DIVA TALK: Catching Up with Inventing Avi's Alix Korey, Plus News of Pinkins and Gardner

By Andrew Gans
October 2, 2009

News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.

I have to admit that some of my favorite years in New York were in the early '90s when the gifted, comedic singing actress Alix Korey and the late, great Nancy LaMott were singing in numerous venues around the city, including the Russian Tea Room, Steve McGraw's (now the Triad), Merkin Concert Hall and Rainbow & Stars. If you've never had the pleasure of enjoying one of Korey's concerts, you have missed one of the great belters of all time. Korey, whose Broadway credits include Hello, Dolly!; The Pirates of Penzance; Ain't Broadway Grand; Chicago; Triumph of Love; An Evening with Jerry Herman; and 45 Seconds From Broadway, has a seemingly limitless belt range and a flawless sense of comic timing. In fact, her version of David Friedman's "My Simple Christmas Wish" is one of the funniest renditions of any song this diva lover has ever encountered. Korey, who was last on Broadway opposite Cheyenne Jackson in All Shook Up, moved to the West Coast a few years ago but is thankfully back on the New York stage for a limited time in the new Robert Cary-Benjamin Feldman comedy Inventing Avi at Off-Broadway's June Havoc Theatre. Last week I had the chance to catch up with the humorous Korey, who spoke about her new play, her new home and her brief return to New York City; that interview follows.

Question: I hadn't realized you had moved until I was reading your website saw your note that said you had relocated.
Alix Korey: I actually moved to the desert. [My husband and I] had bought a house that I thought we would use as our retirement house. And then when I did pilot season that year, which I think was 2006, it was very successful, and I loved being there, and I said to my husband, "I'm going to move into our house." [Laughs.] That's how I ended up there, and I've been working out there. When they call me to do a show somewhere, then it's really fun because I just come back and do it and then I [go back and] live in a beautiful house.

Question: What type of work have you been doing?
Korey: I did an episode of "The Closer" and an episode of "Numb3rs" and an episode of "House."

Question: What were the television experiences like? That's new for you, right?
Korey: Yeah, it is. I love it. They treat you so well. They applaud you when you come on the set even though you have a small part, and they applaud you when you're finished. I can understand how people get to be really entitled out there! [Laughs.]

Question: Are you enjoying your new home?
Korey: I love living in the desert. Even though I was born in New York and I went to college in New York and I spent 50 years in New York and everyone thought I was sort of the quintessential New Yorker, I've never really been able to relax and enjoy it. It was always the stress of this place. Every day it was like, "Okay, what do I have to achieve today? I know I have to achieve something and I have to get better and I have to make progress and I have to…." Out there I'm just sort of like, "Wow, what a beautiful day!" [Laughs.]

Question: How did this role in Inventing Avi come about for you?
Korey: I think it was about five or six years ago that I did the first reading. I think it was at [Bernard] Telsey's office that we did the reading. I didn't hear anything about it after that, but then I got several shows. I think between that time I did All Shook Up and a couple of other things. Then I was in California, and [playwright] Ben Feldman emailed me saying, "You know, we're doing a production of this. Would you be interested?" I wrote back and I said, "Absolutely. Tell me more than that. Give me dates and all of that stuff." So then the director, who is Mark Waldrop, who directed me in Listen to My Heart and who's been a good friend since the Hello, Dolly! days of 1977, called and asked me if I would do the role and gave me the dates. I was going to be coming east anyway because my father had been very ill and I was going to take care of him. So I got here, and unfortunately he did not make it through a rather bad period. . . I was here and I thought, "This is great, because I could enjoy [being with] my husband for two months and be part of New York without having to panic every morning." [Laughs.] So I was thrilled to be offered it. I was just thrilled. And, the play is really funny.

Emily Zacharias and Alix Korey in Inventing Avi
photo by Kim Sharp
Question: Tell me a little about the character you play.
Korey: I don't think I'm giving away anything because I think Benji talks about this. I'm playing a character based on [producer] Daryl Roth. I have a sister, who is sort of a character based on [actress] Tovah Feldshuh. So I'm this producer, she's an actress, and we're both conned into doing a play by someone who may or may not really exist. It's very much about the narcissism, I think, of people in this business who are willing to believe anything if it's going to get them somewhere. That's sort of my interpretation of it, and it's very funny. [Playwright Benjamin Feldman clarifies: "The characters are not based upon Daryl or Tovah! Tovah is someone I adore and respect to no end, and she's an upper west side actress; and Daryl is a producer I worked for (and also love) – so definitely the situational mise-en-scene was there. But these characters are absolutely fictional. . . .In general, this is a farce so the characters are really out there – the characters are really minefields. Tovah and Daryl are incredibly well adjusted and sweet; each has a lot of integrity and each is very savvy. . . .I can totally get why Alix got this idea though – she starred in an earlier play I wrote which was produced by Daryl and starred Tovah!]

Question: How have rehearsals been going so far?
Korey: Great. It's a small cast. I haven't done something like this in a really long time, and it's great. I knew Emily Zacharias, who is playing my sister, and we're just like demons together. And the four younger people [Stanley Bahorek, Havilah Brewster, Lori Gardner and Juri Henley-Cohn] I didn't know, but they're all incredibly talented.

Question: I take it you don't get to do any singing in the show.
Korey: I don't, but you know what, it's okay because when I go back to California I'm going to be doing a big evening at the Annenberg Center in Palm Springs. So I will get to work with [musical director/pianist] Chris Marlowe, who also moved out there. He and I are putting a show together.

Question: When is that going to be?
Korey: April 14. It's like being in the opera. You're booked six months ahead. It's fabulous. [Laughs.]

Question: How does it feel to be back in the city?
Korey: I'm trying to maintain some of the serenity. I'm not running for the subway because I know there's going to be another one. . . . What I did find is that I was looking up. I thought, "Jesus, you look like a tourist." I had always thought they were looking at the tall buildings, but they're not. They're looking for sky, and that's what I was doing. I was looking for sky. [Laughs.] It's disorienting, but it's fun. It's sort of entertaining. When I first got back here, I went downtown to see a couple of shows. I waited for my escorts, as it were: One was my nephew and one was a [former] student. And the whole time I was waiting in front of these theatres, I didn't recognize a soul. Nobody walked by that I knew and I thought, "Wow, everything moves really, really fast!" You're gone and you are gone, baby! [Laughs.]

Question: But it doesn't sound like you miss it. It sounds like you have a good life on the West Coast.
Korey: I miss my husband, I miss my friends and I miss food delivery. They don't have that there. You can get pizza and that's it. The rest of it you have to go and take out. I'm driving a lot. [Laughs.] I have a whole different kind of world out there. The friends I've made are through the Duplicate Bridge Club and the dog park. They think what I do is incredibly exotic and glamorous, and I just smile and say, "I'm bidding two spades." [Laughs.]

Question: When you go back, do you have other projects lined up?
Korey: I'm praying that there will be some television work. It was very bad this last couple of months. There is so much reality television, and there were three roles that I know I was submitted for in pilots, and my agent said, "I'm sorry. They decided not to see anybody for those roles because the following people wanted them." And then he listed people like Brenda Blethyn and Cybill Shepherd and Sigourney Weaver. . . . But I'm just hoping that there will be some more work when I get back. I like doing television. It's fun, it's easy and you make a lot of money. It pays well, and it can help sort of support you through lean times. And I'm lucky because my husband has a sound company, which is basically paying the mortgage on the house. [Laughs.]

Question: When you look back on your New York theatre roles, do you have a favorite experience? What stands out in your mind?
Korey: I have to say that one of the reasons I left when I did was because All Shook Up was the most wonderful, joyous experience that I'd ever had. That's partly due to Chris Ashley, truly one of the great directors, and the whole company and the process. Everybody was so incredibly collaborative, and it was just fun. I had so much hope invested in it that when it closed I thought, "I want to leave on a high. I don't want to leave like a bitter bitch." So that was really the last show I did in New York. It was also my sixth flop. I called Karen Morrow out in L.A. and I said, "Karen, I think I just beat your record, and I'm leaving." [Laughs.]

Question: And what did she say?
Korey: She said, "Come on!" That, and certainly Wild Party was a huge investment of my heart and soul and a lot of time. That kind of broke my heart for a little while. They were just these wonderful pieces that the rest of the world won't get to see. . . . What makes one thing survive and not another? I think that it's all about producing and who's producing and how they produce.

Emily Zacharias and Alix Korey in Inventing Avi
photo by Kim Sharp
Question: I miss the time when you and Nancy LaMott were singing all over the city.
Korey: You know, there's a poster for a play here that was at the June Havoc Theatre, and there's a blonde woman on it who looks exactly like Nancy LaMott. Every time I come in I do a little breath intake. It's extraordinary to me that she's gone almost 15 years now.

Question: I know — time goes by so fast.
Korey: My sister told me that, and I think she's right, when you hit 50 there's something about it . . . .Okay, now you realize how valuable each day is, and suddenly time is going so fast that you want the days back. Whereas when you're in your thirties, you can't wait to go to the next day.

Question: You should come and do a concert here at some point.
Korey: I will. All that has to happen is somebody has to pay me. [Laughs.] It's not like I'm making money doing this Off-Broadway play either, but it's so much fun and the people are so good, and I get to be with my husband, who is here much of the year. We still have an apartment on the Upper West Side.

Question: That must be difficult having a long distance relationship.
Korey: It is. He's been generating a lot of miles on American Airlines. [Laughs.] He's back and forth a lot.

Question: You mentioned doing the concert with Chris when you get back. What type of stuff will you be singing?
Korey: A lot of it is stuff that I used to do [in New York]. That's what Chris wants to do because he just loves it so much. It's been such a long time. Although I have, for benefits out there, already used "Rich, Famous and Powerful," "I Can Sing" and "Lesbian Love Story." So they've already seen that. I will probably do new comedy material if I can find it and some of the old "Gifts of Love" [CD] stuff that I love so much. That's basically what we're planning on. It's a hoot. People don't know me out there, so I kind of like that. There's no expectation.

Question: Are you teaching at all?
Korey: No, I tell you, it's the one thing that I really, really miss. I was so in love with the classroom, teaching at CAP21. I just loved that. When I got out there, I tried to find a place in the desert. They asked me if I wanted to teach at AMDA West, but that would have meant driving two-and-a-half hours each way. I applied to teach at the College of the Desert, and they informed me that I did not have a master's degree and therefore they couldn't consider me… This is a [school] that just became a four-year college. They were a community college, but it didn't matter that I taught at NYU for 15 years. It didn't matter that I had a three-page resume. I didn't have that master's degree. So, there you are, children. Get your master's degree, and then you can teach at College of the Desert. I do miss that. I'm thinking about how to rectify it by maybe doing some private teaching.

Question: And you never know what that can turn into.
Korey: Right. That's a big miss for me in New York, and it's so cool because my students stay in touch with me. There are like 25 of them in Broadway shows, and a couple of them have actually become very good friends.

[Inventing Avi plays The Abingdon Theatre Company's June Havoc Theatre, which is located at 312 West 36th Street in Manhattan. For tickets visit AbingdonTheatre.]

Tony Award winner Tonya Pinkins, currently starring in Ford's Theatre's Black Pearl Sings!, can also be seen on the small screen in the Lifetime series "Army Wives." Pinkins, of Jelly's Last Jam and Caroline, or Change fame, plays Viola Crawford, who manages The Hump Bar, a honky-tonk owned by the character Roxy LeBlanc. "Viola is a shrewd businesswoman," writer Deb Fordham told me earlier this week, "so when the singer they hired bails at the last minute, Viola takes to the stage herself rather than return everyone's cover charge." Pinkins will sing two songs in the Oct. 4 episode of "Army Wives," which airs at 10 PM ET. The singing actress will perform the Gretchen Wilson hit, "Here For the Party," which was written by John Rich, Big Kenny and Wilson, and the Bonnie Raitt classic, "I Can't Make You Love Me," written by Mike Reid and Allen Shamblin. For more information click here.

Night of 1,000 Luisas — featuring performers who have played Luisa in the classic Tom Jones-Harvey Schmidt musical The Fantasticks — will be presented Nov. 4 at The Snapple Theater Center's Jerry Orbach Theater. The 7 PM concert will boast the talents of Alice Cannon, Glory Crampton, Karen Culliver, Carole Demas, original Luisa Rita Gardner, Jean Louisa Kelly (Luisa in the 2000 film version of The Fantasticks), Betsy Morgan, Marty Morris, Allison Munn, Sarah Rice and Sara Schmidt. Proceeds will benefit Bideawee, the animal welfare organization that serves the New York metropolitan area. The Snapple Theater Center's Jerry Orbach Theater, which is home to the current production of The Fantasticks, is located on West 50th Street and Broadway. Tickets for the upcoming concert, priced $45-$100, are available by calling (212) 921-7862 or by visiting Ticketmaster.com.

Annalene Beechey, whose West End credits include Marguerite, Wicked and Beauty & The Beast, will release her debut solo recording next month. Entitled "Close Your Eyes," the CD will be released in the U.K. Oct. 5 by SimG Records. The single CD features arrangements by Peter White, Jonathan Williams and Richard Taylor. Special guests include Julian Ovenden (Marguerite, Annie Get Your Gun), Rebecca Lock (Avenue Q, Phantom of the Opera) and Simon Greiff (Saturday Night Fever, Spamalot). Composer Scott Alan penned the foreword. Songs include "No One Is Alone"/"Children Will Listen," "Lion Tamer," "River," "The Promise," "Sailing," "Perfect Day" and "What We Have," among others. For more information visit www.annalenebeechey.com.

RGA Productions will present Frankenstein, a rock concert version of the Mary Shelley tale, Oct. 31 at the Highline Ballroom. Newly announced for the evening is Celina Carvajal, who was recently seen Off-Broadway in The Toxic Avenger. The singing actress will play the role of Mary Shelley in the concert, which will also feature Jack Noseworthy, Danny Zolli, Jessica Robinson, John Saunders, Don Meehan, John Conver and Nachesca Flanagan. Show time is 8 PM. Geoff Cohen will direct with music direction by Robert Martin. Frankenstein, according to press notes, "is destined to become one of the world's most compelling Halloween rock musical traditions. NY audiences are invited to experience this new tradition first and join Frankenstein as it begins its global journey. Each year, Frankenstein will appear for limited performances at the time of All Hallow's Eve somewhere in the world. Cities under consideration for 2010 include London, Paris and Berlin." The Highline Ballroom is located at 431 West 16th Street. For tickets call (212) 352-3101 or (866) 811-4111.

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