InDepth InterView: Carolee Carmello Talks NIGHT OF A THOUSAND JUDYS, Plus SCANDALOUS, SMASH, TUCK EVERLASTING & More
Today we are talking to an exceptionally accomplished actress known for her many leading and featured roles in a number of illustrious musical theatre properties - among them, part of the original Broadway casts of FALSETTOS, CITY OF ANGELS, PARADE, LESTAT, THE ADDAMS FAMILY, SCANDALOUS and many more - the gifted and genuine Carolee Carmello. Discussing many aspects of originating roles in those aforementioned shows as well as her replacement gigs in everything from KISS ME, KATE to SISTER ACT and MAMMA MIA!, Carmello sheds some light on her process in bringing such a vivid and striking series of characters to life onstage eight times a week, including all about creating roles Off-Broadway in ELEGIES, HELLO AGAIN and JOHN & JEN. Additionally, Carmello shares stories from the set of NBC's musical drama series SMASH as well as comments on other potential roles she would like to pursue in the future, near and far. Most importantly, Carmello previews her highly anticipated performance at this Monday night's NIGHT OF A THOUSAND JUDYS and remarks upon her affection for the iconic Ms. Garland. Plus, Carmello shares behind-the-scenes stories involving many of her notable collaborators and inspirations such as William Finn, Stephen Sondheim, Kathie Lee Gifford and more, while she also expresses enthusiasm for her upcoming turn in the new musical TUCK EVERLASTING, set to premiere on Broadway next year following a recent unforeseen postponement. All of that, early touring memories from CHESS and LES MISERABLES, observations on the newly-released SCANDALOUS cast recording and much, much more in this career-spanning conversation with one of Broadway's best. C: Given your participation in NIGHT OF A THOUSAND JUDYS, I am curious if you know her daughter, Liza Minnelli? PC: Is it true you've been riding a motorcycle to rehearsals?
NIGHT OF A THOUSAND JUDYS occurs on Monday, June 17 at the Merkin Concert Hall at the Kaufman Center. More information is available here.
The Crimson Kiss
CC: Oh, well, I've met Liza a few times and she came to see our show - SCANDALOUS. Kathie Lee Gifford, who wrote the show, always likes to tease me because she says - and I wasn't even aware of it - that Liza stood up in the middle of the show and gave me a standing ovation.
PC: No way!
CC: That's what I said! [Laughs.] When she told me that, I said, "Oh, really?! Well, I guess I didn't see it, then!" But, that is so flattering. So, she's always been so nice to me - but, I've only met her a few times.
PC: What will you be singing at this year's NIGHT OF A THOUSAND JUDYS? It's quite an impressive line-up of stars!
CC: I hope it's OK for me to say, but I will be doing "When The Sun Comes Out", which she did on her TV show.
PC: A gorgeous song. How did you arrive at that selection?
CC: Well, it was chosen for me - there were a few things I asked about that other people were already doing, so I said to them, "Well, what do you guys think I should sing?" So, Justin [Sayre] sent me a couple of choices - three or four songs - and I chose that one out of those. The other ones I didn't know very well and I am just learning this one now, so it will be interesting to see what happens on Monday! [Laughs.]
PC: The Barbra Streisand version of that song is quite famous, as well.
CC: Yeah, Judy did it once on her TV show, but I think you are right - a lot of people think of Barbra's version when they think of "When The Sun Comes Out".
PC: Have you sung any Garland material previously? Given your "The Music That Makes Me Dance" from FUNNY GIRL, I can only imagine what your "The Man That Got Away" is like!
CC: Yes, I have sung "The Man That Got Away" once or twice before, I think. This is their baby, though, so I just wanted the boys to pick the song for me for this event. I'm excited to see what happens with it.
CC: [Big Laugh.] Yes, yes - it's not a Harley or anything, though! It's just like a Vespa - a Yamaha version of a Vespa. Justin [Sayre] and Dan [Fortune] and everybody when they saw it were like, "Oh, my God!" But, it's just a Vespa, really! It's definitely more gas-efficient than a car, you know - so that's a good thing, too!
PC: Post-FALSETTOS, you've since starred in William Finn's ELEGIES. What was that show like to perform, particularly in post-9/11 New York? Tell me about your big songs in that, too - all of them are incredible.
CC: Well, to do a musical revue about death, more or less, is quite a daunting proposition to begin with. But, you know, the thing with Bill [Finn] is that he is able to infuse humor in everything he does...
PC: Of course, one of your first major roles was in the original Broadway cast of FALSETTOS - another groundbreaking musical.
CC: Right. But, you have to remember, in FALSETTOS, my character wasn't even named in the show - so, people were looking at the Playbill saying, "Cordelia?! Who is that?" [Laughs.]
Today we are talking to an exceptionally accomplished actress known for her many leading and featured roles in a number of illustrious musical theatre properties - among them, part of the original Broadway casts of FALSETTOS, CITY OF ANGELS, PARADE, LESTAT, THE ADDAMS FAMILY, SCANDALOUS and many more - the gifted and genuine Carolee Carmello. Discussing many aspects of originating roles in those aforementioned shows as well as her replacement gigs in everything from KISS ME, KATE to SISTER ACT and MAMMA MIA!, Carmello sheds some light on her process in bringing such a vivid and striking series of characters to life onstage eight times a week, including all about creating roles Off-Broadway in ELEGIES, HELLO AGAIN and JOHN & JEN. Additionally, Carmello shares stories from the set of NBC's musical drama series SMASH as well as comments on other potential roles she would like to pursue in the future, near and far. Most importantly, Carmello previews her highly anticipated performance at this Monday night's NIGHT OF A THOUSAND JUDYS and remarks upon her affection for the iconic Ms. Garland. Plus, Carmello shares behind-the-scenes stories involving many of her notable collaborators and inspirations such as William Finn, Stephen Sondheim, Kathie Lee Gifford and more, while she also expresses enthusiasm for her upcoming turn in the new musical TUCK EVERLASTING, set to premiere on Broadway next year following a recent unforeseen postponement. All of that, early touring memories from CHESS and LES MISERABLES, observations on the newly-released SCANDALOUS cast recording and much, much more in this career-spanning conversation with one of Broadway's best.
C: Given your participation in NIGHT OF A THOUSAND JUDYS, I am curious if you know her daughter, Liza Minnelli?
PC: Is it true you've been riding a motorcycle to rehearsals?
PC: But you made a mark anyway!
CC: Yeah, but, I mean, in FALSETTOS, there's such tragedy and such a compelling story that feels so relatable because he makes it so human - and it has such humor.
CC: So, I think that, from what I understand, Bill started putting the songs for ELEGIES together after 9/11 - he felt like something had to be written about all of this. Not all of ELEGIES was written for the piece since some of the songs were older songs, but some were new - like "Boom Boom", which you just mentioned. The section in the show about his mom was new, too - where Betty Buckley played his mom and it was about saying goodbye to the old neighborhood and everything. You see, for most of that show we were all onstage together, so I remember just watching Betty Buckley sing that song and just being amazed by her performance - and, since we are talking about her, in a way she reminds me of Judy Garland; very vulnerable, very fragile kind of strength. There is something about her that is both incredibly strong and powerful and incredibly vulnerable at the same time, do you know what I mean? PC: Indeed. Was it just exhilarating to perform that show when you did? PC: A rare gift. PC: Was your SMASH shoot short? PC: Did you have any significant scenes that were cut from what you remember? PC: Is Mrs. Lovett in SWEENEY TODD a role you would consider someday? PC: Are any future productions of SCANDALOUS planned at this point that you know of coming up anytime soon? PC: I would kill to have seen that! Did you enjoy singing that score or was it tough? PC: What a great memory. PC: Sir Tim Rice told me a while ago that he has a final version of the show ready to go, so perhaps we may see it after all someday. PC: No big reception, right?! CC: Oh, that was just one of those typical type of things - you know, you go in, you audition and you see if they like you. I remember that I think I was doing another show somewhere else at the time and coming to Manhattan specifically to audition for HELLO AGAIN. I really wanted to work at Lincoln Center - that always seemed like it would be a very prestigious place to work to me. I didn't know Michael John [LaChiusa] or Graciela [Daniele] at the time. I remember that when I got back to wherever I was that I came from to audition in New York that I got the call I got the job and I didn't know anything about the piece at all - I didn't know LA RONDE; I didn't know anything about it! So, it was all a bit of a surprise to me to get that part to be completely honest. [Laughs.] PC: How do you view audiences and theatre in general being in something like MAMMA MIA! now versus touring twenty years ago? What has changed most of all? What is the GLEE effect? PC: You should be! It was a once-in-a-lifetime show, right? PC: Nerve-wracking to say the least! PC: Speaking of carrying a show on your shoulders: LESTAT. Is it true there is an official cast recording in the vaults somewhere? PC: Is it an impossible situation to be nominated for a Tony after a show has already closed? You have achieved that three times - obviously attesting to how memorable your performances are, natch. PC: How so? PC: Looking back and in speaking of film, was CITY OF ANGELS your Broadway debut? PC: JOHN & JEN came right after CHESS, then, correct? PC: I can't imagine many other people performing your ADDAMS FAMILY show-stopper the way you did - in workshop, on Broadway or anywhere. PC: Were you open to doing the rewritten new tour or no tours for you? PC: Your recent SISTER ACT co-star Patina - and what a newly-minted Tony talent she is!
CC: Well, it was very, very emotional. I've talked about this in interviews before, but the one song I sang, "Anytime", was written for Bill's friend who passed away and left small children. And, you know, performing that song every night was the hardest thing I have ever done onstage - especially because I have children and I can't even imagine what it would be like not being able to be there for them; and, the idea of a parent dying has always been so devastating to me in general. So, every night when I would sing that song I would have to fight not to get choked up - because it was a tough song and I definitely couldn't sing it if I was crying. It was really, really - honestly - the hardest thing I have ever done onstage. I remember I would just run offstage and cry after that every night for the next three songs or so. [Laughs.]
PC: What a vivid memory.
CC: Yeah, I remember I would get through it, the song would end and I would be offstage crying already. Betty Buckley used to be standing right there in the wings when I would do that and she'd comfort me and say, "That's OK! That's good! It's a good thing!" [Laughs.]
PC: She can plumb the depths of emotion in song like few others.
CC: She can sing and cry at the same time, too! That's something I have never been able to do. She tried to talk to me about it one day and I said, "I don't know, Betty - there's something about me that my throat closes up whenever I am about to cry," but, Betty's got that amazing ability to just be able to let herself feel all of that stuff and experience the emotion of it all and actually cry, but still get all of the notes!
CC: It's just amazing.
PC: Those songs are all packed with such subtle brilliance, I think.
CC: Oh, they are - Bill's lyrics are just so, so good.
PC: What do you remember discussing with him about "Boom Boom" in particular? Wasn't it written just after 9/11?
CC: I think you're right - I think he did. I think he wrote it right after 9/11 and ELEGIES was the first time it was done after that. I know that for me it was the first time I had heard it when we did ELEGIES, at least - I think that was the premiere of it. I can't imagine it was performed before we did it at Lincoln Center in that show.
PC: Was "Anytime" the emotional high-point in ELEGIES more than even that for you?
CC: Oh, it was so powerful - I was onstage with one of the other actors who was singing "Goodbye"; it was two perspectives [in "Boom Boom"]. As you know, in the song, he was calling me from the Twin Towers as they were falling and my character was at home listening to the message on the answering machine. [Pause. Sighs.] It was pretty devastating.
PC: Did any 9/11 survivors come to see the show at the time that you were aware of or remember?
CC: Actually, I didn't talk to any people who had lost family members there - I think maybe it was too soon. I had a friend tell me that he felt like "Anytime" made him remember his mom who he had lost many years before and gave him some peace that she is there, everywhere, in little things and in ways you wouldn't expect - that's one thing someone said to me about the show. I think it's true - and I hope it is. I think that's why he wrote the song - so people would remember to be reminded about those things.
PC: And ELEGIES was your first and only show with Christian Borle prior to SMASH, yes?
CC: Yes, it was! And, on SMASH, we didn't get to work together - and, I didn't get to work with Jeremy Jordan, either! Jeremy worked on TUCK EVERLASTING with me - the show we are going to be doing next year. Of course, Wesley Taylor and Krysta Rodriguez and I did THE ADDAMS FAMILY together - so, I got to sort of see all of these people around the set, but we never got to really work together on the show, unfortunately.
CC: Yeah, it was just a few days - I had a great time and I wish the show had gone on longer, though. I think that it gave a lot of New York actors some great opportunities. I was mostly disappointed that I didn't get to sing on the show, though!
PC: What a wasted opportunity!
CC: Yeah! Whenever I would say to people, "Oh, I'm going to be on SMASH," they would always say, "So, what are you gonna sing?!" [Laughs.]
PC: You, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Alison Fraser, Jesse L. Martin - none of you sang on SMASH.
CC: What a shame. What a shame.
PC: Were you asked back for any of the final shows - particularly considering you played deceased Kyle's mom?
CC: Well, they were going to have me and the guy who played Kyle's father back on for the memorial service - the funeral - but then we were told that the they didn't have the budget for that anymore since the show was being cancelled, so of course I was disappointed that I didn't get to come back.
CC: No, I don't think so - I don't think there was anything on the page that didn't make the episode as far as my scenes went. It was all there, more or less.
PC: Would you be open to more TV roles in the future?
CC: Oh, yeah - I really enjoyed doing SMASH and I'd love to do more TV in the future. Definitely. You know, theatre is where my heart is - it's my first love - but I think it would be fun to do some more TV. I think it would be fun to do a straight play, too - you know, I just always want to be able to come back and do musicals now and then.
PC: In recounting some of your finest live performances to date, mention must be made of your "There Won't Be Trumpets" at WALL TO WALL SONDHEIM - which is definitive as far as I am concerned. Could you tell me about your work with Sondheim over the years?
CC: Aww, thank you - that is so nice of you to say that. [Pause.] Well, I haven't done a show of his even though I really want to - I think I may have missed my chance, though, at this point. I did one reading of WISE GUYS - and I liked it doing it but I didn't end up getting asked to move on with it. He's sort of an odd duck, isn't he - but so, so brilliant, as you know. And, I am sorry that we've never had a chance to do a full show together before or since that. I am certainly a great fan!
CC: Oh, yeah! Definitely! That would be great. I'd love that.
PC: What about an Andrew Lloyd Webber show in the future?
CC: Well, besides EVITA, I really don't think he writes the right kind of roles for my voice so much - it's funny, because certain composers write for certain voices, it seems. In my case, Bill Finn's music works really well for my voice, I've found. I love a lot of his music, though, so I'd definitely be open to doing something of his.
PC: And, of course, in talking of tailor-made roles: the cast recording of SCANDALOUS is a great representation of the show - it has a really wonderful sound to it, I think.
CC: Oh, thank you for saying that - yeah, the producer was David Lai and I think he did a really nice job on it. We recorded it at the end of January - the show closed in December and they were trying to raise the money to do the recording and it took them a little while to do that; about six weeks. I am so glad that we have it!
PC: Have you heard the full finished product now that it is out?
CC: Well, I have to say that it isn't easy for me to listen to myself... [Laughs.]
PC: Oh, so you're one of those!
CC: I am! I am. You caught me! I have listened to most of it - but it's so hard for me to listen to myself because I just pick it all apart. I think it is really well-produced and it's a nice thing to have as a memory - and, also, hopefully, it will help to inspire and help people with future versions of the show down the line, too.
CC: Well, I think that we may end up doing a concert version of it somewhere someday. Actually, Kathie Lee has a big scheme she is cooking up to do it at Aimee Semple McPherson's actual temple - where she preached; of course, that's where her legacy is and where it still exists, as a church out there. So, that would be cool to do it there, I think - especially on her stage.
PC: Did Kathie Lee ever consider sharing the role with you onstage somehow or playing the lead in SCANDALOUS herself, as far as you know?
CC: I think she always wanted to just write - that was her goal. I think I remember hearing her say in interviews that and I remember people asking her when I was in interviews with her if she wrote the piece to star in herself and whether it was a vehicle she had written for herself and she always said, "No, I always wanted to write lyrics for a musical and do theatre and I was always fascinated by this woman's story and it seemed to be a perfect fit for a musical. I never intended to perform in it." And, I believe her. I mean, she is really, really passionate about the writing and creating of shows and I hope that she will do it again. I know that she has really been burnt by this experience, though, so I hope it doesn't discourage her too much.
PC: Prior to SCANDALOUS, was your most gigantic, all-consuming role that unique early '90s tour of CHESS?
CC: Oh, my gosh! [Laughs.] I can't believe you know that version. Yeah, that was a big role - definitely one of my biggest before SCANDALOUS, I'd say. That would be right up there, for sure. But, before that, I did do a production of EVITA at a dinner theater - so, that's pretty big, too!
CC: Oh, I loved it! I loved it. I loved it. You know, being so young then, and now, looking back, I wish that I would have been the right age when they were doing the productions on Broadway - I was too young when they did it originally and I was too old when they just did the last revival a few years ago. It's a shame because I love that role and I love that show so much - it's funny we're talking about the two together because, in many ways, the story of SCANDALOUS sort of reminded me of EVITA...
PC: An all-too apt comparison to make, no doubt.
CC: You know, the rags to riches and back to rags - at least emotionally - and the whole way the stories sort of play out in the end. But, yeah, talking about it now, CHESS really was one of the great roles for me in my career - it was a great experience for me.
PC: Tell me about that tour - it was a very anomalous version of the piece, as you well know.
CC: You're right - it was. Stephen Bogardus and John Herrera were so great and Des McAnuff was the director - it was a great production. It was so expensive, though, that my main memories of that tour is dropping set pieces in every city we played. [Laughs.]
PC: That's hilarious.
CC: You see, it started out with this enormous production - I think we started out with eighteen trucks or something; huge - and every city we went to we would cut set pieces.
PC: The mega-musical era in full swing, clearly.
CC: Right! So, the stage manager would get on the horn at half-hour in every new city and say, you know, "From this week on there will no longer be a bridge over the river Kwai," and we would all be backstage like, "What?! There's no bridge anymore?! Aww!" [Laughs.]
CC: Every city, we were all waiting to see what the next set piece would be to be cut. [Laughs.] It was a great experience, though.
PC: That version of the show is completely alone in its structure, yet it most closely resembles the West End one. Do you remember the creators tinkering with it in rehearsals?
CC: Right. It was. You know, I never saw the London version myself - the one Michael Bennett was involved with originally - but I think that the tour that we did was a little bit closer to that then it was the Broadway version - it was sort of a mish-mosh of everything that Des decided was good. I don't know for sure how it all came together, though - I wasn't involved with any of the changes that they made or anything; I was just a... pawn. [Laughs.]
PC: No, no - you were the queen of that production, Carolee!
CC: Ha! The white queen! Yes! [Laughs.] That's funny.
PC: You were so fierce in that show. How old were you at the time?
CC: It was like 1991, right? So, I was 29. 29 - wow.
PC: Would you ever sing the role again, just for fun?
CC: Oh, yeah - it's too bad I'm too old to play it onstage unless they completely rewrote the story. I love that score. In fact, when I was doing MAMMA MIA! - which I did for many years - I remember having a conversation with Bjorn [Ulvaeus] about it and I asked him, you know, "When are you going to do a revival of CHESS?" and, he said, "Oh, people ask me that all the time! Everybody wants to us to do a revival of CHESS. But, I am not going to do it until the book is right." He said that he felt that the show was never really all it could be. But, it's a tough book - it's about the Cold War and people don't really understand what it felt like at the time and how strong the tension really was between the US and Russia and what the chess match in the show really represents. So, I think that now you either have to do it kind of as a period piece and you have to kind of recreate that very specific mood and tone and feeling or you have to completely change the story. And, I think Bjorn feels like he doesn't know what to do with it now - it's sort of neither here nor there for him, as far as I know.
CC: Oh, I just love his lyrics so much! He's so talented - I think he is so, so brilliant. He deserves more respect.
PC: The added elements by Richard Nelson don't really work, so it is for the best to revert to earlier incarnations of CHESS.
CC: Yeah, in the touring version we did the father storyline was cut completely - we didn't have any of that in our production at all, I don't think, which was a big part of the Broadway rewrite.
PC: Did you and Bjorn ever discuss KRISTINA? That has a phenomenal central role in it you could certainly conquer, as well.
CC: No - but, I do remember they were doing readings of it while I was in MAMMA MIA! and, I didn't know anything about it, so I didn't even ask. It's about Swedish folk tales or something, right? I remember I sort of asked around about it and I was told that there were only two female roles in it and I was too old for one and too young for the other. But, I don't know for sure - to be honest, I don't know if I would be right for it.
PC: Does Bjorn check in on his shows often in your experience - with CHESS and MAMMA MIA!?
CC: Oh, well, I remember him coming twice to see me in MAMMA MIA! - and he came once to see CHESS from what I remember, too. You know, I think he comes and sees all the cast replacements [in MAMMA MIA!] and to make sure the show is exactly how he wants it to sound and everything. I remember being so insecure after the first time he visited because he's sort of reserved and quiet and very Swedish about things - I remember saying to the stage manager after he left, "He didn't say anything! No 'Nice job!' or 'Good Show!' or anything!" And, she said, "Oh, that's just how they are - the Swedish aren't very effusive." [Laughs.]
CC: Definitely not. So, I just sort of nodded and said hello the first time. It actually made me really nervous! But, I guess they were pretty happy with me since they let me stay for four years. [Laughs.]
PC: Obviously. Was Donna an easy sing for you more or less or did you need to warm-up to nail "The Winner Takes It All"?
CC: Well, for that particular show, I didn't really warm up much at all. I've had different shows that required different things - like, for instance, when I did SCANDALOUS, in the very first number I am blasting right out of the gate so I had to be sure that I was always ready for that. But, with MAMMA MIA!, the first song that my character sang was "Money, Money, Money", which is kind of low, so I would be using my bottom notes mostly in that. Then, by the time I got to the second act for "The Winner Takes It All", I had already warmed up by singing all of the first act - with "Mamma Mia", "Super Trouper" and all of that. So, it was a pretty easy show for me vocally. You know, people say to me, "How can you sing all of that stuff every performance and say it's easy?" But, I don't know - I guess it just fit my voice better than some other shows have.
PC: Continuing on the theme of very early roles, how did you become involved with the original production of HELLO AGAIN?
PC: It was an amazing collective of talent.
CC: Oh, my God - what a cast! When I look back at that cast, every single person in that group was so good and so right for their roles. I think that it was amazing - it was an amazing production. Graciela is one of my favorite directors that I have ever been lucky enough to work with - and, Michael John is so brilliantly talented.
PC: You can say that again.
CC: It's a shame that we just haven't gotten to work together since - we just saw each other recently, actually, at one of these awards things, and he said to me, "Oh, my God! I need to write you a show!" and I said, "Oh, my God! Please do write me a show! I need a job! Hurry up!" [Big Laugh.]
PC: So many possibilities! That would be an amazing fit. You would be fantastic in a newer piece of his recently completed, actually - LOS OSTROS.
CC: That's another thing for me to YouTube now! I'd love to work with Michael John on something again.
CC: It's interesting - I think that there is a lot more attention on theatre and it has become more mainstream in a lot of ways than it used to be; especially because of shows like GLEE and SMASH. But, at the same time, I feel like it is getting a little bit white-washed - you know, the shows that get produced on Broadway don't really have as much substance as they used to, I don't think. It might just be the economy or whatever, but it seems like audiences only want light, fluffy entertainment and they don't want serious, dark stories anymore - they don't want to think and they don't want to be challenged, ever. And, so, if that's the case, it's kind of sad to me - I want there to be FALSETTOS and HELLO AGAIN there with KINKY BOOTS and MATILDA, you know? It seems like the only shows that survive now are the big, splashy, fun, escapist shows and I am not sure if that is a good thing.
PC: We will certainly find out.
CC: But, you know, it all goes in waves. It seems to me that when people are a little bit more secure in their economic life that they are more willing to allow their entertainment to be more full - and, right now, people don't want to be depressed for the hundred dollars they spend to see theatre, if they can afford it.
PC: Would PARADE be produced on Broadway today, do you think?
CC: [Sighs.] Listen, I am still getting over PARADE, Pat! [Laughs.]
CC: It was - it was. You know, I remember driving to work the last week of that run after we knew that it was all over and I just sobbed - I remember sitting there just sobbing in my car thinking, "I can't believe that I've only got six more chances to do this show," or five more chances or four more chances... [Pause. Sighs.] Jason Robert Brown's score was so amazing and Alfred Uhry's book was so, so beautiful. I am still shocked - shocked - that that show couldn't find an audience. But, that's what I'm talking about it - that's what we're talking about; there isn't room for a show like that today, I guess. There just isn't...
PC: What a shame.
CC: I don't know why that is, either - I am just hoping that it will change before I am too old to do shows anymore! [Laughs.]
PC: It's endemic, it appears.
CC: I love that kind of work - I love dark, challenging, emotional writing so much. It's such a shame they can't have that kind of musical on Broadway anymore. It really is.
PC: How did Hal Prince prepare the company for presenting such an ultimately tragic story - lynching and all?
CC: Yeah, it was definitely challenging for the audience. I remember doing the very first reading of it, down in Philadelphia - my daughter was like six months old at the time and it was the first time I ever left her. I remember being like, "Oh, I have this new baby at home and I am leaving to go do this reading of this musical no one has even heard before - oh, my God!"
CC: But, it was so special - it just grabbed me from day one. I remember that everyone else at the reading felt like that, too. I was like, "Who is this kid?" Jason was only in his early 20s at the time - we were all so blown away by him. Then, to get to work with Hal [Prince] on the show was just amazing - he is such a visionary. The role was so great, too - and, the fact that it was a true story, as well, was so amazing and added so much to it all. Actually, it was the first role that I ever really got to create from the ground up like that and see it through to its Broadway run. So, I was absolutely devastated when it ended - devastated. But, all things must...
PC: "All The Wasted Time" is one of the great theatre moments of the 1990s, in any event.
CC: Aww, that's nice to hear! Oh, God, I loved playing those scenes with Brent [Carver] - it was just such good material. And, when you have good material like that you just don't have to work as hard - you know, I've done so many shows where I feel like I have to fill in the blanks for the writing and sort of overcome what's missing in the script or in the writing for the song or the character in the moment or whatever. So, with that particular show - with PARADE - I felt like it just carried me along and allowed me to sort of be there and exist and I didn't have to work hard at all. It was such a joy to do. I loved that show.
CC: Yes, that's true - there is. We recorded a cast album for LESTAT. Yes, it's in Elton [John]'s vaults somewhere, I guess - I hope that someday they release it. He didn't want to release it, I don't think - and it's not because he didn't like the way the recording came out, either. I think that he - and this is totally rumor, so I have no idea how true it is - was very disappointed in the way that the show was received and he kind of felt angry about the way that it ended and the way that it all was handled, so he sort of felt like, "Eh, I'm not going to release this album right now."
PC: We can hope it will leak in the future, though.
CC: We can. And, honestly, you know, I think that the album would show people that there really is some good stuff there - I mean, every show has problems and I don't know whether the show worked or didn't work but I really enjoyed doing it. And, those Anne Rice books are just so great - it just seemed like a good idea at the time to translate them into a musical.
PC: "The Crimson Kiss" was the best moment of the score - you sang it so sublimely. Please include it on your solo album someday when you finally do one!
CC: Oh, yeah - "The Crimson Kiss" is one I would certainly ask Elton John and see if I could record; there hasn't been a recording of it as far as I know, so it would be nice to get that down and have it for posterity.
PC: Were you an Elton John fan prior to participating in LESTAT?
CC: Oh, I love him - I think he is incredibly, incredibly talented. Unfortunately, he wasn't around much during the rehearsal process - he was on tour with his own show and he would do rewrites and send them in to the creative team, I think. He only came around like three times that year we were working on the show, so I never really got to feel like I was working with him very much on the show, even though he wrote the score. I hope he was happy with what I did in it, though!
CC: Oh, I was thrilled to be nominated each and every time! But, yes, as you say, it is sort of against the odds - I guess if a show opens early in the season then you are already at a disadvantage because then a lot of Tony Voters won't even come in to see the shows then since they wait until the Spring. So, if you are lucky enough to still be running in April after opening in the Fall or Winter, then they will come see it, but, if you close in December like we did with SCANDALOUS, most of them hadn't had the chance to see the show at all. Rob McClure, who did CHAPLIN this season, and I had a little chat at the Tonys about how we were bonded somehow - doing these monstrous roles in these two shows that were not very well-received or successful. So, we both felt honored to be remembered in that way. It was a really nice topper to the whole experience for me - I had worked on that show for seven years, on and off...
PC: That's a lot of life to give to one role in one show.
CC: Between workshops and readings and out-of-town, yeah - seven years.
PC: The show changed drastically over that time - was it a thrilling journey to play that character for all that time in the different guises of the show? Did you feel compelled in some way to see the show through to Broadway, no matter what?
CC: You know, for me, just to be able to play this real woman - this incredible, over-the-top person - in any capacity was just fantastic. The singing was the most challenging I have done in any show - I mean, I feel like I have had some challenging roles, but singing SCANDALOUS was a real marathon. And, it got harder and harder as it went on!
CC: Well, they decided that they wanted me onstage for the whole night - in the beginning, there were originally scenes where I wasn't involved, so I could get a little rest or grab a drink of water or whatever, but, by the end of the Broadway run I barely left the stage! [Laughs.]
PC: How did you handle the added responsibilities?
CC: I'll tell you, it was a work-out, man! It was tough. I feel like it was the role of a lifetime, though, and I didn't know and I don't know if a role like that will ever come along again, so I didn't want to miss my chance to do it - wherever and whenever it was. I'm so happy I did it. And, if they do it again, I will do it again - if there is a concert or performance of it anywhere and they want me to do it I will be there doing it. I love playing her and I love playing her in that show.
PC: So, what are your thoughts on the current trend of movie theater showings of live shows - musicals, plays, opera, ballet? SCANDALOUS could eventually find an audience that way.
CC: Oh, I think it's great - you know, not everyone can get to New York and not everyone can afford a Broadway ticket. Even if you live in the middle of the country, maybe you aren't able to afford the $90 ticket for the tour of THE BOOK OF MORMON or whatever; it's expensive. So, to make something like that accessible to everyone for $25 or whatever? I think that's great - that's so great. And, I don't think that it is going to take away from audiences for live shows, either - I think people will always want to see live theatre. I think that there is something about live theatre that you simply can't get from a filmed performance or a cast recording - there's something about being in the same room with the people making the art come alive that is part of what makes it so special. So, I don't think that part of it will ever die out, even if they show them in movie theaters or film more productions in the future.
CC: [Laughs.] Yes - yes, it was.
PC: Who did you play? You were an understudy first, yes?
CC: Yes, first I was an understudy. You know the song "Broadway Baby" when it says, [Sings.] "Heck, I'd even play the maid / To be in a show?"
PC: Of course!
CC: Yeah, OK - well, in CITY OF ANGELS, I played the maid! I had one line. [Laughs.]
PC: It still counts!
CC: Yep - I had one whole line. Basically, though, I was the understudy for Dee Hoty and Kay McClelland.
PC: Yet you seem most appropriate for Oolie out of all the characters, at least to me!
CC: Yes, well, I actually went back to the show and played Oolie later on, but I started out covering for Dee and Kay. I don't know if I've ever even talked about being in that show before.
PC: Did you get to run elbows at all with Cy Coleman on that? What a remarkable score!
CC: Oh, he was great - really great. I feel very fortunate to have been able to get to work with him - he just had such a great spirit. He was so jovial and happy all the time - a really buoyant guy. He was around a lot for that production, but, because I was in the chorus mostly I didn't get to work with him a lot directly. I remember watching Michael Blakemore direct it and just being awed by how fantastic he was. But, since I only had one line, I didn't get to do very much on that show in rehearsal or anything, so I was mostly spying on other people's rehearsals, as the understudy. It's funny that we were talking about the CHESS tour of all things because I left CITY OF ANGELS to do the CHESS tour...
PC: How coincidental!
CC: Yeah, I remember I gave my notice and people at the time said to me stuff like, you know, "You got a hit Broadway show and you are leaving it to do some tour?!" and I told them that I thought doing CHESS was a great opportunity and so I left doing CITY OF ANGELS on Broadway and hit the road. I'm glad I did.
CC: I think, so, yes. Shortly after, from what I remember.
PC: You did LES MISERABLES before that, though, yes?
CC: Yes. I was in the first national tour of LES MISERABLES. I was just a girl in the chorus in that - and I understudied Fantine and Cosette.
PC: Did you ever go on as either?
CC: Yes, I did go on, but it wasn't too often. That was actually the reason I left, after a year - they didn't put me on so much; they put the other understudy on more.
PC: Was Anne Hathaway's mother, Kathleen McCauly Hathaway, in the tour at that point?
CC: No, I don't think so. She wasn't when I was there. I know she did the tour, but I think she came in after I left.
PC: Did you see the LES MISERABLES movie? What did you think of it?
CC: I did. [Pause.] I guess I was disappointed - it was beautiful to look at, but I felt like it didn't have the emotional impact on me that the show had. Before I did the show on tour, I saw it on Broadway and I was blown away by it - I was sobbing through the whole second act and I just loved the show so much. I didn't feel the same way about the movie and I'm not sure why, but it didn't really touch me in the same way.
PC: I am curious to know, have there been any shows you did in workshop at any point that have not yet been produced that you thought showed exceptional promise?
CC: Well, to be honest, more often you do something that is not so great and it ends up getting produced and then you say, "Really?! This one?!" [Laughs.]
PC: Not naming any names!
CC: Yeah! "This is the one people are going to pay a hundred and whatever dollars for? Really?!" [Laughs.]
CC: Aww, thank you for saying that. That was so much fun to do that.
PC: Did you get involved with THE ADDAMS FAMILY because of your connection to Andrew Lippa from JOHN & JEN way back when?
CC: I'm not sure - I don't know if it had anything to do with me doing the role, actually. Ultimately, it was the director's choice anyway. After JOHN & JEN and up until ADDAMS, Andrew and I hadn't done anything else, so I don't know if he actually liked me or not! [Laughs.] But, seriously, I think Andrew is so talented and I am glad I got to be involved with that show. I hope I get to work with him again soon.
CC: Well, I have kids and it isn't easy for me to go out of town for more than a couple of weeks because I just don't want to be away from my kids for that long - so I guess no. Someday when they are off on their own I will be able to do more out of town stuff, but, until then, I am going to mostly do stuff at home.
PC: So, what's next for you after NIGHT OF A THOUSAND JUDYS? What can you tell me about TUCK EVERLASTING?
CC: Well, TUCK EVERLASTING was supposed to be happening in the Fall and we were supposed to be doing that out of town right now, actually, but it has been postponed, so I am disappointed about that - I have sort of devoted my whole current time-slot to that. It will probably happen next year now, though, I guess. It's a great little part in the show and we have a great cast, so I hope we end up doing it next year. Right now, though, I am basically looking for the next job until then - the actor's life! I feel very lucky to have worked as much as I have - this is the first chunk of time I am not working in eight years, so I am very, very fortunate and I know it.
PC: And what an amazing actress - and performer - you are. Plus, you looked smashing on the Tony Awards last week! Was that a blast?
CC: [Laughs.] Oh, yeah - that was a lot of fun! I am so glad I got to go - my daughter was my date and we had a really good time. It was my third time going and each time it has been for a show that has already closed, as you know, so, I hope someday my problem is like the one Patina had where you have to do a matinee and then perform on the Tonys and then change and go back to your seat and everything - I've never gotten to do that, so I'd love to. [Laughs.]
CC: She really is - Patina is such a talented lady and I was so happy to see her win. I had a lot of fun doing SISTER ACT, too.
PC: Quite a jump in one year from playing a Catholic Mother Superior in SISTER ACT to doing SCANDALOUS!
CC: You're right about that - a Catholic to a Pentecostal; I mean, what's with me and religious women? [Laughs.] You know, honestly, though, I was raised Roman Catholic, so I could relate to a lot of the stuff in SISTER ACT, but I didn't know a lot about Pentecostalism before SCANDALOUS - but, I certainly learned a lot about it from playing Aimee for all of those years! But, yeah - I think both of those roles were a lot of fun and really good for me in their own ways. So, I just hope something as good comes up for me next.
PC: Your own one-woman-musical: THE YEAR OF CHRISTIAN THINKING, after Joan Didion!
CC: [Laughs.] Right?! THE YEAR OF GODLY THINKING! Ha! I love it.
PC: Thank you so much for this today, Carolee. This was truly divine - as are you.
CC: Oh, you really, really know your stuff, Pat - and it was so much fun to get to talk to you today. Thank you so much. Bye bye.
PC: Indeed. Was it just exhilarating to perform that show when you did?
PC: A rare gift.
PC: Was your SMASH shoot short?
PC: Did you have any significant scenes that were cut from what you remember?
PC: Is Mrs. Lovett in SWEENEY TODD a role you would consider someday?
PC: Are any future productions of SCANDALOUS planned at this point that you know of coming up anytime soon?
PC: I would kill to have seen that! Did you enjoy singing that score or was it tough?
PC: What a great memory.
PC: Sir Tim Rice told me a while ago that he has a final version of the show ready to go, so perhaps we may see it after all someday.
PC: No big reception, right?!
CC: Oh, that was just one of those typical type of things - you know, you go in, you audition and you see if they like you. I remember that I think I was doing another show somewhere else at the time and coming to Manhattan specifically to audition for HELLO AGAIN. I really wanted to work at Lincoln Center - that always seemed like it would be a very prestigious place to work to me. I didn't know Michael John [LaChiusa] or Graciela [Daniele] at the time. I remember that when I got back to wherever I was that I came from to audition in New York that I got the call I got the job and I didn't know anything about the piece at all - I didn't know LA RONDE; I didn't know anything about it! So, it was all a bit of a surprise to me to get that part to be completely honest. [Laughs.]
PC: How do you view audiences and theatre in general being in something like MAMMA MIA! now versus touring twenty years ago? What has changed most of all? What is the GLEE effect?
PC: You should be! It was a once-in-a-lifetime show, right?
PC: Nerve-wracking to say the least!
PC: Speaking of carrying a show on your shoulders: LESTAT. Is it true there is an official cast recording in the vaults somewhere?
PC: Is it an impossible situation to be nominated for a Tony after a show has already closed? You have achieved that three times - obviously attesting to how memorable your performances are, natch.
PC: How so?
PC: Looking back and in speaking of film, was CITY OF ANGELS your Broadway debut?
PC: JOHN & JEN came right after CHESS, then, correct?
PC: I can't imagine many other people performing your ADDAMS FAMILY show-stopper the way you did - in workshop, on Broadway or anywhere.
PC: Were you open to doing the rewritten new tour or no tours for you?
PC: Your recent SISTER ACT co-star Patina - and what a newly-minted Tony talent she is!
Photo Credit: Walter McBride, etc.