BY CARY GINELL
If you saw last year’s production of The Music Man at the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center, you might have noticed that Kristopher Kyer, who played Harold Hill, and Christanna Rowader, as Marian Paroo, had a certain undefinable chemistry between them. The reason is that these two LOVE performing with each other. So much so, that when Kyer was asked to play Lawrence Jamison in the ARTS production of “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” this fall, he immediately thought of Christanna as his co-star. Christanna jumped at the chance and the sparks are flying on the Simi stage once again. I managed to lasso the two Scoundrels last week before a Friday night performance and we talked about their onstage partnership. Of course it was hard to keep them from kidding around (especially Christanna), but in this first in a series of excerpts from my interview, we talked about them getting their parts and having a near horrific accident on stage on opening night.
VCOS: So how is it, working together again?
CHRISTANNA: Miserable. (laughs)
KRIS: The relationship’s the same, however, the roles are totally different, that’s what’s fun for me. What I liked about doing Music Man with her were the moments when she didn’t talk.
CHRISTANNA: Yeah, I feel the same way, actually.
KRIS: When we did the scene at the footbridge, she did this thing with this little stick she had, a little flirtatious thing, because she was falling in love for the first time, and I loved it. Well, she does something like that in Scoundrels and I like that because it’s organic and it makes me react more. That’s the fun part of working with her.
CHRISTANNA: He doesn’t like it when I talk. He hates it. [Kris is now in hysterics], because I have such a great delivery.
KRIS: When I teach acting, I always tell them that it’s the moments in between that are important, and I like to watch the actors who aren’t talking. It’s funny because I asked the director of this show, Sean Harrington, “How did you know that she was right for this role?” He offered me the role in February and really wanted her to play Christine all along. And he said, “It was the moments she did in between lines in The Music Man that I noticed her.” He noticed the same thing.
CHRISTANNA: I’m a better actor when I don’t speak.
VCOS: So do you two have signals when you’re on stage together?
CHRISTANNA: No. But Kris is really good when he forgets a line. His eyes get really big. Like cartoon eyes. And I think, “OK, it’s time to improv a little bit.”
VCOS: Did either of you watch Bedtime Story, the movie Dirty Rotten Scoundrels was based on?
KRIS: I never knew that.
CHRISTANNA: Oh, that first film with Shirley Jones? No!
VCOS: Right. It’s David Niven, Marlon Brando, and Shirley Jones.
KRIS: Oh, David Niven must have been perfect. He and Michael Caine have that laid back, suave thing going.
VCOS: So since neither of you have seen the movie, do you play your parts like anyone in particular?
KRIS: I do mine like John Lithgow, who was in the original Broadway show.
CHRISTANNA: Mine is my own take because I really wanted do play it more quirky. And if you can imagine it; Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot, only quirkier. I play character on top of character. In the beginning, I really want the audience to believe that she is dumb and that she’s just a weirdly, strangely, quirky Marilyn version of “dumb.” And sexy at the same time. Then I do a complete switch at the end.
VCOS: Whenever you two get together, the unexpected should be expected, right?
KRIS: That’s so true, so true (laughs).
VCOS: So tell me about what happened on opening night?
KRIS: I’m not keen on sambas in musicals, in general. There was one in Chitty that we did but I just don’t like them. This particular dance was not easy for me to remember. Christanna usually leads me when we dance together. I can do the steps, but I need to know what comes next, so she leads me. Well, on this particular night, it was opening night, I take the leaves off the stick that I hit Freddy with [note: co-star Stephen Weston], and I guess three or four of the leaves landed on the floor. I figured that out later that night, because we were crossing the stage doing our strut, and her heel must have slipped on a leaf, and she started sliding right toward the back wall. I tried to hold her up and then we both went down, and I hit my knee hard.
CHRISTANNA: My whole leg went flying out. We were on our way off stage when it happened. Afterward, I asked a bunch of people who had the perfect angle to see if they saw our horrible crash, but they didn’t see anything.
KRIS: Stephen saw it because he was right behind us.
CHRISTANNA: But the audience didn’t see it and I’m amazed they didn’t.
KRIS: They saw the start of it, but there’s no wing space in the theater and that’s where we fell.
CHRISTANNA; It was scary. I fell almost right into the drum section of the band and landed against the wall. And then I could see Kris coming down on top of me and I was thinking to myself, “This is not good!!!”
KRIS: Because of our momentum, we couldn’t stop, no matter what.
CHRISTANNA: I remember feeling a burning sensation in my back, but I was more concerned about him because he was screaming, “My knee! My knee!”
KRIS: She hit the corner of an electric panel and got a big gash in her back.
CHRISTANNA: It sliced my back.
VCOS: How did you finish the show?
CHRISTANNA: Like normal. But I was worried about him because his knees are so bad.
KRIS: My knees have been bad since I worked as the ringmaster at the circus, working on hard concrete all the time. That’s why I have terrible knees.
Fortunately, both Kris and Christanna finished the show and only have sore memories of their mishap. We’ll have more of the escapades of Kris and Christanna on VC On Stage when our interview continues later this week. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels plays at the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center through December 1. For dates and showtimes, see the VC On Stage Calendar.