Dee Hoty has a stellar reputation in the theater community -- not only for her amazing voice and her ultra-classy stage presence but also for the fact that she's one of the nicest, wittiest, most down-to-earth performers one could ever hope to have a sit-down with. Her Broadway outings in Me and My Girl, City of Angels, and The Will Rogers Follies are fondly remembered, and she was a fantastic Phyllis in the Paper Mill Playhouse's first-rate production of Stephen Sondheim's Follies. The lady even managed to survive Footloose and The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public with her dignity intact; indeed, she received Tony Award nominations for her work in both of those shows, as well as for Will Rogers.
For over a year now, Hoty has been starring as Donna in the national tour of Mamma Mia!, having taken over the role from Louise Pitre when that performer left to join the Broadway production of the ABBA musical. TheaterMania recently caught up with Miss Dee for a freewheeling phone interview.
THEATERMANIA: You've been doing Mamma Mia! for quite a while, Dee. Talk to me about audience response around the country.
DEE HOTY: There's a kind of unified delight in this show. People are moved in the best way, moved to tears. Not like Les Miz -- "Arrgh, I'm so sad" -- but like, "It's good to be alive" in a Will Rogers sort of way, though that was a little more profound. I mean, we're talking ABBA here! But people love the show, and that makes us love doing it.
TM: Did you have any reservations about taking the job?
DH: Yes, I was concerned about being able to do it vocally eight times a week. It's an extremely demanding role. This character is rarely off the stage, and when she is, she's changing clothes to come back and do it again. It's not that the music is hard, it's just that there's a lot of it -- a lot of singing and a lot of belting. Though I have belted in my career, I'm not known for being a big ol' belter, so I took it very slowly and carefully in rehearsals. I had a lot of chats with the conductor and with Eddie Robinson, the musical director.
TM: How did you first become aware of the show?
DH: I'd listened to the CD of the London cast, which is the only recording there is, and I'd read the script. But I hadn't seen the show prior to taking the job, so I went to see it with Louise. I came into rehearsals the next day -- this was last summer, in Chicago -- and said: "I can't sing like that! If you want someone who sings like that, you've got the wrong girl. I can't do that Janis Joplin thing." That's Louise's sound; I don't mean it as a judgment, she just sounds like an old rock-and-roller. They said, "No, no, no, we know the way you sound." So I said, "Okay." Was I concerned for my reputation? Is that what you meant? Like, "Oh my God, what is she doing sinking down to ABBA?" Not at all. I thought, "Let's see. I could do workshops and readings for $100 a week or go on the road and make a lot of money, have a good time, play a great part, and maybe get to do the show in New York eventually."
TM: That would be wonderful.
DH: Yeah, it would -- if I live that long! I don't think Louise will ever leave. After I took the job, I found out that she's the kind of girl who stays in a show for five years. So I went, "Hmmm, I'll just make another plan. I'll save my money and come home and redo my kitchen."
TM: How long are you going to stay with the tour?
DH: We're signed through March; that's when all of our contracts are up at the same time. When I first heard that, I thought, "Gee, how strange." But the practical side of it -- which I have since learned from the conductor and the stage manager and some of our other people -- is that it's better to put everybody into the show at once, or else you're in rehearsal all year long. This way, everybody comes in together and you can amend things much easier.
DH: L.A. The Land of La. We're playing the Ahmanson. The last time the tour was there, they played the Shubert, but that doesn't exist anymore. At least the Ahmanson is in a sort of legitimate area. The other times I've played Los Angeles, I've been at the Pantages, which is now completely occupied by The Lion King. And that's fine. The Pantages is scary! It's funny: Outside of New York, every theater in the United States is in some armpit of a neighborhood. I don't get it. Until recently, 42nd Street could be called that, too -- but there were other Broadway theaters on perfectly nice blocks. Here in San Francisco, we're in the Orpheum, which is in...well, on the map, it says The Tenderloin District. It's the red-light district, awful, drug-infested. Every night at 11:30, they come out with fire hoses and clean the plaza because it's so full of filth. But the theater itself is really lovely; they've redone it.
TM: I'm sorry I didn't get to see the show when I was out there a few weeks ago.
DH: Well, we're going back to Boston, so maybe you can see us there. After L.A., we go to Denver for the holidays. Then we go to Boston around the end January, beginning of February.
TM: When I spoke to you about setting up this interview, you said we could talk about the misinformed internet chat that you were going to be replacing Karen Mason as Tanya in the Broadway company of Mamma Mia!
DH: Yes. I don't know where that came from. I did an interview that was online last year and I told them that I was originally asked to audition for Tanya, so maybe that's how the cyber rumor got started.
TM: Though I missed the show in San Francisco, I did get to see you guys perform a few numbers in Union Square. You looked like you were having so much fun.
DH: I'm having a great time. Even on your worst day, when you think, "Alright, I gotta do this," the show changes your mood. It makes you feel better, and that's a gift. You know, I had a friend who was in Les Miz years ago while I was doing Me and My Girl, and we came to see each other on our respective days off. When it first opened, Les Miz was a big deal. We were all, "Meaningful theater, turntable, la la la." So I said, "Oh, Marcy, it must be so rewarding to do the show every night!" She said, "That's true, Dee. But, on the other hand, you're in the happy play. There are times when I'm in a really great mood and then I've got to go into work, line my face with dirt, and sing 'at the end of the day you're another day older.'" I had never thought of it quite like that!