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Carolee Carmello is Enjoying Being a Tony Award Nominee…Again

The Scandalous star shares her thoughts on the big night, why she reads reviews, and her next gig.

Carolee Carmello
(© David Gordon)
Could the third time be the charm for Tony Award nominee Carolee Carmello? The beloved actress was previously recognized for her work in Parade and Lestat, and this year she earned a nod for Best Leading Actress in a Musical for her role as controversial evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson in Scandalous, which had a brief run this fall. TheaterMania recently caught up with Carmello to discuss the big night, the show, and her future endeavors.

Given that the show closed back in December, did you think you'd be left out of the Tony race this year?

I was originally trying not to think about the Tonys, since when shows close early on in the season or don't last very long, I know people get forgotten. And that's especially true when the show is not well-received, like Scandalous. But when I got the Drama Desk nomination, I thought maybe I should think about the Tonys. So I was a little bit hopeful.

Were you awake when they announced the nominations?

I was up watching them online all by myself in my pajamas, and when I heard my name, I cried. I think it was a sense of relief that someone thinks I'm worthwhile. Of course, you get nightly recognition by the audience, but this is a different feeling of acceptance.

Are you nervous about what will happen on June 9?

No. I'll have a good time. I think it will feel the same as the other two times I went, which is that I am grateful to be there. I think I have no chance of winning. I never write acceptance speeches. My daughter Zoe is coming with me; she gets to be my date. She's excited about being there, although she doesn't like big crowds. My parents are coming, but I had to buy them seats in the balcony. And I bought them the party tickets as well; after all, they're coming down from upstate New York.

Do you know what you're wearing?

I think I have chosen my dress; it's something I bought off the rack. I can't afford a fancy designer gown — I'm unemployed now. But I am borrowing some jewelry from Swarovski to give it some bling.

Do you think you might have a better chance of winning if the show were still running?

I don't take it personally. I know that a lot of the voters don't live in New York and if something opens in the fall and it closes quickly…they may not have seen it. That's unfortunate, but it's part of the game. I know some people think that people shouldn't be allowed to vote in every category if they haven't seen all the nominees.

I wouldn't count you out. You got excellent reviews. Did you read them?

I did read the major reviews right away. If someone is talking about me, I want to know. So yes, I know many people were very complimentary about my performance. But some weren't. Someone said I was pushing, and someone else said I was irritating.

Okay. Are those words what bothered you most about the reviews?

No. I was so disappointed about what they said about the show and especially what people said about Kathie Lee Gifford. I think she got unjustly crucified, for lack of a better word. I think she's a good lyricist, and I hope people realize that once the CD comes out in June. But people don't take her seriously. And that's sad, because she wants to make life her in theater, and she loves it more than anything. But I know we'll both go on to do other things.

I think the thing that bothered me most about the show is that you didn't get to be glamorous enough. Why was that?

You're right. Aimee was a clotheshorse. She would import custom-made dresses from Paris and Hollywood, and I wish we could have incorporated that more. But they didn't want me to leave the stage very often, so it was basically one different dress with different furs for the second act. I am sure there were also budget concerns that I wasn't involved in.

Did you get any say in the character's look?

The wigs were important to me, so we discussed them. I tend to figure out my characters through hair. I know some actors don't work as externally, but if I can figure out what a person looks like, that helps me analyze a character. Paul Huntley doing my wigs is always a dream come true.

Do you have any idea what you're doing next career-wise?

I was supposed to do Tuck Everlasting this season, but that got postponed. So I am still looking for a job. The longest I've not been on Broadway is a year. And since it's already been six months, I could break that record.

Would it be so terrible if you took a break?

Well, I like to work. And my daughter is going to start NYU this fall. I could always be a replacement. Maybe if Victoria Clark leaves Cinderella? I replaced her once before [in Sister Act]. So I guess I could do it again. I don't think Judy McLane's planning to leave Mamma Mia! anytime soon, but I would go back if they asked me. And I really wouldn't mind doing a play, even if it was off-Broadway. It's so hard for musical theater people to be taken seriously as dramatic actors. I think there's a real prejudice on the part of some straight-play producers. They think we're just like theme park performers.

Tony nominee Carolee Carmello in Scandalous: The Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherson
(© Jeremy Daniel)