DIVA TALK: Chatting with Romance/Romance's Jessica Bogart Plus Bernadette Peters on CD

Diva Talk   DIVA TALK: Chatting with Romance/Romance's Jessica Bogart Plus Bernadette Peters on CD
News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.
Jessica and Matt Bogart in Paper Mill's Romance Romance.
Jessica and Matt Bogart in Paper Mill's Romance Romance. Photo by Gerry Goodstein

Ever since the ill-fated Joseph Brooks musical In My Life ended its brief Broadway run, things have certainly brightened for singer-actress Jessica Bogart (née Boevers), who married her longtime sweetheart, actor Matt Bogart, in July. Jessica, who created the role of Ado Annie in the 2002 revival of Oklahoma!, joined Patti LuPone this past summer in the critically acclaimed presentation of the classic musical Gypsy at the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park, IL. Bogart received great notices for her work as stripper Gypsy Rose Lee in the limited run of the Stephen Sondheim-Arthur Laurents-Jule Styne musical. And, now, the talented performer is sharing the stage with her husband in the Paper Mill Playhouse's mounting of the Tony-nominated musical Romance/Romance, which officially opens at the New Jersey venue March 4. Bogart plays two roles (Josefine and Monica) in the Barry Harman-Keith Herrmann musical, which features a first act set in turn-of-the-century Vienna and a second that takes place in the present-day Hamptons. The actress, whose Broadway credits also include Rent (Maureen), A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (Philia) and Les Misérables (Eponine), recently chatted with me about her latest role as well as her work in Gypsy and In My Life.

Question: How did the parts in Romance/Romance come about?
Jessica Bogart: Matt [Bogart] and I came in together to audition for Paper Mill Playhouse, and we actually performed together at our very first audition. We arrived together and sang to each other, and we had a fantastic time and hoped they did, too.

Question: Have you worked together before onstage?
Bogart: Yeah, this is our fourth production together. We performed together in college once.

Question: Where was that?
Bogart: That was at Cincinnati Conservatory of Music.

Question: Is that where you two met?
Bogart: Yes, it is. Question: How do you enjoy working onstage together?
Bogart: We love it! We just adore it. We trust each other implicitly, and I think we've found an incredible groove working together. It's just tremendous fun, and I think we truly help each other and inspire each other. We love working together.

Question: What were the other shows that you did together?
Bogart: We just finished a show called Ace, [where] we played opposite each other again. A friend of ours from college actually wrote it, so it was somewhat of a college reunion. That was just a unique and perfect experience. We played opposite each other in Two Gentlemen of Verona in college, and then we did a quick summer stock of Oklahoma! after I had done it on Broadway. Matt's like, "Come do it with me in Wichita!," so we did that for ten days, but we didn't play opposite each other then.

Question: Is anything happening with Ace?
Bogart: God, I hope so, but we didn't go with it on the last leg — just because we had been out of town for so long, and we were ready to come home. I don't know if they have any bites right now, but it's been a long time since I've been in a show that the audience so consistently loved every single night, so I hope that it has a future.

Question: What was that score like?
Bogart: It's kind of just epic, ambitious and a really satisfying score. Richard [Oberacker] is one of those writers whose music is so much fun to sing, and it's very passionate, and I think the audiences truly connect with it and enjoy it very much.

Question: How are rehearsals going so far for Romance/Romance?
Bogart: It's just heaven. I don't want them to end. [Laughs.] We're going to the theatre on Friday, and I'm excited about it, but I'm sad to see the rehearsal room go this time. Mark Hoebee, the director, has created such an inspiring, truly collaborative and really creative rehearsal room. He's so smart and fun. We've all really fallen in love with each other. I wish I had dirt to tell you, but it's been so happy and great [laughs] — we really all have had a phenomenal time together.

Question: Do you have a preference between the first act, which is turn of the century, or for the second, which is more modern?
Bogart: It's so funny because it's whatever act we're working on. I was absolutely positive that I thought the first act was crafted better and so much better written, and then we started working on Act Two, and I said, "Oh no, this act [is better]. . ." I think the reason that Romance/Romance hit when it did was because both acts truly can hold up on their own. I think they both are so wonderful for entirely different reasons, and I think it's absolutely perfect timing to bring this show back around. We've really worked on Act Two to bring it even more into a contemporary time so it doesn't feel dated in the eighties, and I think we've succeeded. It's really pertinent, and I think people really relate to that act, and I think Act One is just like a little jewel.

Question: Are the authors involved with this production?
Bogart: They have been around. They were at auditions, and they were at rehearsal the other day. They are not involved on a daily basis, but they are here for us, and they are open to small changes, and they are here for answering questions for us to help mold certain moments to exactly what they need to be.

Question: Have they made any changes in the second act?
Bogart: Yeah, little changes in ends of songs, little lines here and there. Nothing structurally, nothing that if you didn't know the show extremely well, you'd probably even notice, but I think you might come and say, "Oh, this does seem right now and really fresh."

Question: Do you have a favorite moment in the show or a favorite song at this point?
Bogart: Oh gosh, there's so much. I love singing "The Night It Had to End," and I love when Matt sings "Moonlight Passing Through a Window" in Act Two. He melts me every night. I'm so lucky! [Laughs.] I'm glad he's my husband. I always tell him, I'd have to leave my husband for him!

Question: Did you get to see the show when it was originally done?
Bogart: I never saw it on Broadway, but I saw it in Chicago. My mother has a little theatre there, Apple Tree Theatre, and they did it there. There was a taped version, I don't know if it was for PBS, [but] it [featured] John Herrera and Susan Moniz, and that's who I saw. I used to come home on weekends during college to come see the show every weekend because I just thought they were so great. I had known this show for a very long time and had been in love with it. It was on my short list of musical roles — this was one I had hoped to do. So to be able to do it and live at home and do it with my husband seems to be a real gift for me.

Question: Are you two based in New York?
Bogart: Yeah, we live on the Upper West Side.

Question: Last season, you were in one of the more talked-about shows [In My Life]. . .
Bogart: [Laughing.] That is such a perfect way of putting it! Thank you, I appreciate that!

Question: What was that experience like?
Bogart: I had so much fun doing In My Life. Christopher Hanke and I — I've found a true and lifelong friend in him. Next to my husband, he's been my favorite person to play opposite to, and that was a gift. We just kept our senses of humor, and I think we were prepared for what that experience would be. We were always very realistic about it, and we made sure that we had fun and that we didn't make it into something it was never going to be. We laughed a lot, and we had a great time. I'm really proud of us — what we took from it. We didn't allow ourselves to get pummeled, and we protected ourselves from any crazy feedback we might have gotten. We had fun with it. We still talk about it. We're like, "Isn't it funny that, from the outside, someone might think that was a hard experience for us?" But it was just the opposite. It was really great.

Question: Tell me about working on Gypsy this past summer at Ravinia.
Bogart: Again, I'm going to sound so Pollyanna, but that was just a choice job for me because it was my hometown. Highland Park, where Ravinia is, is actually my suburb that I grew up in. I played Mama Rose in high school [laughs], so in all my interviews that was my big joke: "Now I'm back [to play Louise], and they let Patti [LuPone] play Mama Rose this time." But, again, I was surrounded by family and friends, with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and playing opposite Patti — it was a blast. That job was just cake. It was such great fun. I've done that show several times.

Question: That's so funny that you played Mama Rose. Do you remember what that was like, playing that part as a kid?
Bogart: I still remember the actor's nightmares I had from that! I honest to God do. I remember laying in bed the night before, having nightmares. So I was there for Patti. [Laughs.] That was our big joke at the beginning. First thing when I met her, I said, "Patti, you know, I've done the role, so if you need any tips. . ." [Laughs.] And she came right back at me telling me she had played Louise in junior high, so she could give me [tips].

Question: Are you going to be involved in the "rumored" City Center production this summer with Patti?
Bogart: I hear they're looking for celebrities, which I'm totally bummed about because I would love to do it. I hope maybe I'll get really lucky and all of those fancy people will say no. [Laughs.]

Question: You never know. Maybe one of them will get a movie role.
Bogart: Right — even better, if Scarlett Johansson says yes and the day before she backs out, and they call me, desperate.

Question: Going back a bit. Were you born in Chicago as well?
Bogart: I was born in Highland Park, which is one of those northern suburbs of Chicago. I grew up there, and I went to school in Cincinnati, and I moved to New York shortly after college.

Question: When did you start performing?
Bogart: I wasn't one of those crazy kid performers, but I did perform as a kid. Because Chicago has a professional theatre scene, I did a couple of professional shows in high school and then went to school for it.

Question: When do you think you knew that it would be your career?
Bogart: Gosh, I guess 14 years old.

Question: Was there anything that was a turning point for you?
Bogart: I guess Lillian Hellman's The Children's Hour [which was] my first sort of true [theatrical experience].

Question: Was that one of the professional productions?
Bogart: Yeah, it was. I think that was a pivotal age for me. I was very much a dancer until then, and I had to make a decision whether to go into acting. At that point it became clear that if I wanted to dance, I would have to devote my life to it. I think that was a really pivotal time for me to decide that acting was first and foremost the most important to me. Question: You mentioned that your mother ran a theatre company.
Bogart: My mother runs a theatre company in Highland Park called the Apple Tree Theatre, and they've been a very prominent theatre in Chicago over the years. They've done extraordinarily well, and the theatre really grew up with me. I always joked that it was my other sibling. I have a brother, but I always say that the theatre was my other sibling. When we were kids, they got a guest artist, and then when we got into high school, it became an Equity theatre. It really genuinely grew up with me.

Question: Were your parents supportive of you doing this as a career?
Bogart: Extremely supportive, but never pushy. I think because my mom ran a professional company, she always truly understood the great things about being an actor, but she also understood the trials and tribulations of it. It was kind of the perfect balance of being supportive without being too pushy about it.

Question: Were there any actors that particularly influenced or inspired you?
Bogart: The actors that truly shaped my earliest experiences and who I still refer back to were all Chicago people. One of them was Ross Lehman, who I actually, years later, wound up doing A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum with on Broadway, which was such a great kind of being able to turn the tables. When they needed someone to replace Mark Linn-Baker [as Hysterium], I was like, "I know the perfect man!" But I was really influenced by Chicago actors. I think there's just an incredible pool of talent there, and those are the people that I look back on.

Question: Do you have any projects in the works after Romance/Romance?
Bogart: I don't know what's next. Matt and I have done a ton of traveling over the last couple of years, and we've done a lot of new works, so I think both of us love the idea of being at home in New York for a little while, nesting, because we just got married in July.

Question: Congratulations.
Bogart: We've been together a long time, but we just got married.

Question: How is married life so far?
Bogart: Perfect, it's so great!

[Romance/Romance is currently playing the Paper Mill Playhouse — located on Brookside Drive in Millburn, NJ — through April 1. For tickets visit www.papermill.org.]

FOR THE RECORD: Legends of Broadway: Bernadette Peters
Masterworks Broadway recently introduced a wonderful new series entitled "Legends of Broadway," which celebrates "Broadway's greatest stars singing the music from their greatest Broadway roles." The four releases pay tribute to the stellar careers of Tony Award winners Chita Rivera, Angela Lansbury, Barbara Cook and Bernadette Peters.

Peters, referred to as the "Broadway baby" of the group, made her Broadway debut at the age of ten, playing the role of Tessie in a City Center revival of The Most Happy Fella. Since that time the celebrated singing actress has become one of the most sought-after musical theatre performers, one who brings a mix of humor, warmth, passion and emotional depth to all her work. Although she won her Tony Awards for her performances in musicals by Andrew Lloyd Webber (Song & Dance) and Irving Berlin (the revival of Annie Get Your Gun), she is, perhaps, most associated with the work of Stephen Sondheim, having created the roles of Dot and the Witch in, respectively, Sunday in the Park with George and Into the Woods. Peters also appeared in a star-studded concert of Sondheim's Anyone Can Whistle, devoted the entire second act of her sold-out Carnegie Hall solo debut concert to his songs and was most recently on The Great White Way in the Sam Mendes-directed revival of Gypsy, which features lyrics by Sondheim (and music by Jule Styne). Peters earned her seventh Tony nomination for her work in the latter, which seemed to mark a new chapter in her career, as she completely shed her endearing persona to fully delve into the psyche of the powerhouse that is Mama Rose.

The 14-track "Legends of Broadway: Bernadette Peters disc" features songs from eight different musicals, beginning with Peters' belty version of "You Can't Get a Man With a Gun." Just listen to the sheer strength of her tones as she sings, "With a guh-unnnnn, with a guh-uhhhn, no you cain't get a man with a gun!" Two songs from Dames at Sea — the Off-Broadway production that marked Peters' arrival as a formidable stage presence — follow, and even in those early recordings one can hear the unique mix of vocal colors and nuanced interpretations that, several years later, would help her solidify her position as one of the theatre's leading ladies.

The single CD embraces the remarkable range of Peters' interpretative powers and the astonishing array of feelings she can instill in a listener with a voice that mixes rich, vibrato-filled chest tones with a beautiful, crystal-clear and soaring soprano. She finds all the humor in "Sunday in the Park with George" and "You Can't Get a Man With a Gun"; she tugs at the heartstrings in definitive versions of "Time Heals Everything" and "Anyone Can Whistle"; she brings a palpable joy to "Unexpected Song"; she is hauntingly moving in "Lament"; and she brings a fiery intensity to "Everything's Coming Up Roses." Another standout is Into the Woods' "Stay With Me," where Peters demonstrates an astounding array of emotions and vocal command within one song.

The disc is both a great introduction for Peters newcomers as well as a wonderful treat for fans who may have all of these recordings, for the CD boasts rarely seen production photos as well as a brand-new, lengthy and informative interview with the actress. In that interview, when asked "who [do] you think particularly 'gets' you as a singer," Peters responds, "I have to say I love singing Sondheim. His songs say so much, on so many levels. It's a pleasure to sing them." And, it's even more of a pleasure to listen to Peters sing them.

The Boston Pops 2007 season — under the baton of Keith Lockhart — will feature three concert performances of the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel. An all-star Broadway cast to be announced as well as fellows from the Tanglewood Music Center will be part of the Carousel concerts, which will be presented June 13-15 at Symphony Hall in Boston, MA. . . . Liz Callaway will join Lockhart and the Pops May 11 at 8 PM and May 12 at 3 and 8 PM for a program entitled Boomer. "From hula hoops to hi-tech gadgets," read press notes, "Baby Boomers have shaped our world. Enjoy hit songs from the Beatles to the Village People, classic themes from television and film, and an unforgettable audience sing-along. Relive the good old days with guest artists . . . Liz Callaway." . . . Husband-and-wife actors Jason Danieley and Marin Mazzie will reprise their acclaimed performances in Oscar and Tony June 28 at 8 PM and July 1 at 7:30 PM. The concerts salute songs from film and stage. Tickets for the season will go on sale March 5 at 10 AM. For more information visit www.bso.org.

Judy Garland's legendary 1959 album, "The Letter," will make its CD debut in March on the DRG Records label. The recording, which traces a relationship from first meeting to breakup to reconciliation, is schedule to arrive in stores March 13. Produced by Scott Schechter, the CD was digitally remixed and remastered in 24-bit, directly from the original session tapes. The CD also includes a lavish booklet with rare artwork as well as liner notes by producer Schechter. "The Letter," according to press notes, "contains narration of a letter written to Garland by her beau, played by acclaimed Academy Award nominee John Ireland. As Judy reads his letter, her thoughts mend with his, and she answers him musically, through ten songs, crafted by Capitol's main musical master, Gordon Jenkins, a beloved musical arranger and conductor, who also worked with Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra." Track titles include "Beautiful Trouble," "Love In The Village," "Charley's Blues," "The Worst Kind of Man," "That's All There Is, There Isn't Any More," "Love In Central Park," "The Red Balloon," "The Fight," "At the Stroke of Midnight" and "Come Back." The recording also features four bonus tracks: alternate versions of "Beautiful Trouble," "That's All There Is, There Isn't Any More," "The Worst Kind of Man" and "The Red Balloon."

The York Theatre Company will convert its theatre into a mini movie house April 10 when it screens a new film based on the film of the vocally challenged diva Florence Foster Jenkins. The film, produced by Donald Collup and entitled "Florence Foster Jenkins: A World of Her Own," will be presented at 2:30 and 7:30 PM. The York is a fitting venue to show the film: One of the theatre company's biggest successes was Souvenir, the play based on Jenkins' life and starring Tony winner Judy Kaye that transferred to Broadway after a successful York run. Filmmaker Collup, according to press notes, "has amassed an extensive collection of information, memorabilia and personal accounts from those in the know, including images from [Jenkins'] career, press clippings and magazine articles, recorded interviews of people who knew her as well as live interviews with those who saw her in concert — including musical legend Marge Champion — and excerpts from the nine recordings Jenkins made." Admission is $10; call (212) 935-5824, ext. 21 for reservations. The York Theatre Company is located at the Theatre at Saint Peter's in the Citigroup Center, 619 Lexington Avenue. For more information visit www.yorktheatre.org.

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

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