BWW Blog: Ivy Austin - A Woman of Many Voices and Many Hats

Performer Ivy Austin opens up about her life and career

By: Feb. 19, 2021
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BWW Blog: Ivy Austin - A Woman of Many Voices and Many Hats

There are few performers who can be declared a "triple threat" talent. Ivy Austin is undoubtedly one of them. Austin is a star of stage, radio, and the recording studio, and has been involved with smash hits including "Grease 2,""A Prairie Home Companion," and "Sesame Street" where she has recorded with The Muppets since the show's inception! Her Sesame Street discography is literally too long to list here. Theatrical credits include national tours of "Hair" and "They're Playing Our Song," and a Carnegie Hall debut in "Ira Gershwin, the Art of the Lyricist." Austin was also a Principal Artist with the New York City Opera from 1982-1989, and the star of "Raggedy Ann," aka "Rag Dolly,'' in all of its iterations.

Austin has been kind enough to oblige me for an interview, in which we discussed everything from her career to her growing up on the road as the child of percussionist Danny Epstein. "I was always around music. When I was born, my father was playing "The Most Happy Fella." By the time I was ten weeks old, our family was on the road with Flower Drum Song, My Fair Lady, and How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying. For me, playtime meant getting to watch rehearsals, or being given a ballet lesson in our hotel room.

After years of playing shows on Broadway, Danny met Joe Raposo, the other half of a two-man band for "The Mad Show." Joe played piano and my dad played percussion, producing every crazy sound you could think of!"

Austin attended the legendary High School of Performing Arts, where she was in the Drama Department and left her mark as Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest. "I went to school with the most beautiful and talented people, all of whom I love dearly." From there, she was drafted into summer stock musicals at the Gateway Playhouse in Bellport, N.Y. She then attended Colgate University and studied Biology. "I was always eager to wear multiple hats--I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Colgate, and remain a loyal alumna."

Straight out of college, Austin was cast into the Sesame Street pool of talent. "Joe and my father had worked closely building the music department on the Street. In the beginning, Sesame Street was a much smaller operation. I did a few voices, a couple of songs, some filmstrips; Joe was always very kind to me. I know it sounds silly, but after 40 years of recordings, I don't even recognize some of the vocals I did!" Austin created voices for Cereal Girl, Sooey Oinker of The Oinker Sisters, the Number 1 in One Singular Sensation, and has lent her voice talent to countless Sesame Street albums and videos.

"Grease 2, you gotta love it!" Austin appeared in the beloved film, now a cult classic. "It was one of my greatest experiences--oh, did we have a good time. My dear friend Patricia Birch directed and choreographed. Pat was my "showbusiness fairy godmother,"--she opened so many doors for me. She was responsible for casting me in the revival of "Candide" at the New York City Opera, where I remained for eight seasons performing Broadway revivals. "It was a fantastic experience," exclaimed Ivy, and one she treasures dearly. I made my NYCO debut as a Pink Sheep in "Candide,"directed by Harold Prince. It was especially thrilling to take that opening night curtain call with Leonard Bernstein, Hugh Wheeler, and Beverly Sills. Over the years, Beverly gave me amazing opportunities, the most exciting of which was playing the role of the Beggar Woman in Sweeney Todd."

Over a three year period, in-between NYCO performances, Austin workshopped and performed "Rag Dolly/Raggedy Ann." "It was a rare and wonderful thing to be involved with this show from its start at ESIPA in Albany, in Moscow during Glasnost on a U.S.-U.S.S.R. cultural exchange, at the Kennedy Center, and on Broadway. As far as the critics, they were not kind to the show, however, the audience reactions were overwhelmingly positive. The show has now amassed a large fan base that is determined to see it revived!

Next stop, National Public Radio--Austin performed alongside Garrison Keillor to a weekly audience of three million, on A Prairie Home Companion. She created a host of characters, her favorite of whom was Babette, and was the "girl singer" with the Coffee Club Orchestra.

Teaming up with Isaiah Scheffer at Symphony Space for nine years of the Thalia Follies, Austin was a contributing lyricist and writer of political satire. Of her many musical performances, my favorite is "My Turn Bill," in which she plays Hillary Clinton berating her husband, and informs him that it is HER turn to be the star!

Austin lives in NYC with her husband, where she has raised two musical sons. Having spoken to her, I can say with 100% confidence, she is more beautiful and talented than ever. Always learning and reinventing herself, she recently received a Master of Science degree in Marriage and Family Therapy and, in March, will be joining a private practice in Manhattan called "The Relationship Suite." She is also a graduate of Broadway's esteemed Commercial Theatre Institute's Producers' Intensive. When wearing her producer's hat, you may find her at Sunnyspot Productions; she is currently looking to partner with a theatre company for a production of a new play called "Miss Valentine-Theatre of the Heart."

Austin wears many hats, but will always be a theatre girl at heart. On Facebook, she describes herself as a Theatre Lifer--wherever she goes she knows she will always return to the stage. "It's where I grew up. It's where my heart is."

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