Kelli Barrett admits she’s a workaholic. It’s Sunday, her one day off before tech week starts at the Broadway Theatre, where Barrett will star as the iron-willed Lara Guishar in Dr. Zhivago, the musical adaptation of the Russian novel and subsequent 1965 film. She’s going through the day’s to-do list: pay the bills, grab groceries, do laundry, go to coaching session, work out. If she makes it that far, she might treat herself to a manicure — in a sensible nude color, of course. On a scale of 1 to 10 — 10 being zombie status — Barrett is at a solid eight.
But all her hard work will pay off on March 27, when Dr. Zhivago starts previews, and Barrett is embracing her character, as well as the show’s early 20th century fashion sense. During some precious time on her day off, Barrett took the time to gab with the Broadway Style Guide about the show, her dream shopping spree, and why her husband (Beautiful’s Jarrod Spector) won’t wear a normal t-shirt.
How did you get cast in Dr. Zhivago?
I had heard [director] Des McAnuff was doing Dr. Zhivago, and I was like, “That sounds fun!” I was literally calling my agent about it at the same moment he was giving me the appointment. I had five rounds of auditions. All of that happened within two months of my wedding. That last audition was literally like a week before my wedding. I remember having to leave a tasting early to go to a callback.
Congratulations! What was your wedding like?
It was the greatest day of my life. It was small, about 100 people. We got married outside in Fort Tryon Park on a terrace overlooking the Hudson, the George Washington Bridge, and the Palisades. The sun set as he was pronouncing us husband and wife. The best part of our wedding was that we are very into music, obviously, and Jarrod has a band that he travels around performing with. His band played an almost two-hour set and all of our friends sang in rotation. You could have charged $300 a ticket. It was unbelievable. Jenn Colella sang ACDC, Jenny Lee Stern rapped “Whatta Man,” and Drew Gehling sang “Love Shack.” It was just unbelievable. It was the single greatest day of my life. It was me in a day.
Amazing. What do you love most about getting to play this character?
For a leading lady character, she’s a very atypical ingénue. She’s very strong, and she’s very direct, especially for a woman of that period. She looks you square in the eye and tells you what she thinks. I’m basing my character off of the Lara from the novel. I find all of that to be very rich when building a character — she’s got so much backstory. I always say the novel should have been called Lara Guishar because I swear she’s just so vivid in it. There’s very little fill-in-the-blank that I have to do. To be able to play someone who has all these colors, and who I find to be a good role model for women in her strength, is really an honor.
Do you have similarities to Lara?
I have so many I almost feel like I just am her! In fact Des [McAnuff] sometimes says to me, “Don’t overthink it. Do you.” I’m not a passive aggressive person by any stretch; I say what I think. I always say when I’m aggressive, I’m aggressive aggresive. That’s what I love about Lara. She really does say what she thinks. I’m in love with her — she actually helped me to like myself more, which is one of those beautiful things that can happen in a process like this. The character teaches you more about yourself.
Of the following characters you played, who would win a best dressed: Nessarose from Wicked, Lara from Dr. Zhivago, or Sherrie from Rock of Ages?
Lara from Dr. Zhivago. All day. [Costume designer] Paul Tazewell has outdone himself with these costumes. They are absolutely stunning.
Would you say Lara was a style icon for her time?
Here’s the thing: She wasn’t an aristocrat, she came from no money. But, she was a dressmaker’s daughter and worked in the dressmaker’s shop. So, yes, even without money, I definitely think because she knew how to create clothes and sew and was constantly in the world of fashion, that that definitely influenced her. I get to wear furs, and my signature as the character are all these gradations of blue. Yes, this woman has become a style icon, just in terms of her representation of the country at that time.
Which characters have you played, or would love to play, that best capture your own fashion aesthetic?
Oh god, that’s hard! I played Louise in Gypsy. What I love about Louise that I feel like is totally me, is I am so first-act Louise and then so second-act Gypsy. I will wear the most ugly looking pajamas you’ve ever seen, but when I get to go out and play dress up on a red carpet or premiere or something, I love to wear very fitted gowns. Definitely her because she’s so dichotomous, and I find myself to be very dichotomous with fashion.
How would you describe your personal style?
Eclectic. One thing will strike me on one day, and then it will be something totally different the next day. I’ve been trying to listen to my own voice more, because what I do think is great about fashion is that you have the ability to wake up every day, regardless of how you feel, and make yourself feel differently.
In terms of dressing up, I love a vintage hint. In my everyday fashion, I like anything that gives off strength. I’m very much a feminist. We have an opportunity with our fashion to show that we’re strong. I definitely have a lot of masculine touches in my wardrobe. I love a cool tee with a structured jacket and a heavy boot or a ripped up pair of black jeans. I love a good beanie. Love a good beanie.
It’s tech week, right? What do your outfits look like during this week?
Probably be very bohemian, lots of layers going on. My husband won’t wear anything that isn’t the softest thing you’ve ever touched. It is a little known fact about him. If I get him a regular cotton t-shirt, it has to have something very special in the blend because it has to be touchable. So, he’s taught me that texture really matters, and when I’m rehearsing or when I’m in tech, I will only be in soft clothing. It will have to feel good.
You have an unlimited shopping spree. Where will you shop? And, when you take an afternoon break, where will you brunch?
If I had unlimited funds, I’d probably hit up AllSaints, Yves Saint Lauren and rag & bone for sure. I actually love to shop at BCBG. Here’s the thing: I’m not into designer brands because they’re designer — that’s not my thing. I just go where my eye wants to go, and I don’t care what the tag is. I would go to like Saks or Bloomingdale’s because I like to have a large array of things to choose from. Brunch is very specific because I have a lot of great dinner places. Maybe Alice’s Tea Cup. There’s an Italian restaurant on my corner called Lido, and that would be awesome because I wouldn’t have to go very far and it has great food.
If you have to toss out all of the contents of your closet, what’s the one thing you’re keeping?
That is a crazy question! I’m literally walking into my closet right now! It can’t be a top or bottom because you won’t have the other. I guess I’d have to say my wedding dress because I love it so much.
Tell us about the dress!
I got married in a beautiful Jenny Packham gown, which was very 1930s. I’ve been told that I give good décolletage, so I like anything that accentuates the shoulder and the collar bone and that kind of thing. It was chiffon and I redesigned the back of it, with hanging crystal draping straps. It’s one of my favorite things; I really felt that through that process I found my aesthetic and fashion.
When did you know acting was where you were going in life?
In the womb. My mom said I’d be an actress or a lawyer because I loved to argue. I’ve always wanted to do it. I used to put on little plays, and I had my little Fisher-Price microphone, and I’d perform concerts. I think I was 10 or 11 when I saw a musical. It was Merrily We Roll Along and I said, “Okay. That’s what I want to do.”
What pearls of wisdom can you offer to those who are trying to follow in your footsteps?
Cultivate your own sense of self. As artists we’re so used to trying to fit into a preexisting mold and to say “I’m an ingénue,” “I’m a leading lady,” or “I’m a character actor” and “I’m too skinny, too fat, too black, too white,” and we really get in our heads about how to please the people who are hiring us. I really think that that’s detrimental to ultimately becoming the artist that you want to become. Cultivate your own unique individualism.
Shoot styled by Victoria Lee Case with makeup and hair by Roniann Mears.