A Talent for Artistry: An Interview with Judy Blazer
After her soap opera stint, Blazer performed in regional shows before making her Broadway debut in 1989 in Me and My Girl. Since then, she's been consistently busy as a performer, regionally and in New York. Her last major musical in New York was Michael John LaChiusa's Bernarda Alba, a musical based on Garcia Lorca's The House of Bernarda Alba which received strongly mixed reviews when it played Lincoln Center's Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre earlier this year. Blazer is decidedly on the side of those who found it a striking and powerful work of art.
She also feels great admiration for both LaChiusa and for Graciela Daniele, who regularly collaborates with LaChiusa and who directed and choreographed Bernarda Alba. "I've known Michael John for a long time in a lot of ways, and I think he's a genius. I have so enjoyed working with him and am fortunate enough that more often than not when I've done his work, it's with Graciela Daniele. I find the two of them to be a miraculous combination, and she is absolutely one of my greatest role model she's phenomenal, what she draws from the soul of each performer. And I believed so much in the piece."
In the show, Blazer played Magdalena, one of five daughters stifled by sexual repression inside the austere house of the title character. Of the listless Magdalena, who channels her frustration into her housework as a seamstress, Blazer says, "She was grossly resigned to this painful existence once in a while, she'd spew out something really mean to one of her sisters, like a boiling pot of water underneath, mostly which she masked. And as things got progressively worse in the household, she began sleeping more and more and more which is what people do when they're depressed. I added some things, personally, to the character, which allowed me to connect to my sisters which was a great caring about each of them." Blazer, who felt much empathy for Magdalena, speaks of her fellow cast members with lavish praise, as well. She quips of Bernarda Alba's castwhich also included Phylicia Rashad, Daphne Rubin-Vega and Sally Murphy--"If these girls were ruling the country, we wouldn't be at war!"
Since Me and My Girl, Blazer has appeared on Broadway in three other showsincluding the musical A Change in the Heir and Neil Simon's 45 Seconds from Broadway. She's perhaps best known, though, for her work as 2nd class passenger Caroline Neville in the 1997 Maury Yeston musical Titanican experience that she recalls as both emotionally stressful and thrilling.
Blazer says, "There was a lot against the show, and unfortunately, I was the recipient of a lot of the painful abortions that took place. My character was leading lady of the show and everything that I had virtually was cut. A whole scene and song was cut and that was very hard also because of the way it was done. That sort of thing is never easy but it evolved in a rather unpleasant circumstance, and it was very painful. But just like everything else, it was a learning experience for me to be in a piece and not be a leading lady, to be much more of an ensemble and to draw strength just from being onstage with other human beings and telling a story. And such an extraordinary story!"
There were 43 other human beings onstage in the big budget musical about the famous doomed voyage, and Blazer remembers that a terrific rapport was formed between them"It was some of the most gifted people in the industry, all of themit was like a giant rep company. We even had a little rep company that did little things, projects, and we'd call ourselves the Floating City. It was a phenomenal group of people and a very bonding experience." Many of Titanic's castwhich also included such performers as Victoria Clark, Michael Cerveris and Brian D'Arcy Jameswent as a group to see the blockbuster movie (which was released at around the same time that Titanic opened). "It supported our work so much because of that visceral aspect, it allowed us to see pictures that we had to create with our own mind, so it enhanced our work, I think," she recalls.
Currently, Blazer is taking part in the Sundance Theatre Lab in Utah; the actress has frequently performed at Sundance, and once even played Funny Girl's Fanny Brice in a regional production there. She is playing the mother of Robert Petkoff's character in a workshop of the Steven Lutvak-Robert L. Freedman musical Kind Hearts and Coronets, which she says has "a phenomenal cast." Also in the reading are Judy Kuhn, Nancy Anderson and Raul Esparza, who like Alec Guiness in the film on which the musical is based, is juggling eight comic roles. She's also involved in a workshop of Melissa James Gilbert's play Current Nobody, which is a modern adaptation of The Odyssey that is still very much in the developmental stage. And then in early August, she'll set off for New York to prepare for three intensive days of Artist's Crossing from August 4th through August 6th.
Yet she plans to enjoy the serenity of Utah before returning to the exciting chaos of Manhattan. "This mountain is like home to me, it's a wonderful, wonderful place where you forget about commerce, competition--you know--the madness. You look at that mountain and you realize how unimportant you are in the scheme of things. You're just here to serve creation and that's the kind of vibe that inspired the Artist's Crossing," says Blazer, whose dedication to and delight in performing will no doubt continue to illuminate the lives of her students.
Visit www.artistscrossing.com for more information on Artist's Crossing.
The Broadway Panel Discussion--featuring Testa, Garrison, Mitchell Campbell, Moran and Walton--will take place at the Barrow Group on Sunday, August 6th from 6 to 8 PM. A limited number of general admission seats are available for $25. To reserve, call 212-561-0366. Payments, in cash or check, can be made at the door.