DIVA TALK: Chatting with Tony Nominee Kate Baldwin Plus Six Questions for Valerie Harper

News   DIVA TALK: Chatting with Tony Nominee Kate Baldwin Plus Six Questions for Valerie Harper
News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.

Kate Baldwin
Kate Baldwin

Kate Baldwin, who enchanted audiences in the 2009-10 season in the short-lived revival of Finian's Rainbow, was heading out of the shower when she heard the news of her first Tony Award nomination for Best Performance By a Leading Actress in a Musical.

"My husband [actor Graham Rowat] told me," Baldwin said the morning the Tony nominations were announced. "I was getting out of the shower, and he just rounded the corner and very quietly pointed at me and said, 'You got one.' It was very sweet . . . He was very, very subtle about it. He wanted to be the first, and there I was in a towel, [although] I'm sure I'm not the first person to have this situation happen, [to] get out of the shower and realize that," she laughed.

Baldwin, who is currently performing in London in the new Hal Prince-Susan Stroman musical Paradise Found (which producers hope will have a commercial life in New York City), said the nomination makes her "really happy that people remember our show . . . and even though our time was brief, to be honored with being remembered is so sweet, and it just makes me think that people are paying attention. It just really warms my heart." Baldwin also said that the challenge of the role was "to make [Sharon McLonergan] a realist who turns into a dreamer, because usually people go the other way."


Kate Baldwin in Finian's Rainbow
photo by Joan Marcus

The singing actress, whose Broadway credits also include The Full Monty, Thoroughly Modern Millie and Wonderful Town, was headed to a rehearsal for the aforementioned Paradise Found the morning of the nominations and was equally excited about her new show. "It couldn't be going any better," Baldwin said. "We are doing run-throughs, we have some script changes daily, but the show just plays beautifully. . . . I feel like I'm in tremendous company there. We have Mandy Patinkin and Shuler Hensley and Judy Kaye and Nancy Opel and, of course, Hal Prince and Susan Stroman and Jonathan Tunick, so it's a great group. . . . and it's been a ton of fun to work on. "The only problem with getting nominated for an award right now," Baldwin added, "is that I have to leave to go to London for the next seven weeks, so I feel sad that I'm going to miss out on all of the fun that happens in the next month."

Will she, however, be in town for Tony night on June 13? "I'm looking at a plane ticket right now. I didn't want to buy one [before the nominations were announced]," she laughed.


Valerie Harper

Okay, I admit it. Of the 30 people I interviewed the day the Tony nominations were announced, the one I was most excited to speak to was Valerie Harper. A self-confessed addict of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" — I lost count years ago how many times I have seen each episode — how could I resist a chance to talk to Rhoda, I mean Tallulah, I mean Valerie? And, Harper didn't disappoint. The former Broadway baby was flying high following her Tony nomination for her critically acclaimed performance in the recent Looped, which cast the actress as the late Tallulah Bankhead. My brief chat with the multitalented actress follows:

Question: Congratulations!
Valerie Harper: Oh, my God, I'm ecstatic! I'm absolutely thrilled beyond belief. It's an absolute dream come true, and it's so true about the nomination being so important and so thrilling.

Question: How did you find out about the nomination?
Harper: [My husband Tony Cacciotti and I] were watching New York 1 . . .and then the young man [on TV] says, "Because of the suspected bomber of Times Square coming to New York, we're not going to have the Tony [nominations] live, so go on our website." So my husband dashed to the computer, and our computer was freezing. It was acting dumb, and he couldn't get in, but he stayed at it. And, finally, do you know when the computer shrinks down and gives you an inch rather than the full screen? You ask, "Why are you giving me a pygmy-sized [image]?" [Laughs.] . . . So we put our ears close to the computer, and it was Jeff Daniels saying, "And for Lead Actress in a Play, Viola Davis, Valerie Harper," and oh my goodness, we shrieked! I didn't even hear the other names, and I know they are colleagues of mine . . . . We just jumped up and down and shrieked, because Tony is not just a husband, he is the [lead producer who] pulled this boat through four productions for two years. He read [the script] first [and] said, "Val, read this. It might be something you might like to do. It's a great role, but the play needs work." So then we proceeded to do Pasadena Playhouse and then West Palm Beach, and then last summer we were at the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. And, that's when we decided [to come to Broadway]. Tony said, "We're going to take our shot. We're going to go in." And, we're just thrilled to have come in, and this makes it very sweet, because we didn't run as long as we wanted to, but this is just great.

Question: You started on the stage, so what is it like all these years later to get a Tony nomination?
Harper: Oh, my God. It's unbelievable, because I was 18 and I was dancing on the stage of the St. James Theatre. It was the first musical I'd ever seen, Li'l Abner, and then two years [after my] 16th birthday, I auditioned — not for Michael Kidd, but for the dance captains that he trusted, Deedee Wood and Marc Breaux. It was the biggest day of my life to think I was going to be dancing on the Broadway stage. That was the late '50s, so this is fantastic! I've been on Broadway several times before, and it's always thrilling, but to have created this role and have my husband as the lead producer from the get-go [is so meaningful]. We've been on it for two years. It's an unbelievable acknowledgment, and I am a Broadway baby, really! Back in the old days, going to the auditions, standing in line, hoping to get a [job]. And I did. I danced in five choruses of Broadway shows, dancing and singing before I started acting. So it's a real, thrilling, deep joy, and I couldn't be happier.

Question: Are you going to tour the production more?
Harper: That remains to be seen, but I do know that there is a ten-week Toronto [engagement planned at] one of the Mirvish theatres, [a] big theatre up there who was one of our investors, and they invested with the proviso that we would play ten weeks there. They hadn't seen the play, they had just seen the reviews [from] Arena Stage. They were aware of the production, but they really believed in it, so I know that's happening. And there have been other cities [interested]. My husband get calls all the time from Australia, from Great Britain, from other major American cities, saying, "We'd like to." And, there's a touring company that wants to be involved. But nothing is set, because I have two pilots kind of floating out there, and a tour takes time. It takes months, if not a year to put in place. You know how that is. But I would love to play this again, yeah. Question: What do you think Tallulah's reaction to your nomination would be?
Harper: [Laughs.] Oh, "f-ing divine," that's what she'd say!

Question: Congratulations again.
Harper: Thank you. I am absolutely overjoyed and thrilled and deeply, deeply honored. I really, really am. And, it's for everyone. My name's on it, my face is out there, I'm playing Tallulah, but it's everybody. It's the playwright, the wonderful director, my husband. It's everybody that worked on the show.

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

Valerie Harper
Valerie Harper Carol Rosegg
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