DIVA TALK: Catching Up With Follies Star and Tony Award Winner Victoria Clark

By Andrew Gans
18 May 2012

Clark and Danny Burstein
photo by Craig Schwartz

Although Sally's journey through the show is not a particularly happy one, Clark says it's not too emotionally draining because "I specialize in playing crazy! Not crazy, but, you know, challenging women going through some kind of crisis, so this is nothing compared to some of the people I play....I've played people a lot crazier. And, I also think that it's a little bit ambiguous, a lot of the evening is a joy for her—it's a peak moment for her. So the whole evening is not a downer for her. I'd say a good bit of it is sort of the night she's been waiting for her whole life, so that part of it is super fun."

A particular high point is "Mirror Mirror," which is led by Terri White and features Clark and many of the women in the company. "Well, I haven't gotten it right once," Clark laughs, "but the thing is, what's so brilliant about [choreographer] Warren Carlyle and what he's done with the movement — the dancing in the show is so exquisite — is he's made a number that's so hard. The chorines, our wonderful ensemble, they nail it every night because they're spectacular, but it's pretty difficult so that the divas, as we're called — the older ladies — that's what Eric and Warren call us — it's very hard for us to get. It's hard for us to nail it. It didn't seem like it was that hard for Bernadette — she seemed like she nailed it when I saw her do it — but it's definitely hard for most of us to nail, so the mistakes and the memory lapses and everything don't need to really be too choreographed, they don't need to be set because there'll be something every night that's funny. And, the way that Warren kind of explained it to me is, 'Here you get to experience what it's like to really be in the ensemble, so it's like a fun group experience.' And, it is a lot of fun. It's very, very gratifying to do."

And, like Washington and Broadway audiences, the Los Angeles crowds are equally enthralled by that number and the entire production. "It's completely crazy here!" Clark exclaims. "There are people who stand up and fist pump almost after every song. It's like a rock concert out here — a very, very enthusiastic response that we're getting from audiences. They're very good listeners. I would say they're a very honest audience.... They're not insane from the moment that the first note of the overture [is struck]… They're listening, I think, in a smart, attentive way, and it's wonderful. They're honest. They don't laugh unless something's funny. ... This isn't too much of a theatre town, so... when are you going to get [all] these people out here? It's so exciting for all of us."

Clark in Follies.
Photo by Craig Schwartz

And, why does Clark think this particular Sondheim musical has such a devoted following?

"Well, I think it's the score," the multi-talented artist answers. "I think it's just an unbelievable score. There were some visitors in my dressing room last night trying to figure out what this show's about. Somebody said jokingly, 'Never fall in love. Just go out and kill yourself now because it's never going to work!' ... The score is ridiculous, but it's about memory, and it's about letting go, and it's about all of us because the show is multi-generational. I mean, our cast [features people ages] 22-72... There's something for everybody in this show. You're either in the beginning looking at it like, 'I'll never be old enough to play Sally.' Or you're playing Sally, and you're wondering, 'Where did those 30 years go? I'm still the same person, but I look in the mirror and what happened? How come I can't tap like I used to be able to? How come I can't…' And, there's a lot of resonance for show people about this show because it's about the end of an era. So in terms of the fanaticism of this show, I think the humanity of the show is so beautiful, and there's a lot of emotion around that humanity and about change and life cycles and beginnings and endings and all the stuff that really matters."

As for her own experience with the production and coming into a cast that had already performed the musical in two cities, Clark says, "Everyone has been so welcoming. Everybody in [the production] knows what it's like for an actor to be [ the new person]. They've all been through something like this, so they were all really on my side and pulling for me and just so supportive.... Everyone has been so spectacular to work with. Between Jan and Ron and Danny and Elaine Paige, it's just been amazing. Mary Beth Peil is one of my best and dearest friends, so just being out here is fantastic. A lot of my friends and family are coming, so it's going to be a wonderful time!"

[Performances continue through June 9. For ticket information visit CenterTheatreGroup.org/Follies or call (213) 972-4400.]

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