Stage, film and television star Jane Powell -- now at the Century Center for the Performing Arts in Avow, a play by Bill C. Davis (Mass Appeal) -- is one of the last of the legendary MGM contract stars. Powell starred in the classic "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" and co starred with Fred Astaire in "Royal Wedding." In the decades since, she has also made numerous television performances. Her 1973 Broadway debut, in the musical Irene, foretold of future theatre work, including tours of Marriage-Go-Round, and Same Time, Next Year as well as a Drama Logue award-winning role in Chapter Two. At the Century Center, Powell returns again to the stage, joining Christopher Sieber, Scott Ferrara, Alan Campbell and Sarah Knowlton under the direction of Jack Hofsiss.
PBOL: It's hard to resist the chance to ask you right off the bat how you feel about today's musicals.
Jane Powell: There are so many are revivals it's hard to categorize them. Of course, a lot of them today are dancing musicals, which is wonderful, but they're using old musicals as well, which is nice.
PBOL: There has been a great deal of controversy over dance musicals, like Contact and the fact that the music in the show was not performed live.
JP: Well, things do change. To tell you the truth, I had forgotten it was recorded. I thought Contact was wonderful. I love hearing old songs in the dancing shows, but in terms of Contact, I wonder if it isn't a matter of how expensive it all is and if that isn't why they have to go that route. I don't know what I'd think if they made a habit of canned music. To me, there's nothing better than a live music orchestra, because that's kind of what theatre is, isn't it? Hearing the overture is the classic musical experience.
PBOL: So you don't mind a bit of a mix?
JP: Contact was not the norm, it was not a classic musical. And if you took a normal musical and did that treatment, people would not necessarily sit still for it, nor should they.
PBOL: Are there other musicals produced recently that you also appreciated?
JP: I was surprised with Titanic, which I thought was a wonderful piece of work. I really did enjoy that show, it was mounted beautifully. I'll tell you something though, I don't remember the songs, and I think that's because with the musicals today they don't have the Hit Parade. I think the old Hit Parade was a big element in making musicals and songs popular. But it's not done the same way now, it's done for young people and not the middle-aged and older. In the Hit Parade days you didn't have as many avenues as we do now, with television and video and the Internet where you can find anything that you want. The Hit Parade was good for shows and songs, but now the top ten has been replaced by the Top 40. PBOL: In Bill Davis' Avow you're even further removed from the classic musical. The story involves some pretty serious issues.
JP: The play does involve same-sex marriages, which have been taking place in Vermont, but it terms of the church condoning it, I do not think that's going to change that much. The questions that have been written into the production are very provocative and that helps makes the play relevant to today's subjects.
PBOL: How has the play been received so far?
JP: Well, the audiences are certainly enjoying the show and I'd say it's going well. The people seem to be very interested and the play itself is funny. One of the reasons I chose this piece was because I wanted to work with Jack Hofsiss. He's directed so many wonderful things and I really wanted to work with him.
PBOL: What do you think really distinguishes your character in Avow?
JP: Well, she's a very funny character, and while [Davis has] written some good lines for her, she's much deeper that she appears on paper. I mean, it certainly reads well but then it's much better on its feet. My character has a lot to say. Now, some may not like the subject because they are Catholic or because the story involves homosexuals, but that's not the story. Avow is basically the story of a mother, a son and a daughter. The son is gay and wants to get married, and the daughter is pregnant but does not want a marriage.
PBOL: That's substantive.
JP: Families can relate to it. Everyone who has a family knows about these different conflicts. Whether they're Catholic or Jewish, they can relate to the different problems that come up. Maybe someone's son is not necessarily gay, but they will understand how something can arise in a family where one person's views go against your beliefs.
PBOL: So, the audiences have a strong correlative sense to the material?
JP: Yes, it's the same trials and tribulations, and people relate to it greatly. I think that's what attracted me to the play. I have three kids and when I hear some of the words in the play, I feel as if I'm hearing things that I have told my children or that they have told me. It's not that the subjects are all the same, but we do experience the same problems.
PBOL: Is there anything in your career that you were quick to take off your resume when you could, or that you might have done differently?
JP: Not really, I think life just gets better. I don't know that I would have done anything differently, but who knows what twists the road would have taken. I suppose I would liked to have done "Love Me or Leave Me," but MGM gave it to Doris Day instead. And the reason I wanted that part was because it would have gotten me out of playing a teenager, which I played for so long. But by the time that occurred I was out of my contract.
PBOL: So you wouldn't really change anything in your career?
JP: I just don't live in the past or even the future, because who knows? Besides, it's hard to remember anything that was bad. I'm kind of in limbo and I'm very happy where I am.
-- By Murdoch McBride