Popular actor and game show host John Davidson is coming back to Broadway in the much talked about, all-star cast of the new Rodgers & Hammerstein musical State Fair and he was a guest in Playbill On-Line's chat area March 4. He answered members' questions about his days on TV and talked about his love for the stage among other things. The chat was hosted by Playbill On-Line's Associate Editor Katia Lundy and the following is an edited transcript.
Playbill On-Line: John Davidson stars as Abel Frake in "State Fair" and he returns to the stage 30 years after making his Broadway debut in "Foxy" with Bert Lahr. He is best known to TV viewers from many variety & game show but began his career starring is such American musicals including "Oklahoma!" He has played leading roles in such musicals as "Camelot," "Li'l Abner," "Paint Your Wagon," "The Fantasticks," "I Do, I Do" and "The Music Man."
Based on the Oscar-winning 1945 movie, this first Broadway production of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical also stars Andrea McArdle (the original Annie in "Annie"), Donna McKechnie (the original Cassie in "A Chorus Line" and Kathryn Crosby.
And now, let's all welcome John Davidson to Center Stage!
Hi Mr. Davidson, how are you?
John Davidson: I'm fine, Katia; this is the biggest thrill of my life, opening on Broadway. And Times Square seems cleaner, friendlier than when I was here in the '60s. Even Disney is here! Nobody would mug Mickey Mouse.
This Rodgers and Hammerstein musical was the only one that they wrote for the movies first. It's their only score that swings, and there's nothing quite like it on Broadway now.
Playbill On-Line: I bet. But you know what, some folks have questions about old projects. Let's get this out of the way first. This Q comes from Dhank0
Question: Hello John, What was it REALLY like working with all the stars on "Hollywood Squares"? I think that Joan Rivers was always so funny. Do you still keep in touch with her? Is it true that the old shows got destroyed? D hankO
John Davidson: First of all, Joan Rivers is a real pro. As you probably know, all the stars had one joke suggested to them as an answer. But Joan Rivers was able to go on and on and is truly one of our great comedians. Her husband Edgar committed suicide about the time that we were making the shows, and even though this was a very hard time for her, she made America laugh. She and I don't get together socially, because we're two very different types of people, but I respect her very much.
Playbill On-Line: Mr. Davidson, can you tell us a little about your character? In "State Fair"?
John Davidson: In "State Fair" I play Abel Frake. John Davidson is now 54, and so is Abel. He's an Iowa hog farmer who raises "Blue Boy," the biggest hog in the world. Abel takes his wife and two children to the Iowa State Fair of 1946. Abel is obsessed with his pig and you really get involved with this family at the fair. We have no chandeliers swinging out over the audience like in "Phantom," no helicopters landing like in "Miss Saigon," and we're not set in a revolution like "Les Mis," but you get wrapped up in this family as if it were your own.
Playbill On-Line: What made you decide to do this musical. What was the appeal?
John Davidson: "State Fair" has been a film twice, in 1945 and again in 1962. I rented those films when they offered me the part. They were so boring that I turned it down. The Rodgers and Hammerstein music was great, but the script was just dead. Then they sent me the script that they wrote last year, and it came alive. The show works, and it has worked for the last six months in the thirty cities we've toured. I'm sure it will work on Broadway. The only four-letter words in it are love, hope and work. It's very, very funny. Plus, you get brand new Rodgers and Hammerstein music live onstage.
Playbill On-Line: You can't beat that. We have a question from the audience, this comes from Loanfor
Question: Is New York Your hometown? Do you like it there?
John Davidson: I grew up in White Plains, New York, and then went out to Denison University in Ohio to college. When I came back to New York after college, a television producer named Bob Banner discovered me in a Broadway show, just as he had discovered Carol Burnett. He took me to Hollywood and developed me as a variety show host, got me motion picture deals, recording contracts and taught me show business. It was the best thing that ever happened to John Davidson. But when I was in New York in the Sixties, I was very lonely. Couldn't find a girl that I really was in love with, just couldn't cope with the Big City. Now coming back to New York with my wife Rhonda and my daughter Ashley, who's nine years old, I find the city to be so much friendlier, cleaner and a nice place to work and live.
Playbill On-Line: This Q's from Mariadon
Question: I would like to know how long he will be playing in this show
John Davidson: I'll do "State Fair" for many years. I love my character, I love what "State Fair" says about the American family, and it's great to have a steady job in a hit!
Playbill On-Line: Questions from Jel232
Question: When will "State Fair" open. If it has opened already, how long will it run?
John Davidson: "State Fair" opens on Broadway on March 20 for previews, and the press opening night is Wednesday, March 27.
Playbill On-Line: And on that note, The producers of "State Fair" are offering members of Playbill On-Line an exclusive 20% discount on tickets purchased for selected performances in the weeks just before and after the March 27 opening. Don't miss out on this terrific deal! For more details, go to Keyword: Playbill!
Playbill On-Line: This comes from Viper175
Question: welcome back to the stage. are the songs going to be released on a CD?
John Davidson: Yes, we were supposed to record the CD in Washington DC when we were at the Kennedy Center, but we got snowed out. We'll make the new CD in the next few weeks. It will have great songs like "It Might As Well Be Spring" and "It's a Grand Night for Singing." I might even make a do-wop version of some of the songs. I love Fifties Rock 'n' Roll.
Playbill On-Line: This comes from RF1810
Question: I remember seeing John at Painters Mill Music Fair about 25 years ago. I think he played there with Joan Rivers. Do you still have that great voice. We love the stage and go as often as we can just saw "Les Miz" at the National Theater in Washington, DC
John Davidson: I think I'm singing better than I ever have. When you do one show again and again eight shows a week, your voice gets stronger.
Playbill On-Line: From Harold
Question: Have you been to Catalina Island lately?
John Davidson: I have great memories from Catalina Island off the coast of California. I'm a boater and I had the John Davidson Singer Summer Camp on the island. I was also attacked by a buffalo on Catalina Island. It was a real pain in the butt.
Playbill On-Line: This Q's from Singer
Question: Any advice for an aspiring actor?
John Davidson: Do it yourself! Study voice, acting, dance and then make it happen yourself. Put together a show that can entertain anybody, anytime, any place. Perform at the drop of a hat anywhere. And then if it doesn't happen, at least you know what's wrong. Some people sit back and wait for the agent to get you jobs. You've got to create a product that is sellable.
Playbill On-Line: From SSCo6
Question: What does it mean to be discovered? Hadn't you been doing what you were doing for a long time?
John Davidson: My career has never been a "hot" one. I've been a working singer/actor/entertainer since 1964. And I keep rediscovering John Davidson and that's O.K. I don't think I've ever really "made it." Some people think that John Davidson is a game show host, some people discover that I'm a singer and a great nightclub performer. Some people think that I'm funny. When I did the role of the transvestite killer on "The Streets of San Francisco," people discovered that I could act on television. Now I'm on Broadway, and I'm sure that people will come to "State Fair" and say, "Look, John Davidson is a Broadway star!" I don't mind being discovered once a year.
Playbill On-Line: Were you at all nervous about returning to Broadway?
John Davidson: Nervous isn't the right word. I just want to be as good as I can be. I hate it when friends come to the show. Performing for strangers is easier. I get tingles before every show, but I like that. It's kind of a sensual experience.
Playbill On-Line: TheDon7 asks
Question: John, any plans to return to television?
John Davidson: Not right now. I want to go back to television when I can do a comedy series playing the father or a dramatic series playing some obsessed character. Right now all I get offered on television is information shows or hosting game shows or light-weight dramatic parts. Those have been great in the past, but I know I could be more challenged by television. For now live theatre is the most exciting.
Playbill On-Line: PGerst asks
Question: Years ago you sang a song "If...," the Rudyard Kipling poem, on "The Tonight Show." It was so beautiful, did you ever record it?
John Davidson: Thank you, I never did record "If..." The music was written by Bobby Gosh, and of course the lyric is Rudyard Kipling's poem. It is a powerful piece, and would make a great record, but who would buy it? In all honesty, no one is waiting with baited breath for the next John Davidson release.
Playbill On-Line: This questions comes from MeSkiAlso
Question: Will we ever see the return of the variety show on TV?
John Davidson: I don't think so. It's been done too much and too well. I think the real reason why variety went off is that it didn't keep up with the times, it didn't evolve into something new. Now sitcoms haven't evolved either, and they're still on, so maybe I'm wrong. I think people look to television now mostly for news and information, at least I do. Of course, there are some great sitcoms that I enjoy, like "Friends," "Frasier," "Wings."
Question: When will you come to Atlanta to perform?
John Davidson: Probably on the national tour of "State Fair." We'd love to play the beautiful Fox Theatre in Atlanta
Playbill On-Line: "State Fair" opens March 27 and the producers of "State Fair" are offering members of Playbill On-Line an exclusive 20% discount on tickets purchased for selected performances in the weeks just before and after the March 27 opening. Don't miss out on this terrific deal!
The discount off regular box office prices is good for all tickets at performances, except Saturday evenings and opening night, from March 20 through April 7 only. To get the discount, call the special Tele-charge Discount Hot Line at (212) 947-8844 between 8 AM and midnight (ET) seven days a week. Ticket buyers must use the special Playbill On-Line code number: MB 78283 when placing the order. Regular Tele-charge service charges apply. "State Fair" is being presented at the Music Box Theatre on West 45th Street in New York City.
Playbill On-Line: I think we have time for one more question. This comes from Lovdabear
Question: Mr. Davidson, I grew up in the 1970's and find myself wishing that I had grown up in the era that "State Fair" represented, and enjoyed the small town hominess. I think we've lost that, do you agree?
John Davidson: Yes, that's what "State Fair" is all about. You sit there and wish that our live could be simpler, that families could stay together and that something like a state fair could touch us like it did not so long ago. I'm sure that nowadays in the 90s, people are inspired by other things, and people love each other just as much as they did then, but the feeling of nostalgia is a strong one and makes us all feel like we have something in common. Our biggest problems are usually universally felt, as are our greatest joys, and great theatre can touch you like nothing else and make you feel like you're part of the human race.
Playbill On-Line: Thank you Mr. Davidson, I hope you had an enjoyable time.
John Davidson: Thank you, this is an incredible thing.
Playbill On-Line: And remember folks, "State Fair" opens March 27. Don't miss out on the "State Fair" 20% discount for online members.
John Davidson: Goodnight, everybody and thanks for the great questions. See you on Broadway!
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