Linda Balgord, whose seemingly endless Broadway belt has been heard in Main Stem productions of Passion, La Cage aux Folles and The Pirate Queen, also boasts a lengthy relationship with the music of Tony-winning composer Andrew Lloyd Webber. The gifted singing actress created the role of Rose Vibert for the national tour of Lloyd Webber's Aspects of Love, starred as the ill-fated silent-screen star Norma Desmond in the tour of Sunset Boulevard and was the last actress to bring to life the faded glamour cat Grizabella—and the torchy "Memory"—in the original Broadway production of the record-breaking Cats. Balgord, who also stood by for Patti LuPone in the most recent Broadway revival of Gypsy, continues her association with Lloyd Webber in the world premiere of the new revue, Now and Forever: The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber, which is currently playing Chicago's Marriott Theatre through March 17. Directed by Marc Robin, the production allows Balgord the chance to revisit several of her previous triumphs while adding one tune to her repertoire. Earlier this week I had the pleasure of chatting with Balgord, who spoke warmly and with much laughter about her past and present theatrical endeavors; that interview follows.
Question: I know you've been associated with Andrew Lloyd Webber's work for a long time. Do you remember the first time you were introduced to his music?
Linda Balgord: Well, it was probably the Superstar concept album. That's the first memory I have. I mean, as many people of my age, I played that thing endlessly and knew every word of it!
Question: When was the first time that you sang any of his music professionally?
Balgord: That would have been at the Marriott. I got my Equity card doing the matinee Eva in Evita here. [Laughs.] Don't make me tell you what year! [Laughs.]
Question: That's got to be one of his most challenging roles vocally. Do you remember playing the part and what that was like?
Balgord: Oh, I do. I do! But, you know, I was young! [Laughs.] And, twice a week was not enough for me—I remember that. It was such a thrilling role to sing—the power you felt singing that role… It was quite remarkable, actually, how transformative singing that music was.
Question: Did you ever get a chance to do that part again?
Balgord: No, that's really one of my regrets. I always thought that I would get another chance, and I didn't, so I've always regretted that I didn't get another crack at her.
Question: After that was the Aspects tour…
Balgord: Yes, that would have been the next Webber show.
Question: What year was that?
Balgord: It was '91. I think we started rehearsals in Toronto in '91.
Question: That was one of your first major breaks, wasn't it?
Balgord: Oh, yeah… I lived in Chicago for three years, and then in 1990, I moved to New York and actually came back here to do a show, and when I was back here, I got the audition for the Aspects tour, the Canadian production/tour.
Question: Was Lloyd Webber involved with the tour at all? Did you get to meet him at that point?
Balgord: I did get to meet him. We opened the show in Edmonton, Alberta, because Robin Phillips directed that. That was his theatre at the time—out in Edmonton—and so Andrew came out there and saw the show, so that was the first time I'd ever met him, which would've been at the end of '91.
Question: Did you get to talk to him?
Balgord: Yeah, I did. He seemed very happy with the production and with my singing of Rose.
Question: I have a lot of friends who saw that tour and said you were wonderful.
Balgord: Oh, that's great! I have such fond memories of it. I know a lot of people really hate that show. It's very polarizing. [Laughs.] But it was an amazing experience for me, and I really loved what Robin Phillips did with it—simplifying the set. I think he did a really beautiful job.
Question: Did Broadway come right after Aspects?
Balgord: Well, let's see. We closed in June of '93, and then in the fall of '93 I got cast in Passion.
Question: You were understudying Fosca, right?
Balgord: Right, Donna.
Balgord: Yeah, we were the maids in the huge brown dresses. [Laughs.] And, in the flashback I played Fosca's mother.
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