Tony Yazbeck gets what he needs in Gypsy; Michael Arden catches the Juno bug; and Paul Rudnick has a New idea. Plus: How Kelli, Faith, and Cheyenne were brilliantly Miscast!
Having played a newsboy in the 1989 revival of Gypsy with Tyne Daly, the now-grown Tony Yazbeck felt deep in his bones that he was right for the part of Tulsa in the revival of Gypsy that played City Center last summer and has now resurfaced at the St. James Theater. Unfortunately, the show's casting director didn't agree with him, and wouldn't even allow Yazbeck -- who was then playing Al in the Broadway revival of A Chorus Line -- to come in for an audition.
"I knew they thought I was too old, or my body was too filled out, but I called the office of Jerome Robbins and told them I just needed to be seen, and somehow they slipped my picture in to the casting people," he recalls. "Eventually, I ended up in the final six, but the other five guys were all blond and blue-eyed, so I figured I was out of the running. When they told me I had it, it was immediately an 18-year dream fulfilled."
Tulsa only has one moment in the spotlight -- the song "All I Need Is the Girl" -- but it's a doozy. "That song is its own little one-act, and Arthur Laurents (the show's librettist and current director) always says it's his favorite part," says Yazbeck. "Of course, I always thought the scene was just about Tulsa, but now I realize it's really also about Louise (played by Laura Benanti), because at the end we both realize that our dreams are different but the same -- that we want to get out of where we are."
Yazbeck adds that the number is far more demanding than he originally imagined. "A lot of people think A Chorus Line was harder, and the show was tough because it's strenuous being on your feet for two straight hours. But it was more about making stage pictures than actual dancing," he says. "Here, when I walk offstage after the number, I just sit there sucking breath. I can't believe how much energy I've used. Luckily, I'm offstage for the second act, so I take a chill pill, and usually go play poker with the other Farmboys in the dressing room."
Yazbeck is thrilled to be working with Laurents, as well as star Patti LuPone. "Everyone in the cast has nothing but the greatest respect for Arthur, who is a genius. He never wastes a word with his notes, and he really wants us to take the time to make every moment honest. Most directors direct from the head, but Arthur directs from the heart; he wants you to feel and isn't concerned with exactly how you get there," he says. "Patti knows what she wants and knows how to get it. Sharing a stage with her is like an acting class. Every night the whole cast comes down and watches 'Rose's Turn' from the wings."
Michael Arden is not only doing his first City Center Encores! musical, Juno, March 27-30; he's never ever seen one of the series' many productions. But this rare revival of the 1959 Joseph Stein-Marc Blitzstein musical version of Juno and the Paycock isn't actually Arden's first involvement with Encores. "I did their Birthday Bash a couple of years ago and sang Blitzstein's 'The Ballad of the Bombardier,' which is how I first fell in love with his music," he says. "It's so simple and beautiful, and much more my kind of music than Bob Dylan (which he sang in Broadway's The Times They Are A-Changin'). So I was really thrilled when this came around."
Having never done an Encores -- with its notoriously short 10-day rehearsal -- is Arden nervous? "Actually, I do my best when I feel a little bit terrified. I tend to feel the more pressure you have, the more prepared you are at the beginning," he says. "I am so excited to work with our director, Garry Hynes; to share a stage with Victoria Clark, who is such a stunning actor, and to be paired with Celia Keenan-Bolger. We're always doing readings together, so it's great for us to be in an actual show."
Meanwhile, Arden's new television series The Return of Jezebel James begins its seven-episode run on Fox beginning on March 14. He says filming the show -- in which he plays the assistant to Parker Posey and falls in love with her sister, played by Lauren Ambrose -- was a joy. "The three of us have very different ways of working, but we all supported each other so much. Parker was always there if I needed her; she would even bring me tea if I was nervous. And having to fall in love with Lauren was definitely the easiest part of the job," he says. "We also had a lot of other theater people in the cast -- Dianne Wiest, Renee Elise Goldsberry, Erin Dilly -- so being in that environment was an actor's wet dream. We filmed in front of a live audience, which is much easier than when I did a television drama. Being from the theater, I think we all saw that as an advantage. And I loved being able to do something different on every take. If we get picked up, I would gladly embrace doing this show for the next seven years."
As for upcoming memorable moments, mark these events on your calendar: On March 17, writers Frank McCourt, Jessica Hagedorn, and Nicole Krauss will be among the speakers at Letters to a Young Writer: 20 Years of the 92nd Street Y's Poetry Center Schools Project. On March 22, Joy Franz will be interviewed before a free screening of the original Broadway production of Into the Woodsat the Laurie Beechman Theatre. On March 24, Lucie Arnaz, Loretta Devine, Joely Fisher, and Linda Purl will be among the stars joining musical director Ron Abel for the Actors Fund's Musical Mondays benefit at L.A.'s Pantages Theatre. On March 26, South Pacific director Bartlett Sher will speak as part of Lincoln Center Theatre's Platform Series; and Rutlemania, created by Spamalot's Eric Idle, plays the Blender Theater at the Gramercy, March 26-29.
On March 30, Robert Cuccioli, Toni DiBuono, Donna English, and Ken Jennings will be among the many performers saluting Tony-winning conductor Paul Gemignani at the YM-YWHA of North Jersey in Wayne. On March 31, Roger Rees will direct the Collegiate Chorale in the New York premiere of Leonard Bernstein and Alan Jay Lerner's A White House Cantata at Rose Hall, while David Hartman, Marge Champion, and Lee Roy Reams will be among the participants in Dancers Over 40's panel discussion In the Company of Friends: The Dancers and Creative Talents of Gower Champion at St. Luke's Theatre. Finally, on April 1, three of my favorite performers, Nancy Anderson, Natalie Douglas, and Teri Ralston, will be among the guests at the always entertaining Jamie deRoy & friends show at the Metropolitan Room.
As Paul Rudnick notes, not all of The New Century, which debuts on March 20 at Lincoln Center's Mitzi Newhouse Theater, is actually new. The two-act evening consists of two previously produced -- if reworked -- one-acts, Mr. Charles of Palm Beach, starring Peter Bartlett as a flamboyant Floridian, and Pride and Joy, starring Linda Lavin as Helene, an outspoken Long Island matron, followed by two new one-acts, one featuring Jayne Houdyshell as a craftswoman from Illinois, and a finale that brings all those characters together in New York City. "I was interested in doing more the a random evening of one-acts, and it was fun to find a way to find these pieces to intertwine and add up to what feels like a full experience," says Rudnick. "And what I love about all the people in these plays is that they speak their mind. Of course, every one of the characters are so me."
Rudnick, best known for such works as Jeffrey, Regrets Only, and The Most Fabulous Story Every Told, couldn't be more thrilled with the show's five-person cast (including a scantily clad Mike Doyle as Mr. Charles' assistant Shane and actress Christy Pusz). "These people set the bar for acting," he says. "One of the great pleasures of my life has been watching Peter do this role for many years, and I have always been a Linda Lavin love slave. She is the funniest person I know."
Rudnick's plays aren't your typical Lincoln Center fare, and that's just fine with him. "I am not toning anything down in the slightest, but I've already been told that any word I've used was probably used at Lincoln Center three seasons ago -- which I take as a challenge," he says with a laugh. "In a way, I do feel like I'm introducing downtown to uptown, but then again, Helene could be a Lincoln Center subscriber; I am sure she saw and loved all three parts of The Coast of Utopia. In the end, my real aim is to get everyone laughing, sometimes at characters they're not expecting to find entertaining."