Leave It to Jane
Jane Krakowski claims that, when she was a child, some people thought she looked like a boy!
Speaking of now, the Tony Award-winning star will be doing a one-woman show titled Better When it's Banned: A Sinful Songbook for her mother's troupe, the Women's Theater Company, at the Bickford Theatre in Morris Township on Sunday, March 12. She feels it's the least she can do, considering what parents Barbara and Ed did for her. "My mom and dad were greatly involved with community theater, and brought me along rather than hire a baby-sitter. My early memories are of my parents having fun with theater, so I got into it, too. My first role was Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol. Lots of people thought I looked like a boy when was a child, which might be a reason why I play such sexually forward characters now," says Krakowski, who gained TV stardom as the voracious Elaine on Ally McBeal. "Playing April in [the Broadway revival] of Company was very surreal for me because, when mom produced that show and dad played the pot-smoking husband, I was very intimidated by the actress playing April. I have such a clear vision of her being very sexual. I didn't understand that women had such power over men!
"I couldn't wait to finish school so I could go to my mom's dance class in Boonton, or my parents would drive me to the city for acting classes," Krakowski tells me. "My mom did weekday duty, my father weekend duty, When I was about nine, they took me to audition for The Milliken Breakfast Show. I was, like, 138th in line. I sang 'Happy Birthday,' got cast, and was thrilled to be on the same stage with Chita Rivera. She'd thrown a rose to me when I saw Chicago. It was my favorite show -- unless A Chorus Line was. Kids my age were saying, 'I saw Star Wars nine times,' but I was saying, 'I saw A Chorus Line nine times.' "
Soon, Krakowski found herself in a chorus line of sorts: She made her Broadway debut in 1987 in Starlight Express. "Roller-skating as part of an ensemble was a great way to start," she says, "because you learn the discipline of doing eight-a-week without having the weight of the show on you. If I'd had a big role, that would've been scary." She sure didn't seem scared two years later when she played Flaemmchen in Grand Hotel: "Tommy [Tune] said when he cast me, 'This is going to be a significant part for you, so if you've thought about changing your name, now's the time.' But I didn't want to. Actually, my last name is Krajkowski, with a 'j' in it; but it's pronounced Krakowski, as if it doesn't have a 'j,' so that's why I dropped the letter. My folks and I talked about me taking my dad's middle name, Alexander -- until we realized there already was a Jane Alexander!"
She recalls that Grand Hotel workshopped at the dilapidated Hotel Diplomat, "where there were actually rats in the changing room. I wouldn't go in, so I'd change from my jeans, cowboy boots, and turtlenecks to full dancewear in front of everyone. I could do it without anyone seeing anything," she hastily adds. "Tommy always marveled at that and tried to find a place for it in the show, but he never could. We did a lot of improvising, though. Tommy would tell us to read certain chapters of the novel Grand Hotel, and the next day we'd improvise on what we read, so I've never known a character so well as that one. I loved the songs that Wright and Forrest wrote, especially 'Flaemmchen.' When Tommy came backstage at the Colonial [Theatre, in Boston] and told me that the song had to go, I started crying, but he said we needed to learn more about the personal side of the character. The new song that Maury Yeston wrote for me ["I Want To Go To Hollywood"] was more Germanic and therefore less 'pleasing' to the audience, but it did tell us more about the character. "
Krakowski would work with Yeston again in Nine, in which she made an unforgettable entrance as Carla. "Flying in was the most magical experience, even though we did it for the first time three hours before the first preview," she notes. "That was scary. But the audience reaction was the most exhilarating thing I'd ever felt."
Her most recent gig was Guys and Dolls in London. "When they were casting, they asked about my availability, but I was signed to do a Broadway play, Hitchcock Blonde. Then the financing for that show fell through. So my agent called them and said, 'If you haven't found your Miss Adelaide, Jane's available.' I was going to London anyway to see Grand Hotel at the Donmar, so when they said they'd see me, I learned 'Adelaide's Lament.' They told me there'd be no pressure -- just come in, do the number. But I got there and 10 people watched me. You have to be completely prepared, whatever they tell you. Ten minutes after I'd finished, they called and said I got it. Vicki Clark, who'd played Adelaide [in the 1992 Broadway revival], told me, 'You'll have the best time of your life' -- and she was right. I'd basically only done post-Sondheim musicals, with all the cynicism and irony, so to mean everything you say was tricky for me."
It couldn't have been all that tricky; last month, Krakowski won an Olivier Award for her performance. "I was sitting right in front of the podium," she says, "and after my name was called, the card was turned in such a way that I could see my name on it, so I knew it wasn't a lie." Ah, Ms. K., I wouldn't have had to see the card to believe that you were the Best Actress in a Musical!