Is there anyone better to play the sexy seductress Lola -- who uses a little brains and a little talent to get her man -- in the City Center Encores! revival of Damn Yankees than Jane Krakowski, who has a whole lot of both. But the Tony Award-winning star admits the role is a bit more than she originally bargained for. "When I first signed on, the choreography was supposed to be in the style of [creator] Bob Fosse, and then I get this phone call telling me it was going to be the original choreography, and I thought no way," she says with a laugh. "As a kid, I saw his shows, like Chicago and Dancin', but i never thought I'd get to do his stuff. But I'm having a ball and trying to do my best. In every number, there's some moment that is so "Fosse," like a dropped arm or an ankle twist. There's no way not to feel it. I even do Fosse steps every morning on my way to the bathroom."
Following in the footsteps of the role's originator, the late Gwen Verdon, has been a bit intimidating at times, Krakowski admits. "I have such respect for Gwen, who I never met, but when you watch her on film, you know that she performed on a level beyond what most performers are used to today," she notes. "In the world of revivals, the pressure is always quite high to come up with something like 'my' Lola.' But I never come into a show with an idea like that; it always come from collaboration. Plus, in a show like this, the physical choices have already been made for me, which is a little backward from my usual process. But I love the fact that this choreography is so innately 1950s, with moves you wouldn't choose to do today, and Lola's choreography is really kind of goofy. I think it's sexy because it's not overly sexy."
Krakowski is sharing the stage with a top-notch cast, which she considers another big plus in taking the role. "Sean Hayes is just brilliant as Applegate; he guides us all with such aplomb and his timing is truly unbelievable. But we're going to have stop cracking up on stage once we start public performances," she says. "And Cheyenne Jackson -- with whom I did the workshop of Xanadu -- is just dreamy. It's not a challenge to seduce him. And there's this one moment when he helps me down from a chair, and I am going to take as long as I possibly can to slither down his body."
Krakowski's five-year absence from the stage has been due lately to her commitment to her hit NBC series 30 Rock. "The timing for this show is perfect, because we're off until August, and I couldn't learn a new show while I was shooting 30 Rock. I never do anything I can't do with my whole heart," she says. "I love playing Jenna. They write things for me that I would never expect, and it's a challenge to keep up comedically with everyone in the cast. And by the way, I would love all of that show's fans to come see me at City Center!"
CHILDREN WILL LISTEN
Charlayne Woodard may technically be a woman without children, but that's not how it feels to the celebrated actress-author, who addresses that subject in her newest work The Night Watcher, to be presented July 1-31 at the La Jolla Playhouse as part of its "Page to Stage" program. "I've always been on this quest for total freedom, and now I have like 10 godchildren and 25 nieces and nephews, and I find myself compelled to get involved in their lives," she says. "The ones who are in a dark place seem to call me or contact me, but sometimes I hear from the others -- even when it's good news. I was working in darkest Africa and one of my godsons just had to call to tell me he got into college."
Woodard understands why these children need her support. "I always say I was brought up by the village -- there was this huge extended family of the people in my neighborhood, but kids today don't have the same foundation," she says. "I wrote this play to remind people that kids need all of us, that they need more than just their parents. The world is much more complicated than when I was growing up and Batman was the raciest thing on television."
Woodard -- whose many acting credits range from Broadway's Ain't Misbehavin' to Playwrights Horizons' Fabulation to Shakespeare Theatre's recent The Taming of the Shrew and whose other solo shows include Pretty Fire and In Real Life -- admits the play will probably change nightly at La Jolla, which is part of the "Page to Stage" process. "The way it's set up, it's a big exploration, and I can change it every day if I want -- which is what tends to happen every time," she says. "I know everyone wants it to be 90 minutes, but I love the idea of two acts and an intermission. I have to follow my guts and instincts, rather than let the outside world tell me how to do it. But I am determined to use as few words as possible and still have the stories keep people interested."
GOTTA LOT LISTENING TO DO
My CD shelf continues to overflow as worthy releases hit the stores. On the musical front, there's the two-CD set of Lin-Manuel Miranda's infectious, Tony Award winner In the Heights; the gorgeous rendering of the Tony-winning revival of South Pacific starring the velvet-voiced Paolo Szot and Kelli O'Hara; the hypnotic Off-Broadway tuner Add1ng Mach1ne, and the special 30th anniversary CD of Annie (with guest tracks by Gary Beach, Carol Burnett, Kathie Lee Gifford, and Andrea McArdle.
Still to come is the original cast recording of the absolutely amazing Passing Strange (which can now be ordered via iTunes);. and judging from the sampler I got of the Broadway revival of Gypsy, that CD will be spending a lot of time on my stereo, thanks primarily to the volcanic performance of Tony winner Patti LuPone, whose performances of "Everything's Coming Up Roses" and "Rose's Turn" can even prompt standing ovations in your living room.
New favorites on the vocal front include Kerry Butler's Faith, Trust & Pixie Dust (especially the heartfelt recording of the underappreciated Hamlisch-Ashman tune "Disneyland"); Klea Blackhurst and Billy Stritch's tribute to the great Hoagy Carmichael, Dreaming of a Song; Jeremy Schonfeld's star-studded compilation 37 Notebooks; jazz singer Pamela Luss' Magnet; and Patti LaBelle: Live in Washington D.C., in which the legendary vocalist tackles some of her biggest hits, including Lady Marmalade, You Are My Friend, and, of course, Over the Rainbow.
Paris Barclay's picture could be in the dictionary under "P" for persistence. More than two decades since the first production of his musical One Red Flower, based on the book Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam, he's still finding places to mount the show -- including four upcoming benefit concert stagings in Los Angeles over the next three weeks. "Whenever we perform it, it always moves audiences and I continue to get letters about it," he says. "Plus, I realized it had become increasingly relevant during this war." However, the L.A. production will differ slightly from the original, being a 100-minute intermissionless show. "I think when you stop to have a coffee or beverage during the middle of a war, you probably don't want to come back," he notes.
Barclay has recruited two previous cast members, gospel singer Levi Kreis as the lead character, George, and Maureen McGovern as all the mothers, for this staging. "No one has ever done the role better than Levi, which makes sense since it was written for him," he notes. "And Maureen is the glue who holds everything together for us. Plus, because she was alive during the time of Vietnam, she brings a certain context to the show and the cast."
Meanwhile, he has rounded out the ensemble with such recognizable names as Drew Tyler Bell of The Bold & Beautiful; Elijah Kelly from the film Hairspray, and Hunter Parrish of Showtime's Weeds -- one of the many series the Emmy-winning Barclay now directs -- as the other soldiers. "Elijah was my first choice to play the medic, and he said yes before he even read the script. What is so wonderful about him is that his voice sounds so 'period' -- he's got a very Marvin Gaye quality," says Barclay. "And while I direct Hunter on Weeds, I didn't even know if he could sing. But he has the perfect pop-rock chops for this show, and his character Alan, a POW, has a lot of wonderful solo moments in the second half. I really have to thank Showtime for making him available."