Backstage With "Beauty's" Kenny Raskin and "Vic/Vic's" Rachel York
LEFOU'S NO FOOL: Many of the funniest moments in "Beauty and the Beast" involve Kenny Raskin's antics as Lefou, Gaston's loyal sidekick. Raskin came to Broadway well prepared for his character's pratfalls after spending a year as lead clown in the theatrical circus troupe Cirque du Soleil. Though he recently took a hiatus from the hit musical to teach classes at Ringling Brothers' Clown College, Raskin prefers the term "physical comedian" to describe what he does.
"I'm a clown in an old-world tradition of vaudeville, music halls and legitimate theatre," Raskin says. "I've always been interested in physical comedy because the language of gesture really is universal. Everyone understands the frustration of not being able to get a bottle open. One reason Ringling Brothers asked me down to their Clown College was to get a more naturalistic perspective on clowning. It's not just garish faces and fright wigs--a clown is an actor with a slightly different reality."
Raskin learned a few new tricks in Clown College himself, including a flat-on-the-face pratfall that drew big laughs when he added it to his "Beauty and the Beast" performance. "I don't worry about hurting myself because I wear a `flak jacket' of high-density foam padding," he explains. Asked about the lure of Broadway, Raskin notes, "What's fun about this show is getting the chance to sing and dance. Though I love nonverbal comedy, I really do have a big mouth."
B'WAY'S OTHER NORMA: Rachel York stole her first scenes on Broadway six years ago as the strong-voiced ingenue in "City of Angels." York's current character is another sexy scene stealer, mobster moll Norma Cassidy in "Victor/Victoria."
"I get offered a lot of sexpot roles," acknowledges York, "but at least in the theatre they're good roles, rather than a sexy character in a really bad sitcom."
Like many young singers, York grew up idolizing her current co-star, Julie Andrews. "I've always joked that I consider Julie my vocal teacher," she says. "I only took about five professional voice lessons in my life, but I'd listen to Julie and Ella Fitzgerald and Barbra Streisand and place my voice correctly by mimicking them."
York laughs as she remembers her first meeting with Andrews, just before they appeared together in the 1993 Sondheim revue "Putting It Together."
"She greeted me with a big hug and asked, `Would you like some tea?' I assumed a secretary would make it, but no, Julie goes out and makes a pot of tea herself. I thought, `Oh my gosh, Julie Andrews is serving me tea!' She truly is the most gracious, generous woman I've ever met."
The down-to-earth York reports that her lawyer-turned-banker boyfriend is a strong source of support. "When I first met him, I thought, `He just doesn't understand what it's like to be an actress!' But we support each other in our own fields, and there's no competition. It's really working out well."
-- By Kathy Henderson