DIVA TALK: Chatting with Tony Nominees Bundy, Ebersole, McDonald, Monk and Murphy

News   DIVA TALK: Chatting with Tony Nominees Bundy, Ebersole, McDonald, Monk and Murphy
Congratulations to all of the 2007 Tony Award nominees. This week we chat with the enormously talented women who have been nominated for a Tony for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical.
Tony nominee Laura Bell Bundy in Legally Blonde.
Tony nominee Laura Bell Bundy in Legally Blonde. Photo by Paul Kolnik

Nominated for her performance as Elle Woods in Legally Blonde at the Palace Theatre.

Laura Bell Bundy sounded as though she were speaking from Cloud Nine the morning she received her first Tony Award nomination. "I started running around in my kitchen and crying and screaming, and I was all alone by myself," Bundy laughs. "It was the most hilarious thing. I wish there was a video camera in my house. Then I called my boyfriend because he wanted to be the first call, and that's when it really hit me, when I told him."

It has been a year of phenomenal performances by women in the musical theatre, and Bundy says she was prepared to not receive a nomination because her category was so crowded with possible nominees. "I was really shocked," she says. "This is a year of women leading in a musical. I really had been in a place about it. I love my show, I know the work that I'm doing, and that's all I need to know. It's a very tough year, and every woman in my category has won a Tony. I'm in this company of these women that I've looked up to. . . . You're not supposed to be invested in things like this. I mean, you really shouldn't be concerned about the accolades you get by other people. You should feel strong about your work within yourself, but come on, the little girl in me was like, 'A Tony nomination!' I was so excited! And then to just be in the company of these women is a whole other level — I can't even believe it."

Bundy credits much of her success in the new musical based on the film of the same name to director-choreographer Jerry Mitchell, who also received a 2007 Tony nomination for Best Choreography. "I would not be getting this nomination — no way in hell — not if it wasn't for Jerry and the creative team, and Jerry's belief in me. I know he fought for me for this role." The actress, whose Broadway credits also include Hairspray and Wicked, also pays tribute to her co-stars. "I told the cast on opening night — because a lot of people had been saying to me, 'You're carrying this show' — 'I am not carrying this show, I'm being carried.' This company is amazing."

Bundy does admit, however, that her role — created on screen by Academy Award winner Reese Witherspoon — is the most demanding part she's ever played. "I actually think anybody doing it would agree. It is sticking Elphaba and Glinda together and saying, 'Do the whole thing!' It's really like that," she says with a laugh. "The longest break I have offstage is a minute-and-a-half, and that's for a quick change." As for her favorite moments onstage in Legally Blonde, Bundy says, "There are so many moments, but anytime I'm onstage with Christian Borle — he is a genius! It is never the same, and he is so present with me. We're always having so much fun — every night is different, we're always surprising each other with something, but there's such a great trust in the relationship. . . . And 'So Much Better,' the end of the first act, the number that I sing when Elle discovers that she's got the internship — it's actually the moment where she discovers that she loves herself. So, for me, I just love that because I'm all alone onstage, and I just get lost."

Although Legally Blonde garnered seven Tony nominations, the show penned by Laurence O'Keefe, Nell Benjamin and Heather Hach did not receive a Best Musical nod, a fact that Bundy likens to her character's journey. "It's so funny," she says, "the show is totally treated like Elle Woods is treated going to Harvard — it's underestimated! It's like they don't want to accept the fact that blondes do actually have more fun, and that we may have more substance, too. The show is not just some fluffy show. There's actually something important going on, and it's about women and it's about people learning to love themselves, and it's about facing fear and following your heart. They may be simple concepts . . . but it's still entertaining people. They jump to their feet when they're done, and they're laughing."

And what does Bundy most enjoy about the Blonde experience? "There's so much that's enjoyable. I gotta tell you, I was expecting this to be a great experience, but it has been way more than I ever thought. I really think that the cast is what really has been the most enjoyable part. It is a great company. It's everyone involved — it's not just the cast. It's the creative team, it's the crew, it's the producers. It's like everybody involved in the show is really amazing. We have such a good team — there's nobody you wouldn't want to sit next to on the bus, and I feel like there is a depth to almost every relationship I have. There's a real sense of family. Everybody's really happy and proud of our work, and I think it starts from the top."

Tony nominee Christine Ebersole in Grey Gardens.
photo by Joan Marcus

Nominated for her performance as Edith Bouvier Beale and "Little" Edie Beale in Grey Gardens at the Walter Kerr Theatre. "To be perfectly honest," Christine Ebersole says with a laugh, "I totally forgot that we were going to find out today [about the Tony nominations] because when you have kids, you're always thinking about other things. My [husband] Bill [Moloney] and I walked the kids to school, and we were on our way back and were rounding the corner to our house, and my next door neighbor, Bob Friedman, was on his way to the train. And he says, 'You were nominated!' I said, 'Well, you're gonna be in the interview then, because they're gonna ask me how I found out.'"

Ebersole, whose performance in the dual roles of the spotlight-hungry mother Edith in the first act and the middle-aged, nonconformist Little Edie in the second has drawn unanimous raves, says she was thrilled to receive a nomination. "It doesn't change who you are or doesn't change what you do, but it's such a nice [honor]," she explains. "After working on this labor of love, to be acknowledged is such a thrill. And then to be in a group of peers that you love and respect — it's just such a great sense of camaraderie, like a big family picnic!" Ebersole adds that when she found out how many other Grey Gardens folk had been nominated (the show received ten nominations), that was "the biggest thrill of all."

For Ebersole, the most enjoyable aspect of performing in the Doug Wright-Scott Frankel-Michael Korie musical has been "the dedication and commitment to telling the Beale story and to see that it has a life that I felt it deserved on Broadway. To see that accomplished is so rewarding and so fulfilling. . . . To me what's salient in all of it is the experience that one has with the audience and this sort of unifying experience that Grey Gardens gives to people just to recognize our own humanity."

The only drawback, says the Tony-winning 42nd Street star, is the demand of an eight-performance-a-week schedule. "Particularly being a mother, that's really the biggest sacrifice is the children, not really getting to see them. And that's the part that's agonizing. . . . I don't have grown children [her three kids are all younger than 14], [and] at nighttime, you're not there to tuck them in. That's the part that's really hard."

When asked how she will follow these once-in-a-lifetime roles, Ebersole says, "I can't imagine anything greater. That's my joke — I say I'm going to have to go work at the make-up counter at Bloomingdale's now because I don't know what I'm going to do after this. Maybe I'll become a potter."

Tony nominee Audra McDonald in 110 in the Shade.
photo by Joan Marcus

Nominated for her performance as Lizzie in 110 in the Shade at Studio 54. Audra McDonald may have already won four Tonys — for her dazzling work in Carousel, Master Class, Ragtime and A Raisin in the Sun — but she says a nomination "still means as much as it did the first time. People think you get jaded by these things, and it's just not true, not for me in my experience. I really don't. Especially in a season like this, especially in my category where the women are just unbelievable. Just that I'm among them is amazing, and they're all friends, so I'm happy to see them and spend time with them."

McDonald, who is currently giving one of the most moving performances of the season as the "plain" Lizzie who learns to love herself and others in 110 in the Shade, learned about her nomination after dropping her young daughter off at school. "My Blackberry was beeping, and there was a text message that said, 'Congratulations,' and I thought, 'Well, it's probably that,'" she laughs.

The celebrated actress says she believes Shade, which was penned by Fantasticks creators Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt, strikes a chord in both women and men. "It's what Lizzie is struggling with on the inside . . . It's that loneliness that everybody can identify with." She does find it amusing that some people say she's too pretty to play the role. "[They're] the same people [who] were saying, 'You aren't pretty enough to be Clara [in Passion]," she laughs.

It's been a difficult period for McDonald, whose father was killed in a helicopter crash April 29. When asked what's been the most enjoyable aspect of working on 110 in the Shade, McDonald acknowledges that loss, explaining, "Post my father's death [is] that I have the show to get me through, and that group of people that is so supportive. And what I might have said had my father not passed away, it would just be the joy of the rain every night. That is so much fun."

Tony nominee Debra Monk in Curtains.
photo by Joan Marcus

Nominated for her performance as Carmen in Curtains at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre. "I was in bed, and my agent, my wonderful agent, woke me up with the news," Debra Monk told me May 15, just about an hour after she learned she had been nominated for a Tony Award for her performance as Carmen, the determined theatrical producer in the new Kander-Ebb-Stone-Holmes musical Curtains. "It was a surprise. I just didn't think I was going to get nominated. There were just so many great women this year.

"[Doing Curtains] has been fabulous," Monk adds. "It's truly the most fun I've ever had on the stage. No matter what happens during the day — what's happening in the news, how I feel — when I get to that theatre and that incredibly talented cast, who are lovely and fun and dear, and headed by our incredible angel David Hyde Pierce, [it all melts away]. We feel very fortunate to do the show. It's a really special time for us all."

As for her fellow Curtains Tony nominees, Monk says, "I'm so thrilled for David and for KZ [Karen Ziemba]. I'm especially thrilled for our director, [Scott Ellis], who I've always felt is one of our great directors who hasn't gotten his share of honors, so I'm thrilled for him. "The show has taken a long time to come to Broadway, and we lost our dear Peter Stone and Freddy [Ebb] along the way. So, even though it's always a thrill to be nominated, [the real joy] is the show looks like it's going to have a healthy run, and people are loving it."

Tony nominee Donna Murphy in LoveMusik.
photo by Carol Rosegg

Nominated for her performance as Lotte Lenya in LoveMusik at the Biltmore Theatre. Donna Murphy was also asleep Tuesday morning when her husband, who had come in quietly to gather his gym clothes, caused the acclaimed actress to awake. "[I] raised a quizzical eyebrow. He laughed and said softly, 'Congratulations — now go back to sleep.' I did, for a little while longer." Murphy says her first reaction to the news was "a kind of relief and gratitude."

Although she has already won two Tonys — for her stellar performances in Sondheim and Lapine's Passion and the revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's The King and I — Murphy says that "in a season like this one where there have been so many outstanding performances by women in this category, I knew that it could go in any variety of ways. It is always deeply meaningful to be acknowledged by your peers and colleagues, and I'm so grateful that they've responded positively to my attempt to honor the essence of Lenya and tell this story. And," she adds, "it's my first time back on Broadway since Wonderful Town, and since adopting our daughter."

Murphy says that the most enjoyable aspects of working on LoveMusik — the new musical that explores the complicated relationship between composer Kurt Weill and his muse, actress-singer Lotte Lenya — has been "finally getting to work with the great Hal Prince and playing opposite the brilliant Michael Cerveris." In fact, although her favorite moments in the show change nightly, "they all seem to happen in my scenes with Michael. He is such an amazing actor and partner. I look forward to every moment we share on stage — truly."

As for the most demanding aspects of her newest role, Murphy points to the show's quick changes and "juggling being a mommy to my two-year-old daughter."

When asked what she learned about Lenya during her preparation, the actress, who also shone during the recent City Center Encores! presentation of Follies, says, "So much! I knew very little about her. I had no idea what she sounded until she was in her mid 50's. So when I heard her early recordings and watched the 1930 German film version of 'The Threepenny Opera,' I was blown away by that distinctive bird-like sound. Like a 'raw choir-boy voice,' someone once said. And the story of her troubled family and childhood was instrumental in helping me build the character from the inside out as well as the outside in. She was an amazingly strong and yet fragile woman. I'm still reading material about her — I have so much! — and finding out new things, and it continues to inform my performance everyday."

A host of theatre favorites will be part of the new ABC series "Pushing Daisies," which has been picked up for the fall season. Among the cast are Tony Award winner Kristin Chenoweth, who recently appeared in the City Center Encores! presentation of Stairway to Paradise; Little Shop of Horrors' Ellen Greene; Tony Award winner Swoosie Kurtz; Closer's Anna Friel; "Boston Public" actor Chi McBride; and Lee Pace, who was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for his performance as a transsexual in "Soldier's Girl." About the fantasy crime drama, Chenoweth recently told me, "[Lee Pace is] a talented individual. He plays a guy who can bring people back from the dead. Now it sounds hokey, sounds like, 'Oh we've seen that before.' But the trick is this: He can touch people — that's how he brings them back, but he has 60 seconds to decide. If he touches them again before 60 seconds, they go back to being dead. If he leaves it, they live, but somebody else drops dead. It's very complicated. But Bryan Fuller is the writer, and Barry Sonnenfeld directed it. You know, I read the script and, again, I'm pretty picky. It's gotta be something really interesting for me to [accept a role] — whether it goes or succeeds is besides the point. It really has to speak to me. There's a love triangle, and I play one of the girls. It's a great cast."

Tony Award winner Randy Graff, most recently on Broadway in the revival of Fiddler on the Roof, will play the title role in the upcoming production of Jerry Herman's Hello, Dolly! at the St. Louis Muny, the nation's oldest and largest outdoor theatre. The starry company will also boast Lewis Stadlen as Horace, Kate Baldwin as Irene, James Clow as Cornelius, Jen Cody as Minnie Fay, Telly Leung as Barnaby and Kendal Sparks as Ambrose Kemper. The production will play the outdoor venue July 9-15. Lee Roy Reams, who directed the most recent Broadway revival of Dolly!, will direct at the Muny as well. Tickets are available by calling (314) 361-1900, ext. 550; for more information visit www.muny.org.

Composer, musical director, arranger and pianist Georgia Stitt will celebrate the recent release of her debut CD "This Ordinary Thursday" (PS Classics) June 2 at the El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood, CA. The 8 PM concert will feature Stitt with special guests Susan Egan, Shoshana Bean, Jean Louise Kelly, Adam Hunter and Dan Callaway. Also taking part will be Chad Doreck and Kathleen Montelone, who were finalists on NBC's "Grease: You're the One That I Want." Tickets, priced $30 and $40, are available by calling (866) 811-4111 or by visiting www.elportaltheatre.com. The El Portal Theatre is located at 5269 Lankershim Blvd. in North Hollywood, CA.

The National Asian American Theatre Company will present a production of William Finn and James Lapine's Falsettoland featuring an all-Asian cast that includes several Broadway actors. Directed by Alan Muraoka, the award-winning musical will begin previews June 14 at the Dimson Theatre with an official opening June 17. The limited engagement will play through July 1. The cast will feature MaryAnn Hu as Cordelia, Christine Toy Johnson (The Music Man) as Dr. Charlotte, Francis Jue (Thoroughly Modern Millie) as Mendel, Jason Ma (Miss Saigon) as Marvin, Manu Narayan (Bombay Dreams) as Whizzer, Ann Sanders (Avenue Q) as Trina and Ben Wu as Jason. Show times are Tuesdays-Fridays at 7 PM and Saturdays and Sundays at 3 and 7 PM. The Dimson Theatre is located at 108 East 15th Street. Tickets, priced $20, are available by calling (212) 279-4200. For more information visit www.naatco.org.

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

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