Vermont native Kerstin Anderson had just finished her sophomore year studying musical theater at Pace University in New York City when she auditioned "on a whim" for the role of Maria in the upcoming national tour of The Sound of Music. She went just for the experience and was shocked to get a callback. That led to auditions with the creative team and eventually landing the lead -- one of the most iconic in popular culture -- and her first professional role. "I still don't believe it," laughs the 22-year-old. Anderson, who along with the production has garnered raves across the country, will be at The Hanover Theatre in Worcester this month, Dec. 28-Jan. 1, as she and the cast bring the beloved musical back to New England.
This is your first tour. You've been on the road since September 2015 and will continue through July 2017. What is touring life like?
It's a pretty crazy lifestyle, unlike anything I've ever done before. Having to change what bed you sleep in and where your home is, where your workplace is -- and then everything in the workplace is in a different place -- it's a really challenging exercise in how to remain grounded internally. None of your outside forces remain the same, except for, of course, the cast, which is wonderful. We really support each other.
What is it like taking on Maria, one of the most iconic roles in musical theater and film?
I'm incredibly honored by it. I'm so grateful for the opportunity to spend some time in Maria's shoes. Incredible women have preceded me in this role and their presence can feel daunting, but also inspiring. Our director, Jack O'Brien, was really careful and passionate about not delivering a cut-and-dry, by-the-book version of The Sound of Music. Through that, he allowed me to not be Julie Andrews or Mary Martin. I got to bring a real sense of who I am to the role and study the text for what it is at face value vs. what we think it is watching the movie a million times growing up.
What is the key to playing Maria?
The key to playing Maria for me is to open my heart and respond with optimism. It's so clear to me in the text. Whatever obstacle she was given she was, like, "Well, that's fine, we're just gonna do this instead." "You guys don't like thunder? We're gonna sing louder than the thunder!" "The Nazis are coming? OK." "They took our car? We're gonna go over the mountain!" She's such an optimistic persevere-er. To open my heart to what is being given and respond out of love: that is the key.
Did you grow up loving The Sound of Music?
My parents, though they are not musical, love musical theater. My dad watched shows and my mom knew cast albums. I was lucky in that regard, we listened to Godspell and The Sound of Music. We had the VHS set growing up, [watching The Sound of Music] was a wonderful family activity.
What is the hardest song to sing in the show?
"The Lonely Goatherd," especially in our version. In the film they added the puppet show [when singing the song]; the song they sing with the thunderstorm [in the stage production] is "The Lonely Goatherd" and "My Favorite Things" is sung with the Mother Abbess. Because of that we made ["The Lonely Goatherd"] into this giant, playful, imagination number. The song itself is hard to sing, but on top of that I'm running around and picking up children. Because of the physicality of that number, it has become the hardest.
Do you have a favorite song in the show? Does it change?
It does change. What I had been saying was "My Favorite Things," but my gut says "The Sound of Music" right now. It's so beautiful and so simple. The end of that song is just beautifully honest, that's the one I'm falling in love with again. You think, Oh, she's fun. She's talking about trees and the river, she's so imaginative. But in the end, she tells you why she's here: I'm here because I'm lonely. I don't understand why I'm lonely. Something is not quite right yet, but I guess I'll keep singing because that's what I know how to do.
How did you make the decision to go from a teenager who liked performing in school shows and community theater to eyeing it seriously as a future career?
It started for me with one show. I was in eighth grade, my sister was in high school, and they were doing Stephen Sondheim's Into The Woods -- my favorite show to this day. It was the moment where it clicked, where it wasn't just about tap dancing or an opening number or how beautiful or loud you could sing. It's about getting to watch people deal with the challenges and the conflicts of life, and everything clicked. I thought, That's what it's about.
What is your advice for young aspiring actors?
The little kids who love it, I'm, like, "Yes! Go! Sing! Be in shows! I'm so happy you love it as much as I love it." Then there's the other population of juniors and seniors in high school who ask, "Do I pursue this? Do I go to school for this?" I can never tell anyone what they should do, it's not my place. But I say: If you want to do this, you should buckle down in two regards. 1. Get academic about your craft. You should read Stanislavsky, read Uta Hagen, read a million plays if you can. You should really learn about what this is, learn about theater, love all parts of the theater. 2. You have to figure out who you are and how to love yourself. Be unapologetically you. That is how you'll be successful. The only way you can stand out in crowds of thousands of actors is to be you, because no one else can do that like you can.