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Griffith plays a different kind of lady at 5th

Love blossoms on the tennis court in Room With A View.
Laura Griffith and Louis Hobson, photo by Tracy Martin, used with permission of 5th Avenue Theatre.

Laura Griffith traded in her Lady of the Lake plunging necklines and sequined costumes at the 5th Avenue Theatre for a complete Edwardian makeover. “Right now, it looks like a girl’s dream in my dressing room,” said Griffith. “It’s all lace and ruffles.”

After wowing audiences this winter as the sexy sorceress in the company’s “Spamalot,” Griffith is now starring in “Room With A View” as the ever so proper Lucy Honeychurch. Her Broadway credits include the Lincoln Center revival of “South Pacific”, “The Light in the Piazza,” “Oklahoma!,” and “Sweet Smell of Success.”

With a wide-ranging soprano voice, Griffith once trained for opera but decided that Broadway musicals were more her style. “When I moved to New York as a student, I’d go to see opera and Broadway musicals,” she said. “It became very clear what I wanted to do. I love the physicality of theater. I approach every show as a play.”

Based on E. M. Forster’s 1908 novel and the popular 1985 Merchant-Ivory movie adaptation, “Room With A View” is a romantic story of love, Italian holidays, and class restrictions on romance that is miles away from the glitzy silliness of “Spamalot.” The musical by Jeffrey Stock and Mark Acito marks the sixteenth debut at the 5th Avenue, which has previously helped launch such Broadway winners as “Hairspray,” “Memphis,” and the current production of Disney’s “Aladdin.”

Drawn from the 5th’s stable of regulars, the cast includes such Seattle favorites as Patti Cohenour, Jadd Davis, Allen Fitzpatrick, Rich Gray, Suzy Hunt, Matt Owen, Will Reynolds, and Jenny Shotwell.

“We had three days off after the end of ‘Spamalot’ and then we went into rehearsal,” said Griffith, who is once again paired with Louis Hobson (her Galahad in “Spamalot” and George in “Room”). “It was quite the transition to make. This is a very different show.”

For Griffith, one of the biggest changes is that she now interacts with all her co-stars on the stage. While the Lady of the Lake swans on and off the stage demanding everyone pay attention to her singing, “as Lucy, I spend entire show listening to everyone and everyone sings to me.”

If her “Spamalot” character was the ultimate extrovert egotist, Lucy’s inability to express her true feelings proves another challenge. “I kept going back to Forester’s novel to help me get into Lucy’s head,” said Griffith. “One of the difficulties that the writers struggled with (in the musical) is that the story is about the things that she doesn’t say. She is incredibly smart person, but she can convince herself that she wants things because she thinks she should. Her problems are very universal. It’s difficult to allow yourself to be truly seen. Being vulnerable is hard.”

The action of “Room” ultimately hinges on whether or not Lucy can make some life-changing decisions. Griffith made her own leap of faith recently, deciding to settle in Seattle.

“I want to credit (5th’s Executive Producer and Artistic Director) David Armstrong and (5th’s Producing Artistic Director) Bill Berry for encouraging me to come here. Doing work at 5th has been really important to my career. When I told them that I was thinking about leaving New York, they were so encouraging and made me feel like I had a safety net here,” she said.

Coming to Seattle, after past performances here as a visiting actor, proved a revelation, said Griffith. “Once I got here, everyone talked about how they loved (her Cunegonde in the 5th’s 2010 production of) ‘Candide.’ It’s really rewarding to hear about past performances and realize how supportive the entire community here is for each other. You don’t get that in New York and you don’t always realize that when you are just visiting.”

Now Seattle audiences can expect to see more of Griffith and perhaps the directors here can even find a use for her “bloodcurdling scream,” as advertised on her website.

“I do get asked about that,” she said. “I did it in a ‘South Pacific’ for a laugh. Also I once was asked to do it during a radio interview, and I felt so sorry for their listeners that day. But you can’t scream if you are saving the voice for singing.”

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“A Room With A View” opens tonight (April 30) at the 5th Avenue Theatre and runs through May 11. More information is available at the theater’s website.