Interview: Judy McLane of COMPANY at Ohio Theater

After breaking out for her box, McLane happy to be back in

By: Feb. 02, 2024
Interview: Judy McLane of COMPANY at Ohio Theater
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For most of her life, Judy McLane has tried to break out of the metaphorical boxes Broadway tries to put people into. In her most recent show, COMPANY, McLane has learned to act in a physical box.

McLane plays Joanne in the Stephen Sondheim musical which runs Feb. 13-18 at the Ohio Theater (39 E. State Street in downtown Columbus).

The show, which houses some of Sondheim’s best-known numbers like “Ladies Who Lunch” and “Getting Married Today,” follows Bobbie (Britney Coleman) on the eve of her 35th birthday. COMPANY debates the pros and cons of marriage as Bobbie faces a barrage of questions from friends on why she isn’t married. As Bobbie’s world implodes around her, the set seems to get smaller and smaller.

“(Set designer Bunny Christie) is pretty darn brilliant,” said McLane, who plays the caustic, poisoned lipped friend of Bobbie. “It reflects how the world is closing in on Bobbie. The box and everything around her gets smaller.

“One of the most difficult numbers in this show is we are all in the box at one point, moving around together. I can’t tell you the hours we spent choreographing that. It’s very closed and claustrophobic. I was like, ‘Get me out of the box!’”

Throughout the beginning of her career, McLane felt like Bobbie – trapped in a box that producers wanted to put her in.

As a statuesque blonde with a voice that mixes from a soprano to a “high belter,” McLane felt like she was constantly getting pigeonholed into certain types of characters.

“Our business likes to put people in boxes,” she said. “There's been some roles sometimes I think I can't get because they think of me in a certain way.

“(For a long time) I was always the slutty girl with a heart of gold. (Laughs) We can do more than the categories they put us in.”

McLane has broken free from that box. Her roles include the title role in EVITA, the narrator in JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT with Donny Osmond, Diana in NEXT TO NORMAL, the Baker’s Wife in INTO THE WOODS, Norma Desmond in SUNSET BOULEVARD, and Maria Callas in MASTERCLASS. She set a record for the longest running lead in MAMMA MIA (playing both Donna and Tanya) with 4,000 performances, won an Outer Critics Circle Award for her performance in ROMEO AND BERNADETTE, and was a Drama Desk Award nominee and a Drama League Honoree for her role in JOHNNY GUITAR.

McLane  has spent much of the last year immersed in Sondheim, performing in PUTTING IT TOGETHER and GYPSY before hitting the road with COMPANY.

“With Sondheim, you have to let the lyrics do their work,” she said. “He gives you so much information to go on. He writes like no one else. He captures the human spirit: the good, the bad, and the ugly. With some composers, we must fill in the blanks with characters, but Sondheim’s characters are so rich.

“(Jan. 27) was our 100th show of COMPANY and I am still finding something new in ‘Ladies Who Lunch.’ (With Sondheim) you must be careful. The lyrics keep you on your toes every single minute you’re on stage. There's no spacing out at all.

Sondheim will always hold a special place in McLane’s heart. She had a chance to perform before  the legendary composer, who died Nov. 26, 2021, twice.

The thing is both times McLane didn’t know the Tony Award winner was in the audience.

“Thank God, I didn’t know!” McLane said with a laugh. “The last time was at a show honoring his collaborator Jonathan Tunick (Oct. 2, 2021, at the Sharon Playhouse in Sharon, Conn.). I sang ‘The Last Midnight’ (from INTO THE WOODS). He came backstage and we partied until the wee hours of the morning.

I think I was probably one of the last people to ever sing for him. I count myself very lucky and very blessed to be able to do that.”

Born in Scranton, Pa., McLane developed her love for singing through her church. She pursued a degree in classical music from Ithaca College. Her parents, William and Rose, insisted she also earn a degree in education to “have something to fall back on.”

“When I started auditioning for summer stock between my junior and senior year, I’d go in as a soprano, but I didn’t look like a soprano. I ran into (Bill Schuman), who had been my voice teacher for years, and he said I needed to learn how to belt. I’m so grateful to him because he’s the one who really changed the course of my career.”

In addition to learning to alter her singing style, McLane also went to New York and studied dancing and acting. She first landed the role of Florence in CHESS, the musical created by ABBA’s Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus and lyricist Tim Rice. She recently expanded her repertoire to include acting on television including THE BLACKLIST, ELEMENTARY, and MADAME SECRETARY and in movies, WERE THE WORLD MINE and HIDING IN DAYLIGHT.

McLane realizes just how lucky she is.

“I love the creative process,” McLane said. “The thing I love most is the people and how childlike we become. Acting keeps us young. I've always wanted to be a working actress and that's what I've been doing all my life. 

“I have always said I have a vocation, not a career. You must give up a lot. I’ve missed out on a lot of things and big events like weddings. It’s all about the show and I don’t regret any of it.”

Photo credit: Mark Murphy