If you’re going to fall in love, it may as well be in Rome—and with a gorgeous princess. Such was the winning combo in Roman Holiday, the 1953 film that propelled Audrey Hepburn to fame (she won the Oscar for best actress in a leading role). Audiences swooned over Hepburn and Gregory Peck’s silver-screen romance, as well as the backdrop of their love: the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain, the Coliseum.
That magic is going to be reborn at the Guthrie Theater this Friday, June 15, when the musical of the same name makes its debut. Songs by Cole Porter give the play a twist, as does the 26-member ensemble, starring Stephanie Rothenberg (Princess Anne) and Edward Watts (Joe Bradley). Here, the Tennessee and Ohio natives (respectively) talk about the very different paths they took to get here, what it’s like to step into the shoes of Hollywood giants, and their take on Minneapolis.
First thing’s first: Have either of you been to Rome before?
Edward: I haven’t either. I wanted us to go on a field trip.
Stephanie: Seriously, we talk about the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps, and it’s our job to “see” them, and it makes me want to go even more! But they’ve done a fabulous job with the set to help us—and the audience—visualize it.
Before this, you were both working on shows in New York. How long has it been since you’ve gotten to start a show from scratch like this?
Edward: I was working on The Fantasticks for two years. During that time, I also did a show for two-and-a-half months in Seattle. Starting from the ground up is always my favorite thing to do—to not have to step into somebody else’s shoes. Well, I guess in this case it’s sort of like stepping into someone else’s shoes, because people know it as Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn. BUT they didn’t sing. So ha-hah!
Stephanie: I started How to Succeed in Business in January of 2011, so it’s been a little over a year. It is nice to start the creative process from zero; it’s hard work, but very rewarding at the same time—especially when it’s such an iconic role as this.
Did you always know you wanted to be actors?
Edward: I didn’t know until college. I went to Ohio State, and majored in theater, but I also majored in communications. I didn’t know how to “do acting” as a job. When I moved to New York, I was a technology manager at a law firm. I made great money and had a steady job, but it sucked my soul away. But it did afford me the chance to take acting classes and voice lessons. By my late 20s, I finally said, “Enough.” The role that really kicked things off for me was Thomas Jefferson in the musical 1776. During that show, I got offered a role in the first regional production of Titanic: The Musical. I’ve been a full-time actor since.
Stephanie: I grew up recording in Nashville. The joke is that everybody has a recording studio in their basement.
And do they?
Stephanie: A lot of people do! When I was eight, I used to ride my bike to my summer jobs: recording children’s and Christian music. Then it segued into doing Disney’s junior projects, which were in conjunction with Music Theater International. By high school, I was recording full shows for Disney. My path has really been charmed—I’ve been very fortunate. I got my role in How To Succeed as a junior at NYU. I never thought it would be like this. I never knew if I was good enough. You know, someone can get you into the audition room, but once that door closes, it’s all you.
And now you’re Princess Anne, the very character that made Audrey Hepburn a star. Woman to woman, how does it feel to play such an iconic role?
Stephanie: Ooooh my gosh. It’s amazing. Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve loved her. I mean, who doesn’t? To be the first person to pay homage to her in this incarnation of this story and create something new around it is really special. But I do feel a great sense of responsibility as well, because people are going to come to the theater and they’re going to expect something. Everybody has an Audrey memory.
Edward, you’re not off the hook either—Gregory Peck was quite the actor.
Edward: True, but the movie really was all about her; this was the role she won an Oscar for. The role of Joe was originally offered to Cary Grant, but he turned it down because he knew that everyone would just be watching Audrey. I try very hard not to think of it in terms of playing Gregory Peck. He’s obviously an icon, and I love that I get to think of him, but I’m more focused on what I bring to Joe Bradley. I’d actually never seen the movie until the audition for this show came up.
Are there many changes, besides the addition of music?
Edward: The main difference is that in our version, Joe Bradley is a songwriter, which really draws the music into the plot. And there’s a little change at the end, which I won’t give away. Let’s just say his story gets tied up a little better.
Stephanie: Paul Blake has done an amazing job in taking some of Cole Porter’s lesser-known songs and making them fit into the story. They really further the plot line, which is, I think, the mark of a good musical: when the songs add depth to the characters instead of just restating something that’s already said in the scene proper.
This is both of your first times performing in Minneapolis. How do you like our fair city?
Edward: My parents actually lived in Prior Lake, so I used to summer here during college. I’ve always really loved it here. And the Guthrie definitely has a national—if not worldwide—reputation for being a great place to perform. It’s a bucket-list venue for me.
Stephanie: Me too! It has a sterling reputation in New York. When I gave notice at my Broadway show, they were like, “Of course!”
Edward: We’re lucky, because they don’t do many musicals here. So to be able to come up here and do a brand new show like this, it’s great.
Stephanie: And what a perfect theater for this show. It’s intimate enough to make it feel personal, but at the same time the royal-red seats make you feel like you’re in an opulent, beautiful palace, which, you know, is kind of what Rome is like. It’s perfectly fitting. I’m thrilled to get to work in this space.
Roman Holiday opens Friday, June 15, at Guthrie Theater. Get tickets and more information at guthrietheater.org