Celebrated actress-singer Michele Pawk, who won a Tony Award for her humorous yet heartbreaking performance as Louise in Carol Burnett and the late Carrie Hamilton's family drama Hollywood Arms, is back on Broadway. Pawk is the latest actress to step into the disco shoes of Donna Sheridan — the role created by Louise Pitre and subsequently played by Carolee Carmello — in the international hit musical Mamma Mia!, which continues to thrill audiences nightly at the Winter Garden Theatre. Pawk, who began her Mamma stint in October, not only has the chance to wrap her rich alto around such ABBA classics as "The Winner Takes it All," "Dancing Queen" and "Slipping Through My Fingers," but she also gets to share the stage with her real-life husband, John Dossett, the Tony-nominated Gypsy actor who plays one of Donna's lovers, Sam Carmichael. At the end of last month I had the chance to chat with the award-winning actress, whose theatrical resume boasts Drama Desk nominations for her performances in Cabaret and Crazy for You as well as a Helen Hayes nomination for her work in the out-of-town tryout of Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman's Bounce. That brief interview follows.
Question: How did the idea of you and your husband starring in Mamma Mia! come about?
Michele Pawk: I had auditioned for [Mamma Mia!] initially. After I had had a callback, the offer came for the two of us. John [is] working on another piece with the same composers, and he had auditioned for them a month or so before. I know David Holcenberg, the musical director, [was involved] and it was [his and] a bunch of [other people's] idea. But it was a good one — we like it! [Laughs.]
Q: How is it working onstage together?
Pawk: Oh God, it's a thrill. We haven't done it since we first met. We just were talking about it last night. To look at him at the end of the play and to have him profess his undying love for me is pretty great. [Laughs.]
Q: When did you two originally meet?
Pawk: We did a Michael John LaChiusa musical together called Hello Again in 1994. Q: Do you two have children?
Pawk: We have a five-year-old, [Jack].
Q: What's it like for him now that you're both in a show at the same time?
Pawk: He's such a great kid, and he sort of goes with the flow. Normally we've been able to, as we call it, do the baby juggle — one was working and one wasn't. And, a lot of times working involved not being in the city, so we would trek to wherever — Chicago, a lot for me, sometimes L.A. — and they would come. The two of us [working] at one time [has been] a bit much, but only a bit much because we just moved. We now live in New Jersey, so there have been a lot of changes all at once, but he just flies with it.
Q: Does Jack ever come to the theatre?
Pawk: He'll be there every weekend, and it'll be great. I think he's going to see the show this Sunday.
Q: How are performances going so far? Are you finding it vocally demanding — there's so much singing for your character in the show.
Pawk: I am. I'm anxious to get it in my body a little bit and under my belt. I sort of feel at the moment I'm climbing up hill a little bit. But I think it will come. . . . There's a lot of different kinds of singing [in the show], but by the end of the night, when you're screaming "Waterloo" and "Dancing Queen," oh my gosh, I could do the whole thing again in a second! [Laughs.]
Q: Had you seen Mamma Mia! before you went in to audition?
Pawk: Yes, I had seen it in Chicago because I had a bunch of friends in it, and I happened to be working there, so I saw it there. Then, when we got offered the play, John had never seen it. I said, "We better go see it before you say yes." His instinct was, "Let's do it" because we'd been really dying to work together again. So we saw it, and we had a blast, so we took it!
Q: Were you an ABBA fan?
Pawk: I was definitely an ABBA fan. I'm of that generation and age. My husband has a 45 — that tells you how old we are — of "Waterloo."
Q: Do you have a favorite moment in the show for Donna?
Pawk: I haven't done it all that long, but last night the little girl who plays my daughter, who I just adore, Carey Anderson, she literally is getting married this weekend. She made her Broadway debut on Wednesday, and then she left early this morning to go to Indianapolis to get married. But looking at her in that wedding dress last night. I think probably that moment, if I had to pick one. The moment when I get to make out with my husband onstage is pretty great also. But when I look at the kid — probably because I have a little boy — there's a song that the Donna character sings called "Slipping Through My Fingers" and oh, I get it. You blink, and all of a sudden you turn around [and your child is grown]. My boy tied his shoes for the first time the other day. I couldn't believe it. You blink again, and he's getting on the bus to go to school. Then I blink in the play, and she's getting married.
Q: I loved your performance in Hollywood Arms. What was that experience like for you?
Pawk: Thank you. As you can imagine, it was a dream come true. I can't say enough about it. First of all, just to be on that stage with Linda Lavin and Frank Wood and working with Hal Prince. Then, as if it's not delicious enough, Carol Burnett shows up every day and exceeds all dreams about her. She could not be sweeter and more supportive and collaborative and funny. And she'd just undergone the tragedy of all tragedies, and she showed up every day to work. I'm absolutely in awe of her still to this day.
Q: She was very involved with the production . . .
Pawk: Very. I thought for sure — I'd been cast in late December, we were to start rehearsals in March in Chicago, and her daughter Carrie died in January, I think. And I thought for sure [the show would] get postponed. . . . But [Carol Burnett] flew to Chicago and everyday came to rehearsal. I think in some ways — I don't want to speak for her — it might have been healing. It was her daughter's inspiration and dream to turn Carol's memoir into a play. Maybe it gave her a purpose at [that] time.
Q: What was Tony night like for you? Did you have any inkling you might win?
Pawk: Surreal. No way, I never thought I'd win. I couldn't believe I was nominated. The play had closed in January. To be even just remembered six months later, I was blown away. I was sure I wasn't going to win. Plus, I was in this category with Marian Seldes, the goddess of theatre. I just thought, "Hey I'm so thrilled to be here." And John and I were nominated together. He was nominated for Gypsy the same year. And, to be sitting in the front row at Radio City. We looked around the room at people we were being honored with that season — Brian Dennehy and Vanessa Redgrave. And there's Chita [Rivera]. I'm thinking, "Wow, it doesn't get any better than that!" And then when they called my name, I almost died. I couldn't believe it.
Q: What was your experience like in Bounce?
Pawk: Once again, there I am in a room with Hal Prince and Steve Sondheim and John Weidman. It was heaven. It was every little musical theatre girl's dream. And there I am working on a new show out of town. I guess because of that, the experience was truly heartbreaking for me. I never in a million years thought that it would not see the light of day in New York. Not to diminish the work we did out of town, because it was thrilling. We were working on the play, and I found it so heartbreaking that people wanted to dog us down. I didn't know where to put that. That really broke my heart.
Q: Why do you think the show didn't get to New York?
Pawk: It was a new musical— there's no new musical that doesn't go through tremendous changes. But to send The New York Times to Chicago where we're first looking at it to write a big article about it. It was just plain mean-spirited I thought.
Q: Do you know if anything's happening with the show at this point?
Pawk: I don't. We worked on it a lot in Chicago, and then we took some down time, and a lot of fantastic changes were made before we went to the Kennedy Center. And, all of us in the company — and I think Hal and Steve and John — just anticipated that we would continue to work on it. And when it seemed like [it wasn't going to go to Broadway], I think it was surprising for all of us. . . . I will say that I think the creative team and everybody in it, we were really pleased with the work that we had done thus far. I think everybody was really happy. I don't think it was a failure for us in any way, shape or form.
Q: In Triumph of Love you were a standby for Betty Buckley. What's it like being in a standby in a show?
Pawk: I think it's the hardest job in the theatre because you never know when you're going to go on [and] you're never quite as prepared as you want to be. I had the amazing luxury during that process to rehearse with the company for weeks in a rehearsal studio because Betty had been out — she had had some surgery at that time. In that sense of the word, my job was easier because I had actually rehearsed with [the cast]. But you're never quite as good as you know you could be. You don't do it every day. Especially with a new musical — there's new stuff going in all the time. I admire anybody who does it. . . . I've learned this about myself. I don't have the ego for it either. [Laughs.] It's hard for me to stand in the background and watch somebody else work on it, and not work on it [myself].
Q: How long are you contracted with Mamma Mia!?
Pawk: We're signed for a year.
Q: What are some of the benefits or drawbacks of being married to another actor, especially now that you're working in a show together?
Pawk: Well, I'm married to the dream. For me, there are no drawbacks. I can't imagine a more supportive, loving man in general, let alone actor. I've heard that before — "How do you guys do it?" I think, "How do we not do it?" I hear that sometimes couples can be competitive, and I wonder why. You're not up for the same job. I feel when something great happens for him in his career, something great has happened for me. When I won [the Tony Award], and rightfully so, he felt like he'd won that award. It's a team effort.
[Mamma Mia! plays the Cadillac Winter Garden Theatre, located at 1634 Broadway. For tickets call (212) 239-6200.]
FOR THE RECORD
"Rent" (Warner Bros. Records)
Nearly ten years after it first took Broadway by storm, the film of the Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical Rent is set to hit movie screens across the country Nov. 23. The soundtrack for the Chris Columbus-directed film is already in stores, and the two-CD set reaffirms the strength of the late Jonathan Larson’s score. Most of the original Broadway cast—including Anthony Rapp, Adam Pascal, Taye Diggs, Jesse L. Martin, Wilson Jermaine Heredia and Idina Menzel—have the chance to re-create their powerful vocal work, and newcomers Rosario Dawson and Tracie Thoms fare equally well as, respectively, Mimi and Joanne. Dawson doesn't have the gritty sound of the role's creator, Daphne Rubin-Vega, but her sweeter, gentler tones are equally enjoyable on disc. And, Thoms can belt with the best of 'em, her voice soaring on her duet with Menzel, "Take Me or Leave Me." Among the CD's other highlights: the melodically beautiful and moving "Seasons of Love," the haunting "Will I," the sweet, tender duet "I'll Cover You," the passionate " "What You Own" and Pascal’s show-stopping “One Song Glory.” A bonus track of "Love Heals," a worthy addition to the Larson cannon, is also included, and the tune pulses with the same energy as the rest of the score.
"Opposite You" (PS Classics)
For the past few years Broadway couple Marin (Ragtime) Mazzie and Jason (The Full Monty) Danieley have toured the country with their critically acclaimed concert act, Opposite You. The husband-and-wife team recently recorded portions of that act, and the recording is now available on a single disc from PS Classics.
Also titled "Opposite You," the 16-track recording features a mix of classic theatre tunes, novelty numbers as well as new works by up-n-coming composers. And, Mazzie and Danieley, who sing several duets, also get the chance to perform individually. In fact, it's on their solo tracks where the delightful performers most shine. Danieley lends his powerful tenor to Jerry Herman's "I Won't Send Roses," and Mazzie offers a lovely version of "I Got Lost in His Arms" that melts into the Funny Girl anthem "Who Are You Now?" She also scores with "A Sorta Love Song," by the writing team of Scott Burkell and Paul Loesel, who are also represented on the recording with "The Natural Order of Things," a beautiful duet for the couple.
Mazzie and Danieley have fun with "The Aba Daba Honeymoon," and the Contrapuntal Berlin medley —"Simple Melody," "An Old-Fashioned Wedding" and "You're Just in Love" — is another high point. A five-song Stephen Sondheim Suite also impresses with wonderful readings of "Happiness," "Good Thing Going," "Too Many Mornings," "Not a Day Goes By" and "Move On." The final track, the disc's title tune, was penned by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens and seems to best sum up the couple's feelings for one another: "And I was born for the part, born to play opposite you."
Despite reports to the contrary, Tony Award-winning actress Idina Menzel told me earlier in the week that she will not be in the running for the title role in the upcoming London revival of Evita. Menzel said that she decided not to audition for the musical, which is set to open in May 2006 at the Adelphi Theatre under the direction of Michael Grandage. The former Wicked star explained, "I just wasn't ready to commit to living in London for six months at this point, away from my husband [actor, Taye Diggs]. . . . I let it go, and I think they're moving on." Variety recently reported that Olivier Award winner Philip Quast will likely play Peron in the musical, which features a score by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. Now that Menzel has bowed out, how about Alice Ripley or Eden Espinosa for the role created in London by Elaine Paige and on Broadway by Patti LuPone? The famed Juilliard School will present a master class with Tony Award winning singer-actress Barbara Cook on Dec. 1. The 4 PM class will be held at Juilliard's Peter Jay Sharp Theater and will feature students selected from the school's Vocal Arts Department. Those scheduled to be coached by the acclaimed performer include bass Matt Boehler, tenors Michael Kelly and Alex Mansoori and sopranos Erin Morley, Jennifer Sheehan and Ariana Wyatt. The master class is free and open to the public. Free tickets are available at the Juilliard box office, located at 60 Lincoln Center Plaza (Monday-Friday from 11 AM-6 PM). For more information call (212) 769-7406 or visit www.juilliard.edu.
Michele Lee, the Emmy-nominated "Knots Landing" star whose Broadway credits include How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and Seesaw, is currently playing her first New York City nightclub engagement in years at Feinstein's at the Regency. Her show, titled Catch the Light, features such tunes as "Pure Imagination," "I Believe in You," "I'm Beginning to See the Light," "The Boy Next Door," "Nobody Does it Like Me," "A Case of You," "I Wanna Be Around," "Time After Time," "You'll Never Know," "Comes Once in a Lifetime," "Make Someone Happy," the Seesaw finale and "It Started with a Dream." The singer-actress will play the posh Park Avenue venue through Nov. 26. For tickets call (212) 339-4095 or visit www.feinsteinsattheregency.com.
Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to email@example.com.