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It's 'The Grinch' for Jan Neuberger

Happy holidays to all of you!  In keeping with the holiday spirit, I've got another GRINCH interview for you. Who, you ask? Well, that would be Grandma Who aka Jan Neuberger.  Neuberger had her Broadway debut 1974 in the first revival of GYPSY and has since been on Broadway as Miss Watson in BIG, last Off-Broadway as Mistress Quickly in HENRY IV, 1 & 2. Author/lyricist of BOOMER GIRL A ONE (MIDDLE-AGED) WOMAN SHOW and was an original cast member of WICKED. 

Wicked_20Joy.jpg" vspace="10" width="230"/>TJ :  So, you got my list of questions. Are you ready? 

NEUBERGER:  WOW!  You're thorough!   I'll start with the WICKED-related questions. 

TJ : Sounds great! Were you involved in the show from the start? 

NEUBERGER: WICKED went into rehearsal for its out-of-town tryout in San Francisco at the end of March 2003.  The dancing ensemble began working with Wayne Cilento a week early, and I was called in toward the end of that week--I think it was March 29. So I started at the very beginning.  The company was assembled for the first read-through the following week, and that day was absolutely thrilling.  To be introduced to the material by hearing it sung by Idina, Kristen and Stephen Schwartz was quite an experience.  That rehearsal period, the San Francisco run, and the resumption of work when we came back to NY were very intense and not infrequently difficult creatively.  The course of birthing a behemoth hit never did run smooth...but the story has, obviously, a happy ending.  I will add that that original cast--including the largely unsung ensemble, beautiful and utterly unique every one of them--was one of the most spectacularly gifted groups I have ever had the privilege to work with.   

The rest of the chronology I'm sure you already know; we opened on B'way. Oct. 30, '03 and were off and running.  I left at the end of March '04 on a leave of absence--did 3 months as Ruth in PIRATES OF PENZANCE at the Guthrie.  (I'm forever grateful to have been given that time off, as working with Joe Dowling at that theatre was one of the highlights of my professional life.)  Settled back in then for a long run, though during the course of my tenure at WICKED I also worked on the movie THE PRODUCERS as a Little Old Lady, did two workshops (one of which was HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS) and a reading.  

TJ: So Jan, you were in WICKED for a long time. How many performances of that show did you actually do? 

NEUBERGER: I don't know how many total performances I logged in WICKED, but I can tell you I did over 90 as Madame Morrible, by far the most satisfying aspect of my job in Oz.  Anyhow, I was given another leave of absence in June of this year to go to the MUNY in St. Louis to play--would you believe it?--the Wicked Witch of the West in WIZARD OF OZ!.  I then did a production of PETER PAN (the play) at the Dorset Theatre Festival; I was there when I received the offer to play Grandma Who in GRINCH.  So WICKED and I parted ways after 3 and a half years.   

TJ: How would you describe your experience with the show? 

NEUBERGER: I miss my "family" there at the theatre, but it was time to go. 

TJ: Okay, so moving onto GRINCH. How long have you been rehearsing for this show? 

NEUBERGER: We started reh. 9/25 and have been in technical rehearsal for the last week at the Hilton. First preview tomorrow!  It's a delightful show with what is, to me, a very strong message about Christmas, especially in this time when commerce rules our holidays, religious and otherwise.  Suffice it to say Dr. Suess had a huge heart and, ultimately, so does the Grinch...and so does the show!   

TJ: Now you are going to be appearing as Grandma Who in THE GRINCH. What can you tell me about your role in the show? 

NEUBERGER: Grandma Who is on track to become one of my favorite characters, and being privileged to "create" her for the Broadway production is just about the best Christmas gift I've ever gotten.  She's a "Christmas addict" who's very much in touch with her "inner child."  She and Grandpa are kind of the grandparents of the whole Who tribe, and Grandma loves them all deeply, in her own dotty way.  

TJ: Knowing Dr. Seuss and his amazing creations, the costumes and make-up must be pretty amazing. What's your take on this? 

NEUBERGER: The costumes (Bob Morgan) and sets (John Lee Beatty) are absolutely inspired, and augmented by terriffic wig and make-up design (I'll have to send those names along later--want to be sure I have everybody identified correctly).  The "look" of the show is very true to the world created by Dr. Suess (Theodore Geisel, whose wife Audrey is a very watchful guardian of his estate and--I think I have this right--one of the producers of this Broadway incarnation of GRINCH) in the book--those looking for a re-do of the movie with Jim Carrey won't find it on our stage.  I don't want to say too much more--seeing the book come to life on stage at the Hilton will be such a treat for children of all ages. 

TJ : Did you read his books as a kid and did they have any influence on you?

NEUBERGER:  You know, I don't really remember reading much of Dr. Suess, except maybe THE CAT IN THE HAT...but then, I have a terrible memory.  Anyway, I have a grand-daughter now (How did THAT happen!!?)--she's only 16 months old, but she already has the book!  I'll look forward to reading Dr. Suess with her. 

TJ: Before you got work as an actor, what type of work did you do? 

NEUBERGER: I started working at 20--never had any other job except to fill in the lean times.   

TJ: Jan, what was your first Broadway show and tell me about the steps you took to make it all happen ie the process? 

NEUBERGER: Got my first B'way show right out of the chute--sheer luck. Went to the open call for the first revival of GYPSY back in 1974.  Turned out my ballet teacher from NYU (2 years as a dance major), Bob Tucker, was re-creating Robbins' choreography.  Had always sung; belted out "Just in Time" for Jule Styne before I knew who he was!  Anyhow, that's when my education really began. I still hold Angela Lansbury in the highest possible regard, and what a gift it was to have her example to emulate--not just on stage but off.  She is a real lady.  Being thrown into the big leagues, I realized how much I had to learn--and I got my training on the job--not a course of action I recommend.  Which leads me to answer another question:  What's my advice?  Words of inspiration? 

TJ:  And they are…..? 

NEUBERGER: GO TO COLLEGE!!!  Get a four-year liberal arts education!!! The more you know about the world, the more you have to bring to the party as an actor.  And unless you absolutely HAVE to major in Musical Theatre, DON'T!  Major in Theatre, and work on Shakespeare and Shaw and learn the history and traditions of theatre.  One day you'll wake up and discover you're 50, and believe me, the roles in musicals get fewer and farther between...especially for women.  And with a resume full of musicals, it's very hard for casting people to imagine that you can do anything else.  I feel so strongly about this, I'm planning to go back to school and finish my undergrad degree--may even get a Master's.  

Anyhow, took me 16 years to get another B'way show.  But I learned something from every job I ever had, even the industrials.  There's a big world of good theatre out there across the USA--don't let anybody tell you that Broadway is the only work worth doing.  Some of the best experiences I've had have been at regional theatres. 

TJ:  Do you ever get star struck with any of the people you have worked with?   

NEUBERGER:  Star-struck:  Yes, continually.  WICKED was great that way--though I never got to play Morrible opposite Joel Grey, I did work repeatedly with George Hearn and Ben Vereen.  Legends all.  (And Robert Morse did the out of town run in San Francisco.)  Early on I played Howard Keel's daughter in PAINT YOUR WAGON; there was Carol Channing, Leslie Uggams, George C. Scott (I did a short scene opposite him in EXORCIST III).  Did FORBIDDEN BROADWAY with Jason Alexander, but that was before he became a star!  And now with GRINCH, we have John Cullum as our Old Max. Have been blessed to work with lots of extraordinary people, stars or not. 

TJ: OK. Here's some questions for you on some of your favorite things so we can find out a little more about Jan Neuberger. First up and appropriately... your FAVORITE HOLIDAY 

NEUBERGER: Christmas for sure--so happy to be in a Christmas show.   


NEUBERGER: No favorite foods, or rather too many to narrow it down; though sometimes there is nothing better in this world than a diner cheeseburger deluxe and a Coke.   


NEUBERGER:  I live in the country now and my favorite pastimes are all outdoors--gardening, yard work, long walks.  (Big believer that we've got to act fast to save our earth!--Have you seen AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH?)  Love to read and have developed a passion for Shakespeare and Elizabethan England.  Love going to the movies.  Love re-runs of THE WEST WING and avoid reality TV pretty assiduously. 

TJ:  Any projects coming up for you after GRINCH? 

NEUBERGER: Finally:  nope, nothing scheduled after GRINCH.  It will be strange to be unemployed, if that's in the cards, after almost 4 years of steady work.  Never thought I'd live to make a statement like that! 

Thanks Jan!  And for all of you, DR. SEUSS' HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS THE MUSICAL! is having a special limited engagement from October 25 through January 7 at the Hilton Theatre,  213 West 42nd Street (between 7th &  8th Avenue ). For tickets to the GRINCH, call (212) 307-4100 or visit their box office at the theatre. And don't forget to check out their fun website at   Normally, I would end my interview with a little catch phrase like "Remember, theatre is the word." But I think that this would be much better served in the words of the inimitable Dr Seuss " Fah who for-aze! Dah who dor-aze! Welcome Christmas, Come this way!"  Ciao for now!!! 

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