Celebrating her first holiday season as a Tony Award winner is Victoria Clark, who considers her role in The Light in the Piazza
"a gift in and of itself. Thanksgiving was a grateful time of reflection, because I've had so many blessings this year," says Clark. "My son, Thomas Luke, and I joined friends from our church to make as many pies as we could for the Goddard-Riverside Community Center." For her own Thanksgiving dinner, Clark made the veggies, "and I was lucky enough to have a friend bring the turkey and stuffing." Between shows the day after, she "and my friends at the Vivian Beaumont [home of Piazza
] had a leftover potluck."
Those friends are soon to include Katie Clarke, who is set to take over the role of Clara on December 16. "I'm personally looking forward to having another Texan in the cast," says Clark. "We Texans are always loud without trying to be; it must be all those wide-open spaces." But her favorite holiday memory is of something that didn't actually happen in Texas. "When I was a little girl, we drove from Dallas to Pittsboro, North Carolina, to my dad's mother's house, where there were gathered scores of relatives," she recalls. "On Christmas Eve, it started to snow. Late at night, when the house was full of the aromas of pies, biscuits, and pines, my brothers and I heard footsteps on the roof and the jingle of bells. To this day, nothing has ever contradicted our belief that night."
Clark says that she received her best present "on my son's second Christmas. He was about 14 months old. Late in the afternoon on Christmas Day, he looked up at me and for the first time ever said, 'Mama!'"
While Celie, the character that LaChanze plays in The Color Purple, has only one sister, the former Tony nominee is the eldest of five siblings. (She has two sisters and two brothers.) "One of my most beautiful memories is of a Christmas in Connecticut when I was in high school," she says. "There was about two feet of snow outside. I come from a very large family, and they were all gathered inside -- about 60 people. The kids were running around, the women were cooking, the men were watching football. All of a sudden, my grandmother -- who was sitting on the couch -- closed her eyes and started singing 'O Holy Night,' first in English and then in Latin. She shushed the entire house, and then everyone started singing with her." Grandma, also named LaChanze, is now 76 and has 18 grandchildren and 35 great-grandchildren.
This Christmas, LaChanze will be celebrating with her husband of six months, artist and documentarian Derek Fordjour; Celia (SELL-yah, "the Spanish pronunciation"), five, and Zaya (ZIGH-ah), four, her two daughters from her marriage to the late Calvin Gooding (a victim of the September 11 World Trade Center attack); and her stepson, Langston, 7. "We will be in our new home in Westchester, hosting dinner for all of my family. They'll bring most of the dishes. The only things I'll cook are the turkey and the ham."
LaChanze's holiday wish for the theatrical community is "that everyone gets to spend as much of it as they can with their loved ones."
Early Tony buzz has John Lloyd Young, who scores nightly as Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys, a contender to walk like a man right into the winners' circle come June. How is the new star coping with sudden success? "It's exhilarating in the same way a big race would be," he explains. "You place, you win, you're proud of yourself. You're out of breath, you're tired, even exhausted; but you're also more alive and happy than you've ever been. It's exciting to see the show taking off in such a great way but, every day, there's a new audience who show up to see the show they've heard so much about -- and you've got to give them that show. I can enjoy the recognition only so much. Then it's back to the grindstone -- preparing, warming up, taking care of myself. It's what I wished for, and I welcome it, but it's also a marathon."
Young's favorite holiday memory is of a Christmas Eve when, before dinner, his little sister received a gentleman caller from the North Pole. "When she sat on Santa's lap to tell him what she wanted, she said, 'Mom, Santa has the same watch as grandpa.' I was just old enough to be in on the secret, so I kept my mouth shut. As Santa left, my mother whispered to him, 'Take off your watch before you come back for dinner.' "
This year, Young plans to celebrate Christmas all over Long Island." I have a lot of Italian-American relatives vying for a visit," he says. "Because I'm playing an Italian-American icon, I've suddenly become very popular." What's his holiday wish for the theatrical community? "As an actor who only a year ago was an usher at a Broadway show [42nd Street], I wish for every struggling actor to land the great role they've been yearning for."
In the current Broadway production of Sweeney Todd, in which the actors double as musicians, Donna Lynne Champlin plays Pirelli (a male 19th-century barber) as well as accordion, keyboard, and flute. But Champlin reports that, during some performances, she has become a bit too engrossed with watching the show's stars, Patti LuPone and Michael Cerveris: "They do something different every night, especially with 'A Little Priest,' because they have such trust -- an incredible bond. So the hardest part for me is remembering to play the flute for that number. I wouldn't trade places with anybody on the planet; I'm so blessed."
For Champlin, two off-stage holiday recollections stand out: "I'm real close with my family," she says, "so I do everything I can to get home to Rochester, New York. One year, I was doing A Christmas Carol at Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera, and my mom -- God bless her! -- volunteered to drive me six-and-a-half hours back and forth. We hit a terrible blizzard in Buffalo. Somehow, we found a hotel and the Pope was on television, celebrating midnight mass. Spending Christmas Eve with my mom and the Pope was magical."
Her other fondest memory is of something that took place in the Big Apple: "When I was doing Hollywood Arms on Broadway, we had a show on Christmas, so [co-star] Linda Lavin invited the entire company to have dinner at her place before the performance. It was a wonderful time, but it had snowed inches and inches. When we went downstairs, the streets were covered with ice. We couldn't find cabs, and everyone panicked. We called stage management, and they said, 'We'll put the understudies on.' We told them, 'They're with us.' Somehow, we managed to commandeer taxis and got to the theater about five minutes before curtain."
Champlin will be spending this holiday with her fiancé, David Taylor. "We've been together for five years, but this will be our first Christmas together," she says. "We just bought an apartment in Queens. It's going to be a very special time."
George Bailey and a bottle were Mary Testa's companions for her favorite Yuletide. "I always spend holidays with my family," says Testa, "but when I was in Barnum on Broadway, I couldn't go home. I had never seen It's a Wonderful Life, so I had the best time by myself, just watching the movie and drinking port. It was really lovely."
Testa is working a lot this month; she recently completed the run of
See What I Wanna See at the Public Theater and now she's in Florida at the Sundance Institute in a workshop production of Doll, Michael Korie and Scott Frankel's new musical about the relationship between composer Gustav Mahler's widow, Alma, and painter Oskar Kokoschka. "It's the most beautiful place," she enthuses. "They treat actors like kings and queens down there -- they even serve gourmet meals. I went there last year to work on a Terrence McNally piece and had the best time."
Following her stay in Florida, Testa will spend the holidays at her family's home in Rhode Island. "We lost my mom this year, but my father and sister will be there -- and my niece and her son, Ian Hunter, who's one-and-a-half. He's my dad's first great grandchild." For the theatrical community, the two-time Tony nominee (On the Town, 42nd Street) wishes "that there be more work, and more remuneration for it!"
Marc Kudisch, who co-starred with Testa in See What I Wanna See, is Jewish -- but he still has some vivid Christmas memories. "We were one of two Jewish families in our neighborhood in Hackensack, New Jersey," he relates, "so my family would celebrate Chanukah and Christmas together, down the street at the Wladers' home. Growing up, their daughter Janie was my best friend. We considered their Christmas tree ours, since we didn't have one. After a great big dinner, Janie and I would sit by the television with hot chocolates and watch Doctor Dolittle."
How does he plan to celebrate this year? "By scaring children in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang," jokes Kudisch, who has returned to the role of Baron Bomburst for the show's final weeks. (It will close on December 31.) "Audiences relate to my character's childishness. He's never had to grow up -- not unlike a certain figurehead of our country. I don't know if that comes from ignorance or a sense of privilege. When we [he and co-star Jan Maxwell] started rehearsals, we were thinking of the Bushes."
Come New Year's Day, Kudisch will be at liberty. "I'm actually excited about that,," he says. "I'm a workhorse; I generally have two or three jobs lined up. More and more in our business, it becomes such a race just to work. But if I can't trust in myself at this point, I haven't been doing my job. I'm grateful for the time to chill for a second. Of course, two weeks into it, I may start to wig out!"