DIVA TALK: Chatting with Tony Nominee Karine Plantadit Plus Four Questions for Nominee Jan Maxwell

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

Karine Plantadit
Karine Plantadit (Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN)

KARINE PLANTADIT
Karine Plantadit, who was raised in Cameroon and spent seven years as a soloist with the Alvin Ailey Dance Company, said she "jumped at least five times in the air" when the Tony nominations were announced last month.

Plantadit, nominated for her performance in the Twyla Tharp dance musical Come Fly Away, said she feels that her nomination "means that the entire show, our show, has been honored by the Tony nominators. . . .We all desire to be rewarded for the hard work that [we] do, but when you do something new that is different, there is a great chance that it can be overlooked and/or simply denied . . . It's a beautiful recognition, and also it's like a dialogue that's been opened. You know, we said something, and someone says something back to you. And so the dialogue is open [not only] for this production but for many other productions that will come our way. It means simply that there is a future for productions that are merging dance and acting at the same level."

The actress, whose Broadway credits include The Lion King, Saturday Night Fever and Tharp's Movin' Out, also spoke about the challenges of her latest role: "For this role, what I knew was going to be the challenge is that Twyla did not want us to leave the stage, and so the challenge for all of us [was] to actually be in our characters from beginning to end, because a dancer usually comes onstage and leaves the stage. . . .Twyla, by demanding from all of us to stay on the stage, was pushing us to actually build these characters . . . The character was no longer just the dancer — it was actually a character that happened to dance. It's like you're someone and then you want to say something, and instead of saying it, you're just going to dance it, but you're going to be that person all the time."

Come Fly Away star Karine Plantadit
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Plantadit says that her acting abilities have always informed her work, even during her days with Alvin Ailey. "I've always loved the theatre part of dancing," she says. "That's something that always moved me, and even with Mr. Ailey's work, I always was attracted to those role[s] where the characters were really strong… I was always cast actually with a very strong background for acting. Then I continued, I did my stud[ies], and [became] more and more in tune with the actor within and the skills that it requires." Her competitors in the Best Featured Actress in a Musical category are all former Tony winners: Barbara Cook, Angela Lansbury, Lillias White and Katie Finneran. "When I meet those ladies, I think I'm just going to bow so low," Plantadit laughs. "I don't think they're going to know who I am. Truly, I'm going to bow and stay down there for a long period of time! But I'm also going to stand up because I believe strongly that by being nominated with those people, it also means that the genre that we brought forward — the dance-theatre part, the dance-acting part — is equivalent to the work that they've done. And, I have been in my craft for a very long period of time as well, and I've been working really hard at it. So I am honored, I will bow, bow, bow. I will so bow, and I will stand up and meet their eyes with a lot of joy." [ Come Fly Away plays the Marquis Theatre, 46th Street between Broadway and Eighth Avenue; visit comeflyaway.com.]

Jan Maxwell in Lend Me A Tenor
photo by Joan Marcus

JAN MAXWELL
Jan Maxwell, the celebrated theatre actress who has previously been Tony-nominated for her work in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Coram Boy, made a bit of Tony history last month when she joined the small group of actors who have been nominated for two acting Tonys in one season. Maxwell, who is nominated for Best Featured Actress in a Play for her current role of Maria in the revival of Lend Me a Tenor and Best Actress in a Play for her work as Julie Cavendish for her work earlier this season in the revival of The Royal Family, told me that Tony nominations day was "one of those mornings that I'll probably never forget." Following is the brief conversation I had with the stellar actress that May 4 morning. Question: How did you find out about your nominations?
Jan Maxwell: We have this little tiny cabin up by Woodstock, and I went up to the country and [had] no Internet, no cell-phone reception, and my calling card gave out. So about nine o'clock this morning, I went over to the neighbor's yard and piggybacked on their Internet [laughs], which they gave me permission to do when they were here. And, I looked at Playbill.com, and I saw [the nominations], and I just whispered to myself, "Oh, my God!"

Question: What was your thought when you realized you had received two nominations?
Maxwell: I was just over the moon. I started the season just thankful that I was employed and going to be able to pay some bills [laughs], and this is such an honor to be noticed in such a celebrity-filled season. Lend Me a Tenor is so much fun, and I work with such wonderful people, and Royal Family meant the world to me because it's about us, you know. It's about theatre folk, and I really admire and respect theatre folk, so it really meant a lot. And, it also means a lot that they were both nominated for Best Revival, and I wish that we had more nominations for those shows. But I get to work with and I got to work with such incredible people. I'm just really thankful for this season and for the directors I have and David Caparelliotis, who was the casting director for both of them.

Jan Maxwell with Kelli Barrett in The Royal Family
photo by Joan Marcus

Question: What is the challenge of your current role in Lend Me a Tenor?
Maxwell: The challenge of the role is keeping it at a place that's believable and really grounding her. Because it's farce, you're going to take it to the next level, but you have to start with truly believing who she is and what she's done and the baggage she has and the betrayals she's been through. [Laughs.] Question: How do you feel about making it into the Tony history books as one of very few actors who have received two nominations in one season?
Maxwell: Wow, you're the first person that's said it like that. It's flabbergasting. [Pauses.] I mean, it's a very emotional thing. You put a lump in my throat when you said that — I can't speak. I'm speechless. It doesn't even happen that often that you're employed twice in a season. So there's that, and I'm feeling pretty lucky all the way around, I have to say. It's just wonderful, and I thank the nominators so much because they had so many people to choose from this year, most of them with bigger names than me. [Laughs.] I'm just — I don't know, I'm just shocked and thrilled.

[ Lend Me a Tenor plays the Music Box Theatre, 239 West 45th Street; visit lendmeatenoronbroadway.com.]  

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