Terri White on Her 54 Below Show, a New Album and the Roles She'd Love to Play

By Adam Hetrick
30 Jul 2013

Terri White in Follies.
photo by Joan Marcus

There are some big songs on here. In addition to material fans have requested, it looks like you finally got to record some songs that you've been dying to share.

TW: They really are. One of my major dreams in my life has been to be a back-up singer, go figure, so I finally did! On my own album I did all the back-up vocals. And my wife Donna did back-up with me on "Mustang Sally," she sang, "Ride Sally Ride" with me. We had a lot of fun. I have incredible people working on it, including Bob Kulick, Doug Katsaros and Bobby Peaco.

Who are some of the songwriters you feel a connection with as a performer?

TW: Richard Maltby Jr., Kander and Ebb, Jule Styne, Marvin Hamlisch, especially during Stepping Out – also with Fred Ebb – but most of all, Cy Coleman, I think. He was just magic, simply magic. I shared a great moment with the technician and Cy one day at a lunch period during Barnum. They put a calliope on stage and he sat down and played all the tunes from the show like they would be done on the calliope. He sat there and played for about 20 minutes and then got up and said, "I'm done." It was amazing. That was how that man's mind worked – to change the rhythms – instead of playing it like it was in the show, he played it so it sounded like the circus. Then, during Barnum, that became the pre-music you heard going into the theatre. I will always treasure that time.

Tell me a bit about coming back to Broadway in Finian's Rainbow after two decades. What changed for you?

TW: After 20 years, coming back to Finian's Rainbow, posted on the wall backstage was "PD" and I'd never heard of PD. I thought, "What the hell is PD?" It's "personal day." I remember thinking, "You can just take days off? That's interesting..." I can't fathom that. [Laughs]. Personally, the show, that's my work and my personal days are my day off. So, I can't fathom thinking, "I'll just take Tuesday off!"

You also had the chance to reconnect with an audience eager to see you after a long absence.

TW: Opening night for Finian's Rainbow I thought my heart was going to bust out of my chest. It was pounding a mile a minute. After the number was done, I just started shaking and crying. This is what I worked for – to be on Broadway - to get that kind of response that you dream of. It was the ultimate dream come true. The same goes for Follies. Someone timed the "Mirror Number" applause the night before we closed, and it was about five minutes – it felt like a half-hour up there. I thought, "You know what? This is why I stayed in New York for so long. This is what my dream was." But it got to the point where three strikes you're out, personally.

Three strikes?

TW: Barnum, you hear you're a shoe-in for a Tony nomination - not. Finian's Rainbow, they hyped me up, put me on People magazine, put my life story in the New York Times, did the whole she-bang - not. Follies, the whole thing, standing ovations, all those ads. Nomination - not. And I thought, "Apparently that's not good enough for the committee of sorts." That's fine. While I'm still young, I want to experience something else and that's why I went to L.A.

That departure has given you the chance to connect with fans across the country.

TW: Yes, I feel like I'm doing the Carol Channing tour! She became known for being on the road! I love being on the road and I love to travel. I'm connecting with so many people.

Are there roles you're still hungry to play?

TW: Mama Rose and Vera Charles.