Nice Work, and She's Got It! Judy Kaye and Her Passion for Chandeliers

News   Nice Work, and She's Got It! Judy Kaye and Her Passion for Chandeliers
 
Nice Work If You Can Get It Tony winner Judy Kaye admits that she has the heart of a vaudevillian. How else to explain her willingness to swing from a chandelier?

Judy Kaye
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

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"I guess chandeliers have been very, very good to me," understated Judy Kaye in her very, very grand voice earlier this summer as she accepted her second Tony Award.

Her first Tony-winning work came 10,169 (and counting) chandelier crashes ago, in 1988's The Phantom of the Opera, playing deposed diva Carlotta Guidicelli. Her 2012 Tony came for Nice Work If You Can Get It, the musical revision of the Gershwins' 1926 Oh, Kay! Among her nice work in the show: swinging from a chandelier with the greatest of ease as the thoroughly "tanked" Duchess Estonia Dulworth, a temperance leader undone by hooch-laced lemonade. "Both roles," she sums up, "are high notes and pratfalls."

The guy who does the lemonade-spiking is her slow-to-bloom love interest, a brassy, bootlegging henchman named Cookie McGee. He is played by Michael McGrath, who, like Kaye, picked clean every one of the musical supporting categories this year, raking in Tony, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle awards. Very nice work, indeed! "I'm so grateful it went down that way," says Kaye of their matching triple crowns, "me hand-in-hand with him. I couldn't do it alone. He's my Groucho, and I'm his Margaret Dumont. Deep in my bones, I'm a vaudevillian, and I feel I do a vaudeville turn with him. I couldn't have a better partner in comedy than Michael McGrath."

Aside from Dumont, Kaye sees her duchess-in-disarray as the love child of two of her former Broadway roles: Emma Goldman (the firebrand of Ragtime) and Florence Foster Jenkins (the faux soprano of Souvenir). "I like her because she has a journey. Any character who has a beginning, a middle and an end I love to play!"

Her songs seem to be perfectly tailored for her character. "Demon Rum" sets up her puritanical crusader with a vengeance. She and Cookie musically duel in three-quarter and four-quarter time ("By Strauss" versus "Sweet and Lowdown"). And "Looking for a Boy" leads her to another of her co-stars, the chandelier.

 

Kaye in Nice Work If You Can Get It.
Photo by Joan Marcus

"The first time we actually had the chandelier was the tech rehearsal. I looked at it, played around with it and told them what I needed. I needed a few places built up because they were a little too thin for my hands. And I needed gloves. A stagehand gave me a pair that had little sticky stuff on them. I figured the duchess would wear gloves, so I got the fabulous [costume designer] Marty Pakledinaz to take those gloves and dip them in something so they're just a little tacky — just like me — and that's what I hang on."

Pakledinaz also did her wedding dress 25 years ago. She met actor David Green on a bus-and-truck of On the Twentieth Century and "said yes before he finished the sentence. David knows all there is to know about the care and feeding of a diva."

(This feature appears in the August 2012 issue of Playbill magazine.)

Watch Judy Kaye in the Tony Awards press room, following her 2012 win:

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