STAGE TO SCREENS: 10 Million Miles' Winningham and Sudduth; "Show Business" Opens

By Michael Buckley
May 6, 2007

This month we talk to Mare Winningham and Skipp Sudduth, two TV and film veterans who appear in the Atlantic Theater Company's new musical 10 Million Miles. Plus, another look at the documentary "Show Business: The Road to Broadway."

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"I was in Los Angeles, where I live," says Mare Winningham, "and I got a call from my agent that there was a folk-rock musical of Patty Griffin songs. I said, 'Where? I want to be in it.' I'm a big Patty Griffin fan."

Griffin wrote the score for 10 Million Miles, which has a book by Keith Bunin, and is directed by Michael Mayer. It runs at The Atlantic Theater Company's home in Manhattan from May 11 to July 1, with the official opening on June 14. The story follows Duane (Matthew Morrison) and Molly (Irene Molloy) on a road trip (in a pick-up truck) from Florida to New York. Winningham and Skipp Sudduth play numerous characters encountered along the way.

Continues Winningham, "I've always dreamed of doing a musical, but I haven't had the opportunity. This seemed dreamy-good, so I auditioned. Actually, my son [actor Patrick Maple] helped me a lot. I don't think I would have gotten it, if it weren't for him. What could be more fun than multiple roles and Patty Griffin songs?"

She's worked previously with Skipp Sudduth in the cable movie "George Wallace" (1997), "one of my favorite things I've ever been in. I played Lurleen, the first wife of Wallace [Gary Sinise]. When I heard that Skipp was doing this show, I started laughing. My memory of him is constant laughing [on the film set]; he's like Robin Williams. And he's a great actor." The role of Lurleen won Winningham her second Emmy; the first was for "Amber Waves" (1980).

In the new musical, Winningham's roles include [Molloy's] aunt, [Morrison's] mother, and "a floozy in Atlantic City. I should have more respect for [the character]. She's had too much to drink, but she's no floozy."

Winningham claims that she's not had much stage experience. "I made a bunch of kids, and knew that I was not able to fit in much theatre. I managed to do four or five plays in the last 20 years, all in L.A. I did Hurlyburly, which was great. And the West Coast premiere of Side Man a great role. Recently, I did this little play Lessons, which had a Jewish theme. I did it with Hal Linden, who was a pleasure to work with."

In addition to "George Wallace," the film and TV work with which she's most pleased includes "Georgia" (for which she received a 1995 Oscar nomination), "Love Is Never Silent" (1985), "The Maldonado Miracle" (2003), "Off the Minnesota Strip" (1980). In that she "played a teenage prostitute who returns to her parents [Hal Holbrook, Michael Learned]. It was written by David Chase, and I think of him when I watch 'The Sopranos.'"

Winningham also had a recurring role (Susan Grey) on ABC-TV's "Grey's Anatomy," but her character died last Thursday (the May 3 episode).

The actress has recorded three CDs. "The latest is called 'Refuge Rock Sublime.' It's a country/Jewish folk album. Except for a couple of traditional Hebrew songs, I wrote all the material." Winningham, who converted to Judaism in 2002, adds: "I have the passion of a convert."

One of five (she has an older sister and three brothers, two older, one younger), Winningham was born in Northridge, CA. She recalls the first moment she knew what acting was: "My mom let me watch 'The Sound of Music.' I was the same age as the actress playing Gretl. I got serious in junior high school; my parents could tell it was something I really wanted to do."

Also upcoming, she notes, "I have a gig at Joe's Pub on June 17." Meanwhile, just travel 10 Million Miles and see Mare Winningham at the Atlantic Theater Company.

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Probably best known for his six seasons on TV's "Third Watch," keeping the peace as Officer John "Sully" Sullivan, Skipp Sudduth is happy to be back on a New York stage in 10 Million Miles. "I really love the piece. Patty Griffin has been a favorite of mine for a long time. I play multiple parts, play instruments, and sing some songs. It's nice to be reunited with Mare Winningham, and I've wanted to work with [director] Michael Mayer for a long time."

His work on "Third Watch" has given him the financial security to work on stage again. He says, "We made 132 episodes; there are four or five I'm not in."

He's the only "Third Watch" actor who directed three episodes. "One was a Christmas story, in which I played Santa Claus. It was one of the hardest things I've ever done." He's also directed two "ER" episodes. "The first one was shot in Capetown, South Africa, and in the South Kalahari Desert, which stood in for Darfur. It was mainly Noah Wyle and Mekhi Phifer's story. Then, I directed the one that was Laura Innes' final episode, which began a five-story turn featuring Lois Smith. It was my great good fortune to get to direct Lois a brilliant actress and a very close friend for a long, long time." They appeared together in The Grapes of Wrath.

Following are some comments on Sudduth's stage appearances:

The Grapes of Wrath: "When I auditioned, [director] Frank Galati was out of town. I knocked on Randy Arney's door. [Arney was Steppenwolf's artistic director from 1987 to 1996.] I asked, 'Is there any way I can do a monologue?' He said, 'Do you know one?' I did Lopakhin's monologue from Cherry Orchard. He said, 'That was great; I'll tell Frank.' When I came back, they had cast me [in multiple roles].

"There were three different lives of Grapes. We did it ten weeks at Steppenwolf, then at the LaJolla Playhouse, and in London, and finally on Broadway, where we won the Tony as Best Play. Members of the cast always refer to the last rehearsal in Evanston, Illinois, [prior to the West End] as our favorite."

The Iceman Cometh: "A wonderful experience, on every level. I was the daytime bartender, opposite that great cast [including Kevin Spacey, Robert Sean Leonard, Tony Danza, and Michael Emerson]."

Twelfth Night: "I played Fabian, with the great Brian Murray and Max Wright. Those two guys are phenomenal! And Helen Hunt was phenomenal! Nick Hytner created a truly magnificent Shakespeare landscape, which I'll never forget."

On the Waterfront: "It was a study in theatre pathology, an ill-conceived production. Mitch Maxwell, who produced it, had no idea how complicated it was. Terry Kinney resigned [as director]; James Galdolfini was fired he was probably angling to get fired; Jerry Grayson, a great New York actor, had a heart attack onstage. It was a wild ride."

Writer's Block: "Just fantastic. You pinch yourself every day just to be in a room with [writer-director] Woody Allen. It was the first time he was directing a play. He was hilarious. If audiences weren't laughing appropriately, he'd come backstage at intermission. 'They don't deserve this play. They're rubes you can tell from the haircuts and shoes.'"

Marisol: "That was [playwright] Jose Rivera, and [director] Michael Greif. I played all these extremely troubled guys, one of whom becomes pregnant and gives birth to a still-born child. Another wild ride."

The Big Funk: "It was Joe Papp's last show at the Public, and the first time that John [Patrick] Shanley directed his own work. My first audition was with Shanley. I had a bad tooth [which required root canal] and he asked me to come back the next day to audition for Joe Papp. The next day I was in so much pain, but I got the part. Joe Papp came up to me at the table read: 'Oh, this is that great actor who does such terrible auditions.'

"During rehearsals, I was messing around, entertaining the cast, and doing some of my lines with a British accent. Shanley came by and said, 'That's it. That's what I want you to do.' In the published text, the character is identified as British. The script called for me to cover Jeanne Tripplehorn's entire head with Vaseline."

Sudduth credits the 1998 film "Ronin" with "getting me other kinds of work. [Director] John Frankenheimer wanted me; the producers wanted a name Tom Arnold or Randy Quaid. The deal was finally closed and they had to fly me to Paris on the Concorde. Kudos to John Frankenheimer."

A native of Wareham, MA, Sudduth moved to Danville, VA, when he was ten. His half-brother, Kohl Sudduth, "is a terrific actor." Sudduth's initial goal was to be a doctor, but he discovered, "I didn't have a passion for it." After getting a masters in theatre (University of Virginia), Sudduth worked as an actor in Chicago and eventually joined the Steppenwolf Company.

A singer-songwriter, Skipp Sudduth has an acoustic rock band called "Minus Ted," and (like Winningham) has recorded three CDs: "Hope and Damage," "Really Really," and "Hope and Damage Revisited." He can soon be seen in an upcoming movie, "Drunkboat," which co-stars John Malkovich, John Goodman, and Dana Delany.

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In May 2005, I attended a screening of a superb documentary, "Show Business: The Road to Broadway," produced and directed by Dori Berinstein. The film focuses on four musicals from the 2003-04 season: Avenue Q, Wicked, Taboo, and Caroline, or Change, chronicling them from their beginnings through Tony night. On May 11, the film, distributed by Regent Releasing and Liberation Entertainment, opens in New York City.

Berinstein claims that she shot approximately 400 hours for the 102-minute feature. "The rest," she jokes, "will be on the DVD." The only show of that season not included was The Boy from Oz. Explains Berinstein, "It was the one show to which we were not given access." She was inspired by the celebrated William Goldman book, "The Season," which covered all the 1967-68 Broadway shows. "I wanted to bring [Goldman's idea] to life."

Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the movies, Michael Riedel is ready for his close-up. The New York Post columnist is one of five Broadway-scene commentators (including Patrick Pacheco, and critics Linda Winer, Jacques LeSourd and Charles Isherwood) who gather on four occasions to discuss (and dissect) different shows. At their first meeting, Riedel gleefully anticipates "more bombs, something to write about...that's what I'm looking forward to." Later, he comments on Wicked ("I saw it in San Francisco. It has a lot of problems") and inquires, "Who is the audience for Avenue Q?"

Among the commentators are composer-lyricist Stephen Schwartz, critics Ben Brantley and John Lahr, songwriters Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, Tonya Pinkins, Alan Cumming (who co-produced the film), William Goldman, Boy George and Rosie O'Donnell.

Theatregoers, especially fans of musicals, will delight in Dori Berinstein's "Show Business: The Road to Broadway."