Haul Out the Holly!
Four of the New York theater's brightest talents share their holiday plans and memories.
"I had a lot of anxiety heading into 2002," recalls Sutton Foster. The theater's newest Cinderella had already experienced the first leg of her fairytale adventure -- going on as an understudy and coming back a star -- during the La Jolla tryout of Thoroughly Modern Millie, but she was concerned about whether or not Broadway's glass slipper would fit. Now, of course, Foster has been to the (Tony) ball and waltzed away a winner.
She looks forward to spending "every precious [non-working] moment" of the holidays with her Prince Charming, Christian Borle. "This is our second Christmas together," Foster tells me. "Last year, we were with family. This is the first time where it's just the two of us."
As for having to work on Christmas and New Year's, she says, "It's kind of thrilling to be part of a family at the theater. We'll decorate and play Secret Santa." She fondly recalls holidays growing up in Georgia (her birthplace) and Michigan. "On Christmas Eve, it was a tradition for the whole family [parents Helen and Robert, brother Hunter] to get into the car, drive around, and look at the lights. We'd come home and Hunter and I would each open one Christmas present. Then, on Christmas morning, we'd get up and open all the rest. As we got older, we'd take turns so we could prolong the morning."
She spent part of this Thanksgiving in the big parade, performing her show's title number in front of Macy's. Later, she had dinner at her brother's place; "He and [wife] Jen Cody throw a bash for everyone who doesn't have family in the city," she explains. Hunter -- who's going from Urinetown to Little Shop of Horrors -- has appeared with Sutton in two Broadway shows, Les Misérables (for three performances) and Grease! (for two weeks).
S.F. describes the Actors' Fund benefit concert of Funny Girl in September as "one of the highlights of my career. It was such an incredible time!" After singing "I'm the Greatest Star," she walked the four blocks over to Millie "with my dresser, Julian. Then he helped me throw on my costume and I went onstage." But, that night, Millie Dillmount received a decidedly cooler reception than Fanny Brice. "Originally," Foster explains, "the benefit was on my day off, but AT&T bought out the house for a performance of Millie. At Funny Girl, there was an incredibly supportive crowd who wanted to be there, but at Millie there was a small group of people who weren't regular theatergoers. It was like going from being a rock star to nothing!"
Sutton Foster's holiday wish for the theater community "is that Broadway continues to thrive and more and more people are introduced to the beauty and wonder of theater."
On December 17, Roger Bart takes over as Leo Bloom in The Producers. Bart, of course, received a Tony Award nomination for creating the role of Carmen Ghia in the show, and his scintillating sibilations still echo through the St. James-s-s-s. "For Carmen Ghia, the imprint I used was Andreas Voutsinas from the movie," he says. "For Leo, I not only have as models the incredible Gene Wilder [who created the role of Leo in the film] but also Matthew Broderick [who was Leo in the original cast of the stage musical]." Having gained "about 10 pounds," Bart's relieved "to be in a baggy suit rather than Carmen Ghia's tight blacks."
At one time, when Broderick was scheduled to film The Music Man for television during his run in the show, Bart had agreed to sub as Leo; as it turned out, the TV movie was made after Broderick left The Producers, but some articles had quoted creator Mel Brooks as saying that Bart would take over as Bloom. "It kind of sent a message that I was yearning to do it," says Bart. "Even though it's fantastic and I love it, it was never something I secretly pined for. I was very happy where I was."
There are moments during rehearsals, admits Bart, when he reverts to his former character. "Yesterday, I blurted out one of Carmen's song lines," he confides. "But it will go away!" As to forming a rapport with the Max Bialystock of Brad Oscar, "That won't be hard. Brad's a great guy and easy to work with. We have a good friendship."
A native of Norwalk, Connecticut, Bart has two favorite holiday memories. "As a kid [the youngest of four], I remember holding a candle at the Unitarian Church. It was the only time of the year that my parents let me play with fire! The other was during my first year at art school, when you discover yourself as a creative being. I spent Christmas in Pittsburgh with my sister and I wore my girlfriend's rabbit fur coat, a large, dangling earring, and clogs. We went to a cheese-steak joint at 1:30 in the morning and all these guys were looking at me, wondering: 'Who is this white pimp mother-f&*$ker?'"
Bart plans to spend this Christmas with his daughters, Alexandra, 16, and Eller, "who turns two in February. She was born the night of the first Producers preview." A Tony winner as Snoopy in You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, Bart says that all his roles have brought him satisfaction in different ways, citing as highlights "The Producers; and Triumph of Love opposite my dearest, oldest friend in the world, Kevin Chamberlin; and Falsettos, which I did with Graciela Daniele at Hartford Stage in 1991. It was an incredibly moving experience."
His wish for the theater community "is that we continue to embrace all different forms of theater, and that Broadway be not only commercially fruitful but also a place where a person can stumble onto something that changes his life."
Her Tony-winning role of Harpo Marx in A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine required that Priscilla Lopez say nothing, while her memorable Morales in A Chorus Line felt "Nothing." But Lopez has numerous words and emotions to convey in her tour-de-force portrayal of six women in Class Mothers '68 at Off-Broadway's Clurman Theatre. This is Lopez's first one-person play but, she notes, "There are so many mothers on stage that I don't feel alone!" (The characters prepare for a musical tribute to their children, who are graduating from high school.)
Married to conductor Vincent Fanuele, Lopez has an 18-year-old son, Alex, and a daughter, Gabriella, 13, who would like to follow in mom's footsteps. "This past summer, I did Bye Bye Birdie [in Michigan] and Gabriella was in it," says mom. "She got to do a little dance with Jim Walton in 'Put On a Happy Face.' It was a thrill for me to stand backstage and watch her."
The Bronx-born actress's favorite holiday memory dates from the time "when my husband and I met in Company [on Broadway]. He was subbing as a trombonist and I was standing by for Donna McKechnie. We had no money. We bought a little tree for $3.00; it was probably two feet high. We found all these boxes that people had thrown out, and many of them had little ornaments. I still have those ornaments! I drive my daughter crazy with the story -- 'I know, ma, you found them in the garbage!' -- but I use them every year." Off on Christmas Day this year, Lopez says that she and her family will celebrate together: "We have our little traditions."
Lopez finds it hard to name her favorite theatrical experiences, "although I loved playing Frida Kahlo [in The Passion of...]. I usually enjoy what I'm doing. The roles are part of you, and then they're gone -- sort of like friends who leave." Her wish for the theater community "is peace and safety. There are so many wonderful things we're capable of. We should find a way to enjoy our time here."
"My favorite holiday of all is Thanksgiving," says Randall Duk Kim -- whose middle name rhymes with look, not luck. "It's a time when you're with loved ones and can reflect on what you've been given," he explains. The Hawaii-born actor, who pops out of a gigantic take-out container at the top of Act II in Flower Drum Song, has a background in classical theater. Among his most treasured roles are "Hamlet, which I've done three times, Oedipus Rex, Doctor Stockmann in Enemy of the People, and Lear -- under the direction of Morris Carnovsky.
"When I was 18, I saw Carnovsky do Shylock, and he became my guiding light," says Kim. "During the '80s, I had a theater in the Midwest, a classical repertory company. We invited Carnovsky to come out. He was in his 90s, and came with his wife, Phoebe Brand, who's probably the last surviving member of the Group Theater. They were part of the Old School. Today, we're caught up in this obsession with celebrity. It's all money and fame."
Rodgers and Hammerstein's Flower Drum Song is Kim's second musical; in the most recent Broadway revival of The King and I (also by R&H), he played the Kralahome. This time, he gets to sing -- "which is a scary proposition" -- and the physicality of his role has taken a toll. "I've torn some things in my knee," he relates. "They're talking about surgery. I guessed that I was too old; I should have followed my instincts! But I get talked into things."