Sunday, August 17, 2008

What Ever Happened to Baby June?

There's a cute skit called Gypsy playing the St. James theatre right now with a catchy little score written by two veritable unknowns; Stephen Sondheim (most recognized by musical theatre aficionados, of course, for his acting turn in the independent queer teen semi-cult movie musical Camp and his recent voiceover work on TV's The Simpsons) and Jule Styne (recognized for neither the independent queer teen semi-cult movie musical Camp nor TV's The Simpsons.) Gypsy is directed by its librettist, Arthur Laurents, and stars newcomer Patti LuPone (known best by Broadway's biggest fans as the lady who sang the theme song to the early-nineties ABC television drama Life Goes On.)

Joining Ms. LuPone are Tony-winners Laura Benanti and Boyd Gaines, and making her Broadway debut in (all joking aside) one of my favorite portrayals of Dainty June to date, Leigh Ann Larkin. I recently sat down with lovely Leigh Ann in the intimate lounge of NYC's Metropolitan Room before a concert performance (hers, not mine.) I must tell you that she is perhaps one of the nicest and sweetest friggin' people you could ever hope to meet; retardedly talented, incredibly beautiful, kind and gracious... She almost reminded me of myself if I were kind and gracious. Here's a little bit of our chat...

Randy Rainbow:  I’ve heard that you didn’t know Gypsy at all before your audition.
Leigh Ann Larkin:  That is true.
How the heck did you manage that??
Well, I think when I was in school it was the coming of the age of pop musicals, and we were really all about focusing on what shows we would be right for.  To be honest, I just never considered myself right for Gypsy.  In fact they told me I’d have to fly in twice to audition for it and I originally said no because I was doing another show at the time, and I figured I’m not even right for the part.  I mean, I hadn’t danced in so long…  I didn’t have that split!
Your June is one of the darker, bitchier, probably more realistic versions of her we’ve seen.  Is that the result of your initial take on the character, Arthur Laurents’ direction, or a bit of both?
It’s a combination.  Arthur graciously gives me a lot of the credit.  When I was in the audition, I had started two or three times in a scene playing her one way and he came over to me and said “You’re 40, you’re bored, you’re over it!... She has no emotion!… She’s steel!…”   So to this day, that’s what we stick to. For the first read-through I came in with my interpretation and he ended up being so pleased, which was so nice because I kind of had a rough audition.  He was really hard on me.
Let’s talk Patti a little… You have the honor of working with not only a legend, but a legend at the top of her game, giving “the performance of her career”.  As an actress, what have you learned from watching and being a part of that experience?
True professionalism. Patti has a mountain to climb from the beginning of the show, and she's there at every performance giving it a hundred fifty percent. She has it so much more difficult than any of us, and to see her perform like that every single night is really enough to inspire a person to want to be like her and do what she does. She's just amazing.

Can you remember the first time - if such a time ever comes - that you were able to relax and not think to yourself "oh my god, I'm working with Patti LuPone"?
You know, she made it very easy to do that from the beginning because she gives so generously to everybody. She's so complimentary and such a team player that you really are able to look at her as a fellow actor. I just think that's the best because I'm sure that's not the case with many performers you'd work with on her level. But she's not at all distant. She's always hanging out with the cast. She's always coming to parties with us. She's one of the gang!

What's your favorite onstage moment to play?
Definitely the scene in Gransinger's office. First of all, to work with Laura Benanti is any actor's dream. Also, I've been reading June Havoc's books and in her autobiography "Early Havoc" she talks about the first time her mother exploded the way she does in that scene and her subsequently running away. Having read her own words, it makes everything so much more tangible and relatable and real. It's amazing to think about what she went through and to then be able to play that onstage.

What's your favorite onstage moment to watch?
"Rose's Turn"... of course! Though another favorite moment of mine is "Little Lamb". I think people have sort of put a stigma on that number and Laura [Benanti] gives it a whole new life. It's so honest and touching. I love watching her from the wings to see what she'll bring to it each night.

Other than your own, what is your favorite show on the boards right now?
Probably Title of Show, which I just saw. I love that it's their own story, and how in-the-moment they're able to be because it's all actually happened to them. I think anyone in the biz who has ever striven to reach a Broadway stage will agree with me.

I was talking with some friends before coming to see you and we decided that, should you ever decide to leave Gypsy, we'd maybe like to see you do a little Glinda in Wicked. Could you do that for us?
Yes! I would love that! It's kind of one of my dream roles, and I hope and pray that I get her someday. I think it's such a glorious part and there's a lot of stuff I'd like to do with it. I just love her!

And we love you, Leigh Ann! To any of you who have not seen Gypsy yet: I hate you, and you have literally twelve seconds to get your life together and get a ticket. Do not miss this ridiculously amazing cast!
GIRLS! PLAY US OUT, WILL YA???....da-da-DEE-da'da-dum...

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