Theater News

The Ladies Who Lunch

Alix Korey and Judith Blazer earn guffaws as matinee mavens in Neil Simon’s 45 Seconds From Broadway.

Alix Korey and Judith Blazerin 45 Seconds From Broadway(Photo: Carol Rosegg)
Alix Korey and Judith Blazer
in 45 Seconds From Broadway
(Photo: Carol Rosegg)

As Alix Korey and Judith Blazer sit in the corner table upon the stage of the Richard Rodgers Theater, surrounded by John Lee Beatty’s near-letter perfect recreation of the Café Edison (a/k/a The Polish Tea Room), the avid theater lover’s heart begins to race. Will Neil Simon–author of more than 30 plays, winner of the Tony and the Pulitzer–find some way for these consummate performers to break into song? True, what’s on stage isn’t a musical: It’s 45 Seconds From Broadway, Simon’s loving, often hilarious valentine to Broadway and, more specifically, the Café Edison. On the other hand, Korey and Blazer are playing Arleen and Cindy, a pair of suburban housewives with an all-consuming passion for the theater. Could a note or two of Sondheim really hurt?

Sorry. Nothing doing. And, to paraphrase Cole Porter, that’s all right with them. “I love not having to sing,” says Korey, who has warbled the work of Herman, Styne, and Lippa to approving New York audiences. “I don’t have to warm up, I don’t have to stretch, I just have get there half an hour before curtain. The hardest work I have to do in this show is climb the six flights of stairs to my dressing room.”

“When you’re a singer, people think you always enjoy singing,” says Blazer, who began her professional career in the world of opera before graduating to musicals such as Me and My Girl, Titanic, and Funny Girl (which she performed this summer at Sundance). “I wish I enjoyed it more. When I left opera to do musical theater it was because I really wanted to be an actress, and I felt I had to use music to get there.” Indeed, Blazer is relishing the opportunity to change people’s perceptions of her. “There’s still a bit of a stigma to being thought of as a singer,” she says. “It’s amazing what labels people put on you. So I love the fact that I’m doing a comedy, especially a Neil Simon comedy. And it’s a chance to not worry about my instrument.”

These two ladies now have different things to worry about, like eating pound cake and cheese blintzes every night (and twice on matinee days) while on stage. “I could do without blintzes for, like, a year,” laughs Korey. “I alternate,” says Blazer. “Some days, it’s ‘Yum, cheese blintzes again,’ and other days I can barely look at them. The pound cake is a bit easier to take.” Then there’s the considerable challenge of trying to look busy on stage without taking focus away from their co-stars, including Lewis J. Stadlen as Mickey Fox, a very thinly disguised version of Jackie Mason; David Margulies as Mickey’s sad-sack brother; and the incomparable Marian Seldes as Rayleen, an oddly dressed women with delusions of grandeur. “It can be difficult, when you have so much energy, to figure out how to sit still yet stay alive and focused,” says Blazer. “There is something surreal about sitting on stage, eating cake, sipping tea, and yet you’re still working. To me, working means lots of vocalizing, movement, pyrotechnics.”

Not surprisingly to those who know her, Korey has taken it upon herself to make the situation a bit more interesting. “In that scene when we’re looking at photographs, the first couple of days it was prop photos, and that got very boring very fast,” she confides. “Now, I bring my own–we’ve been looking at my niece’s bas mitzvah recently. And for that last scene, when we’re supposed to be reading the prospectus of some play Arleen might be investing in, I’ve been downloading all sorts of quotes off the Internet and bringing them in. Tonight, it will be George Bernard Shaw and the Dalai Lama. So I am not only having fun, I’m having an educational experience. I’m growing as a person.”
Though they have their fair share of Simon one-liners, there’s no question that Arleen and Cindy are somewhat one-dimensional characters, so Korey and Blazer came up with back stories to round out the picture. “Well, first of all, we gave them last names,” says Korey, not divulging what they are. “We decided they come from the Five Towns or maybe Great Neck. And I decided my husband Jack is a furrier.”

“I’ve been doing this character, this caricature, for my family on holidays for years and years,” says Blazer, the product of a Jewish father and an Italian mother who met during World War II. “I know these women so well, and so does Neil. Their parents probably moved from the Lower East Side to Brooklyn or Queens and then they moved to the true suburbs, so now they have that accent [playwright] Richard Greenberg once called Flatbush-on-Thames. “I instantly knew what these characters would wear, how’d they walk. The design team would mention some ideas and I would answer like I was Cindy, ‘I wouldn’t wear that, I wouldn’t do that!’ The character was that clear to me. What’s even funnier is, some nights, I know the audience is full of Arleens and Cindys. I can hear them–yet I know they don’t see themselves on stage.”

What hasn’t been a challenge is creating the camaraderie between Cindy and Arleen; Blazer and Korey have been friends for about 20 years. Indeed, Blazer has Korey to thank, in a way, for getting the part. “I auditioned way after Alix,” she explains, “and when I got the script, I could hear her voice, her inflections. That made it so much easier for me to do a cold reading.”

“I first met Judy doing this BMI showcase in the early 1980s,” recalls Korey, “and all I knew is that she had been an opera singer, had starred on a soap opera [she played Ariel on As The World Turns], and she was–and is–incredibly beautiful. Then she sang, and I thought, ‘Forget it, we will never be friends.’ Which was all about my insecurities. We really weren’t close until we did Jack’s Holiday together at Playwrights Horizons about 10 years ago. We’re very different personalities, but we think a lot alike. Now we’re joined at the hip.” (Ah…perhaps they could do a number from Side Show?) Says Blazer, “People keep suggesting Arleen and Cindy: The Sitcom.” Maybe she and Korey could do a revival of Simon’s all-female The Odd Couple? “I would love that,” laughs Blazer. “I would definitely do Felix. I am neat to a fault. My friends say I can be an exhausting person.”

Marian Seldes and Lewis J. Stadlenin 45 Seconds From Broadway(Photo: Carol Rosegg)
Marian Seldes and Lewis J. Stadlen
in 45 Seconds From Broadway
(Photo: Carol Rosegg)

Speaking of friends, 45 Seconds is kind of like old home week for Blazer, and not just because of Korey: She played opposite Seldes in the Drama Dept.’s production of The Torchbearers two seasons back, and the two actresses instantly bonded. “Sometimes she tells me we’re the same person, only I’m shorter,” says Blazer of Seldes, whom she worships. “Marian sits in the wings, all dressed in her costume, for the entire show–even though her dressing room is right down the stairs. Her lover is the stage. She can’t wait to touch it again, and it is so wonderful to be around that.” But Blazer’s longest standing connection is with Louis Zorich, who plays the café’s gruff yet kindhearted owner, Bernie. “When I loved in Montclair, New Jersey as a teenager, I used to baby-sit his kids,” she reveals. “Louis and Olympia [Dukakis, his wife] have been so good to me. When Louis used to drive me home, he never just dropped me off; we sat in the car for 15 minutes talking about life or theater. And Olympia has been a role model for me.”

Both Blazer and Korey enjoy working with the entire cast of 45 Seconds, which includes newcomers Kevin Carroll and Julie Lund along with veterans Rebecca Schull, Lynda Gravatt, Andrew Creighton, and Bill Moor, who almost steals the show as Seldes’ too-quiet husband Charles. “It is so great to hang out with actors of all creeds, colors and ages,” says Blazer. “Sometimes, I think Broadway is known for safety…you know, black plays or Jewish plays. This play has a very moving way of intertwining all these cultures.”

Indeed, judging from the laughter heard at the Rodgers, it’s clear that you don’t have to be Jewish to love 45 Seconds From Broadway. “The laughter is much greater than I’ve ever felt before,” says Korey. “It is an absolute joy to hear people respond like that after so much tragedy and despair. It not only makes me proud to be an actor, I feel like I am doing a mitzvah.”

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45 Seconds From Broadway

Closed: January 13, 2002