Currently a co-star (with Alfred Molina) of the CBS-TV sitcom Ladies Man, Lawrence has appeared on Broadway in revivals of Zorba, Cabaret, and Fiddler on the Roof. I spoke with her on TheaterMania's behalf about what it's like to be back on the boards, her feelings toward New York audiences, and how her life has changed since she attained TV celebrity.
TM: You were in Tongue of a Bird last year at the Public Theater with Cherry Jones, but it's been a while since you sang and danced on Broadway. What's it like to be back in a big, splashy musical?
SL: Well, this is actually a good way to do it! You know, I was offered the role of Bianca in Kiss Me, Kate.
TM: That was going to be my next question. Why did you turn it down?
SL: It would have been a year-long contract. More than that, there were certain issues that hadn't been settled in terms of whether or not Brian Stokes Mitchell was going to do it. That really meant a lot to me. And, at the same time, I had an offer to work [on television] with another brilliantly talented actor who comes from the theater: Alfred Molina. So it was the hardest decision I've ever made. I'm somebody who's been very fortunate in terms of timing, because here comes this offer to do a great role [Velma in Chicago] in a show that is so satisfying, and it's a short run. Also, it's a show that's up and running on all four cylinders, so you're not committing a year without knowing what the prognosis of the endeavor will be. I didn't really have to take a lot of chances, like I would have had I accepted the Kiss Me Kate offer. In terms of singing and dancing, I've stayed very physically active--whether or not I was actually in ballet class--so that's not the biggest question. It was more about, "Do I want to give up the time I have in the summer to do eight shows a week?" Because your life really does become dictated, not just by the time you spend in the theater, but by the time you have to spend on "maintenance." Whether it's Pilates class or something else.
TM: Did they give you a lot of rehearsal time for Velma?
SL: About three weeks. Five hours, five days a week for three weeks. And the dance captains were great! They really made all the difference in my confidence level, because you have NO real time on the stage before you actually perform that first night; you have a couple of hours the day you're in front of an audience for the first time. I've done this long enough to know that perfection isn't the goal the first couple of times you do it; it's about getting your bearings. Thank God for my dresser, who knows the show inside and out.
TM: Have New York audiences changed since you played here last? There's been a lot of press recently about how people automatically jump to their feet and applaud everything.
SL: (pause) Hmmm. Well, I think they're susceptible to hype. And a good, visually stimulating, television ad campaign can make a difference in how audiences feel about their level of participation in a big event, as it were. More than anything, I think what's affected Broadway is that we have an economy that's so strong now, and we have had a regentrification of the theater district. So you have people venturing into this world who wouldn't have been able to afford it, or wouldn't have been interested because they felt dubious about the area. They're excited to be there. And, when you're doing eight shows a week, excitement from the other side of the footlights feels nice! I see audiences being brought in by the busload. High-schoolers are coming to see shows that I don't think are necessarily great for kids. I'm somebody who felt that Rent, in a way, was irresponsible in how it glamorized heroin addiction and prostitution. But that show did create a mania. Whether that makes for an educated theatergoer 10 years after their Rent experience, I don't know. But as long as schools are shipping busloads of adolescents in, I think it's important to recognize what it is that we are feeding them.