by Bruce Janiga
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I was born in Florida and raised in Hollywood California. My mother was
Judy Canova, comedienne of 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s. So I was raised in show
What was that like, growing up?
It's all I knew. I never questioned. Everybody in the family, everybody's
family, we all took piano lessons and singing lessons and I just happened
to be really good as a singer. There was never really a question in my mind
that I wanted to be a performer. Being raised in Hollywood was normal, and fun.
You didn't know anything else...
And it was fun.
And all these people who we see on television you were hanging out with.
Yes, which was very cool. I studied hard and I did all the plays and I was going
to be an opera singer because I had an operatic voice and I was a lyric soprano,
I was going to be a colatura. I went to L.A. City College to see a musical
there. I had always loved musical theater. The first musical I had seen was
Angela Lansbury doing Mame, I was about 10 years old. I said "I've got
to do it." I had grown up watching my mom do state fairs and TV and other things
but seeing a full scale musical really thrilled me. So I went to see this
musical at LACC and I fell in love with the facility and everything. I had a
full voice scholarship to Cal Arts and I chucked it and went to a junior college
to study theater. I started working in TV when I was in college. I was doing
sitcoms because I was funny. I saw Company
when I was in high school and I thought that was the most incredible thing I'd
ever seen and I fell in love with Sondheim and was a Sondheim freak thereafter.
I went on to do television. I did a show called Soap. My career has be
based mostly in television. I starred on Broadway a couple of times. I was
in They're Playing Our Song and then in Company.
How about playing Juanita Juanita in The First Nudie Musical?
Up until this last movie I did with Meryl Streep, that was the extent of my
film career. It was a cult favorite.
How did you come to be cast in Company?
My manager was responsible for it. His name is Jim Curtin. He knows theater
extremely well and he said "You've got to try out for Company. They're
doing it at the Roundabout. You're perfect for Jenny. You're born to play that
part." And I really wanted to try out for it and I got whooping cough and I
couldn't sing. So they had read everybody in town. Scott Ellis had auditioned
everybody and my agent kept calling and asking, "Are you well yet?" and I said,
"No, I'm not!" I couldn't sing. I could barely talk. But as it turned out it was
meant to be. After Scott Ellis had seen everybody, and I mean everybody, I
finally got well and almost the entire show had been cast. I went in at the
very end. I was one of the last people he saw and I walked in and I was late
for my audition because I couldn't find the studio and it was a big mess. I
walk in in tears and I said, "I can't do this anymore! I can't take this."
because I was so scared. I thought Steve was going to be there. I was terrified.
When I walked in it was just Scott and Pat McCorkle who was casting it and I
went ahead and I sang and we all laughed at the fact that I was drying my eyes
up with my skirt. He called me back two weeks later to come in one more time
for Rob Marshall, the choreographer, David Louden, and all the other people.
And by the time I got in the cab it was mine.
I was really lucky. He said that there hadn't been anyone else who came close
to doing the material, which made me feel incredible.
What did you do to audition?
I had to do the pot-smoking scene and I sang "Poor Baby" and that was it. They
faxed me the material and they wanted me to sing just that little section. I
didn't sing "Bless this day" because they had already cast Patricia Ven
Petersen who is an incredible soprano. Susan doesn't have a song other than
"Poor Baby" so they had already given her "Bless this day" which was fine with
What did you do to prepare for Jenny? What can you tell us about Jenny as you developed her through rehearsals and the run of the show?
Mostly it was a combination of Scott's openness to exploration as the director,
which I love about him, and his incredible sense of humor, he's one of the
funniest people alive and that really helped me. Also his total understanding
of the piece, working with Boyd Gaines in rehearsal and John Hilner who played
my husband, all of that became my safety net and she just emerged. Jenny is a
lot of me. I'm very much like that.
She is loving, the can-do gal, she wants to please everyone. You only
get to see her a tiny little bit, as you do with all of these people. You
only get snapshots. You see the person who is the peacemaker. It's funny
because the way John was playing David, some people were really disturbed
by the relationship because I' so good and you just know that he is a bad
guy and you figure he's completely domineering and she goes along with it
because she does love him. I don't know whether you know the story of this.
George Furth told us about David Selznik and Jennifer Jones; he actually
had this experience with them. That's who David and Jenny are: the famous
producer and the star. You could see the turnaround when all of a sudden
she started having fun, it was time to stop. What I love about it is that
you see the whole relationship in one scene. It's a little piece and if
you get it right it can be pretty chilling. And I think we got it right.
You were working with a revival, so I suppose in rehearsal there wasn't much tinkering going on, except the addition of "Marry Me a Little".
That was about it.
Was that deliberate from the start?
To my knowledge it was always there. And I thought it worked great. I thought it
was a perfect thing to do. And the "Tick Tock" dance was put back in. I know in
London it wasn't there. For me, because I had seen the original and I saw Donna
McKechnie and thought it was the sexiest, most incredible thing I'd ever seen
onstage, I was so glad that I got to watch Charlotte do it every night. Veanne
Cox and I would sit on the couch behind the scrim and it was fabulous. I felt
What was it like rehearsing for this?
A joy. Every step of the way. It was the hardest I've ever worked and
the most joyful I've ever had in my life in anything I've every done and
I've done some really wonderful things just for myself where I got so much
joy out of it. But to be able to sing....the first time we actually sang
Company when we all figured it out and we ran it through was amazing. Even
the first day, we sat down around the piano and I started it. I waited six
beats and I sang "Bobby..." and I went, "I can't believe I'm doing this!
This is the greatest moment of my life." The rehearsal process was great. When
we worked on scenes we were having a ball. Especially
for my scene because it was so funny. All we did was laugh. You only have
4 to 6 weeks to fall in love with each other which didn't take long because
e everybody was so astoundingly wonderful. We became incredibly close. Just
the scene itself, Boyd and John and I were able to get it pretty quickly.
Were there any reservations about doing a pot scene?
The only concern was that it might be dated.
Did Steve or George show up during rehearsals much?
George show up once we were on our feet and in the theater and was wonderful.
George had come to see me when I was seventeen. I did Mame in a church,
and he remembered it. I played Vera Charles and he said, "I remember you, that
was a brave performance. You were so great, you were so young." And I said "I
can't believe you were there!" So he was there a bunch.
Steve came. We got the score really down pat and after a couple of weeks
into it Steve came and gave us his notes which was awe-inspiring for me
to have him in the room and be singing, especially that opening number.
We finished it and everyone was turning blue, it's a really tough number
to sing and it had sounded incredible and there was silence and you heard
him say, "It'll never sound that good in the theater." And we
all laughed. I don't know if he was right or wrong. All we know is that
at that moment we were feeling something quite extraordinary. We were pretty
excited that he was there.
When the did the show in London there was a scene, the "gay scene" so to speak. Was there any talk of doing that here?
Not in our show. There were so many rumors flying around as to why we
didn't move. One of them was, and this is roughly the story that we were
told, that there was a producer who was going to put up the money and we
were ready to move and in two weeks we were going to move from the Roundabout
and we were told when the move didn't happen that there were some changes
that this person was insisting upon and one of them was he wanted the gay
scene put in; he wanted Bobby to be gay. Steve and Scott both agreed that
rather than go against the integrity of this particular production, they
agreed that it would be better to let it go out with a bang, after having
sold out the Roundabout, breaking records, lets' go out that way.
Sam Mendes put it in in London. Steve loved the London production based
on the way he spoke of it. He was pretty excited about it. But he didn't
want to do it with ours. He and Scott felt that they had gone in a particular
direction and that's the way he wanted it to stay. I don't think either
one of them wanted to be dictated to creatively either and they were right
in that. Unfortunately we suffered. We were devastated. Scott had not called
me. I guess I was on the road coming into work but I never heard. I got
there and everybody was so upset and I thought someone had died. And Jane
Krakowski said, "Didn't you hear? Didn't Scott call you?" And
I said, "No, what's the matter?" And she said, "We're not
moving. It's over. We're closing in two weeks." It was one of the worst
things. The last two weeks were really tough.
About a week before we closed I was walking out and there were some people
who had just seen the show and they were lamenting the fact that we were
closing and they said, "New York needs this show." And there was
nothing I could say. They tried so hard. We were going to move to the Cherry
Lane, the Union Square. They wanted to put us somewhere and after talking
about it at length we pretty much knew that it had to stop. When you work
at the Roundabout, you can't live on what you make at the Roundabout. So
the other thing was financial. We weren't asking for the moon. We believed
in the show so much and we knew we were doing something wonderful and we
felt strongly about it but the money was another factor. If we were to move
downtown we that that could just kill us. How long can you live in that
kind of money? There were people who were fathers and husbands and raising
families and it just wasn't feasible.
What was it like playing for the first time to an audience?
The audiences were so odd. Subscription audiences can be so odd. And
they were quiet sometimes. You could hear a pin drop. You'd go out there
and be doing what you thought was a wonderful job , you'd be cooking on
stage because the material is what it is, and nothing. And then the next
night standing ovation. So it was weird.
We were very fortunate because Jim Clough who had an iron voice, when
Boyd got sick, Jim was there. His voice was so astounding and you heard
the score. And that's what people were coming to hear. But what was so nice
was that in this production George really felt that his book was being heard
as well. That made us all feel really good.
What was opening night like for you?
It scared me to death. La Chanze had to take my hand, look in my eyes
and pray with me because I was so nervous. At that point we had been performing
for a month but this was big and I hadn't had an opening night like this.
When I went into They're Playing Our Song I followed Stockard Channing.
It had already been running but this was different. This was big. This was
the biggest thing I'd ever done and I was terrified. For me getting out
there is the most fun in the world and this just scared me. But once I heard
that opening note everything was okay. Just get in place, let the light hit
your face, everything will be fine. And it was wonderful. It was a great,
Jenny has the first notes, right?
Yep. I opened it.
Any stories from the run?
We had promised each other that we wouldn't tell each other who was in
the audience. So one night Kate Burton just couldn't keep her mouth shut.
She looked like the cat that swallowed the canary during the first act.
I said, "What is it? There's somebody out there, it there?" She
said, "Do you want to know?" I said, "You can't tell me."
Then she said, "Don't you want to know?" Finally I said, "Alright,
who is it?" And she said, "Warren Beatty." For some reason
that just rocked me to my socks and I went out there to sing "Poor
Baby" and I completely choked, I started to cough. But it was great
because at the end he and Annette started the standing ovation and then
afterwards I got to meet them and he gave me a hug because I said, "
I realized you were out there and I almost passed out." He gave me
a big hug. It was worth it for that.
And then the night that Julie Andrews came. That was like having an audience
with the queen. And the night Dean Jones came. He signed my book. He signed
it "Class of 69". Everybody who came, who was in show business really dug the
It's very special piece. I remember looking out there one night, there
was a woman standing up, applauding at the curtain call, tears just streaming
down her face. And then another night there was a thirteen year old boy
in the front row and he was just beside himself with joy. He was thirteen,
like a kid!
You gave him the bug.
Yeah. That's pretty neat.
What was the recording session like? Was it anything like the video of "The Making Of"?
No. For one thing we didn't have "la Stritch". Enough said. She's so cool. I
was on my way down 46th Street, I was going to Joe Allen's for dinner and I ran
into her. I had never met her but having seen the original I said "I have to
introduce myself. I'm in the revival of Company." She said to me,
(imitating Stritch) "Oh, Don't you hate 'Side by Side'?"" I said, "Well, yeah,
it's a killer." Then she said, "You know, everytime we had to go (singing)
'What would we do without you' I'd wanna kill myself!"
I wish I could put your imitation on paper.
Unless you hear the voice you can't really....It was so funny. And she
said, "I'm gonna come see it. I don't want you to get nervous. I won't
tell you because I don't want you to be nervous."
One night the set didn't come out for Veanne on "I'm Not Getting
Married" which was very funny. Danny Burstein was supposed to come
out and say, "Honey, I can't find my shoes," and he came out and
he said, "Honey, I can't find my set anywhere." It was great.
The house came down. So she just came out with a stool and they did the
whole scene with a stool. They could not get the set on the stage.
What is it about poor Bobby? In the original production and then in your production the poor guy keeps getting sick.
This was such a nightmare for everyone. For Boyd, it was horrible. We
called it dueling Bobbys after a while because we had dueling Bobbys. There
were different things I had to do prop-wise for each guy. Sometimes I had
to remember which Bobby I was catering to. Acting-wise it was a completely
different ballgame. They are two totally different actors, both quite wonderful
and I felt for Boyd. I had vocal problems for about a week. It had started
around when Warren Beatty came and I thought it was because he was there.
In retrospect I finally figured it out because I was smoking this herbal
cigarette that they made into a joint. I would be smoking that stuff and
I would be laughing and then I would sing "Poor Baby" later on
and I couldn't figure out what was the matter with my throat. It took me
a year before I realized I was smoking and I would have to inhale and I
was doing all that raucous laughing. So I thought, this I've been going
through for a week of hell and I only have to sing a little bit as far as
the solo is concerned but poor Boyd, when he would go out there and sing
Someone Is Waiting" your heart would just break because he couldn't
hit those notes. We'd all be looking down at him , knowing he was in a lot
of pain. It was hard. As sublime an experience as it was it was tough to
watch him go through that. We knew that he was going to stick it out because
he was the quintessential Bobby, Boyd Gaines was one of the most brilliant
Bobbys ever. He was so right for the part. I just think vocally, and I know
he would agree with this, but vocally it conquered him. I don't think anybody
expected that to happen. It just shows you what an incredibly difficult
score it is. That's one of the hardest roles in musical theater for a male
vocally, it's just a killer.
What are we going to see you in in the future? Any
I always have my finger in something. I audition for stuff in New York
every once in a while. I just did a small role in a movie with Meryl Streep
and William Hurt. So I'm working. I spend a lot of time teaching kids.
What do you teach?
Theater and singing and I really love it. Right now I'm directing
Babes in Arms with high school kids and I direct Shakespeare with them.
I love it.
Here's you chance, someone's going to read this on the net. What role do you die for? Anything that you really want to play that if someone offered it to you you'd jump on?
I really want to do Sally in Follies.
I told Steve, "You gotta let me audition for Sally." And he said, "Oh it's too
expensive, we'll never do it again." I played it in college, LA City
College, it was an incredible school and we got the rights and we were the
first college to do Follies. Gene Nelson came to see it, which was pretty
thrilling and that was a huge thrill for me because I was playing Sally and I
was 19. So I told him, "You know Steve, I did it when I was nineteen,
I'd really like to do it when I'm really old enough to play the
part." So that's the part I would kill for. She's a lot like Jenny too. She's
like Jenny grown up, in a way. There's that innocence about both of them.
It's what I loved about Jenny.
Anything else I need to know from you?
Just that dreams come true. This was a complete dream of mine. I always
wanted to do a Sondheim show. I auditioned for Into the Woods and I got
very close to replacing Joanna Gleeson. It was one of those things where
I was apparently very close. I had gone back and Steve had me learn the
whole score and I went back and worked with Chip Zien and I didn't get it
and I would have loved to have done it but this made up for everything.
And even if I don't do another Sondheim show it doesn't matter because
I have this and I will never, ever forget how wonderful it was.
It was a great production and those of us who saw it are grateful to have had the chance to see it.
I'm glad that I could be of service.