DIVA TALK: Chatting with Tony Nominees Scaglione, Ripley, Janney, Foster and Channing

News   DIVA TALK: Chatting with Tony Nominees Scaglione, Ripley, Janney, Foster and Channing Congratulations to all of the 2009 Tony Award nominees. This week we chat with the enormously talented women who have been nominated for a Tony for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical.
Josefina Scaglione
Josefina Scaglione

JOSEFINA SCAGLIONE
Nominated for her performance as Maria in West Side Story at the Palace Theatre.

Not a bad way to make a Broadway debut!

Argentina native Josefina Scaglione, who made her Main Stem bow earlier this season in the revival of West Side Story at the Palace Theatre, scored a Tony nomination this week for Best Performance By a Leading Actress in a Musical for her work as Maria in the classic American musical by Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim and Arthur Laurents.

"I was sleeping, and I [had] turned my cell phone off," Scaglione said the morning the nominations were announced. "I was so tired because last night I had, at the Met, the costume ball. My friend from Argentina is visiting me, so she woke me up like crazy and told me that I was nominated." The nomination, the young actress with the beautiful, soaring soprano said, "is really exciting. I'm thrilled to be nominated with such great actresses like the ones that are in the same category with me."

Josefina Scaglione in West Side Story
photo by Joan Marcus

Scaglione, who created the role of Amber Von Tussle in the Argentinean premiere of the Tony-winning Hairspray, describes Maria as "a naive girl that comes from her country [without] knowing exactly what's going on. She starts realizing that, and she grows up in the play. I think she becomes a woman in the play." The challenge of playing the role created on Broadway by Carol Lawrence "is to hold on until the end," says Scaglione. "It's a challenge every night to hold on until the last scene. You have to have all the energy for those two hours and a half [prior to the final scene], so it's a challenge every night." Scaglione says working with director Laurents, who also penned the West Side Story libretto, was "amazing. It was such an honor [and] I learned a lot. The whole process with him was a lesson." She is equally effusive about making her Broadway debut, explaining, "It's an honor and a pleasure to be able to share the stage every night with such a talented cast. That makes it more thrilling and amazing every night."

As for a favorite moment in the show, Scaglione says, "I love 'A Boy Like That' with Karen Olivo [also a 2009 Tony nominee]. It's a moment that's key, you know. It's the moment where [Maria] says, 'Okay, this is me, and this is what I want to do. If you like it or not, I don't care! I'm gonna do it again because I love [Tony].'"

The 21-year-old opera singer is scheduled to stay with West Side for a year. When asked whether she would like to do more Broadway, Scaglione answers, "I think so, yes. We'll see what life brings."

Alice Ripley

ALICE RIPLEY
Nominated for her performance as Diana in Next to Normal at the Booth Theatre. Former Side Show and Sunset Boulevard star Alice Ripley is giving the performance of her career — and perhaps the year — in the emotional roller-coaster-ride of a musical that is Next to Normal , which boasts a thrilling, melodic rock score by composer Tom Kitt and lyricist Brian Yorkey.

Ripley — who plays Diana, a wife and mother who is struggling with her personal demons — says she was on her couch May 5 when she heard her name announced on CBS. "I've always held this belief of David Mamet that hard work doesn't pay off, but maybe he was just talking about Los Angeles," Ripley laughs. "I'm thinking I can take off my cynical hat [that] I've had on for a decade. That's kind of what this [nomination] means to me because I feel like this is a dream come true. There's no other way to describe it except that I'm humbled and so excited to be recognized for the work that I've put in."

That work includes two prior Next to Normal productions, first at Off-Broadway's Second Stage Theater in winter 2008, and then, following revisions, a limited engagement at Arena Stage in Arlington, VA, this past winter. In fact, Ripley won a Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Non-Resident Production for her performance in the Arena Stage Normal.

Alice Ripley in Next to Normal
photo by Joan Marcus

About her character Diana, Ripley says, "I think Diana at first acts out of fear, which is very human, and then later she acts out of love. . . . I feel like she starts out in a place more confused than I've ever been in my real life . . . but I've gone through a lot of what she's gone through." The biggest challenge of playing the vocally and emotionally demanding role, Ripley explains, is "living her all the time. The past year was really the intense training, and that's behind me now. Doing it now, the challenge is living her all the time, and I think that that's what I'm doing. What that means to me is that I'm not chaining myself offstage as much. I'm more disciplined onstage and just letting myself go a little wild offstage. My husband is a saint. I'll put it that way. He puts up with a lot," she laughs. When asked whether the role is draining or cathartic, Ripley — who is also an acclaimed songwriter — says, "It's both at the same time. . . . The audience sees what I'm doing, what we're all doing, and it becomes a circle of energy that goes back and forth. I guess that happens in all theatre, but with this show, especially, I feel really aware of that exchange with the audience. That kind of keeps me afloat. And then afterwards it is a feeling of having gone through a catharsis, and then later I feel wiped out when I get home."

Ripley has even more positive remarks about the Next to Normal audiences: "I think the audiences have been skilled at letting themselves be taken in by the show. That's something I admire. I'm not sure that I'm that good of an audience member. I really admire the audience's skill in coming into the theatre with an enthusiasm and the willingness to be taken in. There are no audiences that are better at that than our audiences."

The two-time Tony nominee is equally effusive about her fellow cast members, who include fellow 2009 Tony nominee, Jennifer Damiano. "I really feel like I've hit the jackpot," Ripley says. "The cast is so devoted to the work, and they're all so grown up. Even our 17-year-old, Tony nominee Jen, she's a grown-up. She's more grown up than a lot of grown-ups I know! But we all put the work first, and I think that that's the most satisfying way to do it."

Ripley also spoke about filming the edgy commercial for the new musical, which is playing the intimate Booth Theatre. "Oh, that was a long and fun day!" she enthuses. "We had a lot of different things going on that day. Upstairs they were doing still photos of us, downstairs they were filming us in front of a blank screen. Then we had a green square that we would hold in front of our faces to kind of green-screen out the middle of our faces. Then they filmed photos for the outside of the theatre, and they used video for the commercial. I think it looks fantastic."

As for Tony night, Ripley says, "I just hope that I don't have to be up for my award [wearing] my costume [from the Tony night performance] and that I can change and be glamorous!!"

Allison Janney

ALLISON JANNEY
Nominated for her performance as Violet Newstead in 9 to 5: The Musical at the Marquis Theatre. Is there anyone in a Broadway musical at the moment with better comic timing than Allison Janney?

The Emmy-winning "West Wing" star, who plays Violet Newstead in the new musical 9 to 5, says she was "glued to 'The Carol Burnett Show' every night of my life [that it aired]. I don't know if that has anything to do with it. That was what I grew up watching — 'The Mary Tyler Moore Show' and all of those great people. But I'm not particularly 'funny ha-ha' [offstage]. I think I'm funny in spite of myself," she laughs.

Whatever the origin, Tony nominators certainly noticed Janney's comedic powers (and her extraordinary acting abilities) when they nominated her for a 2009 Tony for Best Leading Actress in a Musical earlier this week. The day the nominations were announced Janney says she was "kind of nervous because I knew they were coming out, and I just had to get out of the house. I decided to go walk my dog because I always feel grounded when I'm out walking her. I thought I'll just be prepared for whatever happens. I'm just gonna be outside and deal with it. I let out a scream in Riverside Park," she laughs.

"You try to keep these things in perspective," Janney adds, "but you just can't help but be incredibly excited and grateful for being recognized. This has been two years of my life working very hard at this [role]. It's just a complete thrill, and I couldn't be more excited to represent the show this way. . . . . I do wish it could be the three of us, [Megan Hilty, Stephanie J. Block and I], nominated like all of the three boys who play Billy Elliot! That would have made me happier, and, of course, [I wish] the show would have gotten nominated, too, because I think it's so deserving. It's just amazing to be out there every night and hear the audience just go crazy for it and really enjoy themselves."

Allison Janney in 9 to 5
photo by Joan Marcus

Janney credits Tony Award-winning director Joe Mantello for her involvement in 9 to 5, her first Broadway musical. "I always thought it seemed like it would be so much fun to be in [a musical]," Janney explains. "I just never thought I'd have the opportunity, and I have Joe Mantello to thank for that. He called me up and offered the workshop to me. He's the reason why I'm here, and I'm forever indebted to him and grateful for his belief in me. He didn't even know if I could sing, so basically we were just like, 'Let's see if those lessons in high school and your choir singing paid off.' I'm just having the best time. I love Megan and Stephanie so much every night I'm out there with them. I feel like I share this [nomination] with them, because we're a team." Janney, who was previously Tony-nominated for her performance as Beatrice in the Tony-winning revival of A View From the Bridge, says the demands of a musical versus a play are far greater: "It's just unbelievably different. Every part of my brain is required for this," she laughs. "The dancing, the singing, the acting, the choreography. It's just the most exhausting, challenging experience I've ever had put in front of me. It's huge. Just all different muscles being used at the same time — I'm not used to using everything like this at the same time."

And, what is Janney's favorite moment in the crowd-pleaser that is 9 to 5? "For me personally, 'One of the Boys' is just a dream. When you think about doing a musical, you dream about doing a number like that. Every time I get to that number I [think], 'Oh, my God, I can't believe I'm gonna do what I'm about to do.' It thrills me every time I get to do it, so that's pretty exciting. And, all of the scenes with the three of us, the girls. When we're going through the whole journey of getting to know each other, it's a great story arc to play every night. We have a ball. The pot-smoking scene also. We have a lot of fun in that!"

Sutton Foster
photo by Joan Marcus

SUTTON FOSTER
Nominated for her performance as Princess Fiona in Shrek the Musical at the Broadway Theatre. Speaking of phenomenal comic timing, Tony Award winner Sutton Foster was also out walking her dog when the news of her fourth — yes, fourth! — Tony nomination was announced on TV.

"I was out getting coffee. I went out with my dog, so I was in the rain," Foster explains, "and then I came back and I turned [the TV] on, and I missed the [announcement]. But a friend of mine texted and said, 'Congratulations!' Then my agent called, and he told me. I asked, 'Did the show get nominated?' That was the first thing [I wanted to know], and he said yes, and I was like, 'Oh, yay!'"

Although she won a Tony for her dazzling performance in Thoroughly Modern Millie and was also Tony-nominated for her work in Little Women and The Drowsy Chaperone, Foster says a nomination is still an honor. "I grew up watching the Tony Awards," the Georgia native says. "To be a working actor on Broadway and to be recognized in this way and to be able to put on a pretty dress and to be invited to go to the Tony Awards and to be able to perform, hopefully, it really is a dream come true, and it never gets old. It's a beautiful, beautiful blessing, and I feel so proud to be a part of this show and so proud that it's been recognized."

Sutton Foster in Shrek
photo by Joan Marcus

Foster, who possesses a powerful, exciting, clear-as-a-bell Broadway belt, plays Princess Fiona opposite the Shrek of fellow 2009 Tony nominee Brian d'Arcy James in the new musical by lyricist David Lindsay-Abaire and composer Jeanine Tesori, and she says this role is especially meaningful to her. "It's probably one of my greatest opportunities," Foster admits, "a great fit of a role and a person, probably closest to me of any other part that I've played. . . .It's just been a wonderful process working on this for about two or three years. It's this thing that's been released in my life . . . and I just feel really attached, I guess. I care about it, and I'm proud of the show." Foster adds, "It's exciting to play a strong person. I love the idea that [Fiona] tries so hard to be this perfect pretty princess, yet she's really this farting, crazy woman. And I'm like, 'I can relate to that!' [Laughs.] I think it's a great role model to young girls to embrace your inner ogre and [know] that beauty really is within and not necessarily what you look like. I think that's a really important message." As for the role's biggest challenge, the triple threat says, "Unfortunately, I would probably say the makeup at the end. Every night when they come at me with the green sponges I'm like, 'No! Please don't do it!'"

Stockard Channing

STOCKARD CHANNING
Nominated for her performance as Vera Simpson in the recent Pal Joey revival at Studio 54. Stockard Channing is one of those extremely rare species: an actor who can stand still on stage, say nothing, and be completely riveting. Add to that her consummate acting skills, her intelligent delivery of a lyric — her "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" in the recent revival of Pal Joey was a mini-drama in itself — and it is no wonder that the Tony and Emmy winner received her sixth (!) Tony nomination earlier this week for her performance as the sophisticated "cougar" Vera Simpson in the Roundabout Theatre Company revival of the Rodgers and Hart musical.

When reached the morning of the Tony announcements, Channing told Playbill.com's Robert Simonson, "I'm on a train going to Paris, where I will be in about ten minutes. So I may get cut off, because we're going into a tunnel. I'm literally in the suburbs of Paris. I've been on vacation. I'm going to Paris for a few days, then I go back to London then back to the States. Someone called me on the train, and then my British cell phone promptly died on me!"

While she was playing the role at Studio 54, Channing told me, "I think [Vera] is a pretty amoral person in many ways, but I think she's got ethics. They're two different things. She's a woman of the world. I think her feathers are definitely singed by this [experience with Joey]. I don't think she'll ever probably go as deep again [into another relationship]. I do think that she has her own comeuppance in this. That's about as much as I can say. I really leave that for the people watching Vera."

Stockard Channing in Pal Joey
photo by Joan Marcus

Channing, who won her Tony for her performance in Joe Egg, said she had many favorite moments in Pal Joey. "I really love playing her," Channing explained at the time. "She's become such a rich character. I love the moment where she realizes that she has made him up, shall we say. I love it when the audience gasps when she realizes that she has fallen in love with this guy that is not what she thought, and that split second where she has to give him up and how horrible that is for her and how gutted she is and how angry she is and how lonely she is. I think that's a very interesting choice. Many moments. I don't want to give the game away by talking about it too much, and certainly 'Bewitched' is kind of cool, because the lyrics are really supporting an emotional journey she's going through, which is kind of amazing." When asked in January whether she would like to do more theatre, Channing answered, "I would, but something this good comes along very rarely. The part is great, and the production is great. We'll see what happens. You never know. That's what I said at the beginning of the conversation. When someone said to me two years ago, 'They want you to do Pal Joey,' I said, 'Oh, yeah right!' [Laughs.] And here I am!"

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

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