DIVA TALK: Chats With NYMF's Catherine Cox, Michelle Federer, Anika Larsen, J. Elaine Marcos, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Melissa van der Schyff

By Andrew Gans
06 Jul 2012

Sheryl Lee Ralph

Sheryl Lee Ralph
It's On at the Pershing Square Signature Center
July 10-11

How did you get involved with this production?
Sheryl Lee Ralph: It was a Christmas/Hanukkah gift to me. Someone dropped out the week before the L.A. reading and the director called me. (He should have called me first.)

What other NYMF productions have you been a part of?
SLR: This is my first and most fabulous!



How would you describe the character you're playing?
SLR: Bold, bodacious babe with a sharp sense of humor. Talented with a keen understanding of people. She can spell couture and wear it, too... when she finds it in the resale shop. Oh and she can sing! Love her!

Why do you think audiences should attend this particular production?
SLR: It is a wonderful show with a great cast, great music and audiences will be able to say, "I saw it first at NYMF!"

Why do you think NYMF is so important?
SLR: Musical theatre is an American art form that must continue to be supported. This is the tradition that created West Side Story, Dreamgirls and that Mormon musical. Besides, some Divas Gotta sing, Gotta dance!

NYMF celebrates new musicals, but which role in a classic musical would you most like to perform?
SLR: Auntie Mame! Dolly! That Diva in Applause! Margo Channing.

Do you have any other projects in the works?
SLR: My new book "Redefining DIVA" published by Simon&Schuster is in its fifth printing and I continue to tour with it. My one-woman show Sometimes I Cry, the lives, loves and losses of HIV-positive women, continues to move around the world. SometimesICry.org.

Dec. 1 we will celebrate the 22nd annual DIVAS Simply Singing!, the longest consecutive-running musical AIDS benefit in the country. TheDivaFoundation.org.

Just wrapped a pilot about the regrouping of an 80s girl group after the death of their manager. Divaliciously funny!

Read more about Sheryl Lee Ralph in the Playbill Vault.

Melissa van der Schyff

Melissa van der Schyff
Baby Case at the Pershing Square Signature Center
July 16-22

How did you get involved with this production?
Melissa Van der Schyff: The production called my agent to offer me the role of Violet Sharpe (the Lindbergh maid who was suspected of being involved in the kidnapping), and they sent me an MP3 of her song "Dirty Dishes." As soon as I heard the song, I got chills and immediately connected to the character. I couldn't stop singing "Dirty Dishes" because it is so haunting and catchy! Then I started to do a little research on the Lindbergh kidnapping as well as Violet and her role in the story and was absolutely fascinated by the real-life twists and turns of this mystery. I ended up ordering three books on the subject that I can't put down! At that point I knew I needed to accept the job! I couldn't let Violet go without further exploration!

What other NYMF productions have you been a part of?
MV: I am new to New York so this is actually my first time participating or attending the festival.

How would you describe the character you're playing?
MV: Violet is such a mystery! She reminds me of a wild stallion that everyone is trying to restrain. When she was interrogated by police about the kidnapping, she was very volatile and defiant. She lied at first, saying she was at the movies to cover up that she was actually at a bar drinking (during the time of Prohibition!) on a date with a strange man. Apparently she had an appetite for men and booze at a time when women were expected to behave in a certain manner, yet she was the perfect housemaid always diligent in her duties. The police came to question her several more times about her lies, and upon hearing she would be questioned yet again and on the verge of her reputation being totally tarnished, perhaps being fired (during the Depression when there were no jobs to be had)…or even worse being charged with the crime, she committed suicide by drinking silver polish. She took any secrets she may have known with her to the grave.

Why do you think audiences should attend this particular production?
MV: Well, the Lindbergh case didn't get the nickname "The Trial of the Century" by accident! It is so compelling and there are so many bizarre details that just make your jaw drop open! This country has a history with becoming obsessed with certain trials, like the OJ case, the Jon Bennet Ramsey case, etc. Real-life mysteries are hard to resist. Michael Ogborn has done a brilliant job of assembling the facts and speculations surrounding this epic story with his book and score (the music and lyrics are thrilling… poignant, extremely witty as well as melodically catchy). He also examines how these sorts of news stories appeal to the darker side of our psyche and become sensationalized and capitalized upon so that the case takes on a life of its own and grows into a phenomenon. Director Jeremy Dobrish is a fantastic leader for this piece and Warren Adams is doing some really amazing and interesting choreography. And, last but not least, we have 11 actors playing about 97 roles. It's good old-fashioned teamwork at it's finest.

Why do you think NYMF is so important?
MV: My favorite thing in the world is to work on developing a new show. It's obviously important for the future of the theatre to have a place where we can risk trying new things and have that intention embraced and supported. It is so important to have a forum that celebrates that, with the understanding of the time and budget constraints involved. And, when you have a festival that brings the community together to present multiple projects there is wonderful creative energy and excitement that you can feel flowing. Knowing that while we are rehearsing and figuring things out there are multiple companies across the city doing the same thing is such a powerful thing. It makes me proud to be a craftsperson.

NYMF celebrates new musicals, but which role in a classic musical would you most like to perform?
MV: Ooooh that's a good question. I will have to think on that! There is so much!

Do you have any other projects in the works?
MV: I always have a few pots boiling on the stove… I'm a composer as well as an actor so I am working on an original CD right now. I also write some comedy stuff, so I have been writing an animated series. As far as acting, there are a few projects brewing, but I'm not at liberty to say anything at this moment, but hopefully soon!

Read more about Melissa van der Schyff in the Playbill Vault.

Visit NYMF.org.

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