DIVA TALK: Chats With 2012 Tony Nominees Jayne Houdyshell (Follies) and Da'Vine Joy Randolph (Ghost)

News   DIVA TALK: Chats With 2012 Tony Nominees Jayne Houdyshell (Follies) and Da'Vine Joy Randolph (Ghost)
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Jayne Houdyshell
Jayne Houdyshell Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Jayne Houdyshell
Jayne Houdyshell, who was recently nominated for a Tony Award for her performance as Hattie Walker in the Broadway revival of Follies, was in Los Angeles preparing for the limited run of that Stephen Sondheim-James Goldman musical when she heard the news of her nomination. "I got up and made my coffee and, as usual, opened my computer to check for emails, and there were a lot more emails on my computer than are usually there," Houdyshell told me the morning nominations were announced. "It was all my East Coast friends already knowing and having been up for a while. It was a wonderful, wonderful surprise. I'm still a little bit in shock, really. It hasn't quite sunken in, but it's fantastic, and I'm so happy for everyone in our company and the show itself."

Follies, which is currently playing Los Angeles' Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre through June 9, earned a total of eight Tony nominations, including one for Best Revival of a Musical.

Houdyshell, who succeeded fellow 2012 Tony nominee Linda Lavin in the role (Lavin played Hattie in the Kennedy Center run, but opted for The Lyons when Follies headed to Broadway), said, "From the moment that I was cast in this show and started rehearsals, it was an utter thrill to be part of the company—every step of the way through our New York run and now remounting it here in L.A. It has been nothing but pure joy to do. There's something so special about this character of Hattie. I've loved playing her. She's a pretty joy-filled person herself, and it always buoys me up to be able to do the show. That's what's special about it and also to have been part of this and to continue to be part of this company with all of these terrific people. I mean, to a person, everyone is so terrific. I just love it. I love doing it, so it's very nice to receive this incredible recognition, and I'm so grateful."

Houdyshell in Follies.
Photo by Joan Marcus

The acclaimed character actress, who was previously Tony-nominated for her work in Lisa Kron's Well, admits that approaching Sondheim's show-business classic "Broadway Baby" was initially daunting. "It was just kind of letting go of the thought that this is probably the most iconic song ever written about show business—ever!" Houdyshell said with a laugh. "And, so many great, great women of the musical theatre have performed it and performed it so brilliantly. ... And then I just started looking at the show itself and the stories that these people have to tell, and I thought if I'm to let go of all my insecurities about performing this song, I just have to focus on the show and figure out who Hattie is in terms of my portrayal. And, from that point on, I was able to grab hold of it and, I think, make it my own. That was what was liberating. Ultimately, that was kind of the big hurdle to jump."

Audience reaction in New York to Houdyshell's good-natured, boisterous and belty rendition of "Broadway Baby" was thunderous. Houdyshell said that nightly reception "was thrilling. It was thrilling! I'll tell you, it was really great, but I also have to say, it's a big responsibility, but it's also a privilege to be able to do a number that's as iconic as that song is. I mean, people love that song, so it's been great fun to be one of the dames who's been able to do it along the way."

Jayne Houdyshell and Mary Beth Peil at the Los Angeles opening-night party.
photo by Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging

And, how has it been regrouping with the cast for the Los Angeles engagement? "Oh, it's unbelievable," the Tony nominee answered. "It was such a happy reunion. The new people—there's some new people in the company—and they've been out here for a week-and-a-half rehearsing. And then the rest of us old-timers came in on Thursday, and we all began to work together on Friday. So we had Friday, Saturday and Sunday of rehearsal, and the energy in the room is just electric. Everybody is so excited to be back together again, and the reunion of all the people coming together in that room was very much like the reunion that happens in Follies, so it was kind of life imitating art there. And, we're all just so excited. The company is great, and the show coalesced and came together very quickly in those three days. Today is an exciting day because it's our first day on the stage with the set and everything, and we start tech this evening. We tech on Wednesday, and then we have a dress rehearsal on Thursday and then we have our first preview Thursday night. So it's all happening very fast!"

[For ticket information visit CenterTheatreGroup.org/Follies or call (213) 972-4400.]

Da'Vine Joy Randolph

Da'Vine Joy Randolph
Da'Vine Joy Randolph, who plays medium Oda Mae Brown in Ghost The Musical at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, said her assistant and her agent woke her with the news of her Tony nomination the morning of May 1. She also was greeted with "many, many texts—because I said to myself, 'I am going to sleep. I am going to try and sleep as much as possible!'"

Randolph, who also played a stint in the London production of the new musical based on the Academy Award-winning 1990 film about a romance that reaches into the afterlife, said receiving the nomination means "the world. ... From jump, it's been such a blessing. Everything has just been added on, do you know what I mean? The surprise of getting an audition, to the surprise of going to the West End and doing a show and learning it in five days and then doing it for a run there and coming here and now this. It's really overwhelming, to be really honest with you. It can't get better than this. I literally could not ask for more."

Randolph, who is playing the role that won Whoopi Goldberg her Oscar, said the biggest challenge of the part "is just initially getting out there to do it.... Every day I have that mindset before I jump out the closet. But every day, before I go out there, it's a truce—a pact—that I make with myself of 'We're going to give everything we have today.' I think my character and how I've created her demands it, but [it's also about being] a generous actor. Let's give all of our self. I would say, that's the hardest part—making that initial committal because then you go there, and just throughout the show she has a beautiful arc. It's just goes and soars. It's beautiful writing."

Randolph in Ghost.
photo by Joan Marcus

As Oda May Brown, Randolph gets to deliver some of the show's funniest lines and belt out two showstoppers, but she said her favorite moment is "the bank scene. I love, love, love doing the bank scene. I get so excited when Act 2 comes around...[When] I'm getting dressed in the pink outfit is when I'm like, 'Yes! Let's go!' From then on it's just, 'Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang!' It's just so much fun. At that point, we're just bouncing off of each other every night. It's so different, and I love and look forward to it, and to be working with Richard [Fleeshman], it's amazing. We're having tons of fun."

Randolph explained that both British and American audiences have been "really, really vocal. I would say with my character, in particular, because most of her lines are from the movie—I can feel that buzz. They're anticipating or they're getting excited… Like, 'Oh, I think that line's coming up!' I guess the biggest surprise is just how everyone raves and loves and supports the show...That's actually a really amazing feeling—that buzz, that electricity!" [The Lunt-Fontanne Theatre is located at 205 West 46th Street. For tickets visit Ticketmaster.]

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

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