DIVA TALK: Chatting with Ace's Jill Paice Plus News of Ripley, Dandridge and Bundy

Diva Talk   DIVA TALK: Chatting with Ace's Jill Paice Plus News of Ripley, Dandridge and Bundy News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.
Jill Paice
Jill Paice

JILL PAICE
It's been a busy year for Jill Paice, the American actress who starred in the West End and subsequent Broadway production of The Woman in White, but who is best known for her work as ingénue Niki Harris opposite Tony winner David Hyde Pierce in the award-winning Kander-Ebb-Holmes musical Curtains. Earlier this year, singer-actress Paice returned to London in the short-lived musical Gone with the Wind, based on the famed novel and film of the same name. Now back in the States, Paice is currently in rehearsal for the Signature Theatre's Broadway-aimed musical Ace, which is scheduled to begin previews Aug. 26 at the Arlington, VA, venue. The Richard Oberacker-Robert Taylor musical, directed by Signature artistic director Eric Schaeffer, also boasts the talents of Florence Lacey, Emily Skinner and Christiane Noll, among others. Paice is cast as the mother of a young boy (Dalton Harrod), whose "search to come to terms with his past and unlock his future" is the thrust of the musical. Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of chatting with the down-to-earth artist, who spoke about her current and recent stage projects; that interview follows.

Question: How are rehearsals going for Ace?
Paice: They're going great. We're in the midst of tech right now. We just actually came down to DC on Friday. . . . We rehearsed in New York for, I'd say, two-and-a-half weeks.

Question: How did you get involved in the production?
Paice: I actually worked with our director, Eric Schaeffer, on a reading about a year ago, and I suppose he kept me in mind. And, when Gone with the Wind finished earlier than expected [laughs] in London, I was offered the job.

Question: Tell me about the character you're playing in the new musical.
Paice: I play the mother of a ten-year-old boy, who has never known who his father was or where he comes from. He doesn't know anything about any of his family. The story opens with my character in a suicide attempt — she then meets up with her husband in sort of a limbo, [and he] sends her back to tell her son where he's come from because he deserves to know. It starts in, I would say, 1952 . . . . She starts sending him clues because he's been placed in foster care. She starts sending him to see different people and sending him letters and pages from journals. He slowly starts to unravel his history, where he's from. It goes all the way back to World War I because he learns about his grandparents as well. I don't want to give away too much, but it's got a lot to do with fighter pilots — both his grandfather and his father were fighter pilots.

Question: It sounds interesting.
Paice: It is, and it's kind of interesting the way they're doing it here. All the modern day stuff... or not modern day, but 1952, is [done with] not a lot of color, so that when you do go back into the storytelling, it sort of becomes this M-G-M musical — a lot of bright colors. Maybe not necessarily realistic to 1917, but it aids in the [storytelling] ... a lot of shows have used that device before, but I think it also helps tell our story. Question: How would you describe the score?
Paice: It's beautiful! It's heartbreaking at times. It's gorgeous, gorgeous music. When I had originally read the script, I loved the script, but then you always want to hear the music as well to decide, "Am I going to take this job?" When they sent me some of the music — it's heartbreaking and beautiful.

Question: I know the production is described as Broadway-aimed or Broadway-bound. Do you know what the status of a possible Broadway run is?
Paice: We've got our Broadway producers and management lined up. . . . We know we're here until the end of September, possibly mid-October if we extend, but I don't yet know anything about Broadway.

Question: You had mentioned working with Eric Schaeffer before. Tell me about his style as a director.
Paice: Working with Eric, it's nice to bring a lot of ideas into the room. He'll try anything, and he'll give you something to try. He's not one of those directors that goes home and has every move figured out, which is really fun actually — to be able to come into the room and be a part of the blocking process and not just told where to go or where to exit. And, he's really flexible. If suddenly you realize you've got to be on stage left, he'll switch a whole scene around. He's just very flexible. He's also very diplomatic. He realizes changes need to be made, cuts need to be made. He's very good at talking with our writers. He's very hands on.

Question: It's such a great company with Florence Lacey, Emily Skinner. . . . Are you all enjoying working together?
Paice: We are. When you go out of town together, I feel like you become more of a tight-knit family, just because you don't all rush off to your own families at home every night. We've been having a great time down here.

Question: Since we've never spoken before, I just want to go back a little bit. Where were you born and raised?
Paice: I was actually born in North Dakota, but I wasn't raised there. I was an Air Force brat. I moved around a lot.

Question: When did you start performing?
Paice: I guess I was in my first community theatre production when I was eight years old. That was in Ohio, where I did most of my growing up.

Question: When do you think you knew that performing would be your career, rather than something you did for fun?
Paice: I would say, not until I was 16. . . . I'm from Dayton, Ohio, which has lots of tours come through. My parents were so great about taking me to all of those. My parents never thought that I'd be in theatre either, but we enjoyed going to the theatre on a Sunday afternoon, so I saw lots and lots of tours. I never realized those people got paid to do what they do. [Laughs.] I didn't realize! There was a great program in Dayton called The Muse Machine, which a lot of us have come up through. It gives you semi-professional training. They do a musical once a year in Dayton. They use kids from all over, from all the schools in the area, and bring in the Broadway sets and oftentimes bring in the Broadway costumes. Our directors are from New York as well, so you sort of get that extra step. I was doing a production of Me and My Girl. I was playing Sally, and our music director caught my mom after a rehearsal one time and said, "You really should let Jill do this." That's what made me start to think about, "Well, maybe I should go to college for this."

Question: Did you end up going to school for performing?
Paice: Yeah, I went to Baldwin-Wallace College in Cleveland, Ohio.

Question: When did you get to New York?
Paice: I got to New York three days after I graduated, in 2002. [Laughs.] I feel like you just have to go, don't you? You have to pack up your life immediately because it just gets scarier and scarier the longer you wait. So, a friend of mine from college and I found a sublet together, and we moved immediately.

Question: You actually made your West End debut before you made your Broadway debut, right?
Paice: Yeah, I did. [Laughs.]

Question: That's got to be fairly rare for an American actor.
Paice: Yeah, it was crazy. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that I would get to go over to the West End. I was just thinking, "Oh, my gosh, can I even get to Broadway?" And then to be sort of plucked and taken over to London .... I couldn't sleep at night. I was so excited to be there.

Jill Paice in The Woman in White
photo by Paul Kolnik

Question: How did the casting for Woman in White come about?
Paice: They were having difficulty casting the role in London. Trevor Nunn sent out the word to America. I had just finished Mamma Mia! in Las Vegas. I had just gotten back to the city and... Jim Carnahan was putting people on tape, and by some miracle I ended up in a room with sort of the A-List of Broadway, which I certainly wasn't. I can remember sitting there, and Hunter Foster was in the room and Brian d'Arcy James — all the people that I had gone to see in shows. I felt completely out of my element. They put us on tape. I never expected to hear anything, but I was cast in Fiddler on the Roof on Broadway. I think my agent sent word to London saying, "We're not interested anymore," so then they immediately flew me over. I always feel so arrogant talking about it. [Laughs.] They flew me over to London, which was the thrill of my lifetime, and I sang for Andrew Lloyd Webber and Trevor Nunn and [producer] Sonia Friedman. I remember I was ill, and I wasn't feeling well. After that overnight flight, I was feeling the worst. I called my mom from one of those red phone booths in London, which look cute but actually smell like wee. [Laughs.] They're not so romantic as you think they are. I remember calling her and just saying, "I didn't do very well. I'm so disappointed." And she said, "Well, you've still got Broadway to come back to!" I said, "Oh, I know, but I want to be in London now." I got back to my hotel room, and there was a note under the door asking me to stay to do another session, which I couldn't believe. So I ended up staying. By the second day I got back to my hotel room, and my agent called and said that I had the job.

Question: What was working in London like?
Paice: It was amazing. I mean, to be taken over there... it's like a vacation, isn't it? We were just so well looked after. It was a thrill. There would be moments when I would be in a room with Trevor Nunn and Andrew Lloyd Webber and Michael Crawford and Maria Friedman... I'm 24 years old, thinking, "This isn't happening to me, is it?" My goodness, I couldn't believe it! Once the show opened, there was so much time to go see things and to take advantage of being that close to Europe. It was great. It was a fantastic experience.

Question: And then you came back here, did Woman in White on Broadway, and then Curtains came about.
Paice: And then Curtains, yes.

Paice with Curtains co-star David Hyde Pierce
photo by Joan Marcus

Question: Looking back on your experience in Curtains, is there anything that particularly stands out for you?
Paice: Curtains was a unique experience because we went to L.A. together, and then we came back to Broadway together. Having David Hyde Pierce and Deb Monk at the top of our cast — their beautiful, good energy just trickled down, and I have never known a cast to bond quite the way that we did. It was truly a family. It's a family that has stayed in touch and has looked after each other even once the show has closed. I can't sing the praises enough about that company, which was the nicest company on Broadway, and David Hyde Pierce is the gentleman of Broadway. We were just so blessed. The show itself was such a send-up to Broadway anyway. To then make it to Broadway was so wonderful. Question: Was it difficult to leave Curtains to go do Gone with the Wind?
Paice: It was. From an emotional point of view, leaving this group that I had spent a year-and-a-half of my life with was difficult, but when you're offered Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind, I don't think you can say no. [Laughs.]

Question: Did Gone with the Wind come about because you had worked with Trevor?
Paice: Yeah. Well, actually, when I was doing Woman in White in London, I happened to be at a dinner party one night with Trevor and just asked what he was doing next. He said, "Well I'm going to be workshopping a production of Gone with the Wind," and I just about fell out of my chair! I did fall out of my chair because I'm in love with "Gone with the Wind." I've always been such a fan of it. So, Trevor and I were just talking about ideas. He said, "You know I can't have you do it. You're here doing Woman in White. [The workshop] would be 10-6, and that's a big role to take on." And I said, "No, no, no I completely understand." And then a couple of weeks later, he called and asked if I would do it. I had workshopped it, and then they had flown me over again to do the demo, and Trevor is very faithful. Aldo Scrofani, who was one of our producers, was willing to be very faithful. Here I am, a no-name really. I'm not a Hollywood star. They brought me back over to London to do Gone with the Wind.

Question: What do you think were the problems with the show, and what do you think were its strengths? Do you think it could have another life?
Paice: It's a fantastic piece. It really is, and there are some beautiful, brilliant moments. It's a great story. . . . We were just in previews as they trimmed it down and got it down to three hours and 15 minutes. We were just getting better and better audience reaction, and we were really fueled by that, and we were excited by that. We got to opening night and had standing ovations, which in London you just don't get standing ovations. They are very reserved with their ovations over there. In no way were we shielded or protected from what then happened. We weren't expecting those kinds of reviews. I didn't think we would get amazing reviews because, for heaven's sake, we're trying to put "Gone with the Wind" onstage. But I think the press over there had, weeks before, months before, decided that Trevor Nunn was not going to succeed putting the greatest novel, the greatest film, up on stage. It wouldn't have mattered, I don't think, what we had presented. They weren't going to have liked anything about it, and that's exactly what happened.

Darius Danesh and Jill Paice in Gone with the Wind
photo by Catherine Ashmore

Question: That must have been really disheartening after working so hard.
Paice: Absolutely. For any actor, you pour your heart and your soul into these pieces because you cannot dare question them because you're up there doing them eight times a week. And you're not watching it, you're just trying to make it work — constantly trying to make it work. Even if there are moments that you know aren't working, every night you get to them, and you continue to try. You do not question. So, yes, when that happened we were crushed. There was an energy at the theatre. You would walk in, and you could feel this cloud hanging over everybody. But thank God — Aldo Scrofani got out there and raised more money, did a whole new publicity push... I'm sure anybody else would have closed us the next day! They kept us going for nearly another two months, whatever it was, because he believed in the piece. We all did, and that was the problem, because none of us were up for that sort of disappointment. So, as our run continued, that cloud sort of disappeared and we said, "Well, we don't know how long we're here, but let's make the most of it." And we managed to have a great time together. And, again, we bonded because it just felt like we were fighting this uphill battle with the press. The press wouldn't let it go. They kept mentioning it in their papers every once in awhile. A new show would open up, and they'd say, "Well, it's not as long as Gone with the Wind ." They just kept digging at us for no reason. And that's what I mean by . . . we weren't going to make it because they were ready to tear us down, and they were going to continue to tear us down even if we made it through the summer. They kept doing things like that to us, and I think it's unfair and uncalled for. That didn't have anything to do with the piece. That was just a dig. Question: Did you get to record the score?
Paice: No, and we didn't get to do a souvenir program. We sort of have our memories that live on with the cast and the people who came to see it. The nice thing is Turner Classic Movies did a documentary on the making of it, which played over in London, and they did give us a copy. It's sort of sad to go back and watch now because we were all so excited. [Laughs.] But, at the same time, it's a great memory of the show, and they did tape some footage of the actual show. To have somebody following you around through the rehearsal process is a nice memento to have. It's just not available to everybody right now. Question: Do you think that the show will get done elsewhere?
Paice: I think they are talking about it, but I don't what their plans are. I think there is still hope for it yet, but I'm not sure where or when.

Question: Other than Ace, do you have any other projects in the works?
Paice: I'm just focused on Ace right now. I just got back to the States, so there's always sort of this reintroduction period where you have to start getting your face out there and reminding people that you're here again. I've just got Ace on my plate right now.

[Ace will play Signature's MAX Theatre Aug. 26-Sept. 28. Tickets, ranging in price from $49 to $86 each, are available by calling (703) 573-7328 or by visiting www.signature-theatre.org.]

Alice Ripley

DIVA TIDBITS
Alice Ripley, who scored some of the best reviews of her career as well as a Drama Desk nomination for her work in the recent Off-Broadway production of Next to Normal, will reprise her role as a bipolar mom in Arena Stage's upcoming production of that acclaimed Tom Kitt-Brian Yorkey musical. Ripley will join the previously announced J. Robert Spencer in Arena's Michael Greif-directed production of Next to Normal, about a family affected by a mother's mental illness and grief. Spencer will play the dad, Dan, the role created Off-Broadway by Shrek's Brian d'Arcy James. Next to Normal will play Nov. 21, 2008-Jan. 18, 2009 at Arena's temporary home in Crystal City, VA. For more information about the Arena season, visit arenastage.org. The Sh-K-Boom/Ghostlight concert series at Joe's Pub, which will present a mix of Broadway performers and composers Mondays at 11:30 PM, will kick off Sept. 8 with RIPLEY, the rock band comprising songwriter/guitarist/lead singer Alice Ripley, drummer Shannon Ford and keyboard player Christopher Schelling. The series will continue Sept. 15 at 11:30 PM with recent Spring Awakening star Lauren Pritchard. The young singing actress will perform tunes from her forthcoming debut album, which is due at the end of the year. And, TASTiSKANK — which features Sarah Litzsinger and Kate Reinders — will perform Sept. 22 at 11:30 PM. The group is billed as "the rockin' love child of Tenacious D and the Indigo Girls." Joe's Pub is located within the Public Theater at 425 Lafayette Street. Tickets are available by calling (212) 967-7555 or by visiting www.joespub.com.

Merle Dandridge

Merle Dandridge, whose Broadway credits include Rent, Tarzan and Aida, will join the cast of the Tony-winning Monty Python's Spamalot at the Shubert Theatre in September. Dandridge will succeed Marin Mazzie in the role of The Lady of The Lake beginning Sept. 2. For more information visit www.montypythonsspamalot.com. Laura Osnes, who recently completed a year-long stint as Sandy in the Tony-nominated revival of Grease, has been cast in the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts' Broadway: Three Generations, a three-act evening featuring condensed versions of Girl Crazy, Bye Bye Birdie and Side Show, which will be presented at the Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater Oct. 2-5. Lonny Price directs. Osnes, who joins the previously announced Randy Graff, Brooks Ashmanskas, Lisa Brescia, Jenn Colella, Michael McElroy and Max von Essen, will play Kim MacAfee in Birdie. Tickets, priced $25-$90, are available by visiting www.kennedy-center.org.

The fall season at Feinstein's at Loews Regency has been announced. The new season at the intimate nightspot will kick off with Michael Feinstein's The Sinatra Project (Sept. 2-6), followed by Ashford & Simpson (Sept. 9-20), "Hairspray" film star Nikki Blonsky (Sept. 23-Oct. 4), Lynda Carter (Oct. 21-25), Kentucky Girlfriends (featuring Crystal Gayle and Laura Bell Bundy, Oct. 28-Nov. 1), Tony winner Brian Stokes Mitchell (Nov. 11-15) and Garrison Keillor (in Man in Tux with Red Shoes and Piano, Sunday nights Dec. 7-28). The Sunday-Monday series will include Anna Bergman with special guest Brent Barrett in My Heart Stood Still: The Love Songs of Richard Rodgers (Sept. 14, 15 and 21), Alexis Houston (Sept. 28), La Tanya Hall (in What Love Is, Sept. 29), Sal Manzo (in A Recipe for Beautiful Music, Oct. 5-6), Magical Nights at Feinstein's (Oct. 12, 19 and Nov. 2, 9, 16, 23 and 30), Gianni Russo (in An Evening You Can't Refuse, Oct. 20), Adam Pascal (in Broadway State of Mind, Oct. 26-27), George S. Irving (Nov. 3), Giada Valenti (Nov. 10), Miles Phillips (Nov. 17), Brandon Cutrell (in Feelin' Frosty, Dec. 1) and Kathryn Crosby (in Christmas with Bing and Kathryn Crosby, Dec. 15). Feinstein's at Loews Regency is located in Manhattan at 540 Park Avenue at 61st Street. For reservations call (212) 339-4095 or visit feinsteinsatloewsregency.com or TicketWeb.com.

Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.