Shirley Andress Has Always Had ‘It’
Musical theater has been her passion since fourth grade
Shirley Andress. Photo at left by Jamie Jones Photography; photo at right by Tracy Hansford Lifestyle Photography.
As a 19-year-old, Shirley Andress knew Fred Crafts only as that newspaper guy who reviewed her performance as Wendy in the 1984 production of Peter Pan at the Hult Center for the Performing Arts.
It was Shirley’s very first musical, and not the last one for which Fred would review her performance for readers of The Register-Guard.
Over the decades, she also got to know Fred as that guy who started the Radio Redux troupe she likes so much. She ran into Fred one day in a coffee shop and asked if she could be in one of his shows.
She recalls Fred stammered a bit, seeming surprised she would ask and happy that she did.
After all, by that time, Shirley had done more than 360 musical performances at the Shedd Institute for the Arts and uncounted appearances elsewhere. She had become a sought-after voice teacher, mentor and artistic director. She had received the 2015 Eugene Arts and Letters Award.
Fred wasted no time looking for the right role for her, and found it in Ellie Andrews in It Happened One Night.
“We’re delighted to have Shirley with us at last,” Fred says. “She’s so busy that it has taken until now for our schedules to match up. I can’t wait for audiences to experience her as Ellie — she makes Ellie such a smart, strong, clever woman that I’m sure everyone will fall in love with her.”
Her appearance in a lead role for Radio Redux is Shirley’s very first non-musical stage appearance in a three-decade career. Her reasons for doing so are simple.
“I think what Fred is doing with Radio Redux is just so fun — to see something that is so old be so fresh and new, to watch the guys doing sound effects, and the little orchestra they have with the Jewel Tones. There is nothing else like that happening in this area. It’s just fun,” Shirley says.
Anyone who knows Shirley knows her as that “sweet girl” in musical productions. She welcomes a change in typecast.
“I’m always up for something new and challenging. Everything I’ve been an actor in has been a musical. I’ve always played this ‘sweet person.’ I’d rather dig my teeth into something meatier,” she says. “Also, I love that Radio Redux actors dress in that period style. The whole look. When I see something that artistic, I really love it.”
With her extensive background in musical theater, she’s chosen singing roles over pure acting roles because demand for her talent is more than she can work into her schedule.
“I’ve always seen myself as a singer first, but I enjoy the craft of acting immensely,” she says.
Fred recognized her skill at that craft early on.
“Shirley has an extraordinary gift for creating memorable characters. But I’ve often thought that in musicals her acting talent has been overshadowed by her singing prowess. With Radio Redux, I wanted to feature just her acting, which will be a new way for many people to view her.”
Shirley was in fourth grade when she first got the notion of trying musical theater, inspired by Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl. By seventh grade, she was singing in the Pleasant Hill school district’s Swing Choir.
Some people just have “it” — that rare innate talent.
Shirley Andress practices piano at her home. Photo by Bub Bishop.
“She definitely did,” says longtime choral director Jim Steinberger, then choral director at Pleasant Hill High School, founder of the Pleasant Hill Jazz Festival and now retired after a 38-year teaching career.
Steinberger knew she had “it” the moment she auditioned. He immediately assigned Shirley, a freshman, to his most demanding ensemble, the Jazz Choir. It was the 1980s, the heyday of school music competition in the Northwest. Shirley dove into the complex music, difficult harmonies and rhythms of jazz singing. As a senior, she was the top soloist among 120 ensembles at the Northwest Vocal Jazz Festival at Mount Hood Community College.
“People love her,” Steinberger says. “She is warm and fuzzy from the stage.”
Shirley, who grew up on a farm near Pleasant Hill and still lives in the nearby countryside, had to turn down a scholarship to Mount Hood. In order to afford college, she enrolled at nearby Lane Community College.
And that turned out to be a very good thing, because there she studied under Ed Ragozzino, the renowned music and theater teacher whose productions helped inspire voters to approve money to build the Hult Center for the Performing Arts in 1982. Ragozzino offered her the first paying job of her career.
Shirley went on to earn a music education degree from the University of Oregon, but she considers LCC the launch pad for her career.
Other significant steppingstones include being a founding member of The Emerald City Jazz Kings two decades ago, and working closely with Jim and Ginevra Ralph, founders of the Shedd Institute, where Shirley is an artistic director and frequent performer.
Teaching rounds out her busy schedule. Shirley wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I love working with kids, teens, young adults because I’ve been where they’re at. I want to be an encouraging force in their life. I can relate to their fears, to their successes,” she says. (She also is mother to seven and grandmother to 11.)
She understands the curse that haunts so many performing artists — the self-doubt,
Photo by Tracy Hansford Lifestyle Photography.
the drive to do it right, the fear of falling short. Shirley says she tries to administer the cure.“We all act confident. But there is a lot of self-doubt, always the underlying fear. ‘Am I good enough? Can I do this?’ It’s this expectation we put on ourselves to do it right.“I think it is the artist personality,” she adds. “I tell them, ‘There are many ways to do itright. You can keep improving.’ I have to give myself that same pep talk.”
In Fred’s view, that pep talk works.
“Shirley is a consummate professional. She comes totally prepared and is so easy to work with,” he says. “No prima donna her! She rolls up her sleeves and gets down to work — and the result is just grand.”
— By Bub Bishop. Bishop is a retired reporter for The Register-Guard.
Shirley, dressed in the 1940s hat and hairstyle for her role as Ellie in Radio Redux's It Happened One Night. Photo by Marti Gerdes.
Steve Wehmeier (left), co-star in It Happened One Night, and Shirley at a photo shoot with director Fred Crafts.