Baldwin is speaking in a large multipurpose room at Arena Stage, where she’ll be playing Marian the Librarian in “The Music Man” beginning Friday, so we know her aspirations have a happy outcome. But the path to that outcome was systematic, step-by-step — and hers alone.
Referring to her parents, who raised her in Evanston, Ill., and later in the Milwaukee suburb of Shorewood, she says, “I had to have a very practical approach to a life in this profession in order to please them, which is of course my ultimate goal. . . . So I thought, ‘I won’t go to New York City until I have a job.’”
That first job, understudying the lead in a projected 1999 Broadway revival of “Finian’s Rainbow,” evaporated when the production crashed and burned on its tryout tour. But over the past decade, she has won a sterling theatrical reputation, playing a succession of famous roles to critical acclaim.
What sets her apart from her theatrical forebears, the Mary Martins and Barbara Cooks, is that she’s played most of her biggest roles far from Broadway, in regional productions.
“The Music Man,” staged by Arena’s artistic director, Molly Smith, is only the latest such project — and possibly the last for a while.
Baldwin is somewhere in her 30s, though she prefers not to get specific about it. But her credits already encompass as many classic parts as the great Martin played in a lifetime. They include Eliza in “My Fair Lady,” Sarah in “Guys and Dolls,” Amalia in “She Loves Me,” Maria in “The Sound of Music” and Nellie in Arena’s highly successful 2002 production of “South Pacific,” the show that launched her on the path to regional renown.
The peripatetic life has posed organizational hurdles for Baldwin and her husband, the equally busy actor Graham Rowat. Those challenges have multiplied since the happy arrival a year ago of their first child, Colin James. The three make their home — that is, when they are home — in Brooklyn.
Phases and stages
On this sunny, cool spring day she’s happily contemplating a family summer in Washington, where “The Music Man” is scheduled through July 22. Rowat is planning to spend about half the time here and half in New York pursuing projects of his own. Colin will be a full-time Washingtonian, with a nanny aboard to help care for him.