DIVA TALK: Chatting with Anything Goes' Jessica Stone

Diva Talk   DIVA TALK: Chatting with Anything Goes' Jessica Stone
 
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Jessica Stone
Jessica Stone

JESSICA STONE
The gifted comedic actress Jessica Stone, whose Broadway credits include Butley, The Odd Couple, Smell of the Kill, How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying and Grease, is currently back on The Great White Way in the acclaimed revival of Cole Porter's Anything Goes, which recently won three Tony Awards including Best Revival of a Musical. Stone, who is married to fellow actor Christopher Fitzgerald (Finian's Rainbow), is cast as the boy-crazy gangster's moll Erma in the musical theatre classic, which features direction and Tony-winning choreography by Kathleen Marshall. Following this past Wednesday's matinee at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre, I had the chance to chat with the singing actress about her latest stage role, her co-stars and her other role as mom to two young boys; that brief interview follows.

Question: Did you have a matinee today?
Jessica Stone: I did. We just finished about 20 minutes ago, and I got out of my wig and my costume, and called my husband and the boys, and now I'm calling you.

Question: How was the matinee?
Stone: It was good, thanks! It was a nice crowd.

Question: When I went to see the show before the Tonys, the audiences were so enthusiastic. I wonder, has it gotten even more so since all of the Tony wins?
Stone: You know, it's been pretty consistent. If anything, we had a couple of shows right after the Tonys that we were expecting [audiences] to be rapturous, and they were pretty quiet, and we were like, "Is it us? Are we tired?" Because the Tony season is pretty intense—especially for the dancers—they were performing on the Tonys and performing on "Letterman" and doing all kinds of press, and it's exhausting. It's a lot of rehearsal, so we all were like, "Is this cause we're tired? Where did the audiences go?" And then it was about three shows into that week that after we won the Tony, the audiences started screaming again, but they've been pretty amazing from the get-go.

Question: How did this part come about for you?
Stone: Well, I have known Kathleen for many, many years, and I got a call that I had an audition, and I went in, and found out — I think it was either that night or the next day  — that I got the offer.

Colin Donnell and Jessica Stone in Anything Goes.
photo by Joan Marcus

Question: Had you worked with Kathleen before? You said you knew her, but was that in a working situation or...?
Stone: Yes, I had known her when she was still a dancer, and she was in the national tour of Cats. Actually, at that point, I don't think she was dancing in Cats… she may have been the dance captain at that point. I was on the road with Bye Bye Birdie… and she was dating the pianist at the time [laughs], so we just knew each other socially, you could say. And then I was in one of her shows that she did at City Center Encores!, called Babes in Arms, which was like 12-and-a-half years ago — and that's actually where I met my husband.

Question: What was it like to work with her as a director-choreographer?
Stone: You know, it's a very pleasant experience. It's very low-drama. She's incredibly prepared. Rarely is there a question that goes unanswered by her. She really comes to the table. I think some of that — I don't want to talk about her process, because it's presumptuous of me to talk about her process, but I do think her years at Encores! really ensured that she comes to the table — any show — just completely prepared. You don't get the feeling that she hasn't read the script. [Laughs.] It's, in many ways, in terms of that, a very seamless process. You show up, she has an idea of where she wants you to go and stand, and what the choreography is… She's really delightful and incredibly thoughtful, and she really has encyclopedic knowledge of the era, and really has a clear idea of the kind of show that she wants to do.

Question: Had you ever done a production of Anything Goes before?
Stone: No, I never have. I knew the music, and I knew a couple of versions of it, because there was the original version and then… the revival… in 1987, which is very famous. There were revisions to the book, but it's funny — it's like a little archaeological dig, looking at Anything Goes because the song, for instance, that I sing in the show, "Buddie, Beware," was originally a Reno song in the original version, and there are versions where my character is this character Bonnie, who is a nightclub singer. There are different characters, and sometimes three people sing "Friendship," sometimes two — it's funny who gets what song, when, in which version, and which character exists. It's fun to track the evolution of the show. This version of the show sticks fairly close to the version done at Lincoln Center in 1987.

Stone and sailors in Anything Goes.
photo by Joan Marcus

Question: How would you describe Erma?
Stone: Oh, Erma's a good time! She's an opportunist, and she's decadent, and she's man crazy, but to a point, at least in this version, or as I am playing her. She typically dates guys who can give her riches and can put a roof over her head because she's a gangster's girlfriend. Then she gets on this boat, and she loses the boyfriend — he doesn't make it to the boat in time, and so she gets on this boat, and as is the title, Anything Goes, so she starts going after these sailors, and these sailors start going after her. By the end, as they near closer to the English shore, she's realizing, "Oh, this has been fun, but, honestly, guys, you can't provide me with the riches, and you can't provide me with all my needs, but it's been fun. Anything does go, so I've been having fun with you on the boat, but now that we've been getting close to land, I'm gonna have to let you down easy." [Laughs.]

Question: Do you have a favorite moment in the show for her?
Stone: I have two favorite moments, but I think my favorite moment is probably "Buddie, Beware," because it's a fun tune, and I just work with these six extraordinary dancers, and they throw me all around the stage, and throw me all around their backs. Not only are they great dancers, but they're great actors and they are really, really fun to play with, and it's a little bit different every night because they're all so present and wonderful, so I think that's probably my favorite. But I would say my second favorite is this little stateroom scene where Joel Grey and I are holed up, and I'm getting sick of being cooped up in there and want to get out, and he's not letting me get out because he thinks I'm going to blow our cover. Then Colin Donnell's character, Billy, comes in, and the plan starts to hatch. And, you know, Joel has such a sweet, sweet presence, and he is also fun to play with on stage, and there is some physical comedy that is a lot of fun to do, so I would say that those are my two favorite moments.

Question: Talk to me a little bit more about working with Joel Grey.
Stone: Well, he's just a really kind man, and old school, and he really shows up every night and is a delight.

Stone, Colin Donnell and Sutton Foster on opening night.
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Question: It's such a great cast — is there a real feeling of family backstage?
Stone: Yeah, there really is. I mean, and that's what I was actually going to say about Joel as well, what's been lovely is that we really have fun. Joel and I really have fun — backstage as well, you know, we laugh a lot. And, the cast — it's really one of the lowest maintenance casts I've ever worked with. It's a sweet bunch of people, and everyone works their tail off. There are a lot of practical jokes backstage, and we all have weird little mini-competitions, random games that crop up that we all sort of partake in throughout the night. Andrew Cao and Ray Lee and I do a silly dance in the wings during the song "Bon Voyage," and that's where the sailors come marching off into the wings. The goal is to see who can get all four sailors to copy the move, and no one has gotten the four yet, by the way, but we've gotten close. Andrew got a 3.5, but whoever wins, the other two have to buy them ice cream. It's stupid stuff, but it's a really silly, fun-loving cast.

Question: On a different subject, I know that you also directed  A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum last year. What was that experience like for you?
Stone: Oh, it was just a ball. I loved every second of it. I loved rediscovering Forum because I had some preconceived notions of what that show was, and I was really humbled and blown away by how elegant and tightly constructed and beautifully constructed that book is. It was a really amazing opportunity that Nicky Martin — who ran Williamstown, who was the artistic director of Williamstown at the time, and who is an old, dear friend, and I've worked with him many times as an actress, but I've also assisted him on things — gave me. I don't think many would give a rookie a musical to do... It was a chance to work with a lot of my dear friends and peers, who are just extraordinary comedians. I wanted to do an all-male version because I was sort of compelled that all of these Roman plays by Plautus that the show is based on were created [for men]. These stock characters and stereotypical characters that are passed down through the centuries, all of these archetypes — like the shrewish wife, and the horny husband, and the doddering old man, and the dumb hottie — all of those parts that have been passed down for us, those characters, were written by a man for men, because there were only male actors, so I thought, "I wonder what it would be like to do Forum, to have it be a troupe of Roman actors doing Forum." And it was just a ball, and I hope that we can find a future home for it.

Stone and husband Christopher Fitzgerald
photo by Aubrey Reuben

Question: Would you like to do more directing? Did you like being on the other side?
Stone: I love it. Yeah. I'm working on that. I love acting, and I've been doing it my whole life, but I've always been the actor that had more opinions about other stuff that didn't have to do with my character — always. I've always been the lippy actor with directors. I do love performing, but I love tending to all the moments in the show instead of just my own.

Question: Tell me about being married to another actor and raising a family and having to do eight shows a week.
Stone: Well, the marriage part — I'm not going to say easy — but until we had the kids, that was really seamless. We both just understood what the terrain was, and that part didn't take a lot of organizing, but once we had kids, it becomes a lot harder in terms of just logistics and planning. It's kind of worked out perfectly. My oldest son, Charlie, is just turning four today, actually, and my youngest, Emmett, is two, and really for the first four years, I wasn't in any long runs, and it just worked out that way. I just had temporary, either summer jobs, or Off-Broadway jobs, or guest-starring stuff, or commercials, or voiceovers, and it wasn't anything that took me away, so I was home most of the time with the kids. And, Chris had the long-running jobs, which provided the steady income. This is like the first time for me that I have the longer-running job, and it's hard. It's hard to get up at five in the morning and then go like, "Oh my God! It's 10:30 at night and I still haven't sung 'Buddie, Beware,' and I have to flip over some boy's shoulders and I just want the whole audience to know that I've been up since five." [Laughs.] That's hard, and it's hard to miss a little bit of bed time. It's now getting harder — the idea of even directing or going out of town becomes trickier. We're kind of making it up as we go along, but the great part about it is we get to be with our kids all day, and so far it's working out. Neither of us comes from money, so we're going as we go. It's not a cheap city to live in, so trying to find a three-bedroom apartment is not easy — that you can afford as, basically, theatre actors. Health insurance is tricky when you are dealing with three different unions and getting the right amount of weeks. That stuff is complicated and logistically it can be a challenge, but it's worth it, and I'm proud of us. I'm really proud that we've gotten our hands dirty with our kids, and we are in there with them all day long, every day, and we both work our butts off to have some semblance to our adult life — of our previous adult life, and our previous adult relationship — and yet we are still parents to these two just awesome little boys.

[Tickets for Roundabout's Anything Goes are available by visiting Telecharge.com or calling (212) 239-6200 or (800) 432-7250. Visit roundabouttheatre.org.]

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

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