Tyne Daly has enjoyed one of the more varied careers in the entertainment field, easily moving between stage and screen projects while also getting the occasional chance to demonstrate her musical theatre skills; in fact, Daly earned her Tony Award for her riveting portrayal of the theatre's ultimate stage mother, Rose, in the 1989 Arthur Laurents-directed revival of Gypsy. This diva lover vividly recalls Daly's powerful performance, especially the first-act finale, the first time this then-college student realized the true, shocking context of "Everything's Coming up Roses." Daly, whose passionate, floor-slapping "Rose's Turn" was equally memorable, also thoroughly impressed with her heartfelt work in David Lindsay-Abaire's Rabbit Hole and, more recently, in Terrence McNally's Mothers and Sons. Best known for her multiple Emmy-winning role in the groundbreaking "Cagney & Lacey," Daly also displayed a delightfully sassy side in the City Center Encores! production of the little-performed Irving Berlin classic Call Me Madam, one of the most joyful evenings presented in that long-running series. And, now, Daly is back on Broadway in the brand-new original musical comedy It Shoulda Been You, which casts the actress as overstressed mom Judy Steinberg, who is anxiously presiding over the wedding of her younger daughter. Directed by Tony winner David Hyde Pierce, the stellar company also features Harriet Harris, David Burtka, Sierra Boggess, Lisa Howard, Edward Hibbert, Montego Glover, Josh Grisetti and Chip Zien. A few weeks ago I had the great pleasure of speaking with the formidable actress, who sprinkles her conversation with much good-natured laughter, and spoke about her musical theatre history, including her current role at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre; that interview follows.
Question: I recently watched an interview with you where you said that musical comedy or musical theatre was really your dream as a kid. Did you get to do musicals in high school or college?
Tyne Daly: I didn't do a lot of school theatre. I did local theatre at the Antrim Players in Suffern, and I can't remember...Oh, I did! I made my debut as the Captain's Daughter in HMS Pinafore, and then right after that I started playing mothers. I played the mother in a deathless drama, The Deardens and the Dobies. The way it sorted out, I do a musical every quarter of a century. [Laughs.] But it is fun, it's a lot of fun. A couple of seasons ago I was across the street at the Friedman doing Maria Callas, and last year I was around the corner at The Golden doing another McNally piece; I love him so much. And now for something completely different. That's the fun part of my job is that I get to toss it up and do different stuff.
Question: After you did Gypsy, were you approached for other musical roles?
Tyne Daly: It was hard to find one that was as fun as that. I did a lot of concert work. I did On the Town with Michael Tilson Thomas in London, and we did it again in San Francisco. I did a lot of hosting evenings and got to sing a bit at various colleges. We tried to get Queen of the Stardust Ballroom up on its feet...Call Me Madam came after Gypsy — but that was Encores! [Laughs.] It was a lot of fun. I was in the middle of a series then, and I came up to honor Jule Styne because ASCAP was doing a thing for Jule, and my friend said, "You know, [Encores!] is a fun gig, why don't you do it?" and I thought, "Well, that will be easy." [Laughs.] I had no idea that I was being watched like a hawk and that it constitutes some kind of comeback, and I had no idea I needed one. But that was a blast.
Question: I loved it. That was one of my favorite Encores! Everyone was on the top of their game with that.
Tyne Daly: Well, it was pretty wild, and it's the kind of musical that won't be revived very much. [Laughs.] But it has some really swell music in it, and I met Lewis Cleale, who's a friend ever since. So like that, every job brings something lovely with it.
Question: How did the role in It Shoulda Been You come about? I know you did it at George Street, but when did it come to you?
Tyne Daly: I was approached by David Hyde Pierce. He sent me the script, and the first thing I loved was the book, because it's so wonderfully constructed. The demo tape of the music I didn't quite follow, and then he invited me over, and he and Barbara Anselmi, the composer, and Brian Hargrove, the writer, it was just like in the movies; they sat at the piano and did the whole show for me. [Laughs.] And this is really a true story: I'd brought cucumber sandwiches because you can't go to somebody's house without bringing something otherwise your relatives whirl in their graves. So [David] said to me, "Have you got any questions?" And I said, "Yeah, when do we start?" It started with a joyful event - it's been a very joyous time. It's so much fun to send people out of the theatre laughing and smiling and humming. [Laughs.] And I think the material attracted this power cast we've got. I think we've got the best ensemble on Broadway. Everybody is wonderful, everybody's credited, everybody gets their turn because it's a beautiful ensemble piece. Everybody gets to show their stuff, and it's a ball.
Question: Did much change from George Street to Broadway or was it pretty much set?
Tyne Daly: We certainly worked it there and found out a lot of things, and one of the biggest changes is that we eliminated the intermission. It now plays in one, which audiences seem to be very happy with, and it means that once we get on the train, it sails to the end. There was a wonderful book called "How Is Your Second Act?" I think it was by Walter Kerr — because plays tend to start off great, have a great big finish at the end of the first act and then sort of limp home. This one really gets better and better and better. I stand backstage every night and listen to Lisa Howard stop the show cold, as we used to say in the old days, and a wonderful love song made out of the dumbest phrase in the English language, "whatever," and then turned into a really beautiful love song, and then Sierra Boggess spins this beautiful song about how painful it is to come out.
Question: Now that you've been playing her for while, how would you describe Judy?
Tyne Daly: Well, I love her, of course. I have to love her. You have to love whoever you play. You have to love Iago, you have to love Macbeth. I think she's a straight shooter, and I think she learns something. She doesn't have much of a personal governor...She doesn't have a filter on her thoughts, so she speaks what she's thinking, which isn't always kind or gentle. But she does operate from the heart, and when she discovers her daughters in the course of the play, both of them, she finds out about them in a way that she realizes that she hasn't paid enough attention, and so that's sort of redeeming. There's no villain in the thing. There's no cursing, no scatological, there's no smutty, there's none of those things that seem to be quite in fashion, and we manage to make jokes that aren't couched in harsh language. All in all, I think it's kind of a relief, and it's certainly a relief to play. To not have to go to the dark side and look under the rocks to find the slimy little things that are crawling out. It's fun — to me "fun" is the new F-word! [Laughs.]
Question: As you say, your character learns about her daughters and learns to accept them as the play goes on. In the beginning, once or twice you have to say something unkind to Lisa Howard's character. Is that sort of difficult as an actor or is it just that you're playing a role and that's in the script?
Tyne Daly: Everybody in the whole play is under terrible pressure because my baby is marrying the wrong guy. Hence, Mama's in a state, sister's in a state, everybody's in a state of heightened madness. But is it difficult to do because you think Tyne Daly is hurting Lisa Howard's feelings?
Question: I always wonder whether that's discussed among the actors, if you're saying something that would be insulting to a person...
Tyne Daly: [Laughs.] We're acting. We're both acting...I know that there's a lot of discussion about motivation and the inner meanings and that kind of stuff, but I'm such an old actor now. I've acted for more than half a century. I basically say, because I trust writers, "She says this now because this is what she says now. That's what comes out of her mouth." I can go home by myself and think about it, but, basically, you just trust it because it's there on purpose, if you've got a smart writer, and I tend to pride myself on picking smart writers. [Laughs.]
Question: Tell me about working with David Hyde Pierce and his role as a director, which is something new for him on Broadway.
Tyne Daly: Everybody loves David. He's lovely and funny and smart. So smart and gentle. He's the opposite of a beat-you-up director. He's so cute. We worked together first at George Street, then he invited me to come and do my Lady Bracknell, my first Lady Bracknell at Williamstown, so he was kind of putting a hold-pin in me so that while they tried to raise the dough to get [It Shoulda Been You] into town, which is a miracle, too. Brand-new musical, it's not based on a television show, it's not based on an old trunk full of music. It's not based on anything, it's itself, which is another thing that's fun, you get to discover it. We started rehearsals here in New York, and we were all standing around talking, and at some point David said, "I forget I'm the director. I'm the one who's supposed to say, 'Everybody be quiet now.'" [Laughs.] We were all having coffee and it was all very swell. He already is a good director, but he's going to be a wonderful director. He loves actors and he loves telling stories, and that love really shows in his work.
Question: I wonder whether you kept up with Arthur Laurents throughout the rest of his life.
Tyne Daly: After a big tussle at the beginning and after I insisted that he teach me everything he knew about his play, we actually wound up being friends. [Laughs.] But it was a struggle in the beginning. He was from the old-fashioned school of: You tear the actor down into a puddle of tears on the floor and then you build them back up in your own image. [Laughs.] Basically with Arthur, I yes-sirred him to death. I just [said], "Yes sir," "Yes sir," "Yes sir," and he finally gave in. Plus, the thing was working. There's no right and wrong in the theatre. There's just, does it work or doesn't it work? So that revival, that 30-year revival was working when we took it out on the road. We found that out and that it was working great, so that made it easier for him to like me. [Laughs.]
Question: Did you get to see either of the other Gypsy revivals?
Tyne Daly: I didn't see Bernadette [Peters] because I was working in the West Coast. I would have done because I think she's a wonderful talent. He invited me to come and see [Patti] LuPone when it was at the City Center, and when I was walking into the City Center, I thought, "My God. This is only the second time I've ever seen Gypsy." I saw Ethel Merman when I was 11 and when the orchestra tuned up, the guy who came across the stage had been in our company — but playing a different role, he was playing Cigar — I just had a wonderful time. It was kind of like Tom Sawyer at his own funeral. [Laughs.] It's a wonderful show, and I had had enough space, and maybe it's revived a little too much now — you've only got two seasons between Gypsys. I had rested from it for quite a while, and it was wonderful to see. Question: Are there any other musical roles that you'd like to play?
Tyne Daly: This new one is so fun that if there was a new one it'd be great...I would love to do Dear World because I think that was one of Jerry [Herman]'s most wonderful scores. But it's an odd book. That's the only one that I've sort of yearned for that I can name.
Question: Do you have any other projects in the works after this?
Tyne Daly: This is always my favorite question that all interviewers ask all actors, and you know the public does, too. You're in the middle of doing something, you've just done a great performance, and they say, "What else are you working on? Got anything else coming up?" It's like, "Man alive!" [Laughs.] The answer is no, not at the moment. I have people that are out there beating the bushes; I have a couple of movies that are coming out that I did. I did a movie in India. I did a really fun movie with Sally Field, but those are done. They won't keep me busy. This one I hope will play out my contract and then it will have a life after that with good luck because the audiences are just eating it like they've never had dessert. [Laughs.]
Question: What's the eight-performance schedule like for you?
Tyne Daly: That's the task. This one is not so much heavy lifting for me. I don't carry the show. Nobody really, we all carry it together. Last year I had to go to some very dark, very sad, mournful places, and that makes it harder. I actually just scheduled lunch with Terrence McNally between the two shows on Saturday, which is something I never would have done when I was doing Gypsy because all I could do was just pass out and sleep. Or, indeed, Mothers and Sons. So it's a little more flexible - I'm a little more flexible than I used to be.
Question: Looking back on your career, which is so diverse, is there anything you're most proud of when you look back on it?
Tyne Daly: See, I don't look back. I just heard a thing where they're saying they're retiring the word retirement from the English language. I don't have time to look back, and besides I don't think it's a valid direction. I've always been in love with whatever I was up to because I think it's a job requirement, and I've had some wonderful times. I was very greedy and still am. I wanted to do all the games there were to play: radio and television and films and the theatre and the musical theatre, so I've been extremely fortunate.
Question: You have gotten to do all that...
Tyne Daly: Why not? [Laughs.] If you can bring it off. I've been able to realize a lot of the quote-end-quote "forms." It's all the same thing. It comes from the same place: It comes from your heart and your guts and your brain; that's where it always comes from for an actor.
[Tickets are on sale at Ticketmaster.com or by phoning (800) 653-8000. The Brooks Atkinson Theatre is located at 256 West 47th Street.]
Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Diva Talk runs every other week on Playbill.com. Senior editor Andrew Gans also pens the weekly columns Their Favorite Things and Stage Views.