Twenty-four years have passed since Vicki Lewis won the hearts of Broadway lovers by belting about “Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, Mo.,” in the revival of Damn Yankees. And though she twice stepped into the revival of Chicago as Velma Kelly, audiences are once again treated to the full power of that voice eight times a week in Anastasia as Countess Lily.
“I’ve been teaching in L.A. at USC,” Lewis explains of her absence from the Broadway stage, sipping tea at Midtown’s Russian Tea Room. “And I love it, but when you teach and you teach and you teach and then you don’t recharge the battery, you become a bad teacher who’s a little resentful and a little not all there.”
Intending to fly to New York City to test the waters and catch up with friends, Lewis was instead asked to read for the role of Lily. “This audition fell out of the sky,” she says. “They flew me in for the callback, and then a few weeks later I was here doing it. Anastasia kind of saved the day.”
Anyone who has seen the adaptation of the beloved animated film about long-lost Russian royalty (with a score by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty) remembers Countess Lily’s entrance at the beginning of Act 2, when she leads a rowdy crowd of expatriates in a song and dance at their favorite watering hole. The whole number is in Lewis’ sweet spot: big, funny, and quintessential musical theatre.
Of course, her first full sing-through of the tune was her first time performing it live onstage. Standing on a bar blinded by a spotlight while singing and dancing is trial by fire if ever there was one, but Lewis sailed through it undaunted. “I felt like, ‘I got this now.’ Because I got through it with sheer terror, and it seemed to be OK,” she says. “So I took a breath, and I thought, ‘OK, now I can begin my work.’”
That’s par for the course for stepping into an existing show, of course. The last time she stepped in to replace on a long-running Broadway show was Lewis’ stint in Chicago—after a handful of out-of-town runs. Anastasia was another animal entirely. “You are oddly isolated in the process,” she points out. “But luckily [co-stars] Mary Beth [Peil] and Janet Dickinson are some of the loveliest women on the planet and they sort of tethered me and loved me and nurtured me and talked me through it, and I absolutely am in love with them for that.”
Raise a glass and toast to the return of Vicki Lewis to Broadway!