It only took 17 years," laughs James Judy. He's referring to how long he's been in the business before creating a new character in a Broadway musical.
The Scarlet Pimpernel is only Judy's third Broadway show (after Into The Woods and A Christmas Carol). "This is an extraordinary experience . . . what everybody dreams of. It's more exciting by far than both my other experiences, because I'm creating something new [the character of Dewhurst]. Also, the audiences really love it, and the show is a joy to do. Putting it together has been, surprisingly, such a joyous experience."
Since childhood, Judy has been hoping for a career of such theatrically joyous experiences. "I grew up in Washington State, south of Seattle" he told Playbill On-Line, during final Broadway previews. "I come from a pretty musical family and started out as a singer, with piano and other instruments. That took me to acting. I went to college on a voice scholarship but switched my major as soon as I got there, to theatre. I then studied at the Drama Studio in London. It's a great, 12-month program that gives an encapsulated education of what you'd get at the big schools like RADA [Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts]. It opened everything up for me."
Continued Judy, "When I moved to Seattle in 1976, I started working professionally and moved to New York in 1980, so I'd already done my share of professional theatre and was already unionized. But I see someone like [fellow cast-member] Alison Lory who is so young and sweet and talented and already moving to New York at that age, it's really something special."
For his Pimpernel audition, Judy sang, "Why We Study English," a song from The Times (which he did at CT's Long Wharf Theatre). "What I love about the song is that I play a teacher," Judy said, "so the whole tableful of grumpy directors and producers are my students. And I'm frustrated with them and have disdain and anger -- there's a lot of acting to do, so it's more like a monologue than just a song." A veteran of opening nights, albeit not all of them on Broadway, Judy has numerous habits and rituals connected with a show's opening. "I like to eat a pasta dish," he said, "a good luck thing which goes back to high school when my mother made a special pasta dish. My mother has since died, so you want to have things around you that make you feel good and loved in that way."
In lieu of giving opening night gifts to the whole cast, Judy will be making a donation to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, "though I'll probably give gifts to the creative team as thanks for hiring me. It's a time to show your love and gratitude."
"Oh, and I have a pair of good-luck underwear," Judy volunteers, "which I've had for twenty years. I'm amazed I can still fit in them."
On a more spiritual level, Judy, who was raised Catholic but doesn't subscribe to a particular religion now, takes a page from comedian Judy Tenuta in characterizing his belief system as "Judy-ism." "It's my version of a spiritual center," he said. "I ask to be a channel for divine light when I'm out there and to heal with my presence. You feel you're handing yourself over just one more step to a higher power. That you're in service while you're out there to create that give-and-take circle with the audience that's so fulfilling."
Continued Judy, "Meditation has been incredibly helpful. There's a prayer I say before I go onstage every day:
`The light of God surrounds me,
The love of God enfolds me,
The power of God protects me,
And the presence of God watches over me.
Wherever I am, God is.
So be it.'"