BWW Interviews: The Talented Ms. Tari Kelly on her Extensive Broadway Career and Channeling Judy Garland!
Thank you so much for speaking with me and BroadwayWorld today.
Yeah, no worries. You're' welcome.
Now you have quite a history on Broadway, tell us a little bit about that...
Oh my gosh. Yeah. I started very young. I was only twenty four when I first started on Broadway. I moved to New York with that show, Showboat it was, and I had never lived in New York before so I kind of just moved here and had a Broadway show. My introduction to Broadway was pretty special in that I was working with these icons immediately. Hal Prince, and Susan Stroman, who wasn't an icon at the time, but now she is. And then Elaine Stritch and Don McMartin, so I feel like I had such a great beginning and it was a really great jumping off point for me. Subsequently it was ten years later before I had my second Broadway show, which was The Boy From Oz with Hugh Jackman! So I'm really Miss Lucky Pants when it comes to shows that I am chosen to be in. Then recently the Anything Goes revival which has turned into a huge hit which none of us expected it to be. You know, we had a six month run originally and then it turned into a huge hit. I've really been lucky in a lot of the shows I have done have been really big hits, and really big people pleasers, and also big critic pleasers.
Wow, that is quite a resume! Have you been the Denver before?
No, this is my first time here. I've never been here and I've always wanted to come. I'm so excited.
What do you think of our fair city?
I think it's beautiful. I just love my drive to work every day where I can see those gorgeous mountains. The air is so clean and everybody is so nice. And the drivers are good! (laughter) You know, I go to a lot of places and in every city there is something bad about the drivers that's, like, for that city, but here every one is good. But it is just a beautiful city and state.
Now you are starring the the Arvada Centers production of END OF THE RAINBOW. How has the process been for you?
It's been a challenge. The most challenging part, I mean I came in memorized and I wanted that. I mean she talks all the time. You saw the play, she doesn't shut up. So I really wanted to have a really strong foundation so that I can not only believably build the story of someone who is an addict and having these issues, but also to have to layer Judy Garland on top of that believably without being an imitation. I wanted to be enough like her that it would remind people of her, at least, and not pull them out of the story with, "she's trying to hard" or whatever. The challenge of it was just getting in there every day and not being afraid to try things and maybe I would fall flat on my face if I tried this or that and to try and remember to be brave and just got for it. And with this piece, very much more than other pieces because of the emotional journey that she has and the breakdown she has. I felt like that was the most challenging thing was to not be afraid to open myself up and kind of bear my soul.
What do you hope audiences take away from this production?
I want them to see Judy Garland as a real person. I want them to see her as a real person with real problems that we all have and hide away. I think people forget that with any kind of celebrity, you know, we always get to see the good side of them but there is a bad side too. Most of the time they are showing us the good side but they/she, like the rest of us had her problems and some of them were worse than the regular person which were the addictions and all, but I want the audience to have compassion for her. Even though they see her not being so nice or caring for other people at times but they can walk away and see what addiction can do to people. And what stardom can do to people and how it can really ruin someone in a way if they can't handle it. And I don't think she was ever really able to handle her stardom and she didn't surround herself with people that could really truly help here either. But I really want people to have sympathy for her and compassion and not be put off by here bad language or whatever but see her as a person.
What did you have to do to prepare for this iconic role/research?
I did a lot of reading and I read about her life and I read books about addiction in and of itself so that I could honestly portray someone who has a problem. Because basically that's what it's about. I mean, yes, it's Judy Garland but on top of it she was an addict. But on top of the reading I did, and I had researched before when I had done the boy from Oz, actually, I researched Judy because I played Liza, so I wanted to know about her mother. But I've always loved Judy Garland so I've always had her in my back pocket a little bit. But I watched a lot of YouTube videos. And there are a ton, not of just her performing but there are these great like 20 minute splices sometimes of her in these great interviews with Dick Cavett or Jack Parr, you know, Mike Douglas. So I could really get a sense of her with just her talking, so I could get her speech patterns down and the way she gestured when she talked and her sense of humor, which was incredible. She had an incredible sense of humor.
What challenges did you find in the musical staging?
To be honest, she wasn't that hard. I come from a jazz back ground so it wasn't that hard. And like I said all the videos I watched of her. I knew a lot about where she gestures and that she's left handed so she gestures with her left hand a lot and I had gotten used to doing that. But I had Allan Bennett help me, and when we first started out it was choreographed to the nth degree and we actually took away from that because of Judy's age. We figured actually that she wasn't that energetic as we are trying to make her. We needed to slow her down a little bit because this was just six months before she died. So even though the choreography at first was a lot more so, we paired it down and he left me a lot of freedom to move it the way I wanted to so far as I ended up on this side of the stage or that side of the stage.
What quirks of Judy's do you find most adorable?
Most adorable? When she plays with her hair. That's the one I catch myself doing a lot. Like, I'm talking to my boyfriend on iChat and he's like, "What are you doing with your hand?" And I'm like, "Oh, I'm sorry. It's left over Judy." (laughter) But I love it. She's always pulling at her hair, that's a good one, or the way she's touching her face. I love it.
Which song in the show inspires you?
The Man That Got Away. That's my favorite one. Even though it's in a rough place in the show, it's one of those soul bearing moments in the show. That 's the one that speaks the most to me.
Which song haunts you?
What is your favorite song in the show?
I really like Somewhere Over the Rainbow at the end. It's my favorite part. I can just sit there and sing it simply. After everything that has happened I can just let every body have a moment to just sink in what has happened to her.
That really was an haunting and heartfelt song in the show and I loved it! What do you think was her downfall - ego/her blind trust in men/or her addiction?
Her addiction most definitely. Because her addiction spilled over into men as did love. She just wanted so much to be loved and she just made all of these terrible choices. But her addiction was the worst. Her ego? People think she had a huge ego but she was terrified of performing. She was always terrified she wasn't good enough. A lot of people who are confident or seem confident are so scared underneath. Me included. I seem confident, but like everybody else, I'm scared underneath and afraid that I'm not good enough. That's a common thing with performers so I would definitely have to say her addiction.
What do you think was her massive gay appeal - her success or her downfalls?
I'm not sure, other than the fact she would fall down and get back up again. We talk about that in the play. I think there was something about her spirit, that spirit of don't give up, never give up that maybe appealed to them. I can't speak to that. But I would think that that was part of it, and her vulnerability, how much she let people in.
Talk to me about your gay following?
I didn't know I had a gay following! (laughter) I don't know. I get along with everybody. (laughter) Did you just ask me about my gay following? (laughter) Hey bring it on. That's cool with me.
Well then we definitely need to make that happen cause I know that I am an instant fan of yours!
If theatre were not an option in your life, what do you think your occupation would be?
I'd do something with animals. I love animals. I day dream about working with animals.
Is there a show that you absolutely adore and would do over and over again?
That's rough. I really did enjoy doing My One and Only, even though that's a strange show that nobody knows anything about but it was such a weird little show and I had the best time doing it! I really loved that one and I loved Chicago. I really loved doing Chicago. I played VELMA in that and those are two I'd really love to keep doing. Chicago even more so because there is just something about that music and that story itself. I just love the dark humor of it all.
What is your dream role/show?
Yeah, I want to play CHARITY in Sweet Charity. A lot. And I want to do AURORA in Kiss of the Spider Woman.
I would love to see you in either of those roles! Whats next for you after this?
I have one more gig and then I am free. But I'm going to the Indianapolis Concert Version of Anything Goes where I'll be playing IRMA (laughter) So it will be something completely different. (laughter)
Again thank you so much for speaking with me and BroadwayWorld today and congratulations again on your amazing performance in End of the Rainbow at the Arvada Center!
END OF THE RAINBOW plays the mainstage of the Arvada Center now through April 13th. For tickets of more information, contact the box office by calling 720-898-7200 or check them out online at www.arvadacenter.org.
PLEASE NOTE: This production contains adult language and content dealing with alcoholism, drug use and sexuality.
PHOTO CREDIT: P. Switzer Photography 2014