InDepth InterView: Victoria Clark Talks THE SNOW GEESE, CINDERELLA, TITANIC Concert, Sondheim & More
Today we are talking to a top-tier Tony Award-winning talent known for an incredibly accomplished resume ranging from noted performances in original musicals to reinvented revival roles and far beyond - the dignified and dynamic Victoria Clark. Discussing many of her most celebrated dramatic, comedic and musical turns to date, Clark recalls an astounding life in the theatre thus far - ranging from her Broadway debut in the unforgettable original production of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's iconic SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE to the hit revivals of GUYS & DOLLS and HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING to originating memorable parts in the Broadway productions of TITANIC, THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA, SISTER ACT and CINDERELLA, to name just a few of the highlights so far. On the latter note, Clark outlines her experiences in her most recent Broadway musical foray, that of the beloved Fairy Godmother in Rodgers & Hammerstein's classic CINDERELLA, as well as illuminates her acclaimed run in the Los Angeles transfer of the most Broadway recent revival of FOLLIES and her Sondheim work in general (including SWEENEY TODD, too). Most importantly, Clark sheds some light on her compelling character in the new drama THE SNOW GEESE and relates candid stories of sharing the stage with co-stars and fellow vets Danny Burstein and Mary-Louise Parker, among others. Plus, Clark looks ahead to the upcoming TITANIC anniversary concert and imparts her excitement for the project. Additionally, Clark comments on some of her most memorable film roles while also sharing first news of future plans - which include directing herself - and muses on some potential roles she would enjoy bringing to the stage in the future, near and far; HELLO, DOLLY! or MAME, maybe? All of that and much, much more in this career-spanning conversation with one of Broadway's best 21st century grande dames!
More information on Victoria Clark is available at her official site here.
PC: Is it true that your Broadway debut was in the original production of SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE?
VC: Well, I wasn't in the original cast, but, yeah, I was an understudy in the original production - that's true.
PC: Was it incredible to have your first major production be one as important and amazing as that?
VC: Yes, it was - but, you have to remember, it was only my second Equity job! You see, I came to New York to direct - to go to the NYU musical theatre program. While that is a famous program now, back in the day nobody really knew what it was. So, the second the year, they said, "Oh, we've got these great writers and we want to pair them with directors now," and I had just graduated from Yale and I had directed just a little bit there but thought that that was what I wanted to do. So, I applied for the NYU musical theatre program and I got in.
PC: What was it like initially for you?
VC: Well, it was just ridiculous the talented people there - it was George Wolfe, Winnie Holzman, Jeff London, Robert Friedman and Steve Lutvak.
VC: I know! Those guys - Robert and Steve; who wrote A GENTLEMAN'S GUIDE TO LOVE & MURDER this year - they were my collaborators, all those years ago!
PC: No way!
VC: I know! I know. So, what happened was that Ira Weitzman, who was the casting director for SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE, was also the casting associate for the NYU musical theatre program and what he would do is come down and watch the writers present all their material. They would never want to present their own stuff, so they would ask me to do their material a lot - Miss Green, who had just moved to town - because a lot of them didn't like performing their own material. So, Ira saw me do like 450 parts because every week I would be playing somebody different!
PC: You got to show off your range!
VC: I really did! So, the writers didn't want to work with me as a director, really, because they had no idea who I was, but they certainly seemed to enjoy me doing the parts in their shows... [Big Laugh.]
PC: Talk about falling into the acting profession!
VC: I know! See how ironic that was? I had no intention to be an actor, but I knew I needed to do whatever I needed to do to get directing work, so they wanted me to sing and they wanted me to act? That's fine. I'll do that. And, so, Ira saw me do that and he said to me one day, "You're not a director - I mean, you might be one one day; but, what you really are is an actor." So, he set me up for an audition - and, I got it.
PC: The rest is history. So, is that how you became involved behind the scenes with doing dramaturgy work for SISTER ACT?
VC: Well, I wasn't really a dramaturg on that - what happened was that Jerry [Zaks] saw the production in London and they hired Jerry to come in and kind of fix it up and work on it. So, Jerry and I are old friends because I was in the revival of GUYS & DOLLS that he directed and he wanted me to do the Mother Superior role in the show. When he asked me, I said that if I agreed to do it we would need to work on the show a little bit - so, I wasn't really the dramaturg; Jerry would say to me, "Oh, what do you think about this?" and we worked like that. He was so receptive - Douglas [Carter Beane], too. Douglas is such an angel - and, of course, now I've gotten the chance to work with him on CINDERELLA, too. But, to clarify, no, I was not the dramaturg - close!
PC: You had a part in shaping the show, though.
VC: Yes. They were so generous in letting me have a part in making that role even more wonderful - they were very gracious to me.
PC: It's such a fun score - though your material is on the drier side, unfortunately.
VC: Yeah - the Mother Superior isn't a laugh riot! She's not one of the characters who gets to have a lot of fun.
PC: You had previously sung Alan Menken's music when appearing as a voice in THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME film, correct?
VC: Yes, that's true - just in the chorus, though; the part where they sing, [Sings.] "God bless the children...".
PC: HUNCHBACK is finally scheduled for a US workshop next year, it was just announced.
VC: How great! I knew they were thinking about that. Actually, speaking of Alan, I sang on BEAUTY & THE BEAST, too - and ALADDIN.
PC: What do you sing in ALADDIN?
VC: You know in "One Step Ahead" when all the crazy people stick their heads out of the windows and scream at Aladdin? You know, [Sings.] "One step ahead of the bread-line?" I'm one of the ones who goes [Shouts.] "Rah, rah." [Laughs.]
PC: How fascinating! Those credits aren't even listed on your resume, I don't believe - ANASTASIA is.
VC: It's fun to do those things - I'm glad I did them. You know, I feel like I have a pretty recognizable voice because people come up to me all the time when they hear me talking and say, "I didn't recognize you right away, but then I heard your voice."
PC: You have such a recognizable voice - have you done voiceover work in the past, as well?
VC: As a matter of fact I have. One of the first voiceover jobs I did was for this camera shop that hardly even exists anymore, somewhere in the 80s. It was, like, "I've done this, I've done that, I've done this - who am I? I'm a camera!" So, one of the lines was "I've been dancing in Bali," and they said, "Just do it wild a few times and then we'll edit together later," and I didn't know that wild meant free, I thought it meant crazy, so, every time I'd be, you know, [Shouts.] "I've been dancing in Bali!" [Laughs.]
PC: That's hilarious.
VC: Yeah, it was pretty funny. Then, after that, I've done a lot of character-y things over the years - a lady who got her purse stolen and things like that. I do have a voiceover agent who would love it if I went out more, though, I think.
PC: Speaking of your non-theatre work, would you be open to doing more movies and TV in the future? You recently did MAIN STREET and some other film projects.
VC: Yeah, I would. I did this movie called HARVEST that I really love, too - this indie that has been on Showtime a couple of times now. The director, Marc Meyers, is so talented and so great and he would do a lot of improv with us. Jack Carpenter played my son and Barbara Barrie was in it and Robert Loggia - it was a really great cast.
PC: Would you enjoy pursuing more character roles or do you intend to focus primarily on leads, whether onstage or onscreen?
VC: I love everything! That's the thing about acting - I just like to play people who are going through something; anything I can humanize is what I am really looking for. Roles that could use someone to bring them to life who is not going to judge them - that is what I am looking for. I don't care if it is considered a character part or a leading lady - they are all people, right? To me, it doesn't really matter - and, I feel like we all take turns being the lead and being the supporting and that's what's fun about it, anyway.
PC: Your turn as the Beggar Woman in the DVD of the SWEENEY TODD concert is so sublime. Did you enjoy playing that brief but effectual part?
VC: Oh, that's a really well-written role - it was so interesting!
PC: Were you pleased to be a part of that production, too?
VC: Oh, I loved it! It was so good - that cast was so incredible; George Hearn and Patti [LuPone]. I'll never forget that moment when Sweeney realizes that he has killed this woman that he has been mourning for all of this time - the same women who has been trying to let him know; "I know you! I know you!" - and every single night George was sobbing. Sobbing!
PC: He gave it his all.
VC: Everything! I remember one night he was, like, hauling my body all over the stage and he's rocking me back and forth and he's crying all over my face - and then I started to cry, too! [Laughs.]
PC: Oh, no!
VC: I did! Later that night, he said to me, "Vicki, I love you, but dead bodies can't cry."
PC: What a great acting memoir title - DEAD BODIES CAN'T CRY.
VC: [Big Laugh.] Oh, yeah!
PC: So, would you be open to playing Mrs. Lovett someday?
VC: Oh, totally! Totally!
PC: Do you feel you have a strong affiliation to Sondheim given the many roles of his you have done over the years?
VC: I do - besides SWEENEY, I did FOLLIES first at Encores and then I recently did it out in LA and I did the original SUNDAY IN THE PARK for a little while on Broadway, even though I never went on. SUNDAY IN THE PARK was literally my second Equity job, so I didn't even bring Kleenex into the theater - so, you know, my dressing roommates were like, "You've gotta bring a picture or two!" and I said, "I don't think I'm going to ever go on," and they said, "It doesn't matter! You need to bring stuff in."
PC: Did you feel particularly privileged to be a part of that cast, even as an understudy? Were you a fan?
VC: Oh, are you kidding?! I watched it every night! When I did it, Mandy [Patinkin] and Bernadette [Peters] had already left, so our George and Dot were Harry Groener and Maryann Plunkett and they were so fantastic. I mean, Maryann Plunkett is one of the greatest actresses of my generation! Just to be able to see what they were doing with those parts was absolutely fantastic - it was so great. And, you know, it was at the Booth - and, as you know, the Booth is just one of our most iconic theaters. So, that was my master class - it was amazing.
PC: Do you ever sing "Move On" in concert or elsewhere?
VC: Well, I'm probably too old to ever get to play Dot now - unless they do a concert or something where age doesn't matter - but I would love to play that part anyway, even now. It's such a great part.
PC: URINETOWN and THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA are two of the major adult musical of the new century. How do you compare those experiences to working on revivals and replacing in already-running shows?
VC: I've been so lucky. I mean, now, working with Dan Sullivan [on THE SNOW GEESE], I feel like I've worked with so many of the great directors already - some of the young ones I'd like to get a chance to work with, though. I still haven't worked with Jack O'Brien or Hal Prince, either - we talk to each other at events and say, you know, "How did we miss each other?!" I'd love to work with Lynne Meadow and Tina Landau and Susan Stroman and Kathleen Marshall, too. But, I've been so lucky to work with Jerry and James [Lapine] and Des McAnuff and Bart Sher and Sam Mendes and John Caird and Trevor Nunn and John Doyle - I've been so, so, so blessed!
PC: Did you ever get the chance to work with Arthur Laurents?
VC: Yes - he was actually one of our teachers in the NYU musical theatre program. So, a lot of these real legends I knew through that program, too - I met Betty Comden and Adolph Green there; I met Arthur there; I met Stephen Schwartz there.
PC: What a list!
VC: It's just such a small world - I really think this business is about friendships and collaborations and the people. The good work comes out of these friendships and shared interests and shared dreams and shared goals about, you know, "What do we want to say? What do artists have to say about the state of the world? How can we illuminate the human condition right now - whether with a new piece or a revival?" And, so, for me, the relationships are the most important thing - not the project, really. It comes down to, "Who are the people I am going to be working with on this?" There's just so much to learn.
PC: I noticed that you listed a lot of female directors - do you feel a particular kinship you'd like to explore, given your background? Furthermore, do you feel a burning desire to direct yourself soon?
VC: Well, I think women just have such a different style of directing usually - and, you know, it's what I set out to do as a kid and I am definitely going to go back to it. Definitely. I have a very definite idea of what the mood in the room should be and the safety and trust that is needed in a rehearsal room in order to make the actors feel safe. So, if I ever get the right project and a chunk of time to take away from acting to do it, I will definitely be directing again.
PC: Do you have a particular piece you are determined to put your directorial stamp on?
VC: Not necessarily - but, there is this great piece that I do want to direct called THE TROUBLE WITH DOUG, which is a play I directed a reading of for NAMF awhile back. I really want to get back to that, so we'll see if we can work out something, but I just simply haven't been available - I am available now a little bit more than I used to be now, though, because my son is in college.
PC: Are you looking forward to returning to TITANIC for the special anniversary concert coming up? A lot of the original cast will be returning, as well as some new faces.
VC: It's going to be really, really fun - but, I don't know how much work we are going to get done, to be honest! It's like "How? How did this much time pass?!" I mean, my son used to sit under my TITANIC dressing room table! I remember my dressing room was Judy Blazer and Alma Cuervo and our dresser used to sit in there with us - Amelia - and Alma had this little poodle who only had three functioning legs and this little plate with a stick for its fourth leg. I'll never forget that! [Laughs.]
PC: Dogs, babies, actresses - sounds like quite a scene!
VC: It was! The dresser, the dog, my four-year-old and Judy and me - in the tiniest dressing room imaginable! Yeah - it was just the craziest, kookiest company on TITANIC. [Sighs.] So, I don't know how much work we are going to get done in rehearsal, but it will be a good concert - I guess we'll have to memorize everything in our sleep or something! We'll get through it somehow, I'm sure.
PC: Do you think the time is right for a full-scale revival?
VC: Probably. I mean, people do revivals now after five years! I can't believe we are doing the revival of the revival of CABARET next year - it seems so crazy to me!
PC: And SWEENEY TODD is returning to the NY Philharmonic next year, too.
VC: That's right. I do think we need to focus on doing less revivals and more new work, to be honest - I really do.
PC: Speaking of which, what was your first experience hearing Adam Guettel's rapturous score for THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA?
VC: I can tell you exactly what it was: it was "Fable". My friend was music directing and they wanted me to go to Sundance to do it and I couldn't do it because of scheduling and my friend played "Fable" for me and I burst into tears. I just said, "I know who she is - I know everything about her; everything." And, so, I contacted Adam Guettel and I said, "I want this part - bad." And, he said, "You're too young for it," and, I wrote back to him, "That's why God invented wigs."
PC: What a line!
VC: I just went for it! Up until then, I had mostly played comic roles, so I think there might have been some concern that I couldn't find the deeper side of it - not necessarily the deeper side, but the more serious side of that story. I think that there was some concern about that at the time. And, now, I can't convince anyone what a goon and what a clown I am! [Laughs.]
PC: "Dividing Day" is about as dramatic as musical material goes, after all.
VC: It is. It is.
PC: Given your co-star was Matthew Morrison, what about appearing on GLEE someday soon for a mini-reunion?
VC: Oh, are you kidding me?! I would love it! I'd love it if they would ask me.
PC: What are your thoughts on the recent popularity of filmed productions and the accessibility that they offer to new audiences?
VC: It's very interesting. I think that right now musical theatre is really going through a renaissance of sorts because of GLEE and because of shows like SMASH, too - it's all become much more mainstream. I mean, it used to be just like this musical theatre nerd corner over here where we all hung out and now it's become a much bigger deal internationally. And, I would like to say that, doing a play right now and as challenging as plays are, they are a walk in the park compared to doing a principal in a musical!
PC: Not really comparing Apples and Oranges, then?
VC: No, a musical is a lot harder. You know, people say, "Oh, well, you're just doing musicals?" or they'll say, "Oh, well, what are your legit theatre roles?" but, I can just say that the amount of concentration and the amount of skill and focus that is required to sing and act simultaneously - unless you are trained to do it - is incomparable. You have no idea how hard it is until you try to do it! [Laughs.]
PC: Plus, there are dance requirements, as well!
VC: That's right! Add dancing to the list for musicals, too! For those that sing and dance and act at the same time - the amount of time and dedication and discipline required; not to mention skill and resting properly and everything else... don't get me wrong, I think that an actor who does primarily plays as their profession is a noble and wonderful thing, but I would just like to say for the record that, unless you have tried to do musicals you have no idea... no idea! [Laughs.]
PC: And stunts! Given your aerial work in CINDERELLA, what are your thoughts on the acrobatics and technical aspects of theatre today?
VC: Forget me, look at Andrea Martin in PIPPIN! I mean, come on - she would have been great just walking around onstage, I think, wouldn't she?! But, there she is on a trapeze - singing and dancing and swinging around; and, breaking your heart at the same time. It's a little bit like extreme sports or something - it's like we're going through this phase of extreme musicals right now; snowboarding coming down a grand staircase singing a high C. It's like, "What's next?!" It's not really about going to the Olympics when you go to the theatre, I don't think.
PC: Broadway isn't Cirque du Soleil.
VC: Exactly. I think that when people go to the theatre they want to have some portion of their life illuminated in such a way that they can look at what they are going through or look at what they have gone through and understand it with new eyes - and with a new heart.
PC: What a way to put it!
VC: That's the reason I go to the theatre - to see something that I will never be able to been seen again in exactly the same way because it is the alchemy of the actors and the audience; it will never happen again like that. So, when I go to the theatre, I want to see a piece where something happens and illuminates my experience in the world in the way that only theatre can.
PC: You stepped out of CINDERELLA to participate in THE SNOW GEESE. Are you still intending on returning to CINDERELLA as scheduled?
VC: Yes, I am. That is correct. I was just so thrilled when I read this play, I wanted to do it if I possibly could.
PC: What moved you about it in particular?
VC: Well, one of the reasons I wanted to do it is because I wanted to investigate a family that is going through loss. I think that that is something that our culture does not do very well. Loss is something we don't do well as a culture - and, maybe that's just our species and not our culture. So, with my son growing up and leaving to go to school, I wanted to do something to, you know, distract me and take up my time [Laughs.]... and also teach me something about change and loss.
PC: Tell me about working with Mary-Louise Parker.
VC: Oh, it's been extraordinary working with Mary-Louise. She is so dynamic! She is extremely exciting to work with. She is very alive, very fresh, very supportive, very collegial - being with her onstage every night is a thrill.
PC: What about Danny Burstein?
VC: As you may know, this is our third time working together - Danny and I; we did FOLLIES together and TITANIC, too - and I would do anything with him, any day.
PC: Should Rebecca Luker [his wife] be keeping tabs, then?!
VC: No, no - not at all! [Laughs.]
PC: What an unusual casting roulette with her taking over for you in CINDERELLA and you appearing in THE SNOW GEESE with Danny.
VC: I know! Isn't it crazy?! I am so glad that it worked out that she could take over at CINDERELLA so I could do this play.
PC: How exactly did that casting come to pass? Did you put in a good word for her?
VC: I don't know - honestly! I think she was just the perfect person for the role - I reall do. I was crossing my fingers that it would go that way when I heard she was being considered - I just thought it was the perfect match. She's so wonderful. So, it really worked out perfectly.
PC: Was this your first time working with Dan Sullivan?
VC: Yes, this is my first time working with Dan. He is unbelievable! So focused - so, so smart. It has been a real thrill for me to work with him.
PC: Was there a moment in the play that struck you most in first reading it?
VC: Well, I don't want to give too much away for people who haven't seen it - it's kind of a surprising moment in the play. My character has a scene with the younger of the two sons at the end of the play and I think that that was the lynch-pin moment for me - it's when this woman finally takes action.
PC: How so?
VC: My character is really afraid to step on her sister's toes because she is not the mother of these children - there is only so much she can say as the dutiful aunt. And, then, there is a moment in the play where she says, "Enough is enough!" and she takes control for about three minutes. It's a beautiful scene and it's the reason I took the play.
PC: Do you draw from your own history to so richly embody these stately women you often portray onstage?
VC: Oh, well, I think everyone has an Aunt Clarissa - and, that's why she's fun to play!
VC: I mean, afterwards, people say to me, "Oh, we know exactly who she is," and they said similar things to me on PIAZZA. We all have one - we all have an Aunt Clarissa.
PC: How do you define that type?
VC: Oh, she's the one who pretends that she's not having any fun but she'll always be the first to get your joke, you know?
PC: She's in on it.
VC: Exactly. That kind of lady. We see through a lot of the shell, though, and we see her suffering - she's had a hard life!
PC: Do you think you may take on a comedy role next - pretty please?
VC: Since you asked, I would love to do Dolly [in HELLO, DOLLY!].
PC: You have the star power, the personality, the talent... it's time.
VC: Definitely. It's definitely one of those parts where I feel like I have the life experience to do it now - you know, you can't do Dolly too young because she has been through so much. But, yes, I would love to do Dolly - and, I would love to do Mame in MAME, too.
PC: Have you discussed either or both possibilities with Jerry Herman?
VC: We have, actually - we've talked about it. But, you know, Jerry is actually one of the people who doesn't really remember my clown-y years, though, so if anybody in your vast readership has a video of me acting funny, send it his way, please!
PC: On that note, what do you think of camera phones and filmed shows ending up on YouTube?
VC: Well, here's what I think about what's happening, in general: I feel like we are losing community. The technological advances that we are making are undeniably helpful, but they shouldn't be a substitution for community, yet that is what is happening. As a society, we are becoming more and more isolated and the days when people would just get together without an agenda - just to be together - seem to be disappearing. That's one of the things I found so refreshing about this play - it takes you back to a time when entertainment was sitting and listening to something on the phonograph, or singing, or just talking to one another. And, I really think we should be looking to find more ways to be together - and I think that one of the wonderful things about theatre is that it only happens when people come together as a community. I mean, you can do it for one person - a command performance - but the alchemy of it only really happens when you get a group of people together.
PC: The collective magic.
VC: Exactly. I mean, that's the way that my parents were raised and I think that's the way that it should be again.
PC: How precisely is texting dramatized onstage, anyway?
VC: I don't know! I really don't. Are we going to see plays about sexting gone wrong or something? I don't know - that's a pretty terrible description, though who knows. But, I think that we have to provide opportunities for the younger generation to connect with the older generations - and, if we don't, we could lose that valuable information being passed down. Even now, if have a couple of hours and a day off, I will take my son to the theater - and afterwards we have a discussion about it. It's like a book.
PC: Yet, the prices are so prohibitive...
VC: They are. The prices are too high. And, also, the productions are too over-produced. You know, this is what I love so much about CINDERELLA, though - it's all old-fashioned stagecraft. We don't have a lot of holes in the stage sucking costumes off people and crazy hi-tech stuff - I mean, our magical horses on the horse-drawn carriage are operated just by someone peddling! [Laughs.]
PC: The costumes do the heavy lifting for some of the most memorable special effects, too.
VC: Right! It's the way the costumes are built - just good, old-fashioned stage magic. So, I feel like we don't need to be spending so much money on the shows or to go to them - it should be about the relationships we are seeing onstage and what the pieces are saying and what they are really about. You know, a lot of things can be told very, very simply - that's what I love about David Cromer's work; I mean, look at his production of OUR TOWN! That just knocked me out. You can't tell me that that show had a huge production cost - it was all tables and chairs except for the last scene with the bacon. Their biggest cost with the whole production was probably getting the bacon! That, to me, is real theatre. It's the same thing with THE SNOW GEESE - it's a beautiful set and we probably could have told it in a simpler way, but that's not how the Manhattan Theatre Club wanted to go. It's a gorgeous, gorgeous design and production - but, I'm sure we could have told it in a simpler way, even if that is not what people would have wanted.
PC: If the production extends, will you stay with it despite your impending return to CINDERELLA?
VC: If it extends, I will definitely stay with it. We have to see if it will be first, though!
PC: So, what's next? Do you have a post-CINDERELLA project lined up yet?
VC: Well, I love to teach so I will be doing more of that and I also have a holiday event coming up in the next few weeks for my church - I have a concert coming up on December 9 at the Church of St. Paul & St. Andrew and I am in the process of gathering talent together to do that. It's a truly wonderful building where so many great social programs go on.
PC: On that note: a Christmas album from you some holiday season soon would be a winter dream come true!
VC: Oh, I would love to do that - and my mom would love me to do that especially, I'm sure, too!
PC: This was superlative today, Victoria - I cannot thank you enough.
VC: Thank you so much, Pat. I really enjoyed talking to you, too - it was really lovely. Bye.
Photo Credits: Walter McBride, etc.