It’s hard to think of the film, “Roman Holiday” without immediately thinking of the uber-talented and charming Audrey Hepburn.
Playing the role of Princess Ann, Hepburn effortlessly brought glamor and elegance to the role while remaining down-to-Earth and humble. She won an Academy Award, BAFTA Film Award and a Golden Globe for her work in the film in 1954 and was celebrated as the actress of the year.
So when the decision was made to turn the iconic film into a musical on the Guthrie stage, there were certainly some big shoes to fill.
Luckily, for the Guthrie — and local audiences — they found their princess in newcomer Stephanie Rothenberg.
Rothenberg chatted with us about filling Hepburn’s shoes, what it was like playing a princess and the wonderful cast she calls family.
Q: What was your first experience with “Roman Holiday,” the film? And what were your reactions when you saw Audrey Hepburn’s character?
A: I thought she was amazing. She’s just effortlessly a princess and has this beauty to her that just comes through always — whenever she’s being a commoner in the city and experiencing all these new things, there’s just this shining light that I think everybody finds in her. So as a little girl, the idea of being a princess and feeling like Audrey Hepburn, that was kind of my first guttural reaction to the film. And being in Rome and the romance of it brought so much joy to me, originally, as a child. I watched the film again when I was auditioning for the show and I fell in love with it all over again. I had forgotten over the years what it really was. I knew the crux of it but to have the honor to play this role — and to put my own spin on it, because it’s a new musical, it’s not the film just plopped on stage, it’s really exciting because I get to pay homage to her but I get to play my own Princess Ann.
Q: How much inspiration did you take from Audrey’s portrayal of the role? And how much did you head in a different direction?
A: I tried to stay away from it, as much as possible. I knew it was going to be innately inside me, no matter what, because I knew the movie and I knew Audrey’s work. So I knew it was already, when I was going to be saying the same lines as she said, I knew it was going to come through. But I really started the process like I would any new character — not going straight to the movie to see how she did it but creating my own and what do I think I’m trying to say in this line. Because the story takes a few different turns than it does in the movie, with the addition of Francesca the cabaret singer, played by Christina Baldwin, who is amazing in it. And also that Joe, played by Ed Watts, is also a song writer. So there’s different things that kind of create its own new — this new musical. So it’s exciting to be a part of from the early stages. For an actress it’s very inspiring to create something new, in a way.
Q: What were your reactions when you heard they were turning this film into a musical?
A: Oh my gosh, I was so excited! I mean, for me musical theater is what I do and I love to do, so when this audition announcement came out, my agent said, “You must go in, this is perfect for you.” I remember being thrilled because they weren’t just remaking the movie — because I do think that could be dangerous in a way, just because then it’s a direct comparison to Audrey Hepburn, of course I’m going to get that but here I’m creating my own. I’m singing, Audrey didn’t sing, there’s no music in the movie, I’m creating a whole new Princess Ann.
Q: So this is your first time performing at the Guthrie? How did it go, and was it everything you hoped it would be?
A: It’s amazing. I grew up in Nashville, Tenn. and did productions at the Tennessee Repertory Theatre as a kid. And my mother sat on one of the boards of one of the theaters in town and she always mentioned to me the Guthrie Theater because it’s one of the preeminent theaters in the country. So ever since I was a kid I wanted to work here. So to have that honor, I was excited to leave New York and come to Minneapolis and be a part of this amazing theater and amazing artists, as well, from the top down. It’s a great place to work.
Q: And your co-star Edward Watts is also a newcomer to the Guthrie stage? Was that fun to experience this together?
A: It was so fun. You know, we’re still kind of exploring the city together — the three of us are, Jim Stanek, as well, who plays Irving. The three of us are very close. We’re exploring the city together. We go out on Monday nights and try new restaurants and grill on our roof and experience Minneapolis together and the Guthrie together and this whole new process. I hope I can speak for all three of us when I say, ‘We’re all very very happy to be here.’
Q: Well we’re glad to have you. I was thoroughly impressed with the set design, the costumes and how the musical was able to recreate such iconic scenes from the movie, on stage. What was it like to be a part of that?
A: From the first time I put on the muslin renderings of my costumes, designed by Mathew LeFebvre, I said, it was cliche but I said, ‘I feel like a princess.’ But then I realized, oh wait, that’s exactly how I’m supposed to feel. But he does a beautiful job, he took direct inspiration, as we all did, from the film to create these beautiful costumes. Likewise, Todd Rosenthal (set designer) with the Trevi Fountain and the gorgeous Vespa and all of the multi-media affects of the show. I feel like we do the best to create Rome on the stage. Walking out and experiencing Rome for the first time, as the princess, it’s very easy. It evokes the feelings that I would imagine. I’ve never been to Rome — I have to go now. But they make it so easy for us to feel like we’re there, and hopefully for the audience to feel like they’re taking a little vacation.
Q: So since this was your first time at the Guthrie, did you get any words of advice from your fellow veteran co-stars?
A: Oh my goodness. Michelle Barber (Countess), Christina Baldwin, Angie Timberman (ensemble), John Skelley (ensemble), these amazing actors and actresses that have frequented this stage. I honestly have just taken it from their work ethic. And their process in which they create something in this space. I think it’s important, when you come to a new space to kind of step back and observe in a way, while participating. And I always try to do that. They do a lovely job and they’re dear friends now. And I’m excited for the two-month run we have now. I get to know them better and the Guthrie and Minneapolis more.
Roman Holiday runs through Aug. 19 at the Guthrie Theater. For tickets or more information, click here.