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Joely Plays Sally

Joely Fisher chats with Jim Caruso about settling in as Sally Bowles on Broadway after 230 Cabaret performances on the road. logo
Joely Fisher
Joely Fisher, self-proclaimed "road warrior", toured with her mom entertaining Persian Gulf troops, and then made television history as Paige Clark on Ellen. Next, she hit the big screen, co-starring with Matthew Broderick in last summer's Inspector Gadget. She then cut off her flame-red curls, painted her nails green, and toured the country as Sally Bowles in Cabaret. Now, sallying on to Broadway, she discusses the role, the road, and the joy of recognition.

TheaterMania: Are you glad to be back in Cabaret after a break from the road company?

Joely Fisher: When I finished my eight-month run on the road, I took off the green nail polish and false eyelashes, and turned in my corset. I thought I'd never re-visit Sally Bowles again. I was happy to cut loose from the character and finally shave under my arms! I went back home to LA, but it didn't take me long to get very sad and miss her. I missed the people I was working with too. So, when the opportunity came to do the Broadway company, and it was such a short amount of time, I jumped--leapt!--at the chance.

TM: How is your Sally different from the other portrayals you've seen of the character?

Fisher: Needless to say, all the Sally's are going to be innately different because it's a different body on stage. Everyone comes at her with their own different histories. One thing I might bring to her is a lifetime filled with some similar experiences. I have observed the lifestyle and the needs of someone like Sally, who just wants love, and is finding it though her performance. She lives for that. She just wants someone to pay attention to her.

TM: What's it like singing that great Kander and Ebb music?

Fisher: The lyrics and the melodies are incredible to sing. And the book is quite perfect--it's easy to go on Sally's journey merely by playing the play. Technically, it's one of the best-written shows I've ever experienced because it's simple, truthful, and stripped of everything unnecessary.

TM: What was your last show on the road like?

Fisher: My very last show, after about 230 performances, was unforgettable. When I was singing "Maybe This Time" and "Cabaret," there was such stillness for me. I was trying to be a sponge and suck up and remember every single second that I could.

Joely Fisher as
Sally Bowles in Cabaret
There's such power in the role. For all of Sally's vulnerability, destructive behavior, emptiness and loneliness, she possesses incredible power. It's the biggest rush you could ever have.

TM: You grew up traveling with your mother, Connie Stevens, during her nightclub days. What was it like to be an adult--out there on your own?

Fisher: I have to say, being on the road isn't my favorite thing. It's draining and tiring to be moving on a day when you should be resting and not talking. Each new city presented a new set of interviews and press to be done. It's a lot of work. On the other hand, the part that I loved was the sense that at any given time, there were 46 people that you could have a coffee with, hang out with, or grab a movie with. It's instant family! It's hard to explain this to the people that you're missing back home just how close you get. When I was about ten, I went on a six-week tour with my mom. When we finally got home, I was wandering though the halls of our house crying. I wanted all those people we toured with to be around all the time. It seemed so lonely without them! It's kind of a bad habit to always have to be surrounded by so many people.

TM: Is it weird being away from your husband (filmmaker Christopher Duddy) for so long?

Fisher: We celebrated our 3rd anniversary together while I was on the road. He came to visit me a lot. He's a complete support system. Plus, we talk to each other about four times a day.

TM: What kept you sane and happy being on the road for eight months?

Fisher: I loved fixing up my dressing rooms! I put up pictures of everybody from home. I always had great-smelling candles lit. I displayed beautiful cards from people I love. I also had quite a collection of art and photos of women who made up what I thought mySally Bowles was all about. They were all around my mirror. My dressing room here on Broadway is quite spectacular. There have been many Sallys in there, and there are little pieces of everyone left behind. Jennifer Jason Leigh painted it bright yellow...and I hope to leave a piece of my personality there when I leave.

TM: What did you learn from being on the road with Connie Stevens all those years?

Fisher: My mother is the greatest diplomat. Plus, she's a mothering system to everyone, including the people she gave birth to! Her generosity of spirit taught me a great deal. She always makes everyone feel included. She works very hard and always wants everyone around her to feel happy and secure. Because of that, I am the great thrower of dinner parties to feed the masses. Sometimes we just order pizzas and hang out on the floor of my dressing room.

TM: Do you like the PR part of show business?

Fisher: It's kind of a necessary evil, but I think I've gotten adept at it. I remember my ex-manager, Barry Krost, saying that the thing that he loved was watching me love it. I do love a good red carpet, let me tell you! I love being recognized, and want to be accessible. Believe me, I've seen people walk the line and not sign one autograph. I always sign, because I'm doing what I do but for the grace of God. I get to do what I love all the time. As far as interviews, here in New York, I'll did a bunch before I opened in the role, but now it's pretty much over. On the road, it was a constant thing in each new city--talking all day then doing the show at night.

TM: How did Ellen change your life?

Fisher: Doing that show has afforded me the luxury to do this. It made it possible that people would know who I was and want me to do this. I've had three years since the TV show ended, and now I can clearly look at that experience and be thankful that I can forever call Ellen my friend. I'm so proud of her and what we all did on television. I recently went to Washington D.C. with her for the Millennium March, which had close to a million people. I saw the power of what we did--what we played a little tiny part of. It changed some people's lives and you can still feel it. Politically, personally, professionally, the show and that time had an amazing effect on me.

TM: Are you a TV fan?

Fisher: Not really; we have a satellite at home, and I've become a major flipper. I don't seem to watch that much network television. I like the other stuff better--the movie channels, and my favorite: the E! Channel.

TM: Steve Kmetco is my god!

Fisher: (Laughter) I'm sorry!

TM: So what's up for the future?

Fisher: After my run here in Cabaret, I go back to LA to do Darren Starr's new TV project called Grosse Pointe. I did a really fun guest spot on the pilot; they liked me and asked me to stay. It's a single camera half-hour show--no laugh track, like Sex In the City.

TM: Who has made a difference to you in your life?

Fisher: There was a man named Dan Pietregallo, who was my mother's agent at William Morris many years ago. When I was 16 and about to graduate from high school, I was going through a tough time trying to figure out what to do with my life. He invited me to his office and spent two hours with me--me in my school uniform! He didn't take one call during those two hours. Agents just don't spend that kind of time with people they don't represent. He made me feel smart and beautiful and important and talented. He convinced me to go to college. I followed his advice and didn't start to work as an actress until after I'd graduated.

I remember writing him a letter when I was well into my first year of school, telling him how much his words meant to me and how I would someday have a great career and make him proud. So, fast-forward to two years ago, when I was shooting Inspector Gadget in Pittsburgh. He came to visit me on the set! I was so happy to see him--and he was carrying the letter I had written. It's people like that who take time and mean so much. They're the people you take on your journey.


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