My, Oh Myers!
Sondheim veteran Pamela Myers is happily returned to Broadway in Into the Woods.
In 1989, Myers made a "temporary" move to Cincinnati, Ohio on her way back to New York; but the move became permanent when husband Jim, a former musician, landed a plum accounting job. Thankfully, Myers is now one of another hundred people getting off of the train at Times Square every minute, six days a week; she then heads over to the Broadhurst Theater where she steps into the shoes of Cinderella's Stepmother in the Tony Award-winning revival of Into the Woods, the postmodern fairy tale musical with a score by Sondheim and book and direction by James Lapine.
But this gig came very close to not happening. "I was doing Gypsy at St Louis Rep when I got a call to audition for the role of Jack's mother [in Into the Woods]," relates Myers over a late breakfast at the Renaissance Diner. "And I said no. For me, coming to an audition here doesn't mean taking the subway; it means taking Delta! I have to find a cheap fare and I only get to come in for the day. It's hard to be at your best under those conditions. I've auditioned a few times for Broadway over the years and never got it."
If at first you don't succeed, thought the producers. "They called again, and I still said no," Myers relates. "When they called again, I figured the third time might be the charm, so I came. I had no idea it was the last day of casting. They were all there: Stephen, James Lapine, [musical director] Paul Gemignani. And then they asked me to read the part of the stepmother in addition to Jack's mother, and I got it." (Marylouise Burke plays Jack's mother; Myers is her understudy). What Myers also didn't realize at the time is that the production was booked into a pre-Broadway run the Ahmanson Theatre in L.A., meaning that she would be away from home for nine months. "I asked Max what he thought," she says. "He was a junior in high school and I knew it would be hard on him. He said, 'Mom, I will really miss you, but I think you should do it.' That was so mature of him."
Myers is really enjoying her return to Broadway. "I had never thought about doing Into The Woods since there was no part that seemed ideal for me," she admits. "But it's such a fun show." She also has nothing but praise for the cast, most notably leading lady Vanessa Williams: "I'm very impressed with her, and not only as a performer. She handles her life with such poise and class. I mean, she has four kids and a husband (L.A. Laker Rick Fox) on another coast. My hat is off to her."
Being in New York has also allowed Myers to catch up with her former Company castmates, including Charles Kimbrough and Beth Howland (now a happily married pair) and Donna McKechnie. But she's especially pleased to be able to spend time with good pal Elaine Stritch. "Elaine gives me great hope that I can be working at 77," says Myers. "It's a miracle she's still here after all she's been through. But Charlie and Beth and I had dinner with her recently and, to us, she's never changed."
During her student days at Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, dinner with the likes of Stritch was not on Myers' plate. In fact, she swears that she had never even heard of the Tony Awards back in 1968 and that she only knew Sondheim as the lyricist of West Side Story. When she went to audition for Company, less than a year after arriving in New York, her big number was the pop hit "Little Green Apples." Her other song was "Shy" from Once Upon A Mattress--but the then-clueless Myers didn't know that Sondheim and Mary Rodgers, the song's composer, were best friends.
Her audition wasn't for any specific role. And the part of Marta--which Myers doesn't think existed at all in the original script--had no songs. After she was cast, Sondheim was so taken with her powerful voice that he wrote "Another Hundred People" just for her. And what was Myers' immediate reaction upon hearing this now legendary number? "I thought, 'I will never learn that. Why can't I just have a simple ballad'" she recalls. "I mean, it sounded like Schoenberg."
In Boston, she briefly had no song at all: "Back then, 'Another Hundred People' was in the second act--I think it actually followed 'The Ladies Who Lunch'--and it wasn't working at all. So they cut it for a day or two. They were really nice about it. Then Hal Prince shifted it into the first act, surrounded by all those little scenelets, and it just worked like a charm." So well, in fact, that Myers earned a Tony nomination for Best Featured Actress in a Musical, competing against castmate Barbara Barrie and against Patsy Kelly of No, No, Nanette, who took home the trophy. Myers wasn't disappointed in not winning. "I didn't think I had a chance. The thing I most remember about the night is that John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson were sitting in the row behind me and talking to me like they knew me," she recalls with a laugh.
These days, there's a trophy or two on Myers' mantel, including a CEA (Cincinnati Entertainment Award) for her work as Mrs. Lovett in Sondheim's Sweeney Todd, a role she's performed in three different productions. Indeed, Sondheim has kept her very busy for the past 15 years. In 1988, she landed the role of Dot in Long Beach Civic Light Opera's production of Sunday in the Park with George, much to her surprise. "I seldom got parts like that," Myers says. "Maybe it's because I had big breasts then--for the only time in my life!--because I was nursing Max. The most frightening thing about that show wasn't the part, but the dress. Sometimes, it didn't open on cue; I swear it had a mind of its own."
Unfortunately, we won't be hearing any Sondheim songs on the CD that Myers hopes to record during her stay in New York. The reason: Her concept is to have composers play their own material on the album, and Sondheim turned her down. "I hope to be working with Larry Grossman, Shelley Markham, Billy Goldenberg, and Stephen Schwartz, who was my pianist when I was a college student doing summer stock in New England," she says.