DIVA TALK: Chatting with Tony Nominees d'Amboise, Luker, Orfeh, Wilson and Ziemba

News   DIVA TALK: Chatting with Tony Nominees d'Amboise, Luker, Orfeh, Wilson and Ziemba This week we chat with the multi-talented women who have been nominated for a 2007 Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical.
Tony nominee Charlotte d'Amboise in A Chorus Line.
Tony nominee Charlotte d'Amboise in A Chorus Line. Photo by Paul Kolnik

CHARLOTTE d'AMBOISE
Nominated for her performance as Cassie in A Chorus Line at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre.

Charlotte d'Amboise was fast asleep when the phone rang May 15, the morning the 2007 Tony Award nominations were announced. "I heard my husband [actor Terrence Mann] talk on the phone downstairs, [but] it was muffled, and then I heard him running up the stairs. And while he was running up, I was thinking, 'That's gotta be a nomination!' And then he ran in and he said, 'Congratulations!'"

D'Amboise, who was previously Tony-nominated in 1989 for her work in Jerome Robbins' Broadway, said she was particularly happy to learn that Chorus Line had been nominated for Best Revival of a Musical. "I'm happy for the show . . . and I feel thrilled. It's such a great year this year with so many shows and friends that I know that got nominated, so it's going to be a real party for me and my friends. . . . It's nice to be recognized. I feel honored and happy."

The triple-threat, whose Broadway work includes several turns as merry murderess Roxie Hart in the long-running revival of Chicago, said that her current job is especially enjoyable because "it's about dance, and that's what I love and [have] been doing my whole life. Being able to sing and dance and act in a great show, in a great role, is the most rewarding. That's how I feel. I feel very proud of the show and what it says about dancers." That said, d'Amboise admits that Cassie — the role created in the original Broadway staging by Donna McKechnie — is the most demanding part she's ever played: "It's the hardest show I've ever done in my life. My husband knows. He's sitting next to me laughing as I'm talking, because he knows what I go through. It's funny because I have a driver that takes me home at night. His name is Harry, and he's the sweetest guy in the world. He hears me complain every time I get in the car and I've got the five ice packs all over my body, and he's always like, 'Oh, my God. You should go back to Chicago, you work too hard!'"

When asked what makes the role so difficult, the acclaimed performer says, "In Chicago, for instance, you're dancing and singing through that whole show too, but [with A Chorus Line], you're on the stage the whole time [and] it's intense emotionally. . . . And then to have to stand on the line for an hour, and then have to blow it out — blow it out the singing, blow it out the dancing, blow it out the acting. It's not like I can just dance nicely. . . . I have to be abandoned and dance fully like it's the last time [I'm] ever going to dance. . . . Before I did the role, I remember hearing for the longest time that it's the hardest role. And it is, and I've done all the roles, pretty much as far as the musical theatre female dancing roles. I've done a lot of the big ones, and nothing compares to this." D'Amboise and the rest of the cast's hard work seems to be paying off. The revival is selling well, and d'Amboise adds, "Audiences have been fabulous. They love the show. . . . It's mostly people, I feel, that have seen the original and are bringing their children — it's tons of that, young girls and boys 11 or 12 years old and their parents: 'You've got to see this show. It changed my life.'"

Have her own children, who are both under age five, seen her latest work? "They haven't, but I am gonna sneak them in just to come watch the dance. Actually, my Mother's Day card was a drawing of me in a red dress — it was really so sweet. They've seen all the pictures, and they've come to rehearsals and know what I do: 'Mommy dances on the stage.'" And acts. And sings.

Tony nominee Rebecca Luker in Mary Poppins.
photo by Andrew Eccles

REBECCA LUKER
Nominated for her performance as Winifred Banks in Mary Poppins at the New Amsterdam Theatre. Three-time Tony nominee Rebecca Luker was with her husband (actor Danny Burstein) in the Poconos the day the Tony nominations were announced. "We don't get NY1 up here," Luker said by phone that morning, "so I was sort of isolated, and I was lying in bed with one eye on the clock, thinking, 'Well, if no one calls me by 8:50 or so, then I didn't get one.' I really didn't expect to get one. Honest to God, I was totally prepared not to." It's no surprise, however, that Luker was Tony-nominated for her beautiful performance, for the warmth she exudes as Mrs. Banks is so palpable, one almost wonders why this family would even need a flying nanny. "It's lovely that [the nomination] actually happened," Luker adds, saying that it's "only slightly tainted by the fact that [co-stars] Ashley Brown and Dan Jenkins weren't included. They're just great people and so talented."

Mary Poppins is a change for the actress in several ways: Unlike the revivals of The Sound of Music and The Music Man, Luker is a featured player rather than the one who has to carry the show, and Poppins also allows the gifted singer to move out of her soprano tones and display her rich alto. Both changes are fine by Luker: "I like being the featured person that comes on every now and then and hopefully makes a bit of an impact and then goes back to my room to needlepoint. That, for me, is a change and sort of a nice break. . . . [and] I'm actually belting a little in the show, which is very, very different for me. It took getting used to actually. We raised the key half a step because it's a better key for me, but at the same time, I'm belting it and using my lower-middle voice, so it's good. It's a lot of fun."

Luker says her favorite moment in the show for her character is the second act reprise of "Being Mrs. Banks." "It's lovely. I love the music. I love [George] Stiles and [Anthony] Drewe's contribution to the score, and that was one of them. It's a great, short, sweet little spotlight on Winifred's character."

Luker — who says Poppins audiences have been fantastic ("We generally get standing O's. They love the ending when she flies out; it's a real crowd-pleaser") — says she will definitely consider re-signing after her year contract is up in October. "I love the job. I love it."

Tony nominee Orfeh in Legally Blonde.
photo by Paul Kolnik

ORFEH
Nominated for her performance as Paulette in Legally Blonde at the Palace Theatre. "It was mayhem in the Karl house," Orfeh — the talented singing actress who boasts a spectacularly singular vocal sound — said the morning the Tony nominations were announced. Husband Andy Karl, who co-stars with Orfeh in the new musical Legally Blonde, made his wife watch the television announcement of the nominees. "We had CBS on in one room and NY1 on in another room, so it's basically in stereo. I couldn't avoid it, so I hid under the bed," Orfeh said with a laugh. "I don't know that everyone has this reaction, but you immediately think you hallucinated it because you wanted it so much. I know Jane [Krakowski, who announced the nominees], so I thought, 'Oh, she's just pulling my leg.' . . . . I couldn't believe it. It took me a really long minute to process that it actually had come out of her mouth. And Andy was jumping up and down."

As for her own reaction, Orfeh, whose Broadway credits also include Footloose and Saturday Night Fever, said, "You never do what you do [for awards], you do it for the audience [and] the love of the craft, just so that you know that [you have given] those people who came to the theatre — especially, say, on a Wednesday matinee on a sunny day — your all, all the time. So this is the gravy that makes you go, 'You know what? I'm so happy other people notice how much I love this character.' And I think that's really what I feel about it. It all came together in a nice, neat, long-awaited bow," she adds with a laugh. "I can't even process how happy I am because it's rare in my life that I experience this. I'm really happy."

The singer-songwriter says the Blonde experience has been an especially joyful one because she gets to share the stage with her husband of six years, the aforementioned Andy Karl, who plays the studly delivery U.P.S. delivery man Kyle: "I can't deny that being onstage with my husband every night isn't the most wonderful thing in the world . . . [but] it was a fluke. I think I've made no secret of the fact that they didn't even want to see me for this role. It wasn't like he said, 'Hey, you gotta put my wife in this role. Let her play my girlfriend.' It was just that he was involved with [the show] for a really long time. He had done a lot of the workshops, as had everyone else, and I kind of came in in the eleventh-and-a-half hour. . . . so this is like the extraordinary, even extra added bonus of the whole thing."

When asked to choose her favorite moment in Legally Blonde, Orfeh pauses and says there are too many to choose, but she eventually narrows them down to two: "The whole Ireland moment with Elle [fellow Tony nominee Laura Bell Bundy] really warms my heart. [My character has] something to say to her, and I hope she listens. And every night when she does listen, it's really exciting that she believes me and doesn't go and make herself a brunette," she laughs. "I also like when Andy comes in, and I'm stunned into silence just looking at his fabulousness."

Tony nominee Mary Louise Wilson in Grey Gardens.
photo by Joan Marcus

MARY LOUISE WILSON
Nominated for her performance as Edith Bouvier Beale in Grey Gardens at the Walter Kerr Theatre. Veteran stage actress Mary Louise-Wilson, who co-stars with Tony winner Christine Ebersole in the new musical Grey Gardens, says she thought she had burglars the morning the Tony nominees were announced. "I was upstate in my house, asleep upstairs, and I heard all of these voices in my kitchen, and I thought, 'What the hell is going on? Who let these people in?,'" Wilson says with a laugh. "I had the phone turned off, and it was actually people on the answering machine calling and wishing me well!"

"I was delighted, of course, [by the nomination]," the gifted actress adds, "and doubly delighted because of the ten nominations [for Grey Gardens]. That was great for the show."

Wilson was previously Tony-nominated in 1998 for her highly moving performance as Fraulein Schneider in the Tony-winning revival of Cabaret, and she says her current nomination is just as rewarding. "It feels really good," she says, "like a validation for many years [work]."

Wilson portrays the older Edith Bouvier Beale in Doug Wright, Scott Frankel and Michael Korie's musical with great humor and sincerity. She says the most enjoyable aspect of her latest stage outing is "that I can do it after all this time. Almost every night I manage to come off the stage feeling like I did a good job, and after eight or nine months that's a nice feeling." As for the most demanding aspect of the show, the award-winning performer says, "I think the emotional part at the end of the show, the fight with my daughter and then when I think she's gone. It's hard."

When asked her favorite moment in the show, Wilson doesn't hesitate: "I like buttering that corn," she laughs. "You don't get props like that too often!"

Wilson, who says working with co-star Ebersole has been a true pleasure, explains audience reaction to Grey Gardens on Broadway has been "amazing. Not that they weren't good Off-Broadway, [but] there are a lot of young people who come to the show and seem to be completely crazy about it. There's a lot of whooping and hollering, and they stand up every night. Even if they started off a little quiet, they go crazy at the end, no exaggeration. It's wonderful."

Tony nominee Karen Ziemba in Curtains.
photo by Joan Marcus

KAREN ZIEMBA
Nominated for her performance as Georgia Hendricks in Curtains at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre. Several friends, a neighbor and co-star and fellow Tony nominee David Hyde Pierce were just a few of the folks who called Karen Ziemba to congratulate her on her 2007 Tony Award nomination. Hyde Pierce's voice-mail said, "You don't have to call me back, I'll see you in a few hours. I just wanted to congratulate you."

"He's always so wonderful about that," Ziemba said that Tony-filled morning. "He's just the sweetest guy in the world." Theatre favorite Ziemba, in fact, has nothing but praise for the entire cast of Curtains, adding her co-stars have been the most enjoyable aspect of working on the project penned by John Kander, Rupert Holmes and the late Fred Ebb and Peter Stone. "It's such a great cast," says the multi-talented Ziemba. "I'm so proud of the show, and it's something that I just think everybody enjoys so much, being part of it and seeing it. It makes you feel good, and it's well done. It's just top-notch all the way."

Ziemba, who won her Tony for her work as an abused spouse in the Susan Stroman-directed musical Contact, says a nomination is always "fantastic because the artists that are being nominated alongside you are all people that I admire and respect. It's like, 'Oh, boy, here we go again, but isn't this fantastic?' And it's a lot of new people [this year] that I don't know, that I'm going to get the chance to meet during this awards season."

When asked her favorite moment in Curtains, Ziemba — who sings, acts and dances with equal finesse — says, "I hate to give it away . . . but there's a moment in the first act where the entire company is onstage together. That's such a wonderful moment when we're all of like mind in the piece and we're all singing about being in the business. It's kind of a cool moment."

Opening a show this time of year can be a challenge, Ziemba admits. "When you're a new show that opens in the spring, like ours did, you're not only dealing with getting a new show up, but you're also dealing with all of the other things that go along with it — recording the album, trying to attend a lot of the [other shows] on your nights off, to see as much theatre as you can. What it is is it's like a whirlwind, and you just have to steel yourself for it. You don't want to miss anything, and yet you also have to do your show eight times a week. That's always the challenge with doing live theatre, but when you're part of a new season, that's just what raises the bar."

Ziemba says audience reaction to Curtains has been "through the roof — it's amazing. The people just get hooked into it, and it's fantastic, and everybody is so good in the show, and David Hyde Pierce is just . . . an amazing talent."

DIVA TIDBITS
A starry list of stage and screen actors will present awards at the 61st Annual Tony Awards, which will be held June 10 at Radio City Musical Hall. Among those scheduled to present awards in the 25 categories are Harry Connick, Jr.; Claire Danes; Carla Gugino; Neil Patrick Harris; Anne Heche; Marg Helgenberger; Felicity Huffman; Eddie Izzard; Jane Krakowski; Angela Lansbury; Audra McDonald; Bernadette Peters; William Petersen; David Hyde Pierce; Liev Schreiber; Kevin Spacey; John Turturro; Usher; Rainn Wilson; Vanessa Williams; Patrick Wilson; and the Tony-winning Jersey Boys: Christian Hoff, Daniel Reichard, J. Robert Spencer and John Lloyd Young. A spokesperson for the Tony Awards confirmed to me earlier this week that like last season, the ceremony will not have a host. Instead, the evening will be emceed by the various presenters. CBS-TV will broadcast the 2007 Tony Awards from 8-11 PM ET.

Undercover Showtunes is the title of the finale of the New York Musical Theatre Festival's Spring Concert Benefit Series, which previously presented evenings with Ben Folds, "Broadway Idol" winner Jaclyn Huberman and a battle of the Broadway bands. The upcoming concert will be held June 18 at 7 PM at the Zipper Factory. Those scheduled to lend their vocal talents to the evening include Christian Campbell, Gloria Reuben, Miriam Shor, Mary Faber, Michael Winther, Alison Fraser, Peter Friedman and Manoel Felciano. The concert, according to press notes, will feature "pop and rock songs that weren't written for musicals, but sound as if they might have been – songs that tell a story, create a character, paint a full, vivid portrait as a great song in a musical is meant to do." Tickets, priced $50 and $90 with post-concert cast party, are available by calling (212) 352-3101 or by visiting www.nymf.org. The Zipper Factory is located in Manhattan at 336 West 37th Street.

NEO3 (new, emerging, outstanding), a benefit concert celebrating emerging musical theatre writers, will be presented June 11 at the Theatre at Saint Peter's. Presented by the York Theatre Company, the evening will be hosted by Tony-winning Avenue Q co-creator Bobby Lopez and original Q star Ann Harada, who is currently playing Madame Thernardier in the revival of Les Misérables. Performers will include Tituss Burgess, Matt Cavenaugh, Adam Heller, Megan Lawrence, Kate Reinders, Seth Rudetsky and Chip Zien. The evening will begin at 7 PM with a "Summertime Soiree" supper and silent auction, followed by the 9 PM concert. Tickets, priced $125-$500, are available by calling (212) 935-5820 or by visiting www.yorktheatre.org. A limited number of $40 seats are available at the York Theatre Company's box office, cash only. The Theatre at Saint Peter's is located in Manhattan at 619 Lexington Avenue.

Scott Siegel's acclaimed Broadway By thee Year series will continue June 18 with The Broadway Musicals of 1964, Part II. The Town Hall concert — hosted by Siegel — will feature the talents of Stephanie J. Block, Tony Award winner Beth Leavel, Liz Callaway, Scott Coulter and Sean Martin Hingston. Show time is 8 PM. Concertgoers can expect to hear tunes from musicals that opened on Broadway during 1964, including Hello, Dolly!; What Makes Sammy Run?; Funny Girl; Anyone Can Whistle; High Spirits; Fiddler on the Roof; Golden Boy; and I Had a Ball. Tickets for the June 18 concert, priced $40 and $45, are available by calling (212) 307-4100 or by visiting the Town Hall box office at 123 West 43rd Street. For more information log on to www.the-townhall-nyc.org.

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