BWW Interviews: Broadway Actress Ann Van Cleave

Northern NJ is full of so much talent and many Broadway performers cross the river to make New Jersey their home. It is great to speak to performers about that first big break and their career to hear all the different stories of how people 'get to NYC'. Broadway World spoke to one of those performers, Ann Van Cleave, as she and her husband prepared for an upcoming concert in NYC.

BWW: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us. Can you tell us about your first Broadway show you were cast in?

Ann Van Cleave: Thanks, Greg! What a treat to be chatting with you about this! My first Broadway show was Cyrano the Musical. Yes... people either loved it know...I had been cast in Sweeney Todd at Papermill Playhouse with George Hearn and Judy Kaye. (Amazing) Well, the Musical Director for Sweeney was working as the assistant conductor for Cyrano. She was at the Cyrano auditions and after a long call back, I believe the musical director was about to cut me, but I saw her lean over to him and whisper in his ear...and he kept me!! I think your first Broadway show is so special.

BWW: I was in the camp that 'loved that show' and I saw it twice.

AVC: That show was breathtaking to look at: a great cast! The budget was huge! Especially for that time...1993/94....the entire creative team and our "Cyrano" had come over from Holland and they were so thrilled to be here!

BWW: I was actually in the audience the night you received your closing notice and you came out of the stage door and told us.

AVC: It had its problems but they tried and I think we ran about 8 months.

BWW: You went on to do many other shows and for some of those you have been the swing. Many people may not understand what all an understudy or swing does. Can you explain?

AVC: I was cast as a swing in my 2nd Broadway show Showboat. I swung or understudied 12 women in the ensemble as well as understudied the role of Ellie (which was being played by Beth Leavel who has remained my best friend on the planet and neighbor since that time!). What a show! Directed by Hal Prince and choreographed by Susan Stroman; I walked around with my "Susan Stroman Bible" - the biggest binder you have ever seen! Stuffed with pages of what each woman did in the show: entrances, exits, placement on stage, choreography. As a swing you must be ready to go on at a moment's notice for any of the women you cover in the ensemble...nerve racking!

BWW: Didn't you go on for every female role in A Class Act?

AVC: Almost. I was hired as a stand by for that show. A small show...only 4 men and 4 women. I stood by, or understudied 3 of the women: Randi Graff, Donna Bullock and Sara Ramirez - not exactly the same "type" women!! Many actors who stand by and live in the city are able to hang out at home and wait for their "phone call to go on". I had to be at the theater every night because I live in New Jersey and be ready to go on for any of the 3 women - and I went on a lot!

BWW: I should go on the record and let readers know that I've known you many years and somewhere hidden in a drawer are recordings of you singing demos of my early musical.

AVC: Yes, Greg! We go waaaaaay... back! I loved singing for you! And with you!

BWW: That is very sweet of you. But one of my favorite moments was when you went on as Mother in the original production of Ragtime.

What was that moment like for the girl from Ohio?

AVC: Ragtime was the 3rd Broadway show I was cast in and when people ask me for a favorite... that's the one! That show was a bit life changing for me. I had been told by so many people that I was right for the role of Mother. I had never seen the show, but my agent (the late Carole Russo...God Bless her) booked an audition for me and I ran in to see the show the night before. I sat in the last row of the rear balcony and sobbed. I was DESPERATE to be a part of that incredible piece! 4 weeks later, I was in rehearsals, going on for Mother was one of my great theatrical memories. I can't say enough about that show, its writers, the creative team, that cast, that opening number! I became pregnant with my 2nd son during that run so I had to stop going on for Mother in about my 5th month, but I continued doing the role of Kathleen till we closed - they just kept letting my costumes out!

BWW: That must have made your family so proud.

AVC: They chartered and filled a bus from Ohio to be there for my first performance!

BWW: Then recently, you took part in the 15th Anniversary concert of that show. How was it to return to that score again?

AVC: Soon after Ragtime closed on Broadway, I got to go to Boston to do the role of Mother at North Shore Music Theatre directed by Stafford Arima from the Broadway production. We did it in the round which felt like we were doing a film - having the audience on all sides of you - a beautiful production! Then, this past February, Stafford directed a concert version of Ragtime at Lincoln Center that was a thrill. Avery Fisher hall was sold out to a screaming audience of people "hungry" to hear that score again! I was thrilled to get to sing it and to reunite with so many friends and of course, the writers! Lynn and Steve and Terrance! BRILLIANT! ALL OF THEM!

BWW: So was music always in your blood? Tell us a little about Ann as a child.

AVC: I was raised in a very musical family. My parents are both singers; performed with several opera companies and actually met at a rehearsal some 55 years ago. We grew up watching them perform together. In fact, there are 4 of us siblings and we all sing. My dad jokes that we all had to audition to get into the family. Not too far from the truth. Our family was chosen as "Ohio's musical family of the year" many years ago which led to several concerts performed as a family all across Ohio. We still sing together as a family whenever we all get together.

BWW: I never knew that. Incredible. And then years later you met your husband doing theater, correct?

AVC: I met my husband Carroll Van Cleave 25 years ago at a rehearsal for a show we were doing in Texas. We were playing opposite each other that summer and here we are still singing together - with 2 sons now - 18 and 13 - both very musical as well. Carroll and I have had such a blast traveling and singing together. We were married only a few months when we were asked to sail around the world - literally - on board the QE II on a world cruise performing our own cabaret act. We've been able to do a lot of concert work in the US as well and just drag the kids a long with us! In fact, after covering Ellie in Showboat on Broadway they offered me the roll of Ellie on the national tour for over a year. (Another favorite!) Carroll came with me along with our then, 2 year old son. Carroll was "full time daddy" while I worked. Some great memories.

BWW: I love that BroadwayWorld could get you to look back on your career and remember these great memories. Of course, I have to ask how it was you came to work on the Rosie Broadway Cruise.

AVC: When I was in Fiddler on the Roof on Broadway, Rosie O Donnell took over the role of Golde, and we became fast friends. She lives about 10 minutes from me - our kids were close in age and our families use to hang out together up at her house. One day, she asked me to join her on one of her R FAMILY VACATION cruises that she and (then) wife Kelli were producing. These were chartered cruises for gay families. Carroll and our 2 boys got to come on with me. The only catch was I had to sing in the opening show onboard. I hate to sing! Do I have to??? (Laughs) The shows were great with Broadway performers brought on by Rosie.

BWW: Rose and Kelli did some wonderful things to show what 'family' is with those cruises.

AVC: They were life changing for us! It taught my children such acceptance. We formed lifelong friendships...oh...and we were invited on 4 different cruises...unreal!

BWW: You have to tell the Annie story too since it is back on Broadway now.

AVC: On one of those cruises, we did a production of Annie starring Andrea McArdle as ANNIE...what a riot! She was unbelievable in the roll! I got to play Grace and Rosie was Miss Hannigan...a dream for both of us - to get to play opposite Miss Andrea! The crowd lost its mind hearing her belt out "Tomorrow"! One of those surreal moments on stage for me considering I saw her play Annie on Broadway all those years ago when I came to NYC as a kid with my parents from Ohio. It was her performance and that moment when I knew I had to go into this forward to present.

BWW: The circle of life - or at least performance! So tell us about "Back Roads to Broadway" that you and your husband are performing on May 4th.

AVC: Carroll is a great guitar player and writer. We have played countless "living rooms and patios". One night, the guitar came out at a party and the owner of Connolly's Pub in NYC was there. He said we should get a couple of sets of music together and come play at his Pub! That was about 5 years ago and we adore singing there! BACKROADS TO BROADWAY has no show tunes... sorry!

BWW: Haha! We just lost Broadway readers!

AVC: It's a sort of eclectic mix of classic songs: light rock, classic rock, some folk and country rock - from the 70s till now. Really, something for everyone: from Simon and Garfunkle to Sheryl Crow; Pat Benatar to Crosby Stills Nash and Young; - to the Indigo Girls. It's an Irish pub so the food and beer can't be beat. A fun place to bring or meet up with some friends and listen to some great tunes! There is no cover and it's right in mid town Manhattan.

BWW: I love to hear the two of you sing together - and it's been so long for me! I have to get to Connolly's Pub on the 4th. Thanks so much for taking the time to share some stories with us, Ann.

AVC: Come on might just be pulled up on stage to help us sing on American Pie!!!!!

You can catch Ann and Carroll Van Cleave on May 4th at 8 pm at Connolly's Pub at 121 West 45th Street.

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From This Author Gregory G. Allen

Gregory G. Allen is a member of the Dramatist Guild and has been in the entertainment business for twenty five years as an actor, writer, (read more...)