BWW Interviews: Q & A with PHANTOM'S Linda Balgord
Although currently living (and often working) in New York, Linda Balgord is no stranger to the Chicago theatre scene. She earned her equity card at the Marriot Theatre as Eva in "Evita" and has made multiple trips back to the Chicago stages ever since. Right now, she is playing Madame Giry in the newly directed "Phantom of the Opera" tour (currently playing its Chicago stop through March 2nd), a role that earned her the high praise of Chris Jones in the Tribune, calling her "the best thing in the show." We chatted with Balgord about the tour, her Chicago ties, and more:
How do you feel this tour's new direction of "Phantom of the Opera" enhances the show or changes the audience's previous experiences with it?
I think what's really special - well, I think there's a lot of special things - but, I really think it's interesting the way Laurence (Connor) has brought more of the backstage life into the show with both the design and the direction. And, especially because I play someone who is of the backstage world, I think I find that particularly interesting.
You have been a part of so many Andrew Lloyd Weber productions - do you have a favorite?
Oh, that's always hard. You know, they are such great female characters. Probably "Sunset" has to be a stand-out for me, because that character is so interesting and complex.
Right, you originated Norma on the first US National Tour (of "Sunset Boulevard"). Do you prefer originating characters or stepping into a role previously played before?
I think actors always like to originate something in a new show or in a remount that is not necessarily following a blueprint that has been set. But, I also believe that because we are such individuals that, just by virtue of who we are, each character is going to be unique. Say, when I went into "Cats," I don't consider that to be a lesser way of expressing yourself. But, certainly, it's always fun to start with a company from square one. To get to go through the entire process together. But, I think they're both great.
You have a really long history with Chicago. What first brought you to Chicago at the beginning of your career?
Well, right out of grad school, I actually got cast in a show at the Goodman.
What show was that?
It was "Sunday in the Park with George" and that was way back in the summer of '87. I managed to get an audition with someone who had come up and designed at my school, which at the time was in Milwaukee, the Professional Theatre Training Program, which is now located in Delaware. But, they designed up there and they knew Michael Maggio, who was directing "Sunday in the Park with George" at the Goodman Theatre and I auditioned and got into that show. And then, I just loved it here and I kept getting work, so I stayed for a while.
Did you find it beneficial to start your career here as opposed to going right to New York?
It was great for me because I come from a very small town in Wisconsin - like 1200 people. And, I never would have just moved to New York right out of school. It would have just been overwhelming for me. So, I had been in Milwaukee, then Chicago seemed doable. You know, you're like "I can do this. This I can do!" Because, it's a great city, but there is still a little of that Midwestern feel behind it. And that still felt like home to me in a way.
Does the city feel different every time you come back?
Yeah, it does feel a little bit different! And, certainly this time, you know, boy, we're in this relentless winter!
Oh, it's just awful!
I know, it is awful! And the sad this is you just don't want to get out. And there's so many great things to do, but it's just been too cold to really get out.
One of the times you were here was doing "The Pirate Queen," which was actually a favorite of mine and I, personally, think it was gone much too soon and underappreciated.
Oh, thank you! Yeah, I think we got trounced on a bit too hard with that one.
I agree. What was the most challenging part of that role?
It was vocally quite challenging because it had been a long time since I had sung a soprano role with such a high tessitura. I had been doing primarily belting roles and, I had a head voice, but I hadn't performed vocally like that in a long time. So, I was definitely nervous about it, to be perfectly honest.
Well, you sounded great! And, speaking of belting roles, you understudied Patti (LuPone) in "Gypsy." What was it like to be covering such an iconic role and with Patti having won the Tony for it?
It was an interesting experience. She was just terrific to me when I joined the company. You know, I trailed her and she was really, really great. And, the entire time I was there, she only missed two performances. So, I went on on a Saturday in November. I had already been rehearsing for six months at that point. And, I can tell you, she was above the title, so people could get their money back, they told them that. The matinee wasn't so much, but that Saturday evening, I could definitely could feel the audience with their arms crossed a little bit, like, "Okay, prove to me that I was right to not get my money back." (Laughs) But, it was a trip. It was an amazing experience. To get to work with Arthur Laurents and with that fabulous company who were all really terrific to me. Such an amazing role to work on, one that one could work on for many years!
After preparing for 6 months and then finally going on, what was that like? Did it feel surreal?
Well, that was the great thing about it. Oftentimes with understudies, speaking from experiencing, it's kind of out-of-body because it's a terrifying thing to do. But, we had been rehearsing enough and had had a full put-in rehearsal with costumes and everything, so I was able to be there. I was present. And, that was the best thing. I didn't feel like I was watching myself and that was the greatest thing.
After your run in the "Phantom" tour, what would you like to do next?
Oh, that's a good question! Well, I'll probably be ready to go home to New York! (Laughs) To sleep in my own bed and work at home. I mean, it's a great adventure! It's been 17 years since I've been on the road, so I'm really looking at it like a big adventure at this point. But, it would be great to be back home and do something in New York again.
You can see Linda Balgord in "The Phantom of the Opera," playing at the Cadillac Palace Theatre (151 W. Randolph) now through March 2nd, 2014. Tickets can be purchased at www.BroadwayinChicago.com or by calling (800) 775-2000.
Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy