DIVA TALK: Chatting with Follies' Kim Crosby Plus Victor Victoria (Piazza's Clark, that is)

News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.

Kim Crosby as Sally Durant in Follies
Kim Crosby as Sally Durant in Follies

KIM CROSBY

The original Broadway production of Into the Woods boasted one of the finest casts to grace Broadway: among the stellar line-up were two-time Tony Award winner Bernadette Peters, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels' Joanna Gleason, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang's Chip Zien as well as a young actress named Kim Crosby, who created the role of the beautiful but somewhat off-balance Cinderella. Crosby, who impressed with her soaring soprano — listen to the RCA Victor recording for Crosby's full, rounded tones and shimmering vibrato on "No One Is Alone" and "On the Steps of the Palace" — also met and later married her Prince during the run of the Stephen Sondheim-James Lapine musical, actor Robert Westenberg, who created the role of Cinderella's Prince (not to mention a hungry and howling Wolf). In the late nineties, Crosby and Westenberg moved to Denver with their three kids, and although they came back to New York for a time, the talented family recently relocated to Crosby's hometown in Missouri. The full-time mom manages concert appearances every now and then, but the upcoming Barrington Stage Company presentation of Follies marks her first book musical in several years. And what a role she's landed, aging former follies girl Sally Durant Plummer, married to Buddy but still in love with Ben. Earlier this week I had the chance to chat with Crosby on a break during rehearsals.

Question: How are rehearsals going?
Kim Crosby: They're going pretty well. This past week has been primarily the four principals, the four main characters, and their younger selves. Today we have more [of the] company. Everybody else is coming in, except Marni Nixon . . . We'll be completing the cast, and it'll be nice to get the show together as a whole.

Q: How long a rehearsal process do you have?
Crosby: A little over three weeks . . . I think we have our first preview two weeks from Thursday. It'll be fine by then. It seems impossible at the beginning, [laughs] but it always comes together.

Q: How did this role come about for you?
Crosby: [Director] Julie [Boyd] had talked to me back in December about doing it. At the time, my husband and I and our kids had just relocated to Missouri from New York. And, at that point, he had not gotten his offer to teach at Drury University. I was really uncertain what the landscape would be like job wise, so I couldn't commit to [the show] in good faith, so I had to pass on it. And, then, Karen Ziemba was slated to do it, and then she had to pull out, and Julie called back. By then we knew that Bob would be teaching this fall, and he has the summer off. The timing was great, so I was delighted that she came back to me [with the offer]. Q: When did you leave New York originally?
Crosby: We've left it twice now. The first time was when Bob went out to work at the Denver Center Theatre in '97. He was there for three years.

Q: What was that adjustment like for you?
Crosby: We had both lived in New York for many years by that point, and we had young children who were about to enter school. Our older daughter, Emily, had been in a year of preschool by then, and we were just looking for a change. It wasn't that there wasn't work for us, but you do tire of the constant looking for work. And, Bob was in his eighth Broadway show at the time — he was in 1776. . .

Q: I remember people being surprised when they heard that you both were leaving the city . . .
Crosby: I hadn't done a huge amount of work in New York for the previous five years mainly because of the kids. I had a done a fair amount of commercial work, and had that been a big money maker for me, my primary income for so many years. But we just wanted a change, and they were delighted to have him out there. We decided to move back, not into the city, but back east because we felt there might be more for us to do. . . So we were back in New York for another four years, and Bob had really wanted to teach, and fortunately this job was created for him at the Drury University in Springfield.

Q: When does he start that position?
Crosby: He starts in August, [but] not before he squeezes in a production of Sound of Music at the MUNY. [Laughs.] Leslie Denniston, who's playing Phyllis in this production [of Follies], is going to be working with him [at MUNY].

Q: What's it like in Springfield?
Crosby: I grew up there. We left New York and moved there for many reasons, first and foremost because my family was there, and Robert was hoping to either find a position at Southwest Missouri State or at Drury. . . It's a good life [there]. It was a very good move for us, a great place to raise the kids. We're around family — all of my family still lives there.

Q: How old are your kids now?
Crosby: They are 13, 11 and 5. Emily is the older, then Katie and Joel. He just turned five. He called me the other day to tell me he had freckles from being out in the sun! [Laughs.]

Q: Since this production is also celebrating Sondheim's 75th birthday, I wondered if you could talk about what it was like being in the original production of Into the Woods.
Crosby: I'm sure you can just imagine [that] it was an opportunity of a lifetime. A privilege beyond description — to actually sit with [Sondheim] at the piano while he sings through lyrics or songs with you. I remember very vividly when we were in San Diego — I have it on cassette tape actually — when he first sang through "No One Is Alone" for the company. To have worked with a giant like that — it really gave me my career and my life, having met Robert doing the show. It was great, and it lives on. I run into so many people whose children love the show, people who have the cassette, listen to the soundtrack a lot, so I feel so proud to have been a part of that, something that lives on in people's memories.

Q: When did you join the Into the Woods cast? Were you in the original workshop?
Crosby: I think there was a workshop prior to the production in San Diego, [which] was when I first came into it. I had auditioned for that production, and then there were a couple of workshops over the summer when we were shopping around for choreographers. I remember Ben Wright and Joanna [Gleason] and Chip [Zien] and I were called in to dance for the prospective choreographers. It was pretty interesting. I felt fortunate to have been kept on after we had that production and see it all come about.

Q: Now you're doing another great Sondheim role, Sally Durant. Do you have a favorite moment or song in the show yet?
Crosby: I get to sing some really great stuff. I love "Buddy's Eyes." There's a lot going on at the point in the show where she's trying to convince Ben and herself, I suppose. I know she's very, very unhappy. These are very flawed characters. [Laughs.] . . . I've talked to my husband about this a lot because he's such a consummate actor and he thinks like a director and he's just a great one to talk to, especially if something's feeling uncomfortable for me. These characters — they're only what they are written on the page, and you can only bring as much to them as is allowed in that short amount of time that you know them. They all come in with a ton of baggage, and you learn more about these people in their songs than in the scenes I'm finding. Because you spend more time in music than in the book scenes, so that's where Steve is really so brilliant. I also love "Don't Look at Me," where [Sally] sees Ben for the first time. It's just a wonderful moment for the character and one of the last few moments — except for "The Girls Upstairs" — where there's real levity and good cheer because things kind of fall apart for everyone. . . . I think that's a really sweet, bittersweet moment, "Buddy's Eyes." Of course I love "Losing My Mind" when I just get to stand absolutely still and sing that one.

Q: In your bio you mention something called Broadway Nights. Tell me a little about that.
Crosby: This company was founded by Craig Schulman. He and his wife, Monica Robinson, formed the company. I had auditioned for this almost ten years ago to sing pops concerts around the country. We've performed in some really great places. I actually had to forego one of the concerts to come up and do Follies, but it's a real treat to be able to do a book show. The pops concerts — it's actually the perfect job for me because it's short term and pays well and I get to keep my chops up. [Laughs.] That's been predominantly my performing for the past eight or nine years.

Q: What type of songs do you do?
Crosby: Some of the programs handle songs of the entire past century. Some look at Broadway today, more of the contemporary stuff. We'll always touch on Phantom of the Opera, Les Miz, Jekyll & Hyde. Second half is usually more recent shows on Broadway; it's generally an even mix of old and present. It's a lot of fun.

Q: There really does seem to be a bit of a Cinderella thread in your life. You played Cinderella, met and married your prince in that show and now in "Buddy Eyes" you sing, "I'm still the princess, still the prize."
Crosby: [Laughs.] It seems to be a recurring theme with me. After Robert and I got married, we moved to an apartment complex — do you recall a few weeks ago when that retaining wall collapsed? — that was on our property where we lived! It's called Castle Village, which is pretty ironic. . . Robert is a prince of a man. He's a wonderful husband and daddy to his kids.

[ Follies will play the Barrington Stage Company June 23 through July 16. BSC is located within the Consolati Performing Arts Center at 491 Berkshire School Road in Sheffield, MA. The box office can be reached by calling (413) 528-8888. Visit www.barringtonstageco.org for more information.]

VICTORIA CLARK

Well, the Tony voters got it right this year! Victoria Clark was named Best Leading Actress in a Musical for her beautifully sung and movingly acted work — a multi-layered, completely honest performance filled with both comedic and dramatic moments — as doting mother Margaret Johnson in The Light in the Piazza. Her competitors in the Leading Actress category — Christina Applegate, Erin Dilly, Sutton Foster and Sherie Rene Scott — all offered fine performances, but Clark was, for me, the clear the standout in that talented field.

Yesterday I had the chance to chat with the new Tony winner, who said June 5, Tony day, was "crazy! We had a dress rehearsal at Radio City early Sunday morning, and then we had a matinee [of Light in the Piazza]. Then, [co-stars] Kelli [O'Hara], Matthew [Morrison] and I had to get into our glamour outfits for the red carpet. It was really fun, but it was really hot and really humid. Then we [went inside and had to] run out of our seats to do the segment from [ Piazza on the Tony program]."

Performing on the Tony Awards under normal circumstances must be stressful; producers and actors know they have but three minutes to try to sell their production to the viewing audience. But how much pressure would someone feel when told — just moments before going onstage — that her body microphone wasn't working? Such was the case Sunday night for Clark. "They thought my mic wasn't working," Clark explained. "There was a panic about that, so they handed me a huge [hand-held] mic. All the color drained out of my face. I just felt like the world dropped into my throat. And then Kelli, who comes in from stage right, saw me. Meanwhile, Adam [Guettel's] giving his acceptance speech for Best Score. And, [Kelli] says, 'Vicki, it's okay, it's okay. You're the narrator. It's fine, just go with it, go with it!' Then Mark Harelik and Jennifer [Hughes] popped their heads out of the little tower that was ready to go stage right, and they were screaming encouragement. It was very sweet. Everybody knew how crazy it was. Once I had their support I thought, 'Well, it can't get any crazier than this,' and it was fine." Clark said a sound person standing right off camera gave her updates via "wild sign language," and midway through the scene she was able to rely on her body microphone.

"To go back and look at [the Tony] tape," Clark related, "I can see that clearly I'm preoccupied with a million thoughts. I'm just proud that I didn't completely lose it on live TV," she added with a laugh. "There was a moment there where I was like, 'This is really funny.' Theatre is live and stuff happens all the time — good and bad — that we have to deal with. But the fact that we have three minutes to do the number [on TV]. We were really proud of the way the number came off though, and we're doing very well at the box office, so I think we did okay." In fact, Light in the Piazza has just extended its engagement once again: the Guettel-Craig Lucas musical will now play through Jan. 1, 2006.

Winning a Tony Award is a dream of any theatre actor, but Clark admitted that she had given up on that fantasy. "About five years ago I stopped dreaming about [winning a Tony] because I decided that it wasn't going to be the key to whether I was happy or not. There's something lovely about letting go, about not needing that to be so important. So [this year] I was just so happy to get the part and then be nominated. And, of course, [I was] thrilled and so excited to win it, but the other ladies in my category are so lovely and so skilled. They're so adorable — Sherie and Erin and Sutton and Christina. They're all beautiful. We've had fun running into each other and hanging out, and I wanted us all to be able to win that and share it and have fun together."

When asked whether there's anyone she forgot to thank during her acceptance speech, Clark answered, "There's no one that I forgot to thank, but I could have made the whole speech about [director] Bartlett Sher because he was such an inspirational director, and he's a teaching director, so I'm a much better actor now than I was when we started rehearsals. The whole speech could have been about my family, the strong women in my family who are survivors and who have lifted us up through their compassion and their love. They were all character studies for this role. The whole speech could have been about the teachers I've had, unbelievable teachers. The whole speech could have been about my students because I think I became a much better actor by having to articulate what I do. I know I've become a better artist by teaching, and I have unbelievable students. There's just not enough time in 50 seconds! The whole speech could have been about this cast. They're the most loving, generous, talented group of people. We all look out for each other. We all have each other's back. I look forward to seeing everyone in that theatre every night. The whole speech could have been about the design team. Cathy Zuber basically handed me my character with the costumes, and to wander in that set with those lights, you really are transformed. And, so it's not that I forgot people, it's just that there wasn't time to go into the detail that I wanted to!"

Teachers, students and designers aside, there was probably no one in the Radio City Music Hall audience Sunday night more proud of Clark than Thomas Luke Guest, her son. The curly haired ten-year-old beamed as Clark accepted her award, and she concluded her speech by saying Guest is "the light in my piazza." Clark, in fact, let her son take her Tony Award to school with him earlier this week. "He took it to school wrapped up in a towel in a little bag, and then he would show it to people one at a time like it was a rare species of monkey. As soon as people looked at it and touched it, he would cover it back up with the towel again. It was so sweet, and then we passed it around and everybody got to hold it. It's not engraved yet, so I told the children it could be everybody's Tony for awhile."

About her first night back in Piazza after the show won six Tonys, Clark explained, "I got nice entrance applause, [but] I basically wanted to run back and hide behind the set and put a bag over my head. . . . It was a little bit intimidating and very humbling because I've always been sort of the underdog who's never won anything, and now, all of a sudden, with this part I think people are watching [me] in a different way. I've always wanted to do my best, but now I just feel there's an expectation that feels different."

"I really just hope that people come out and see the show," Clark added. "This show has changed my life, and it's changed the life of so many people. I'm not saying it changed my life because it was such a wonderful career opportunity. It changed my life because the material itself is transformative. You actually go through a transformation saying these words and singing this music. Many people who've seen the show tell me the same thing — that they are changed from having seen the piece. They feel lighter, somehow something's been lifted from them, some burden. I just want people to have that experience."

[ The Light in the Piazza plays the Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center; call (212) 239-6200 for tickets.] DIVA TIDBITS

More Broadway talent has been announced for the second week-long voyage of R Family Vacations — founded by Rosie and Kelli O'Donnell and Gregg Kaminsky — that will depart New York City on July 10 with ports of call to Halifax, Nova Scotia, Provincetown, Boston and Martha's Vineyard. All are welcome on the cruise: singles, couples, families, gay, straight and in between. According to co-founder Kelli O'Donnell, those set to perform now include John Tartaglia, Darius De Haas, Gavin Creel, Anika Larson, Liz Callaway, Orfeh, Liz McCartney, Jennifer Kruskamp, Paul Castree, Elaine Brier, Bobby Peaco, Brian Nash, Denise Summerford, Brooke Elliott and Seth Rudetsky. Other featured performers include pop star Cyndi Lauper, and of course, Rosie O'Donnell. There will also be an evening of comedy hosted by Judy Gold. For the second year, "Diva Talk" will also be part of R Family Vacations, bringing Playbill.com's readers stories about this performance-packed cruise. Call (866) 732-6822 for reservations; cabins start at $999 per person. For more information, Click Here.

After she makes her London concert debut — June 18-27 at the New Players Theatre — original Little Shop of Horrors star Ellen Greene will return to Provincetown. Greene and pianist/musical director Christian Klikovits are set to play the UU Meeting House July 19-30. Greene and Klikovits will offer tunes from their critically acclaimed concert evening Torch! as well as songs from their debut CD "In His Eyes." Concertgoers can also expect to hear Greene's signature tunes from Little Shop of Horrors — "Suddenly Seymour" and "Somewhere That's Green" — as well as a few new additions to her repertoire. Performance dates are July 21-26 at 8:30 PM and July 28-30 at 8:30 PM. The UU Meeting House is located in Provincetown, MA at 236 Commercial Street. For reservations call (508) 487-9793 or visit www.ptowntix.com.

The star-studded June 9 concert production of South Pacific — with Reba McEntire as Nellie Forbush, Brian Stokes Mitchell as Emile de Becque and Lillias White as Bloody Mary — was taped for future television broadcast. A spokesperson for "Great Performances" told me earlier in the week that Thirteen/WNET's "Great Performances" would tape the Carnegie Hall concert for broadcast some time in spring 2006.

A host of theatre favorites will be part of Avenue Q Swings!, the June 27 benefit for the Greenwich House Music School Piano Fund. The 7:30 PM evening at the Lucille Lortel Theatre will boast the talents of Karen Mason, Sally Mayes, Christine Pedi, Billy Porter, The Q Trio, Sherie Rene Scott, Mark Shaiman, Billy Stritch, Toxic Audio and Tom Wopat. Mary Ann McSweeney, who plays bass in the Avenue Q orchestra, will be the musical director for the concert, which will feature Jeff Marx and Robert Lopez's Tony-winning Avenue Q score performed in jazz, classical and "other surprising arrangements." The Lucille Lortel Theatre is located in Manhattan at 121 Christopher Street. Tickets, priced $75 (sold out), $150 and $250, are available by calling (212) 279-4200 or by visiting www.ticketcentral.com.

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

(l.-r.) 2005 Tony Award winners Norbert Leo Butz, Cherry Jones, Victoria Clark and Bill Irwin
(l.-r.) 2005 Tony Award winners Norbert Leo Butz, Cherry Jones, Victoria Clark and Bill Irwin (Photo by Aubrey Reuben)