DIVA TALK: Catching Up With Tony Nominee Brenda Braxton, Star of Paper Mill's Thoroughly Modern Millie

By Andrew Gans
29 Mar 2013

Brenda Braxton and Danny Bernardy in Cougar The Musical.

Question: What was your experience like in Off-Broadway's Cougar The Musical?
Braxton: Oh! [Laughs.] God, I love that show! I think I'm going to go back into it when I finish at Paper Mill. I know they want me to come back in. That show is so much fun. I wish—I pray—that we can get a producer that can move it to another theatre, and really, really make it a little more upscale. But the show is just precious. There's only four of us, and it really puts the whole "cougar" phenomenon into a different light. It's not just these old women trying to get these young men! [Laughs.] It puts it into the perspective of living your life no matter what age you are, and if you choose to prefer a younger guy, it's okay. And, sometimes, going younger is good. It's a good thing. Sometimes it's not a good thing. Sometimes it just helps you get to another level of your life. You know what I mean? As an older woman — I hate using the word "thrown away," but we are thrown away. Once you're over 50, your whole sexuality and everything is kind of like, "Yeah, okay, whatever." But we are still hot! I'm sorry! [Big laugh.] We are still hot, and I prefer younger men, myself, and it's not a bad thing. And, the whole word "cougar" puts such a negative connotation on it, and we kind of take that away and make it a little more human and a little more fierce. We are fierce!

Question: You've done so much in the theatre, I wonder, when you look back at your career so far, do you have a favorite theatrical experience? What stands out in your mind?
Braxton: Of course, Smokey Joe's Café! That was my Tony nomination. [Laughs.] You know, that experience was once-in-a-lifetime. I plan on winning a Tony Award next time, but…! [Laughs.] But that was such a great experience. I enjoyed doing Chicago, too. I had a great time doing Chicago because I was able to do it with a couple of stars that really I was in awe of and really appreciated their work ethic. I did it with Usher. I did it with Rita Wilson, and I had the pleasure of doing it with Bebe [Neuwirth], and I was doing Velma, and she was doing Roxie, and we had the best time. It was like ebony and ivory! [Laughs.] We had the best time, so that was a nice experience for me, too.

The original Playbill cover for Smokey Joe's Café

Question: Tell me a little bit about how you manage your career and also having the barbershop.
Braxton: Oh, God, I go screaming into the night most days. [Laughs.] I take it one day at a time, you know. I'll never leave theatre completely, but I never thought I'd find something that intrigued me and made me feel excited as much as theatre. And this, for some reason, it does. It's a very upscale barbershop, and I like being here and greeting the clients and talking to them.… A lot of them know me from Broadway or from my theatre, and they're like, "Oh my God, you're really here." And, I'm like, "Yeah! I'm here." [Laughs.] So it's about taking it one day at a time and juggling. Right now I'm looking for investors again to take it to the next level, and it's all exciting—scary but exciting.

Question: Any other projects in the works? It sounds like your plate's pretty full.
Braxton: My plate is pretty full right now. [Laughs.] I like it that way, though. It keeps me going, it keeps me young, it keeps me moving. I'm really, really, really focusing on the shop right now because I need to get an investor on board. This economy is just killing everyone… That's my focus. I'm glad that I have Thoroughly Modern Millie to help me with that, or once again, I'd be running and screaming into the night… [Laughs.] Wearing I don't know what — a white fur coat and nothing else! [Laughs.] And, lashes! You've got to remember the lashes!

Question: And, last question: Why should people to come out to Paper Mill to see Thoroughly Modern Millie?
Braxton: It's a wonderful production. It's totally Broadway… I want to say "Broadway bound" because it could easily open on Broadway. It's such an amazing production of it — the production values. They spared nothing. It's really, really a good production, and it's fun. It's so silly. We need something like this, you know what I mean? It's just a cute, little show. It really, really is.

[Tickets may be purchased by calling (973) 376-4343, at the Paper Mill Playhouse Box Office at 22 Brookside Drive in Millburn, NJ, or online at papermill.org.]

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