felt like I got to do everything I can do in that show.”

With Mame off the bucket list, and having already played the most iconic leading ladies (including herself in her critically-acclaimed autobiographical On the Rocks at Theatre Passe Muraille just this fall), what lies ahead? Come February, she’ll perform the other role she’s always dreamed of: Rose, stage mother extraordinaire, in the upcoming Chicago Shakespeare Theater production of Gypsy. Though it’s a role she is “over the moon” about, it was one she had resigned herself to not doing. “I didn’t want to do it unless it was going to be a great production,” she insists. The creative team, starting with director Gary Griffin (“I love his work!”) convinced her. His direction, coupled with musical director Rick Fox’s true-to-the-period orchestrations should make this production a “‘true and real’ version of the show.” And the venue itself seals the deal: “Chicago Shakespeare Theatre is the most perfect place to do it. Great production values, and the theatre itself is like an old vaudeville house!”

Louise Pitre (Miss Hannigan) and Jenny Weisz (Annie) in YPT's Annie; photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

Louise Pitre (Miss Hannigan) and Jenny Weisz (Annie) in YPT’s Annie; photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

My children’s admiration for Pitre is rooted in their recognition that she is a leading-lady powerhouse who can herself make a production great. But it’s her guilty pleasures –”anything to do with dogs!” and–wait for it–the quest for the best ever potato chips (“as of now, the winner is Cape Cod Dark Russet, but I can never find them here…..”), that cinch her place as both inspirational and relatable. That, and the positivity she exudes. My daughter is currently applying to arts-based high schools in hopes of pursuing a future career in singing. Imagine her amazed delight when she asked this legend for advice — and got it! “Go for it!” Pitre told her. “See as much theatre and musical theatre as you can, and look at it with a critical eye. Try to figure out what’s good and why! Try to see why a certain performer affects you and why. Look at how they are on stage, and see why they make you FEEL something. Be critical of what you see and of yourself. Be honest with yourself, and work on the things you need to improve: singing, acting, dancing and any other skill! You are asked to do a lot of different things in different shows. You can never have too many skills!”

“That’s great advice!” my daughter beamed. And armed with this impetus, she is now completing those applications with a renewed verve. So thank you, Louise Pitre — for the music, and also for inspiring my children and countless others to go to the theatre and pursue their dreams. Perhaps one day my daughter will sing with Louise Pitre and show off the “many skills” that she’s inspired. But for now, my thanks to Louise are for a simple and more immediate thing: answering my children’s questions so thoughtfully, and, in the process, earning me that most sought-after accolade of parenthood: “Cool Mother.”

What: Annie (TYA), Directed by Allen MacInnis, Musical Direction by Diane Leah; Choreography by Nicola Pantin

Who: Children ages 5 years and up

Where: Young People’s Theatre, 165 Front Street, 416-862-2222, www.youngpeoplestheatre.ca­

When: Until December 29, 2013

© 2013 Arpita Ghosal, Sesaya

Posted in Interviews, Performing Arts, Theatre, Toronto, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , .