DIVA TALK: Chatting With Follies Star Terri White

By Andrew Gans
04 Nov 2011

White performs "Who's That Woman?"
photo by Joan Marcus

Question: What's it like doing that number and looking around and seeing who else is dancing on the stage with you?
White: Oh, it's great just to see everyone—Elaine Paige and Bernadette and Jan and Colleen—it's just wonderful that we all just have a great time on stage during that number. And, especially because tap was my first thing I learned. Basically, my grandmother was taking care of me one day and I took my first step. [She] called my dad at work, he left work for the rest of the day to teach me a shuffle-step… My father was a hoofer. Tap dancing was my first introduction to the business, if you put it that way. So, to be able to do that and share that love of mine with all of these wonderful ladies is fantastic.

Question: How did the recording session for Follies go?
White: It went great. I love that studio. We recorded Finian's there, and [record producer Tommy Krasker] makes sure that you understand who the characters are. You just don't hear tunes and go, "That's cute, but what does it mean?" He sets it up just a little bit with some of the dialogue, so you know what's coming, and you'll be able to understand the full song, even if you hadn't seen the show. This way, you get more of a feel of the show. He's very good about that. And, Stephen was just grinning ear to ear. He was very excited about this. In fact, he came out after I finished doing the number—recording it—and said, "Terrific job, Terri" and I went, "Woo-hoo! That was from Stephen Sondheim!" [Laughs.]

Question: Did you get to work with Sondheim during rehearsals?
White: He was there from day one in Kennedy Center… not every day… but he was there a lot, both in Kennedy and here in New York.

Question: Did he offer you any advice?
White: Actually, one day he called in almost all the principals except for me, and I turned to Donna and said, "Is this a good thing or a bad thing?" And, opening night he came to my dressing room and he said, "Congratulations on your marriage. You must be very proud. And, second of all, the reason why I didn't call you in for notes was because it was perfect." [I was] so ecstatic, and I overdo it on the opening night and I hyper-extend my knee, so it's still trying to heal [laughs], but I guess I nailed what he wanted because Stella is really me in some ways. Literally, I learned the song in five minutes and I was off music in five minutes because I understood exactly what the lyrics are saying. Sometimes you strain really hard—"What is this supposed to mean?" You write a billion notes on the side of each line of the music to try and develop the song for yourself, but I listened to it and said, "Oh, that's a nice rhythm." I never heard the song before, and then I started looking at the lyrics and I said, "Oh, I got that part!" I just zipped right through it. It really became a part of me.

White on opening night
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Question: Is there any talk of the show extending past January?
White: You know what, after Finian's Rainbow when there was talk that we were going to move it because American Idiot was coming in, I'll believe it when I see it on paper. People are saying, "How could they close this show because it's making over a million dollars?" I'm going, "You know what, when we're moving and they give us the name of the theatre, I'll believe it." Until then, rumors are just that. They're rumors.

Question: Do you have any other projects in the works or are you just focusing on this for right now?
White: There's a project that I was working on for the last four years called Holding On by Neil Klein, and it's a great piece that I'm excited about because we're actually going to, next year, have our first read-through of it and see what's going to happen with it. You know, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. I've been in many a project that all it was was a reading. But, I think this has a great punch to it, a great story to it. I'm also doing my club work. I'll be at Feinstein's in May—May 2 and 9—and Town Hall Nov. 14, so I'm doing bits and pieces here and there to keep my foot in the door so that people don't forget about me.

Question: Congratulations on everything. You're really terrific, and it's nice to see a happy ending to a story.
White: Yeah, you and me both! [Laughs.] I can't stop grinning, you know? It's overwhelming sometimes. It's just one thing and the next. It's not bad, it's all good. I'm actually walking up the stairs instead of standing on one and step down two, walk down three and step down or slide. It's all good. The marriage is good. I call Donna my lucky charm because ever since we've been together, it's only been up.

[For tickets to Follies, phone (877) 250-2929 or visit Ticketmaster.com.]

Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.

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