I remember when I was in Into the Woods. I did the first workshop and the pre-Broadway workshop. Well, I sat there in that workshop lusting after those children's songs, the Cinderella song is one of those songs, and the song for Jack. The witch had these rap tunes and that one little perfect melody which Sondheim told me in rehearsals that he wrote for me, the "Stay with me" melody. I was just yearning. Because nobody writes such profound character with such multi-dimensional, psychological complexity and such beautiful melody with such complicated and beautiful dissonance that describes with musical sound the character's emotions and feelings. There are certain chords in the universe that can just open one's soul; they are so darkly, darkly beautiful. And that is one of the things I love more than anything; a sort of dark beauty in music that is the most perfect deep, velvet red, almost to the point of being purplely rose that just opens itself so wide. It's like this kind of beautiful wound. And he writes that and that's one of the things I love most in music.
The other thing is the quest for character. I consider myself first and foremost a storyteller and then an actor-singer and that kind of material is very rare: that beautiful, that clear and that sophisticated all at the same time. I think "Rose's Turn" is one of the most perfect pieces of musical theater, ever. So the opportunity to play that part with a more mature understanding and more psychological perspective was something that I really was very grateful to get to do.
What I try to do when I have a character who behaves monstrously... See I don't believe there's any human being who is completely good nor is there any human being who is completely bad. I think we're all full of light and dark and infinite shades of gray and I find that fascinating about people. Years ago my favorite actresses were Kim Stanley and Geraldine Paige, later years Gena Rowlands and I wanted to be an actress like that. I wanted to be someone who had the skills to do the complicated, heavy-duty stuff and so I studied and studied and studied and worked and worked and worked and practiced and practiced and practiced to become that kind of actress. So I have that ability now and I interpreted the character accordingly. Just because Ethel Merman played it that way or just because that's the way that we remember the part... it's not written in stone. I feel like it's a large enough piece in terms of its absolute greatness that it can hold the possibility of another angle on it. That's what I wanted to bring to it.
Do you have a favorite Sondheim song?
Will we be hearing much Sondheim material at your upcoming concert at the Carlyle?
I remember one time, years ago, some critic in some magazine didn't speak about him in the sacred terms that I felt that they should. I called the magazine when I was a young actress and I spoke with the editor; I was just livid. And he said, "People have a right to write what they..." and I said, "No you don't. Stephen Sondheim is one of our greatest writers in theater and we need to honor him and revere him and how dare you, who do you think you are?" That's the kind of passion I feel about him. So when he said this to me backstage at Sunset Boulevard I was just awestruck; I couldn't believe it. I said, "I feel like this student and the work I've done with these songs was always true to your themes. I just took them as far in that direction as they would go." I thought my work was honoring his and he didn't see it that way. So I swore to him that I would be true to his intent from that moment on and he told me that that's the way he needed it to be. I've seen him in passing since then and he's always been kind. He's such a great artist and a wonderfully complicated person.
Did you get any feedback from him on Gypsy?
Have you then gone back to his songs and performed them the way he wants them done?
How has Broadway and musical theater changed since you started?
Do you see any new, young composers coming up in the business?
No, I don't find it frustrating. I'm not one of these people who sit around and think, I've got to do this, I've got to do that. In fact to be honest with you, I was glad that Gypsy was only seven weeks long because it's such a difficult part if you do it full out, eight times a week. It's hard to do that, very difficult. Like being a finely tuned marathon runner and running way too many marathons without enough time to recover. I wasn't that upset that the show didn't move forward. I've done some great, wonderful shows and I've been very privileged to get to do so. If some others come along in my life that would just be frosting on the cake and on the other hand as long as I can do music, as long as I can work with the great musicians with whom I work I'll be satisfied. I would like to be able to sing for as much of my life as I can and I hope my voice and my ability to experience music last till the day I die. That would be what I would hope for. If it doesn't happen that way it would be a very difficult thing to have to go through. I can honestly say I love music just about more than anything; it's one of my dearest loves.
Are there any roles that you'd like to play that you haven't had a chance at yet?
We look forward to seeing you again on stage. Thank you Betty.
Assassins is about how society interprets the American Dream, marginalizes outsiders and rewrites and sanitizes its collective history. "Something Just Broke" is a major distraction and plays like an afterthought, shoe horned simply to appease. The song breaks the dramatic fluidity and obstructs the overall pacing and climactic arc which derails the very intent and momentum that makes this work so compelling...
- Mark Bakalor
Which is not to say that it is perfect...
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