Thursday, April 5, 2012

Bosom Buddies


Most actors have a wish list. It's the roster of plum roles that they desire to play before their career has run its course. Whether we share this wish list with others or just keep it close to our hearts, it's there. And one of the bitter truths of the profession is that as one matures, some of those roles have to be crossed off the list; we move beyond them and they go unplayed. When I was an aspiring and precocious little boy, my dream was to play the title part in "Oliver!;" when that didn't happen, and I was a teenager, it was time to dream about The Artful Dodger. That didn't happen either. Now, it's the role of all roles in that show, Fagin, that I hanker after. I often tell friends that the best thing about being a character actor is that your best years are always in front of you!

Knowing this truth about the actor's journey, I can understand the intense desire our leading lady, Louise Pitre, has had for years to play Auntie Mame. This passion for the role inspires the great joy and abandon that she is bringing to the part, and her enthusiasm is infectious--truly, she leads us all with a feeling of giddy fun. Her Mame is unique; rather than an arch, flamboyant performance, Louise is giving the role a free wheeling, fresh and genuine interpretation, bringing a femininity and natural quality to this traditionally eccentric character. It's disarming and it works. I didn't know Louise prior to this production, and all I knew of her career was that she originated the role of Donna in "Mamma Mia!" and was nominated for a Tony Award for her performance. But this is only one of her many accomplishments. French Canadian by birth, Louise has performed the role of Fantine in "Les Miserables" in English and in French in Canada and in Paris, and has played the iconic French chanteuse, Edith Piaf. She has been nominated for three Dora Mavor Moore Awards for her work in her home country. She has recorded several albums and is an acclaimed concert performer. I would call Louise an 'athlete.' She is clearly a type-A personality, a hard worker and a highly disciplined performer, as evinced by her taut, athletic frame (Louise is a wonderful dancer) and the concentration and dedication she brings into the rehearsal studio. You can tell she is having the time of her life playing this dream role! Star vehicles like these do not come along every day, and "Mame" offers one of the finest star turns an actress could have-- the glittering central role of an extravagant musical comedy, complete with a glamour wardrobe of 17 different looks.

One of the gifts of my recent career has been the chance to work with performers like Louise, who have paid their dues and have refined their craft to the highest level. And sometimes I get to work with actors who have truly inspired me as I have come up as a performer.
How delighted I was to learn I would have the chance to work with, and get to know, the fabulous Judith Blazer. We met in the hallway outside the studio where "Mame" auditions were being held and I just had to approach and tell her how much I admire her work. Judy could not have been more gracious and down to earth. She is a genuine, warm and incredibly funny lady. The first time I saw her was as the doomed Caroline Neville in "Titanic" on Broadway, and I will never forget her luminous presence, fantastic voice, and who can escape those big, soulful eyes of hers? Her career has been extraordinary, and one of her first professional gigs was right here at Goodspeed, in the title role of "The Bloomer Girl." She has starred on Broadway, in daytime drama, as a major concert performer, and opera artiste. She has worked with some of the best in the business: Neil Simon, Michael John LaChiusa, Michael Tilson Thomas, and the legendary Hal Prince, with whom she worked as "Brecht's Woman" in the Broadway show "Love Musik." Judy is an accomplished woman who speaks several languages fluently, is a masterful musician, teacher and founder of a company and school in Ohio. She is, in short, the real deal, and the kind of performer that makes you a better performer just observing her work and playing along with her. I also just adore talking with her, hearing her amazing show business stories and sharing a laugh. She is playing the outrageous, boozy stage star Vera Charles with incredible comic mastery and her rapport with Louise Pitre makes their "bosom buddy" relationship come to delectable life. It is something to behold.

How fortunate am I to be playing Woolsey, who is the close chum of both Vera and Mame and to get to do all my scenes with these two powerhouse actresses?? Truly, this is a gift of an experience I do not take for granted.

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