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Stars to Be?

More reader predictions -- correct and incorrect -- as to which unknowns would or wouldn't become stars. logo
Patti LuPone
All right, the last time we met, you were crowing about the discoveries you made when you went to the theater and caught some unknown taking the stage by storm. There you were, telling me about seeing Al Pacino, Kathy Bates, Kristin Chenoweth, and plenty more early in their careers, as you pointed with assurance and said, "There's a future star!" This was all in response to my recent column where I asked, "Whom did you discover when?" And while many of you answered that question, comparatively fewer of you answered my other question: "Whom did you see that you didn't think would make it?"

So my hat's off to all those who 'fessed up to suffering from theatrical myopia. I'd mentioned that the charms of Bette Midler and Patti LuPone were lost on me the first time I saw them. Seven readers agreed with me on the former -- all of them, incidentally, based on her appearances on The Tonight Show. Six others also admitted not being fans of LuPone, including one newspaper reporter who told me that the diva chewed gum all through the interview she had with her. To others noted that they still don't like Midler or LuPone and swear that, as long as they live, they never will.

Fred Aronowitz had someone else about whom to complain: "Many winters ago, a friend invited me to a special performance that would include excerpts from plays and musicals [to be] produced that spring. One of them was a musical version of Alice in Wonderland, with Debbie Allen as Alice. There was something off about her and her performance, and I really disliked her. Years later, I went to see her in the revival of Sweet Charity and found I felt the same way. To this day, I just don't understand her success. I much prefer her sister, Phylicia Rashad."

Paul Mendenhall wrote, "I saw Kyle MacLachlan as an atrocious Romeo at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and wouldn't have given you two cents for his chances. Then he was discovered by David Lynch, and the rest is history." Said Steve Rosenthal, "An actor who completely annoyed me the first two times I saw him was Kevin Spacey. I saw him in Ghosts with Liv Ullmann and an unfortunate production of A Seagull directed by Peter Sellars. (Yes, it was Chekhov's The Sea Gull; he changed the title). I felt that Spacey was completely uncontrolled and therefore unmoving in his work. By the time he did Lost in Yonkers, though, I felt the control that had been lacking was there. I've tremendously enjoyed his work ever since, as has most everybody else, two Oscars later. "

Richard Seff stated, "I lost my heart to little Matthew Broderick in Torch Song Trilogy, and I've never got it back. Yet a few years later, when Fox owned my musical Shine, I had Matthew in to audition -- and looking at my notes now, I see my opinion was, 'He's so great. I don't care if he can't sing a note, which he can't.' Well, I guess he learned how." Karen Valen went outside the lines of musical theater to make her point. "At a college formal," she wrote, "the local singer-bandleader kept pushing his new (and, I suspected, only) record. I commented on his complete lack of talent to my date Fred, whom I later married. Fred reminded me of my evaluation ('He'll never go anywhere!') for years, long after Bobby Vinton had become a hit. Maybe that's part of the reason I'm no longer married to him. (Fred, not Bobby Vinton.)"

Some of you mentioned people who haven't yet made it, but you believe or at least hope that they will succeed. Susan Berlin wrote, "When Arena Stage did Long Day's Journey into Night some years back, my husband and I were astonished by the actress who took the tiny role of the family's maid. Cathleen is less of a character than a dramatic device, yet this actress made her dramatically interesting and funny. Holly Twyford has since become a mainstay of Washington theater, and we really hope we don't lose her to New York." Byron Kolln mentioned, "Karen Swift, one of the finest players in Gosford Musical Society. She definitely has big things ahead of her." Chris Leavy cited Lynnie Godfrey, whom he saw in Theatre by the Sea's Ain't Misbehavin'. "She is still indelibly etched on my brain," he wrote, "for her 'Keepin' Out Of Mischief Now' remains definitive in my mind. I haven't seen or heard of her since. I hope she's doing well."

Andrew Barrett wrote, "When I was associate artistic director of Musical Theater Works, we were required each fall to hold an Equity open call. I have a soft spot for the young, non-Equity talent that combs the city, so I always stayed after the eight-hour Equity session to let non-Equity performers audition. The very first performer I saw was Tara O'Brien, and to this day, I have yet to meet such a striking, unique, and astonishing performer. I immediately cast her in a reading of The New Yorkers -- and she, along with two others -- Michelle Kitrell (now in All Shook Up) and Julia Murney (I don't need to give you her credits), brought Town Hall to a roar in their rendition of 'Love For Sale.' Shortly after that triumph, Tara waited in line all day again, but this time for Blake Edwards and Victor/Victoria. She had to endure eight callbacks, but you can hear her on the album as the Paris Singer. What you don't hear on the album was her astonishing performance in the lead, for she was cast as Julie Andrews' understudy and, one Sunday afternoon, Julie agreed to let Tara go on. The audience was half empty after the announcement that Ms. Andrews would not go on, but those who stayed were treated to one of those rare moments in musical theater when they assume a future star is born. But I've lost touch with her, so if anyone knows where she is and what she's doing, I'd love to know." (Andrew, here's hoping that someone else will.)

Then there was Martin F. Kohn, who predicted success for two performers. "In 1973, I was assistant stage managing a production of Hamlet at the Players in Providence," he wrote. "There was a young Brown student playing Ophelia, and she was absolutely radiant. I knew she was destined for more, and indeed she was: Bess Armstrong. I also predicted similar things for the young man who played Hamlet, but after decades of not hearing about or seeing him, I have since forgotten his name." (Okay, Martin, but I prefer to think that he changed his name, and has been a roaring success ever since.)


[To contact Peter Filichia directly, e-mail him at [email protected]]

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