How much leeway does Pseudolus get?
It's a combination of things. First, with Whoopi's
comedy experience, I think Jerry wanted to give her leeway to find
things in the show that would be comfortable for her. So the script
was there but she was allowed to wander around a
little bit. But
nothing happens on the stage without the approval of the director and
the playwright and composer.
So, there's no improv from night to night if she feels...?
At a moment she may improvise but after her performance is over,
there will be a discussion whether it was good or not, whether it was
right for the show.
Her ad-libs to latecomers at the beginning of the show - and Nathan did this also -
really serve two purposes. The
audience has to settle down before the play begins. The show is so
complicated and so much happens. Ad libbing with the inevitable
latecomers as they are sitting down enables the audience to settle, and
then, once everybody's in their seat, we genuinely begin.
people figure out what the three houses are - well I suppose,
eventually they figure it out. But weve had people come in 45 minutes
late, even an hour late. These people have got to be lost!
But [the ad libs]
give the audience an opportunity to settle down so they can start
listening to the show. It also gives the show a lift. This way each
audience feels that they've experienced something unique. And to a
certain extent, it is unique. But also anticipated because
you don't want to leave too much to chance. Whoopi has been playing
around with it and she's always open to the odd circumstance that will
lead her to fresher fields.
I'm surprised they didn't change the name to
Pseudola. Knowing how particular Sondheim is, and with him having
studied Latin, I figured he would know that the feminine case ends with
-a not -us.
Changing he to she became so hard. It's so difficult making a small
change like that. Changing the character's name would have been like
what happened in Gypsy. When they were playing out of town they hadn't
had June Havoc's permission yet, and they changed her character's name to Baby
Claire. I think they said that at opening night out of town most
people said Baby Cloon because people just couldn't remember.
Tell us about when you were covering Nathan.
With Nathan the challenge was to try to keep up with
him. He's a genius!
Are there any lines that were Nathan's that just didn't work for you?
Never having gone on for Nathan, I don't have that experience so I
can't really tell you... yet! There were certain things that I think
were unique to Nathan just as there are contributions that Bob Amaral
(the other Pseudolus Cover) made when he was on that then became
absorbed into the show. If you recall the Macarena, that was Bob's idea
originally. He did it when he was on and it got such a response Nathan
picked it up and now it's been refined even further for Whoopi.
try to do as an understudy in general is to cause the least havoc to
the production around me. At least that's what I've tried to do. But
Pseudolus is a whole different plate of fish. It's such an enormous
role that people will have to accommodate me to a great extent. But
with regard to the other covers I have [Senex, that dirty old man, and
Miles Gloriousus, the braggart captain] I really try to do precisely
what the guys I cover are doing. This is a show that requires more
precision than any show that I've ever done. But as far as Pseudolus is
concerned, we're still in the realm of theory as regards to me.
But you do rehearse it?
I've had a couple of rehearsals.
With the cast?
No, always with the other Standbys. If you're going into the show,
they'll give you a rehearsal with the cast. But generally, as a
Standby, you don't get that luxury. Miles was the first role that I
performed in Forum. That happened the week we opened.
There was no
costume made for me yet and I didn't fit in Cris's [Groenendaal] costume.
I had one rehearsal as I recall. At any rate, they sort of
laced me into Cris's costume and somehow or another we got through the
show. But again it's from watching the show as frequently as we did
in rehearsal, and watching it change and grow and watching it in
performance that you get to know the character. It's almost like doing
it, but of course not quite. Since then I have been on in that role
almost fifty times!
The first time I went on for Senex I did have a
couple of rehearsals. I was very nervous about that one. Lewis
Stadlen and Nathan are so close and they do so much together on stage
of such an intimate nature comically that I really didn't want to upset
Nathan's apple cart. My big fear was that somehow
or another I'd hurt his performance. As it turned out he was lovely and
supportive and so helpful and generous. I went on as Senex about twenty times as
Lewis was shooting a movie at the time. Nathan was so extraordinary and so
helpful everytime I went on. It was an
incredibly positive experience for me each time.
How far in advance do they let you know you're covering?
It varies. One night, for Senex, I found out fifteen minutes before
the curtain went up. But it varies dramatically.
What do you do for preparation?
There is no adequate preparation.
Because you've got three roles in your head?
When we were in rehearsal the stage manager told me Miles
would be my primary responsibility because there
wasn't and still isn't another Miles cover. I'm the only one. So
that one had to be learned first.
For Senex there was another cover so that was my second role to learn.
Pseudolus comes just from watching the show. Pseudolus is in
every scene and it begins to seep it's way in subliminally. But you
have to have an order of priorities otherwise you'd go crazy. There was
one time that I was on for Senex that I almost said a Miles line. It's
odd when that happens.
Miles and Senex and Pseudolus are three incredibly different roles.
Once you get your head moving in the right direction it's very difficult
for the needle to skip over into another band and pick up another
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