‘A Quick 5′ with Terry Burrell

Terry Burrell

Terry Burrell is currently in rehearsals at Olney Theatre Center for Cinderella where she will be playing the role of Fairy Godmother. Her last appearance at Olney was in The Boys From Syracuse as Adriana. On Broadway Terry as appeared in Three Penny Opera, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Swinging On A Star, Into The Woods, Dreamgirls, Honky Tonk Nights, Eubie, Show Boat (London 1998 Original Cast). Off Broadway credits include Almost Heaven, Taking A Chance On Love, And The World Goes Round, Lyrics And Lyricist, and Just So. On tour Terry has appeared in Copacabana (Conchita), Showboat (Julie), Grand Night For Singing, Bubbling Brown Sugar (Ella), The Wiz (Aunt Em/Glenda). Her regional credits include ETHEL (Ethel Waters/ playwright), Brownie Points, Smokey Joe’s Café, Crowns, Mahalia, Man Of LaMancha (Aldonza), Up From Paradise (Eve), Time And Again,  Bongi’s Journey, Sophisticated Ladies, Sheila’s Day, Ain’t Misbehavin’, A Christmas Carol, and Jar The Floor. In the DC area you have seen Terry at Arena Stage in Oklahoma (Aunt Eller), The Women Of Brewster Place (Mrs. Brown/ Mavis), Thunder Knocking On The Door (Good Sister), and Of Thee I Sing (Diana Devereaux). Kennedy Center: Queenie Pie (Queenie) [Helen Hayes Nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress, Resident Musical] and Signature Theatre: Show Boat (Julie) [Helen Hayes Nomination for Outstanding Ensemble, Resident Musical].

Were you interested in theatre as a child?

Absolutely and as a child receiving the attention and approval for my ability to sing from adults re-enforced from an early age that this was something I could do well and was pleasing to the audience.

You have played the role of Julie Laverne in Show Boat several times, most recently at Signature Theatre. What do you enjoy most about playing that role?

The first thing I enjoyed about playing the character of Julie Laverne was getting to sing” Bill” and the challenge it presented of telling her story through the lyrics of the song, as well as instructing through that role how dangerous that time could be for people not of the same race (Black and White) to fall in love and defy the law as well as societal conventions and marry.

You have performed in the musical reviews Ain’t Misbehavin and Swinging on a Star. Both highlight the work of a particular composer from a particular time period. What are your favorite songs from the eras of Thomas “Fats” Waller and Johnny Burke?

I enjoyed “Squeeze Me” from Ain’t Misbehavin and even though I didn’t perform it I really loved hearing “Your Feets Too Big.”

From Swinging On A Star the music of Johnny Burke the song “It Could Happen To You” holds a special place in my heart because it was sung by Alvaleta Guess in the show who at the time was battling breast cancer and who died some nine months after the show ended.

Terry Burrell as Fairy Godmother. Photo by Sonie Mathew.

You are currently playing the Fairy Godmother in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella at Olney Theatre Center. Had you seen any of the TV adaptations prior to starting work on this show and if so which do you think is the best version?

I happened to see the television version that was done by Whitney Houston and Brandy as well as an older more traditional version of Cinderella and it would be dishonest of me to say that I favored one over the other. Cinderella is such a classic piece and so appealing to all boys and girls that it would be difficult I think, like pasta, to truly mess it up.

After Cinderella ends its run what are your next few shows?

I’ve written a one woman piece based on the life and career of the blues singer Ethel Waters called “ETHEL” that will have its first big regional production at Alabama Shakespeare Festival in Montgomery AL February 6th-March 3rd. It had its world premiere as a workshop this past February at the Walnut Street Studio Theatre in Philadelphia and played to sold out audiences the three weeks we were there.