BWW Interviews: CACTUS FLOWER's Maxwell Caufield

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Walking along Ninth Avenue on an early Saturday evening after enjoying a light meal at one of the neighborhood sandwich shops, Maxwell Caulfield looks up at the Minskoff Building in the distance and sighs. He remarks, "What a lovely view you have from the rehearsal space up there! There's a beautiful view of the setting sun as it goes down over the Hudson River! It's gorgeous. That rehearsal space will always be one of my favorite spots in New York." There's good reason for that because it was in that rehearsal studio that he met his wife, actress Juliet Mills. They were preparing for the touring company of Bernard Pomerance's play THE ELEPHANT MAN in which Caulfield played the title role and Ms. Mills was Mrs. Kendall. The electricity between the two actors was evident to everyone in the room and it blossomed into a full romance and a marriage that has lasted 31 years. In these times of throw-away marriages and quickie divorces, it's refreshing to observe that Maxwell Caulfield is still very much in love with his wife. In fact, the two of them recently toured England together in a production of Alan Ayckbourn's BEDROOM FARCE.

Settling into a quiet corner of the Westside Theatre where he has been starring in Abe Burrows' comedy CACTUS FLOWER, Caulfield is in a very reflective mood. It's been a while since he's been on stage in New York and six years since he's chatted with BroadwayWorld.Com. He's still a remarkably good looking man and the twinkle in his blue eyes can be positively devilish at times. It seems like only a few weeks ago that he was giving audiences more than just an eyeful when he was in ENTERTAINING MR SLOANE in1981 and singing and dancing on screen in 1982's GREASE 2-a movie that seems to be more popular on DVD than it ever was in theatrical release.

In 2006, Caulfield won some very good reviews for his performance in Off Broadway's two character melodrama TRYST, yet the show closed prematurely. "Oh man, we took down the Promenade with that one!" he sighs. "I don't mean Amelia Campbell and myself, but it was a lovely little piece and obviously the Promenade was a glorious theater but the building was taking on water-literally. We did one performance where the pipes burst backstage and it became monsoonal. The theater was not happy about us going. Nowadays I walk pass that Sephora and I want to wretch knowing what an amazing acting space was lost. Acoustically it was dreamy. It was a fine venue
to play in. I guess the fact that the theater never had a full marquee and the entrance to it was a bit confusing. We gave TRYST a good go but maybe it was a play that should have been done in even a smaller venue; maybe down in the West Village. I feel privileged to have played the Promenade. I'm sorry that ours was the last show there."

One of the Promenade's longest-running tenants was Stephen Schwartz's GODSPELL and that was a show that was significant in Caulfield's decision to become an actor. "I saw a production at the Wyndham Theatre in London starring David Essex and it was just thrilling. Absolutely thrilling. It made me realize that this was something I not only could do, but could possibly be good at," he says.

London was the city where Caulfield experienced what he considers the highlight of his professional career: starring in the West End edition of the long-running CHICAGO. "The Weisslers gave me a nice run in London. It was an absolutely blessed experience. The entire brain trust, for some extraordinary reason, all came on separate occasions during my gig there to check in on the production. It was their annual look-see of how the West End company was faring. Walter Bobbie came, Rob Fisher, the music director came, so did Ken Billington, the lighting designer. Barry Weissler himself even dropped in and I was blessed with the two best girls known to have played the roles in London-Josefina Gabriele and Amra Faye Wright. I was sandwiched between two absolutely knockout dames in the pivotal female roles and every night I was getting the best lap dance in the West End! My own personal hero, Steven Berkoff came to opening night because he knew the gal who was coming in to play Matron Mama Morton and was opening simultaneously with me that week," he fondly recalls.

"To cap the experience, " Caulfield continues, "the West End had their annual summer open air concert called ‘West End Presents' and they just take over Leicester Square where they put up a band shell and various West End shows give live impromptu highlights from their productions. During my stint there I got to go in and sing to 4,000 people on a beautiful Saturday morning. It was an absolute rush. I felt like a rock star!
CHICAGO is a marvelous piece. It's a sexy night in the theatre. It's a great date night show andvery sensual, with the Fosse-esque choreography and that fantastic jazz score. There's also some great excitement in having the band right there on stage--along with these wonderfully sinewy gypsies gyrating all over the place. I think it's a very sensual experience. Any hit show has to have people who want to see it repeatedly and that was the case with CHICAGO."

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Joe Panarello is one of those people who have most certainly been born with theater in their blood. As an actor, Joe has played such varied roles as Harry Roat in Frederick Knott's Wait Until Dark, Jimmy Smith in No, No Nanette and Lazer Wolf in Fiddler on the Roof a vehicle he's performed in several times and designed the sets for on one occasion. He's also directed productions of Thornton Wilder's Our Town, Neil Simon's Barefoot in the Park and Henrich Ibsen's Peer Gynt. Joe is a respected author and although his latest work, The Authoritative History of Corduroy won't be published until this summer, it is already being translated into several different languages by a group of polyglot nuns in Tormento, Italy.. The proceeds from their labors will go to the restoration of the nearby Cathedral of Gorgonzola.