DIVA TALK: Catching Up With Tony Nominee Brenda Braxton, Star of Paper Mill's Thoroughly Modern Millie

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29 Mar 2013

Brenda Braxton
Brenda Braxton

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Brenda Braxton
Brenda Braxton, a Tony Award nominee for her performance in Smokey Joe's Café, portrays Muzzy van Hossmere in the Paper Mill Playhouse production of the Tony-winning musical Thoroughly Modern Millie, which plays the New Jersey venue April 10-May 5. A co-production with the Maltz Jupiter Theatre — the musical played that Jupiter, FL, theatre earlier this month — the cast of the Mark S. Hoebee-directed production also features Burke Moses as Trevor Graydon III, Lenora Nemetz as Mrs. Meers, Laurie Veldheer as Millie Dilmount and Jeff Kready as Jimmy Smith. The triple-threat, who was recently seen Off-Broadway in Cougar The Musical, is also the owner of BBraxton, an upscale barbershop located at 1400 Fifth Avenue at 116th Street. Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of catching up with the gifted singing actress, who spoke about her newest role and combining her careers as an actor and businesswoman. My interview with the good-natured artist, whose Broadway resume also boasts the original production of Dreamgirls as well as Chicago, Jelly's Last Jam, Legs Diamond and Cats, follows.

Question: How did this role in Thoroughly Modern Millie come about?
Brenda Braxton: It's so funny. Back in August-September, they asked if I'd be interested in coming in and auditioning for it. I have a barbershop, so I was kind of working at my barbershop and trying to keep my business going — and I had said, "No, I don't really want to go out of town. If you just need me for the Paper Mill leg of it, then that's good." Then they were like, "Okay, no problem." And then back in the end of February, my agent called to say, "They're coming around one more time just to make sure you're definitely not interested in doing it." I said, "You know, tell them if they make me an offer, I'll probably do it!" [Laughs.] They made me an offer, and the rest is history! [Laughs.]

Question: How did the Maltz Jupiter run go?
Braxton: Oh, it was amazing. We had a wonderful time — just a ball — and I believe we got good reviews, they told us. I try not to read the reviews, especially since I'm going to have to do Paper Mill, too, now. [Laughs.] So I don't want to see the reviews yet, you know!

Question: Is the rehearsal process a little shorter since you've already performed the show?
Braxton: Yeah, we go back into rehearsal on Monday. We have three days here in the city in a rehearsal studio, and then we go to the theatre and start blocking and start doing lights with the orchestra. And then on the 10th is the first preview.

Braxton as Chicago's Velma Kelly

Question: Tell me a little bit about working with Mark, the director.
Braxton: Oh my God, I love working with Mark. I've known Mark for a little while now. We were going to actually do a Dreamgirls out in London a couple of years ago, and he was going to direct it, and I was going to choreograph it because I was in the original production of Dreamgirls. So we went out to London, and we auditioned people and went through the whole thing, and then the producers pulled out. That was rough, but we had a good time traveling and getting to know each other. That was fun. So this time was just perfect, and I think that's pretty much, too, why he said, "Okay, just make her an offer" because he knows me, he knows my work, he's familiar with my work ethic and everything, so he thought I'd be perfect for the role. And, I've just loved it. Muzzy van Hossmere is me! [Laughs.]

Question: How would you describe Muzzy?
Braxton: Muzzy is Brenda Braxton — very upscale, very pulled up — as we used to say "in the day." She's very pulled up. She married money and is very comfortable with it. She doesn't apologize for having money. She doesn't apologize for being Muzzy van Hossmere, and everyone loves her. And, it's just great. [Laughs.]

Question: Do you have a favorite moment in the show for her? Is there something you look forward to?
Braxton: Oh, I love my entrance — that's one thing — in the white fur. And then the show takes a very comedic turn for her, too. I don't want to give it away, but when I'm not Muzzy van Hossmere, I become someone else, and it's a very, very funny moment. So I get to do both things. I get to be serious and pulled up, and I get to be silly, too. That's always nice. And, the songs are good — my two songs that I have are good.

Question: Had you seen the show when it was on Broadway?
Braxton: No, I didn't! I had a girlfriend in it who covered Muzzy and Mrs. Meers, and other than that, I knew some of the songs, but I didn't see it when it was on Broadway.


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