Paulo Szot Sets Sail from South Pacific
The Tony Award-winning star talks about the closing of the hit musical, reuniting with Kelli O'Hara, and his upcoming cabaret show at the Cafe Carlyle.
THEATERMANIA: How do you feel about finally saying goodbye to South Pacific after two and a half years?
PAULO SZOT: In some ways, I am very eager to finish this wonderful work, but another part of me is sad and already very nostalgic and thinks I want to do this show for the rest of my life. This whole process has been amazing since the very first moment, and it's something I had never experienced before as an opera singer. In opera, you stay two months and you're done. After 15 years of that, I wanted a routine and now I've had a routine, and it was great. Now I have to break it again.
TM: Your original Nellie Forbush, Kelli O'Hara, returns on August 10 for the last 12 days of the run. How do you feel about that?
PS: I think it's going to be great. The last time I saw her was when we did The New York Pops concert together in the spring, and we always have such a good time together. I am still the same as I was at the beginning of our relationship, but now Kelli has a baby -- I think that's the big change.
TM: Are you also excited that the show is being taped on August 18 for Live from Lincoln Center on PBS?
PS: I am so happy about that. I think it's such a great thing that we can come into people's houses who weren't able to come to see us. I am aware that the economic situation made it so not everyone could come even if they wanted to. I think people all over America will be able to forget their troubles while watching this show on their couch.
TM: Have you ever seen your own performance in the show?
PS: No, I am excited I get to see myself finally; because from the stage, we have no idea what we look like. I only saw the show once from the audience; I went during one of my vacations to see it -- and I was so proud to be part of this production.
TM: You did leave the show numerous times for opera commitments. What was that like?
PS: Every time I left, I felt bad and wanted to stay. But actually going away made the return better. I would come back with more power, new thoughts, and full of energy. As much as I enjoy the routine, sometimes you get tired of it. I think if you don't go forward, you go backwards.
PS: It was wonderful and thrilling, and I think Emile would forgive me for doing that part. It was such a challenge to learn this strange music with its weird intervals, but once I devoted myself to learning it, I couldn't have been happier. It was great to do a role that was so different from Emile. And the nice thing is that I was in my own apartment -- I wasn't sleeping in a different bed. It was so close to the Beaumont that I could see both theaters every day, and I felt like I really had the support of South Pacific.
TM: You will be performing for two weeks at the Café Carlyle, beginning on September 14. How did that come about?
PS They asked me recently to do it and I thought it would be a great time to do a very intimate show. I've done something similar only once before, when I did American Songbook at Lincoln Center, and I loved it. As a singer, I get to express what's inside me. The show isn't totally conceived yet. I am still trying to come up with the best songs, but I am very sure it's going to be fun -- well fun for me, at least. There will be no opera at all, but definitely some Brazilian songs, some bossa nova, and some standards. I think it's inevitable that I will do something from South Pacific, but since I am doing this show with a trio, it's definitely going to sound a little different than it does at the Beaumont.
TM: What other jobs do you have lined up?
PS: I am doing Don Giovanni in Dallas in the fall. I never get tired of the role; I once did four different productions in one year. I get into the rich psychological conflicts of the character; he's so compulsive about conquering these people and it's very interesting how far he can go. Mozart is always hard to sing; you have to pay attention to style and clarity, and it's a big role. It's not an easy gig but I love it. Then I'm coming back to New York for Carmen at the Met in January, and then I am going to Paris for three months to perform at the Garnier Opera.
PS: No! I just want to take a little bit of a break after such a long run. But South Pacific was one of the most wonderful times in my life, and I want to do musical theater again -- when it's the right time and the right job. I never think too much about what I would love to do in the future, but when something comes up that I want, I go for it!