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Kate Baldwin on Broadway, Meltdowns and Sweet Success

Kate Baldwin, star of "Finian's Rainbow," talks to WWD about the value of hard work.

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Kate Baldwin

Kate Baldwin

Photo By Robert Mitra

Nearly a decade elapsed between Kate Baldwin’s Broadway debut and her big Broadway moment, but the old chestnut about good things coming to those who wait is certainly proving true.

After years playing supporting roles and touring with companies to far-flung places like St. Louis; Raleigh, N.C., and Sacramento, Calif., the red-headed 34-year-old is enjoying a taste of stardom on the Great White Way as Irish lass Sharon in the hit revival of “Finian’s Rainbow.” Not to mention that her first album, “Let’s See What Happens,” was released earlier in the fall and she’ll be performing at Feinstein’s on Dec. 13.

“Honestly, my career thus far has been about anonymity,” says Baldwin shyly, sitting at the dining room table of her Upper West Side apartment. “It’s really been just about the work.”

That has changed ever since The New York Times called her performance in the classic musical “bewitching” and “magic,” alongside a slew of other raves.

“After the critical response, I had a week where I freaked out and cried,” she says. “When you dream of working on Broadway and people liking what you do, when it finally does happen, you think, ‘What do I do with this now?’”

But all the attention hasn’t turned Baldwin’s head, perhaps due to her solid Midwestern upbringing.

“My father is actually embarrassed by the [rave] reviews. He said, ‘They are over-the-top perfect,’” says Baldwin, who grew up in Evanston, Ill., and Milwaukee. “People are going to think we paid someone to write them.”

In the show, playing at the St. James Theatre, Baldwin steals some thunder from her co-stars, including seasoned scenery chewers Cheyenne Jackson (as her Texan love interest) and Tony winner Jim Norton (as her father). The only danger is when her Irish accent starts to slip: “One of the ensemble ladies is on Jamaican watch, and I have another person who is on Scottish watch, God bless them,” she says, laughing.

“I don’t know if you can tell, but we all really like each other,” she says of her castmates. “It’s a great team of people who feel so lucky to have jobs in this crazy economy.”

Baldwin herself has worked consistently since she graduated from the theater program at Northwestern University, where the actress proved indefatigable.

“I did 17 shows in the four years I was there,” says Baldwin, who appeared in plays more frequently than musicals. “I was so burned out [after that],” she remembers. “My senior show was ‘Hecuba’ so I spent the entire time crying. We did all this work on Bosnia and women who were wasting away. So I thought, ‘I just want to do a show tune. I want to dance around and be a girl and have fun,’” which led to her first professional gig, in the musical “Baby” with a Chicago company.

“That was the first time I sensed my parents relaxing. They knew I was going to be a professional actor and not starve.”

These days, she also finds a source of support in her actor husband, Graham Rowat, who is in a Salt Lake City run of the Mark Twain play “Is He Dead?”

“We give each other suggestions and work on auditions together, which is probably not a good idea,” she says. “[But] he understands right away what the drill is. There is such a shorthand there.”

Which is useful, considering the weekly grind of eight shows a week, for which Baldwin follows a regimen of yoga, herbs and acupuncture, and usually very little talking.

“The show could run for 17 years,” says Baldwin, who looks to professional athletes like Tiger Woods and Mickey Mantle as models of endurance. “There is always a chance to improve. Not to be preachy, but it’s a wonderful way to live — every day is the first day.”

And for now, Baldwin is just enjoying the ride.

“I’ve been so fortunate to live in New York City for 10 years, to work steadily on Broadway and in regional theater, that for the first time I feel like I can take a step back, take a breath and choose what I want to do,” she says. “I’m excited by it.”

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