Judy McLane, who performed over 4,000 shows in the Broadway production of Mamma Mia!, first as Tanya and later as Donna Sheridan, currently stars as faded silent screen star Norma Desmond in The John W. Engeman Theater production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Sunset Boulevard, which continues its limited run in Northport, New York, through November 3.
McLane, who garnered Drama Desk and Drama League nominations for her performance as Vienna in Off-Broadway's Johnny Guitar, has also been seen on Broadway in Kiss of the Spider Woman, Aspects of Love, and Chess, while her national and international tours include Into the Woods, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Big, and Side By Side By Sondheim. The multi-talented artist will next be seen Off-Broadway in Amas Musical Theatre’s production of Mark Saltzman’s Romeo & Bernadette: A Musical Tale of Verona and Brooklyn. Directed and choreographed by Justin Ross Cohen, previews will begin January 14, 2020, at the Mezzanine Theatre at A.R.T./New York Theatres.
We recently asked McLane to pen a list of her most memorable nights in the theatre; her responses follow.
Having done over 4,000 performances, I have an abundance of memorable moments, on stage and off, with events like landmark anniversaries, the Tony Awards, and backstage shenanigans. My opening night taking over the role of Donna was magical. After getting to play the role of Tanya for so long, the show I knew and loved felt brand new to me. The closing night of Mamma Mia! was also thrilling. I had so many emotions coursing through my body. The audience was filled with Mamma Mia! family, our own families, and friends. It was electric. With my overwhelming entrance ovation, all the applause, singing, and screaming, I thought the Broadhurst was going to lift right off the block.
Kiss of the Spider Woman
It was my first time on in the role of Marta at the Broadhurst Theatre. At one point in the show, I was in high heels, wearing a silk teddy and robe, massaging Brian Stokes Mitchell’s chest as he lay on the cot, and singing the duet “I Do Miracles” with the legendary Chita Rivera (in her key). As I tried to take in everything around me and stay in the scene, all I could think was, “Holy moley! This is some crazy dream I’m having.”
This was my first Broadway show, and we were in the midst of previews. After a two-show Saturday, I got off the phone with my sister. My dad had been ill and was dying. I knew I had to tell Trevor Nunn I was leaving and wouldn’t be coming back. At the time, the show was too long, the set wasn’t physically working, and there was a big production meeting with the producers, the creatives, department heads, and many others on stage at the Imperial Theatre. I stood on the side, tears streaming down my face, wondering what to do. Trevor caught my eye and instantly stopped the meeting to come over to me. His words were compassionate, kind, and comforting. It is a moment I will forever hold in my heart.
I eventually went back to the show, and opening night we put a rose on the seat where my dad would have been.
Into the Woods
The first national tour. I was playing Florinda and going on for the Baker’s Wife for the first time at the Kennedy Center. After the show, they brought in the fire curtain, we all stayed on stage, and in walks Stephen Sondheim, who had just seen the matinee. The blood drained from my body, and my jaw dropped open. We had an insightful note session with him and I, eventually, took over the role, so I guess I did OK.
During the run at the Paper Mill Playhouse, I rescued a rooster from the streets of N.Y.C. Yes, a rooster. I drove him out to the theatre to go to his new home in New Jersey—after the show. The crew was kind enough to keep him in the crew room. During intermission he escaped from his box and was running around backstage. There I was all ready for Act II, in the big white dress and Eva wig, chasing after the rooster, since nobody else would touch him. He was back in his box for the rest of the show and lived happily ever after on the farm.
Over the years, I have had many moments of forgetting lines, as I believe most actors do. Opening night, playing Maria Callas, at Theatre Raleigh, I was in the middle of one of the many three-page monologues. This particular one, I was playing five different characters with accents, and the whole thing had to be timed beginning to end with an aria. In the middle, I realized I had skipped a whole section and somehow needed to go back, put it in, then jump to where I had left off. By some miracle, it all timed out perfectly. I realized more than ever, there is always a little theatre magic to help us out.