NEW YORK — On stage in "Gypsy," Kate Reinders plays a repressed, angry teenager forced to headline a vaudeville act by her domineering stage mother, Mama Rose. "Dainty June" finally escapes by eloping, opening the way for her plain Jane sister, Louise, to be transformed by Mama into legendary striptease artist Gypsy Rose Lee.
In real life, the parents of Ms. Reinders (her name rhymes with "grinders") didn't push her into show business. "No, they're nothing like Rose. If I quit [acting] tomorrow, they would love me just as much," she says as she pushed a feta and spinach omelette around her plate last week at a New York diner. The long-anticipated Broadway revival of "Gypsy" starring Bernadette Peters was to open that night. "Kate Reinders is a wonder as the teenage June, forced to play [age] 9 and desperately wanting to be 29," wrote the Washington Post the following day.
Reinders, who is appearing in her first Broadway show (she had understudied twice before), could hardly contain her excitement as she explained that at the opening-night party she would be wearing a borrowed Calvin Klein dress and Harry Winston diamonds and might rub shoulders with Matthew Broderick, Tom Hanks, or Nicole Kidman.
That's a long way from Spring Lake, Mich., where Reinders grew up. As a child, she says, her parents "wanted me to try everything." She played soccer because her big brother did, but had to give it up: She was so small that she was "getting slaughtered" on the field. She went back to ballet, flute, and choir.
At 12, Reinders won a small part in a professional theater production of "Gypsy" starring Rita Moreno in nearby Muskegon, Mich. She caught the acting bug.
In her early 20s, she appeared at The Children's Theater Company in Minneapolis in "A Year with Frog and Toad," playing a bird, a mouse, a frog, and a mole. Her small size (she's a slender 5 ft., 2 in.), big singing voice, acting experience, and blond hair made her a natural candidate to play Dainty June. But she was surprised to get a call asking her to audition in New York for the role on Broadway. She was warned that the group wanted to see whether the cheery Reinders could play the embittered, disillusioned June. Instead of wearing a cutie-pie "Dainty June" dress, she wore jeans and a cut-off T-shirt to the audition and tried not to smile. "I guess it worked," she says, smiling.
She flew to London last Sept. 11 for a final audition in front of hot young British director Sam Mendes. Afterward, "he gave me a hug and said, 'Brilliant, audition, brilliant.' But I didn't know if I had gotten it. I couldn't tell. Then he drove me back to his production office in his car. I remember thinking, 'This is the coolest moment of my life!' " While Reinders was waiting for a cab back to the airport, "Sam popped his head in the room and said, 'I would love for you to be in my Broadway show.' "
What's the biggest difference she's seen between regional theater and New York? "Broadway is just the best of the best," she says, noting that it's a place where even the animals in the show (a dog and a lamb) have their own special "dressing rooms" and understudies. Her costumes amaze her, too. "I can't believe some of the beautiful things I get to wear," she says. Two special wigs were custom-made to fit only her. "It's Broadway," she explains. "It has to be perfect."