BWW Interviews: Kurt Peterson and Victoria Mallory Talk ┬"When Everything Was Possible┬"
Peterson chimes in by commenting, "How many people can say that they had Lennie Bernstein as their rehearsal pianist? Now remember, this production was part of The Music Theater of Lincoln Center, which was under the leadership of Richard Rodgers. He was at always there, dressed in a suit, and was very supportive." Mallory sums up their recollections by saying, "It was a dream, an absolute dream!"
Looking further back on WEST SIDE STORY, Mallory comments, "I'd done twenty musicals before that show and was really enjoying the rehearsal process." Peterson interjects, "Vicki had more experience doing roles than I did and she was dancing before she was born. She was this incredible triple threat from the get-go. I, on the other hand, was shaking. I'd only done small roles in the chorus and summer stock with a performance in THE FROG PRINCE, and suddenly I was on the stage of the State Theatre [now The David H. Koch Theatre] where you stand on the stage and almost die. It's huge!"
One memory of the production that they both share was that Robert LuPone [brother of Patti] was playing Arab and he suffered a back spasm. "They had to bring the doctor in because when you have a back spasm, you can't do anything." Mallory remembers.
Peterson recalls that the stage directions called for him to jump over a fence "I was really good at it," he reminisces. "There was one very important performance; it wasn't opening night, but someone important I wanted to impress was out front--and I missed the jump!" He and Mallory laugh over their recollection of that and through her giggles she explains, "It was a very high fence, though!"
When asked if either of them had seen the 2010 revival of WEST SIDE STORY there is an awkward moment and a pause. Peterson explains, "We were there on opening night. Let's just say that our memories are so keen and the work we did in our show was so strong that it was difficult not to miss some of things when you see a revival. What I particularly missed was the work of Jerome Robbins. His sense of detail was missing."
Something that Peterson felt that revival lacked was the way director Arthur Laurents handled the character of Lt. Schrank. "There should have been more energy in his scenes. Schrank is the figure that those kids go against. He's the proletarian figure; the 'father' and he should to be performed in a strong manner so the kids can go against him. The actor was directed to throw away his lines, but that's all Arthur's doing. I'm sorry. I say this with all due respect; he's gone."
Mallory chimed in, "And the changes. I mean, what did they do to the 'Somewhere' ballet? And the last scene?" On a positive note, she adds, "It was thrilling to hear that score played by a big orchestra and it was thrilling to see the original choreography-what was left of it-performed so well."
After a few concerts and a Georgia production of THE FANTASTICKS, and Mallory playing Lili in the City Center revival of CARNIVAL!, the next major Broadway show for the two of them was the legendary FOLLIES. Mallory had been cast and was playing several minor roles and Peterson was one of the last actors to sign on. Originally the role of Benjamin Stone was to be played by Jon Cypher, but when John McMartin was brought in, Peterson was cast as his younger counterpart because of the strong resemblance between the two men. It was well into the rehearsal period that Mallory was awarded the role of "Young Heidi" and the way it came about is priceless:
"When I auditioned for FOLLIES," she recounts, "Michael Bennett had seen me in both WEST SIDE STORY and in CARNIVAL!. Other members of the creative team weren't that familiar with me, so I auditioned with everyone else in show business who wanted to be in that show! Back then they actually auditioned in theaters, and as I left the stage Hal Price came out of the audience and walked up to me to tell me that there was nothing for me in that show. I was so astounded that he was actually speaking to me that I actually said-and this is verbatim-'Mr. Prince, I don't care if I do nothing in the show, I'd give anything to be a part of it.' Shortly afterwards I got a contract in the mail-just like that. When I showed up for the first day of rehearsal (and actually for quite a while) I had nothing to do. I was in heaven. It was just one of the most exciting things I've ever experienced as I watched the show develop. Then along the way I was made a waitress who served drinks to Buddy. Then a couple of weeks into rehearsal I got 'One More Kiss', and then Michael Bennett came and told me he'd put me in a couple of dance numbers. In Boston they asked me if I'd like to understudy Young Sally-which I did. I was having a ball!" There's a lesson to be learned from the manner in which Mallory approached this show and her success followed well into the show's run:
FOLLIES had been running for about a year when Mallory was called into the office of Producer/Director Hal Prince. "I read a few lines from a script," she recalls, "Then he asked me to be Anne in A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC. My experience in FOLLIES was pretty remarkable because it served as a stepping stone to another experience that was very special."
Did either of them ever feel that FOLLIES would go on to become the classic it is? Mallory thinks for a moment and says, "I hoped it would. It was one of the highlights of my life! I have to say that while we were in Boston almost everyone began to realize it was something really special." Yes, FOLLIES was really special. Since its first Broadway incarnation in 1971, it's been revived in New York by the Roundabout Theater in 2001, by City Center's Encores! in 2007, and in 2011 via Washington's Kennedy Center. There was also the star-studded concert version that played at Lincoln Center's Avery Fischer Hall and was televised on PBS. As actors, FOLLIES played a significant part in both their careers. Peterson comments, "There's a wonderful streak that happens when you're part of a landmark musical. There's a respect that's really wonderful." The show opened many doors for them.
One such door that was opened for Peterson was the launching of his co-career as a producer. One of the co-producers of FOLLIES was Fritz Holt who was preparing the London production of GYPSY starring Angela Lansbury. Peterson used his charm and business sense to help raise money for that production, which eventually moved to Broadway. He also produced the one night concert called SONDHEIM: A MUSICAL TRIBUTE that featured the talents of Lansbury, Mallory, Len Cariou, Hermione Gingold, Dorothy Collins and a whole host of Broadway's greatest talents.
A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC holds a very special place in Victoria Mallory's heart because it was in that show she met her husband, Mark Lambert, who played opposite her as Friedrich. The couple moved to California where Mallory had a recurring role in television's "The Young and the Restless" as well as "Santa Barbara". The couple had a daughter named Ramona Mallory who is following in her parents' show business footsteps.
In fact, in the recent Broadway revival of A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC, the role of Anne was played by Ramona Mallory. For her mother, it was a very powerful moment to see her daughter take on the role that she'd originated in 1973. "As soon as she stepped out on that stage, Mark and I just grabbed each other, " recalls Victoria Mallory, "and the tears began to gush. My heart was just exploding with pride and joy. She's one of the most hard-working, dedicated and all-about-the-work young people I know. She worked hard and got on her own merits. It was another thrill of a lifetime for me." Victoria Mallory explains that she didn't give her daughter any tips or direction for playing Ann. "She had a director who was very, very specific about what he wanted. If she asked me for something I would helped, but I've been her coach and teacher all her life and I knew her work ethic. I was aware of the thought and work she put into creating this role, and then have a director guide her into the way he envisioned things made things work out differently. She's an adult and it was her time. I wanted her to have it for herself."
In WHEN EVERYTHING WAS POSSIBLE, the two friends recount how they lost touch when Mallory and Lambert moved to California. Years went by without any contact between the two. Then Mallory's daughter decided to move to New York. It was then that Peterson's phone rang and his friend and former co-star asked him to look after Ramona while she got settled. There were quite a few other people in New York that could have received that call from her, but she knew she could rely on Peterson, who had married "dishy dancer" Julie Peterson. Of course he accepted the responsibility and the friendship picked up where it left off without missing a beat.
One of the songs that the duo sings in WHEN EVERYTHING WAS POSSIBLE is specially written for the evening. Titled "There Once Was A Time", it boasts music by Jesse Wiener and a lyric by Kurt Peterson. It's the perfect closing for the concert and they perform it with charm and conviction:
There once was a time
When our stories were told
And we noticed before we were through
How we still got along
And how life is a wonder
With a Song, a Tomorrow and You