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Interview – Donna Lynne Champlin

Bruce Kimmel: Hello, Donna Lynne Champlin, and welcome to haineshisway.com. We are very excited to have you here and, in fact, all our dear readers are dancing the Hora in anticipation of this interview.
Donna Lynne Champlin: Wow- dancing the Hora…Hahahahaaa well your readers sound my kind of people- any excuse to dance the Hora, man. I’m IN!

 

BK: So, tell us a bit about where you grew up and how you got interested in the show business.
DLC: Well, I grew up in Rochester, NY which is upstate near Lake Ontario. And I guess…as far as HOW I got “interested in the show business”?… gosh—-I honestly don’t remember… probably because I was most likely- from the womb- “interested in the show business”, I guess.

 

BK: So, what was the first job you got in the show business that you consider was the real beginning for you.
DLC: Well- my FIRST job was “Gretl” in a community theatre production of THE SOUND OF MUSIC at the age of like 6. Besides being my first musical- it was also the first time I became aware of my own comedy monster… Ya know at the end of SOUND OF MUSIC- where all the kids are performing “so long, farewell…” at the concert and then one by one as they leave the stage they bolt the country to escape the nazi’s? And it’s all very serious and scary cause the Nazi’s are everywhere and it’s a total life or death moment? Well…..I for SOME reason and I can’t even remember WHY I did this…when I sang “Gooddbbyyyyyyeeeee-” or whatever Gretl sings there…and I walked by a “Nazi” on the way off the stage presumably out the door to Switzerland-and made my voice do this….”yikes, it’s a NAZI!” kind of dip while I was singing- and got the HUGEST laugh ever. Of course it was all wrong and completely inappropriate for the moment for me to do this- and as a result, I got into MAJOR trouble from the director (as well I should have)…and we had one more show left in the run- So, the director had taken me to task but……..I got a LAUGH……..uggghhhhh and it was so hard to even THINK about giving that up…..i mean, the first laugh you get in your life…….it’s kinda like your first kiss in a way….a bit “swooney”–.at least that’s how I remember it. So- I remember walking into the theatre with my Mom before the last show and saying…”what should I do?”. And my MOM -God bless her- said, “well, it’s up to you. It’s your choice. I’m not making this decision for you. The director has told you how to do it and why….but ultimately it’s your call.” (hahaha I can hear directors across the internet collectively shuddering at that)– well, I ended up choosing to do it correctly- no laugh. But I always look back on that as my first major comedic experience. I felt the rush of the laugh— but somewhere, thank God I had the sense to know when it was at the expense of the moment itself and in the long run- NOT worth it. Of course, I needed a kick in the ass to bring it to my attention- and still do occasionally- but I look back on that moment as a sort of…..”conception” of my adventure to the land that is comedy.

In between that point I went to a normal public high school and took voice, piano, dance, flute lessons, etc. on the side. I also competed A LOT in all those areas. Mostly for scholarship money cause cash was a little tight back then for my family….so if I wanted to study- I had to figure out a way to pay for it myself pretty much. But it all worked out…as I got older I taught younger student in those areas in exchange for lessons. Stuff like that.

I got some financial help from grants and scholarships to go to Carnegie Mellon University as a Music Theater major and then went over to Oxford for a summer to study Shakespeare and Chekhov in the UK for a little bit on another grant- which was fabulous and then after 4 years of CMU, 3 summers seasons at the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera and about half a year’s worth of regional gigs- I moved to NYC the winter following graduation.

HOWEVER—
My FIRST “PROFESSIONAL” job- well- I COULD tell you that it was when I played “Dorothy Gale” at the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera’s production of THE WIZARD OF OZ and sound all posh and impressive-but no. Actually, my first Equity gig was in the ensemble of the PCLO in the chorus of our first show of the summer season, CINDERELLA. You know when you’re young and in the ensemble-every line….every three word solo is like the Holy Grail? Right? So when they were passing out the “chorus characters” of the town for the “Prince is having a ball!” number, we were all on pins and needles as to who would get what, Now in the SCORE- you have “pretty girl #1, pretty girl #2, pretty girl #3, rich girl, smart girl, pretty girl #4….” . And I was a singer/dancer which usually meant….anything in the SCORE was up for grabs to the singers FIRST (to make up for the fact that during most numbers while the DANCER/singers were kicking their faces down center- we were backstage on a mike- or on a platform stage left ,step-touching or something). So…the musical director is assigning the parts……”Sally will be pretty girl #1, Beth will be pretty girl #2″ etc.- and he gave all the girls a part but me….THEN he moved onto the guys…I was devastated. FINALLY he looked at me after EVERY ensemble member had a part and said “Donna Lynne…….you’ll be “sloppy girl”. Make it work.”

So- to make matters even WORSE…that I was making my professional debut as “sloppy girl”-
my ONE line…my golden nugget of solo singing for the season was– “I WISH I DIDN’T LIKE TO EAT.”

yeah.
I laugh at it NOW.

Little did I know that it was only paving the way for me to play other enviable roles in the theatre such as the planet “Uranus” in the workshop of STARS IN YOUR EYES. Yeah. Uut of all the planets- they give ME “Uranus”. Yet another “ensemble part” shake down. Actually, I had a blast making her the literal “butt of the Milky Way”- but it was after a big gulp and a momentary weep in the lady’s room, I must admit.

 

BK: Did you study when you hit New York – voice, acting, dance? If so, with whom.
DLC: Now in NYC I don’t really study regularly with anyone. I have a voice teacher (Luba Tcheresky) that I go to for tune ups every once in a while- ya know…to get lined up and such. But for the most part- my technique and training from CMU has really served me well and allowed me to have a solid foundation to keep learning and growing since graduating (knock wood). Plus….CMU’s great and I loved it— but it’s so intense that by the time you graduate—- you kind of never want to set foot inside another classroom again.

 

BK: You’ve done lots of theater – what has been your favorite role in a play?
DLC: My favorite role in a play? ….well, I mean besides “Older Helen” in HOLLYWOOD ARMS, right? Cause this role is pretty damn fabulous. Uhmmm, “Fanny Squeers” in NICHOLAS NICKLEBY I’d have to say. We did it senior year in college at CMU- and it was such a huge undertaking that the faculty did it with us playing the “older characters”. So, not only did we have the great opportunity to work BESIDE our teachers- but the piece itself is just astounding. I was always amazed that– even tho it was over 8 hours long, I felt like I could do a run of it for years…. the feeling of taking people on such an ADVENTURE….by the end of it I always felt like applauding the audience for just sticking with us– ya know? It was so satisfying. I got to play three different characters in that show- but my favorite was “Fanny”. She’s just so disgusting, and evil at first glance— “low class”…..bad taste….foul mouthed (literally AND figuratively)…..but I absolutely loved her because it was so fascinating to find reasons to JUSTIFY all the “horrible” things she did in the play.

But most importantly I guess– Fanny set me free in a way, At the end of the show- she gets her “comeuppance” as it were, well the whole family does actually—– her father is sent off to prison, her brother is taken away, etc.- and even tho the audience is thinking…”well good- you all deserved it, you disgusting people”– Fanny’s life and everything she knows- is just ruined.
Now all during school my big thing was…”I’m not a cryer- I can’t cry- I don’t know how to do the crying thing….” but, I tell ya- by the time we got to that moment where they ripped us all apart from each other at the end of Part II—I used to just WAIL- i mean, from the gut– tears for days…….so………something in me just opened up- bam. Like…I’d been drilling for oil in all the wrong places and Fanny finally came along and said…”HERE’S the well- ya dope”. God love her. Fanny was my “geyser” part, I guess.

 

BK: and your favorite in a musical?
DLC: My favorite musical role…….hmmmmmmmmm. Man, it’s a tough call but I’ll say “Rosa Bud” in THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD……”Rosa” is just a kick in the pants cause not only does she get to be adored and pampered and wear all the pretty clothes- but ya know…she gets to wail out a nice high D for kicks during the duet with Jasper….and THEN- of course…she usually gets picked for murderer because she’s the most ‘unlikely’ suspect. I just loved the whole experience….the music and the company ….and the way we all had to fly by the seat of our pants every show…..cause it’s a possibility that you will either be voted murderer, Datchery or one of the lovers EVERY night. And…..you have to know not only your OWN version of all these things….but you have to know every ELSE’S versions especially if you get tossed together as lovers—–fantastic. Major adrenaline rush.

Oh man….I DO remember- bragging before the very last show of DROOD that I had made it through the whole run without EVER having to do Datchery because for some reason…..”Rosa” just never had been voted for it- and how glad I was because I hadn’t even looked at “Rosa’s” Datchery version since we were in rehearsal. Well, wouldn’t you know me and my big mouth– comes time for the audience to vote for a Datchery (by applause) and the ENTIRE crew and theatre staff that were available at that moment—all go out to the back of the house and scream their brains out for ME to be Datchery. I swear- I nearly had a heart attack because I NO idea…..NONE…….what was going to come out of my mouth. I seem to recall…..you have like….3 minutes in between your being voted for Datchery (to put on the cape and hat) and your big Datchery number. Hahahaha all I remember is frantically running backstage screaming “SSCCCRRIIPPTTTTTTTT!!!!!” and of course—- “YOU BASTARDS!!!!!!!!!”. But even THAT I loved. It’s just a fantastic show and fantastic part– and that show attracts a particular kind of acting company. You all gotta have some screws loose to pull it off and …..it was a fun group. Insane- but hysterically funny. I have extremely fond memories of that whole run.

 

BK: Tell us about some of your favorite theater experiences, both musical and non.
DLC: Let’s see– as an AUDIENCE member I had an experience that…..was quite….. well…..ok. I’m a big believer in the “magic” of theatre. Absolutely. And….I’m also a big believer in omens and signs in everyday places- right? So….my grandma had just passed away literally not a week before….and….it had been a hard time because I’m embarrassed to say I’d had a bit of a falling out with her right before she died and it was very sudden and so…there were a lot of mixed, unresolved, guilty feelings going on at the time for me when I came back to school from the funeral. I was kind of a mess- ya know, because for most of my life I had been EXTREMELY close to her and we had always thought we’d shared not only a “psychic gift” in general but a “psychic bond” to each other as well. So…..I get back to CMU and….I’ve forgotten that I’ve promised to go see my friend Theo (who I was always mistaken for because we looked so much alike) star in the music depts’ production of the opera…..oh man,…..I can’t remember the name, now….”Dialogue of the Carmelites?” or “Sisters of the Carmelites” or something? …Anyway it’s about a bunch of nuns- at least the first act was. Anyway—- I’m sitting in this opera….and…..we get to the end of the first act…..and it was like….my eyes were playing tricks on me…..the Mother Abbess was dying in the bed—-and even though I KNEW that the actress playing her couldn’t have been more than 21 years old—the way she had done her makeup or SOMETHING….she was the spitting image of my grandmother. It was absolutely eerie— but I just couldn’t take my eyes off her. And then….Theo comes on (who looks just like me) and gets on her knees and begs forgiveness (for something) from the Mother Abbess dying the bed (who looks just like grandma) and…THEN….the mother abbess FORGIVES the younger nun who’s now bawling her eyes out with gratitude (as am I)—- and then the mother abbess dies—peacefully.

I mean…..it was…..it was….astonishing to me. Now, who knows. Was it my grandmother talking to me from the grave saying…”no worries…I forgive you….I brought you to this theatre to see this scene so you could see with your own eyes how everything’s ok in the end”– or ya know….maybe subconsciously I was merely seeing what I wanted/needed to see in my own grieving process-

REGARDLESS….it was…..the theatre that brought me to a place of peace and catharsis, ya know? I mean, it’s all about where your mind and heart is when you go to something- ya know? And I’ll never forget it as long as I live….I mean, one act of an opera I can’t even remember the name to- versus probably, what?- a good year and half in therapy?….I’ll take the one act, thanks all the same.

And…..as a performer— let’s see, let’s see……Ooohhhhhhhh yeah….I remember we had done 3HREE in Philly at the Prince Music theatre in the fall and the following winter we all got together at Edison Studios for like two days and made the CD. Well, I loved 3HREE and I loved loved loved “Gracie” in LAWNCHAIR– and when we did it in Philly we were on a really tight budget so the band arrangements were for only 5 pieces or so. Well, between the Philly run and the recording session, Robert Lindsay Nassiff had done arrangements for full orchestra in the meantime. So…..my number THE AIR IS FREE was the first to record that morning — so I walk into the studio…..having not heard anything yet orchestrally- and….we decide to do just a warm-up take to make sure everyone’s on the same page……

well. I mean…..I start singing this song expecting…like….the regular tin pan alley arrangement…..and all of a sudden it’s…18+ pieces under me……and it was so……surprising! And the song itself just kind of soars…….i felt like…..the instruments themselves were lifting me off the ground….it’s so weird to describe— but…..by the end of the number…I was just in tears–it was…..it’s hard to find the words….i guess…..but anyway- i went into the booth wiping my eyes- to hear the practice take thinking I had just had this sort of spiritual experience all by myself in there….and there was Hal (Prince)….sitting there in the booth– wiping his eyes too— and he just gave me this look like….”can you believe it? can you just…BELIEVE our lives and how we get to have marvelous experiences like this for a living?” I mean- there was……so much in his face and we were just….i don’t know. Hal Prince and I had a ‘moment’ and….hahahaha I sound like a MASTERCARD commercial–

“voice lessons….$80 an hour;
audition outfit…..$150 dollars;
‘moment’ with hal prince……priceless.”

Of course— ya know…with my luck- one day I’ll bring it up to him and he’ll be like…”OHhhhhh noooooo kid- I had just stubbed my toe and the pain was EXCRUCIATING- my eyes watered for DAYS…..oh— no offense though- the song was real swell. just swell.”

And Iguess- one for the overall warm fuzzy factor….my favorite all encompassing musical theatre experience was LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS in high school. No kidding. Greece Athena High School, I was a Junior. I played “Audrey” and it was like….the cast of misfits. We all were such fantastic friends anyway…. and I got to wear fun, tight clothes which were soooooooo the opposite of how I dressed in high school- (think more ally Sheedy in THE BREAKFAST CLUB-). My brother who had already graduated was brought in to make our plants which were GENIUS- and the guy playing “Seymour” I had the HUGEST crush on. I mean- Todd Butler….I had drooled over him for like….5 years already and here was my big chance. Not only did he have to KISS me….and PROTECT me……but.he had to LOOOOOVVVVVVEEEEE me. And ya know when you’re an Irish Catholic 16 year old girl- nothing beats belting out some fabulous tunes- legally wearing short skirts- getting laughs- kissing the cutest guy in school and then getting swallowed by a huge puppet that you’re brother is operating. I used to love that- I’d crawl through the “mouth” and there’s my brother in full on Jim Henson head band- hand grips- losing 5 pounds a show with the pull system in that monster- gear— and I’m like….”Hey Mike…what up…..gotta match?” as I squeezed by him through the back.

So- it was not ya know…even summer stock- but I look back on that experience so fondly because I just loved everyone involved- my brother and i got to work together- it’s a great part- I got to kiss my crush- and……I was still….ya know…..in that teenaged place of purity where you have no major concerns like rent, bills, salaries, your career— it was still the time in my life where the world just revolved around music theatre itself and to be merely doing it was just BEYOND bliss. A wonderful time.

 

BK: Okay, let’s talk about the play you are currently in, Hollywood Arms, in which you get to play the young Carol Burnett. How has this journey been? I know the road was not necessarily smooth, but take us from Chicago to New York.
DLC: Well, the play came into being from an idea by Carrie Hamilton (Carol’s late daughter) who had reread Carols’ memoir ONE MORE TIME and said “ya know this would make a great play I think, let’s write it together.” So for about 4 years they worked on it, did a workshop at Sundance for ten days. Then they sent a copy to Hal and said “do you know any directors who might be interested in workshopping this” and Hal said “well, what about me?” and they were thrilled with the idea. he gave them some stuff to work on, they had a workshop here in NYC about 2 years ago….and then they solidified a Goodman theatre date for last spring.

During the run of BY JEEVES here in NYC around Thanksgiving- I got a call that Hal wanted me to come in to audition for the role of “older Helen” and so I picked up a script and went in and auditioned. I nearly had a heart attack tho because I mean, it was wall to wall carol lookalikes in the waiting room I kid you not. Ironically, I was told months later that they were specifically NOT looking for carol lookalikes at all (which would have been nice to know THEN) —- but boy did I think it was game over for sure because it was like that sesame street song…”which one of these things is NOT like the other?”….I was OBVIOUSLY the bastard child of the waiting room.

There was a ray of hope tho-….I remember I went in at the same time as Michele Pawk did on the first go around. And….it was really cool because I thought….”hmmmmmm I may not look like any of these other Carols here…..but then I again…..i DO kind of look like Michele Pawk..” and as time went on I noticed…that there were like two different “families” in the making. There were nannies and mommas and Helens from my kind of “black Irish” family tree…..and then there were the nannies, mommas and Helens of the strawberry blonde, thin, reedy family tree. When I saw Pawk there….I thought maybe I might still have a chance.

So then I went in a week later for a callback, a few days later another callback and then a few days later to put my audition on tape for Carrie who was ill at the time and couldn’t travel to NYC– and then about 3 days before Christmas I got the call that I was cast. It was a great moment, not to mention over a year’s worth of hoping and praying come to fruition.

Then in January- I believe around the 22nd or so, we got the news that Carrie had passed away and there were a few days where a lot of us were wondering if Carol would choose to still go on with the project or maybe put it away for a little while until she had had a chance to grieve, etc.– but after about 3 days word came to us that all systems were go and we were still on for the Goodman run as scheduled.

So we all started mid march rehearsals in Chicago- hahahah well, everyone but me I guess. I did the first day with everyone for a read through/meet and greet in the morning and then I had about a week and a half off while everyone worked on act one because at that time- the older Helen prologue and epilogue were not in the show– So….. that was fantastic because I’d never been to Chicago and I had a great time sightseeing and getting the monologue under my belt by watching the old movies it was based on and doing my best “Sybil” act alone in my hotel room– but also it was slightly unnerving because by the time i got back to rehearsal – I felt kind of like the kid who comes to camp a week late and either has to sink or swim, ya know? But it’s a real open group and it didn’t take long to get into the flow of things.

 

BK: You’re working with some pretty amazing folks, including our very own Michele Pawk, who we adore.
DLC: Oh yeah….Michele is just the BEST!
I mean, at the first read through there was Michele Pawk who I’d literally worshipped ever since I saw her in HELLO AGAIN at Lincoln center. My friend Emily (Skinner) was like…”pleeeaaasseee be cool—- pplleeeaassseee don’t use the word WORSHIP for god’s sake when you first meet her– she’s really a great gal and don’t come off like a freak.” so I was like….”ok ok ok– yeah yeah, good tip….no using the word worship until day TWO….”

and of course- the minute I see her I’m like….”blah blah blah I blah blah blah worship blah blah blah you….” hahaaha, yeah cool just isn’t my strong suit I’m afraid. but she was great about it and it only a took a couple days for me to relax and for us to become good friends.

 

BK: Is there a lot of camaraderie amongst the cast?
DLC: Camaraderie– hahah YES, ya know that’s a perfect word to describe our company. It’s like in any show…I mean especially if you go out of town because you’re not only thrown together in a business setting but also- you’re living together usually and going out and socializing together too– so I think the Goodman run really helped us cement our relationships to each other a lot more quickly than if we’d just put it up here.

But- every cast eventually shakes down into roles like a family….there’s the matriarch, the patriarch, the class clown, the baby, the therapist, the organizer- I mean…depending on the show and your part and the other personalities you can go from being the matriarch in one show to literally the baby the next depending on all those factors. But in this show…it’s funny- I think we’re so close to the characters we actually play on so many levels…that the roles we have adopted in the COMPANY dynamic offstage are very very similar to the roles we play onstage.

Sara’s affectionately referred to as ‘the baby’ and everyone watches out for her and is very protective of her- Linda is very much the matriarch of our company and we look to her for loving guidance, advice and even leadership if the cast is doing something en masse- Michele is so fun loving and free and wise like momma her dressing room has basically become our green room since we don’t have one at the CORT….I’m, gosh…hahaha i don’t know… the BCEFA organizer…the Halloween party thrower for the kids…a little bit of the worrier, I think- making sure everyone’s ok and nobody’s left out of anything I suppose like Helen does for her family, etc. So……we’re like a real family….and there’s not one person that doesn’t “fit”… And I’ve never had that experience before. BY JEEVES came close- but this is definitely a very special chemistry which we have to attribute to our casting director mark Simon and of course- Hal, Carol and Carrie.

 

BK: Any good stories you can share about funny mishaps during the show?
DLC: Lots of funny stuff happens every night…but I think that’s because of the way we as a company all seem to approach the little things that occur in every run of a show. Some casts as a whole will let little things freak them out and throw them off…whereas this group tends to take the everyday trip ups here and there and find them hysterically funny and worth a good laugh or two offstage as well. I think my personal favorite tho- is in Chicago….Linda was just…getting tongue tied as we all do occasionally on one of her lines in a scene in act one with Michele- and she got a little flustered and had to refer to Michele as “Louise” at the end of it. Well, she finally got the line out but ended up the whole thing for some reason, by calling her “Weezie”- like the character on the JEFFERSONS. And….Michele just lost it…and then Linda lost it…because it was one of those…things that comes out of nowhere but just….cracks you up– and then Michele got her breath and said…”It’s Louise, momma…..LOUISE.” But of course- every once in a while…you have to refer to Michele as “Weezie” when it’s been a long day. It’s always a surefire picker upper.

Also the other day- we had a matinee…and ya know…sometimes….with the more ‘mature’ crowd you’ve got some patrons who are a tad hard of hearing…and they tend to….not only talk LOUDLY to each other but…give each other running commentaries when it feels right . And so…..I’ve done the whole monologue and have moved into the CHASING RAINBOWS song…and Linda has joined me (which by the way is always improvisational…it’s a free form moment for us all)– and in the middle of it you hear this older man in the audience YELL “WOW!!! NICE VOICING!!!”. Now, I didn’t know WHAT he said….cause I was singing- Linda thought he said something about us “forcing it”- Michele actually heard him correctly and burst into laughter, as did Patrick and Emily- and it basically took everything we had to get through to the end. I mean, I’m looking at Michele and she’s become absolutely fascinated with the table cloth cause she KNOWS….I have to take over solo in a minute and THEYcan laugh all they want….but if I’m laughing into this next moment it’s going to be really bad…so she’s trying to avoid eye contact with me which of course just makes it worse….

but we have— had a few….”old yellers” on matinee days….God bless ’em.

 

BK: You were directed by the legendary Harold Prince – how did you enjoy the experience? Can you tell us a bit about how he likes to work with actors – especially actors as talented as all of you.
DLC: Well, I think Hal is a genius. This will be my second show but my fourth time working with him and I just think he’s absolutely brilliant. i always learn something new about him every time we work together–

The thing that I learned this go around…..is that one of the reasons why he’s such an amazing director is because he literally falls in love with the show and I would even say his acting company. He has a say in everything and he will agonize over….ya know…a skirt length if he feels it’s important to the character. He cares deeply for every aspect of the show and I think that comes across in his work. You can feel the love he puts into it- and I think that’s why Hal’s shows always resonate emotionally above all else with audiences.

Hal also doesn’t suffer fools gladly at all- he doesn’t allow a lot of excessive discussion about things….one of my favorite things he says is “show me….show me….do it….don’t talk to me about it….just show me. if it works we’ll all know…if it doesn’t we’ll do something else…but show me.” I mean….HOW MANY times in rehearsal are hours lost to endless go arounds of ‘discussions’ about motivations, characters, etc.– when he’s absolutely right. You NEVER know until you just DO it…and it saves an incredible amount of time. not that there isn’t discussion about all those things which are of course very important—but there isn’t EXCESSIVE time devoted to it….he’s incredibly efficient.

He’s also got a wonderful way of balancing….the freedom given to actors to follow their own instincts- but also having a solid vision to be able to reign the company so that everyone is still doing the same play. I think with my monologue he might have given me three pieces of direction total–which at first was incredibly terrifying….but once I’d had a chance to flesh it out on my own – he was able to give me fantastic direction on top of a foundation that I had been allowed to build and create myself. His direction- to me— was always specific and yet applicable to the whole piece. For example, while he let me create all the different characters myself- “Ziegfeld, betty, John….” when I put it up he said to me simply “It’s good, kid- and I like it…..BUT–don’t ever EVER make FUN of these characters. This is NOT a skit – this is a STORY starring all of your most beloved friends from the movies…never ever make fun of them– LOVE them, BECOME them.” I mean— that’s something….I can use not only in this monologue but in every other show I ever do. And as an actress it was the absolute perfect thing to say to me and it applied to the entire piece for me.

Obviously, I just can’t say enough about him, I could go on and on but suffice it to say– I respect him tremendously as an artist, a businessman and I love him dearly as a person. i feel incredibly blessed that he has chosen to work with me period.

 

BK: How involved was Miss Carol Burnett. Was she at rehearsals every day?
DLC: Yes, Carol was usually at rehearsal every day. The way we did it in Chicago was that we’d work a scene or two in the mornings….get it relatively blocked, etc.- and the carol would come in the afternoon and see it on it’s feet so that she could get a better idea – be the fresher “eye” as it were as to what needed tweaking. Then Hal and Carol would discuss things…sometimes right there at the table while we all took a break- and sometimes….they would wait until the end of the day and discuss things i imagine over dinner, and then next day we would have minor or major changes–depending on how ti had gone the day before. but yes, carol was at rehearsal every day in Chicago until we opened…and the same thing here in NYC. Very hands on- and very approachable.

 

BK: Did she do a lot of rewriting?
DLC: Yeah…as far as I know she did pretty much most, if not all of the rewriting– of course…in Chicago…..it was a bit difficult- I’ve read interviews with Hal where he said….he went up to carol in rehearsal and said….”ok….we need rewrites…” which of course— was going to be very difficult for carol because she had never really done the writing without Carrie. So Hal said “take your time” knowing full well that we didn’t have any time to spare really….and carol gulped and said…”i’ll try….” and then that night….at around 2 am she slipped all the rewrites they had discussed under his door. So…..especially those first few days/weeks in Chicago it had to have been quite difficult for carol to take on the whole mantle of playwright having shared it equally with Carrie up until that point…..but she rallied valiantly and I think…the changes from pre Chicago to the current production are absolutely stunning.

 

BK: Did she always agree with Mr. Prince or did they occasionally come to loggerheads? Hold nothing back, Donna Lynne Champlin.
DLC: Wow. Did they always agree? No, they didn’t. I don’t think…..it would have been as healthy and productive a collaboration if they HAD always agreed, so no. Did they throw chairs and beer bottles at each other during rehearsal in front off the company? Uhm…….well- only once- no I’M KIDDING…..no. Those two are dear friends and they were always completely respectful and honest with each other. Like I said before…most of the discussion about rewrites, changes in direction, etc.,— either happened at the table while we were on a break— or after rehearsal entirely between the two of them. So— I was never really sure…what changes came from Hal and what changes came from Carol- they were extremely unified and focused when it came to the information the cast got, which of course was ultimately filtered through Hal, as he was the director.

I WILL tell you this tho- in December right after I’d been cast- I was called to Hal’s office with carol because they had rewritten the monologue scene and wanted to see how it played out so they could spend the rest of the winter fine tuning it. However, not having had the chance to get to know Carol at all by this point…I didn’t know what to expect.

So…i worked with Hal for about 20 minutes before Carol came in…..and i did it…and it was…i’d say about 60% there writing wise. And I have to admit I was very pleasantly surprised when Carol just came out with “Well- this is a concern….and if we moved this…it might do this…and I’m not too crazy about this…so how do you feel about substituting this for that….” and i was like….ha HA! Wow. Fantastic! And Hal without skipping a beat said…”well- yes, I agree with you on this…but on this other thing….let’s try doing it THIS way before we lose it….because I think it could work if we put it between here and here…and what if we cut this…”

And I was just…well…as an actress I just let out a huge sigh of relief. Cause ya know…that monologue is a doozy and it’s a very very important moment in the play…..so, when I heard these two absolute pros just short hand the hell out of this monologue in it’s early stages I knew then and there that everything was gonna be all right. I mean, I already knew I was in great hands with Hal— but now seeing Carol just step RIGHT up to the plate there and go toe to toe from the get go…I could see what a great TEAM they actually made. Again- extremely respectful at all times— but also….very straightforward and no crap. It was a very exciting exchange to witness…like “shorthand for geniuses” or something.

 

BK: Is it daunting playing a young Carol Burnett with the real Carol Burnett watching?
DLC: Who’s playing Carol Burnett? I’m playing HELEN MELTON!!!!! No seriously…I know exactly what you mean. But for the RECORD….Hal continually said to me “You are NOT playing Carol Burnett…you are playing someone with the ESSENCE of Carol Burnett…but you are NOT to “do” Carol Burnett up there, that’s not what we want and that’s not what we’re going for.”

Now with THAT said….would I say it was “daunting”? No. Would I say I felt a tremendous amount of “responsibility” to portray this character as someone who was ‘based’ on Carol Burnett because I have such an immense respect and love for her as a person and an artist? Hell yeah, absolutely.

See- here’s the THING tho, and no one was more surprised than I was when I discovered this, myself.

Like everyone else– I had grown up seeing Carol Burnett walking around with curtain rods around her neck and climbing into bathtubs with Tim Conway singing YOU LIGHT UP MY LIFE….and of course…you get a certain IDEA in your head as to what she must be like in real life…she must be always cutting people up…the life of the party..the center of attention….cause she’s just so NUTTY- right? I mean…she’s nutty on TV….she must be nutty in real life.

Well- when I met her I realized that in real life…she is EXACTLY the opposite. She is the straight man. She sets everyone else up to give the punchline. She’s the one with the straight face and the one who gives everyone else center stage. She sits back a LOT and observes others. And THAT’s where a lot of her crazy charcters and her brilliance comes from I think….her uncanny ability to observe human nature in OTHERS. So in reality, she HERSELF is actually quite calm, quiet and strongly centered, especially when compared to her own family as the play demonstrates very well.

And SO……
THAT…. is the person both Sara and I were directed to bring to life. THAT was no mistake….it might not be exactly what people EXPECT going IN….but that is a definate conscious choice we all made based on Carol’s own truth. That out of the entire family…the most NORMAL would be Helen….because that’s how she remembers it , that’s how I’m sure it was…because that’s how it still is. And I even remember Hal saying at some point…’I want it to be like this girl seems to kind of blend in with the wall paper until she tells that story and just LEAPS out at you and think ‘heeeyyyy, wait a minute….’ and then before you know it….she’s back to the wall paper again.”

Soooo that was all fine with me…..cause I got the inside scoop and I knew this to be the most ACCURATE way to go….but holy crap what about the audiences and heaven forbid , the ciritcs with THEIR expectations- I mean, here I was with my OWN— what about them? THAT if anything- was the daunting part.

So I went up to Hal at one point and sort of….expressed this concern- and he just looked me straight in the eye and said “honey- you’re not giving them nearly enough credit. Trust them to believe you, never EVER underestimate them, they’ll get it- ya gotta have more faith, kid. We’re telling the truth- how can you go wrong with that?”.

And ya know in Chicago- the audiences got it…and here in NYC the audiences get it. The response to this show is so consistent- it’s amazing. Even the Friday night after all the reviews came out from raves to mixes, etc.– The audience reaction was EXACTLY as it had been during previews-
people were laughing, crying, standing, cheering- and that’s really the ultimate litmus test—
you know?

So ultimately- getting back to the “daunting” thing-
Honestly, any pressure that I may have felt I either take complete responsibility for, or worried more about coming from the audiences and the critics rather than Carol herself. Neither she nor Hal ever gave me any reason to ever feel…..’daunted’. However, my own loyalty, love and respect for her not only as an artist but just as an amazing woman- did give me a tremendous feeling of responsibility towards her personally, her story and this role.

 

BK: Here’s a question we always like to ask: If you could have any musical revived for you to star in, what would it be and why?
DLC: Oh! What a fun game! Uhm, well- I would love to do “Lizzie” in 110 IN THE SHADE because I love the Rainmaker and I love that score and most of my career I’ve gotten used to being…the “plain, nice girl next door”- and Lizzie…really gets to….flesh out what goes through the MIND and HEART of that plain, nice girl next door….so- I have a great love for the piece and feel kind of like my actual life up to this point has been a character study for Lizzie anyway. Plus the actual range of the part not only emotionally but vocally as well is very appealing to me.

And not for nuthin’ now- in the “wishful thinking” category- I’d have to say I have a keen interest in the upcoming MARY POPPINS musical that everyone is talking about. I always felt like my character in BY JEEVES (Honoria) was kind of like Mary Poppins on crack. I’ve always loved the movie and I think it’s a great character- because Mary Poppins herself kind of terrifies you and loves you at the same time. An ultimately kind heart with a spine of steel- she’s like….a mismatched garanimals outfit almost– that just sounds like a ball to me. I don’t know who’s behind it- if it’s even Disney or not…but I’m sure there’s also a little latent fantasy of mine in there about wanting to be one of those animated cartoon voices at some point, too. So- I have no information on it all…other than I’ve heard about it and I’m throwing my hat in the ring if anyone’s listening, dammit.

 

BK: Have you done any television as of yet?
DLC: No, not really- I mean I’ve done commercials and a few little things her and there- HBO, PBS, Rosie O’Donnell number kind of stuff…but certainly nothing you’d recognize me from.

 

BK: Films?
DLC: Well, I did a day player part in a certain Stephen King movie that shall remain nameless…..but other than that– I’ve kind of been so blessed with relatively consistent theatre work that….I haven’t had the “availability factor” to audition for these other mediums- not that I wouldn’t love to at some point.

 

BK: Do you like those mediums as well as the stage?
DLC: Well, again– I don’t really have that much personal experience to draw from. But, I have to say tho….I appreciate the “all in one take” -ness of film….if you have an emotional scene..ther’es a lot to be said for…only having to….know you’ll have to do a certain emotional scene a few times as opposed to 8 times a week for months or even years–…almost implying that there is a limitation on the emotional well to draw from which i can understand….so– THAT appeals to me…the ability to concentrate on one sort of emotional mind set at a time until you get it ‘right” -the “perfection” of it…as opposed to the risky hit or miss-ness of live theatre, you know?

But I also have to say…..I don’t know about the whole “out of context” thing….and also the giving up your power to the editor. I don’t know if the control freak in me would rest so easy with that— doing whatever work I was doing in front of the camera and then knowing that….the way it comes out eventually is really in the hands of someone I might not have even met. Of COURSE…there IS always the UPSIDE to that– where you might not be turning it out that day and in the hands of a great editor….you all of a sudden have an oscar worthy performance…..soooooo—
ya know…I don’t know. These are only musings of mine from the side….”what ifs” that go through my mind…

But I certainly have the desire to find out.

And of course…the pay scale for film and TV is very appealing especially when you’ve been working in theatre for years…..it can be a wonderful opportunity to explore a different artistic medium and actually pay OFF your student loans by the time you’re 50, you know? And RESIDUALS!!! What a fantastic concept!!! I’d have no problem with getting a residual check every so often for just still breathing 3 years after I did a guest spot on FRASIER or something….noooo problem at all. Sign me UP!

 

BK: Also, do you prefer musicals or straight plays?
DLC: Well- huh. You’re really rolling out the tough questions today- eh? OK….uhm- I love the musicals because they can in theory- take you and the audience to higher and lower emotional points because the music usually takes over where simple dialogue fails- and that’s very exciting – it’s like going from having a two octave range to a four octave range….you have not necessarily MORE colors on your palette — you just have more white and black to make lots more SHADES of colors…

But then plays have such powerful girth to them– like a brick house compared to the straw hut-ness of the musical sometimes. I actually prefer above all- “dark” musicals like SWEENEY TODD. THREEPENNY OPERA and JAMES JOYCE’S THE DEAD because they FEEL more like plays I suppose. But then the music just….gives them an EXTRA oomph….which just feels like…a saturated sponge waiting to be wrung out by you as the actor, I love it.

So while musicals have the advantage of the more immediate add water and stir factor of the emotional resonance in music itself–
Straight plays- feel more….sturdy to me.
A play feels more like it’s own animal and less inclined to be swept either one way or another…

argh-
I can’t do it…
I can’t PICK—I love them both.
Both mediums have fantastic qualities to them.

 

BK: Who has been the most fun person you’ve ever acted with?
DLC: The most fun??? Oh man…..you know…answering this is gonna get me into a lot of trouble…because BELIEVE me…I have been truly blessed with some FUN FUN FUN people to work with….who might read this and go “what the hell, i can’t believe she didn’t say ME!”-

But….if I have to choose I’d say– Christopher Fitzgerald in 3HREE’s- FLIGHT OF THE LAWNCHAIR MAN.

 

BK: Why?
DLC: Why? Well—-for one thing there’s that intangible energy where…you just…’get” each other….it’s like…..twins separated at birth or something? Also- Chris is just such a funny, intelligent, GENEROUS, giving, sweet, emotionally honest, talented actor and partner…..that— it never felt like acting at all with him.

AND…he’s extremely brave. I remember in rehearsal we had to figure out the beginning of our act where gracie was sending jerry off (on his lawnchair with 400 helium filled balloons) as prepared as possible with sandwiches, and water, etc. Well— hal decided that he would just give us as actors…a whole laundry basket full of stuff…and let US figure out the order…and how we were going to pack everything. Now, this idea kind of freaked me out because I’d never worked with hal before and I thought…of course “oh god what if I do it WRONG….?” whereas CHRIS….was like…”HahahahHA! Jackpot!!!” and he was like….ROBIN WILLIAMS with this stuff….he was so creative and funny and true with all these toys (walkie talkies, instant cameras…).– that really all I had to do….was keep up and REact as honestly as I could to what he was choosing to do. And…so— by his example…I became more brave myself…and started to come up with my own ideas…..and by the time we were done– we had truly created TOGETHER….a very accurate and sweet set up for gracie and jerry’s adventure.

But Chris….is just….always there…and always honest….and always AWARE and….keeping it real and from the heart– and…THAT makes for a really FUN time because….with the TRUST that you establish with someone like that– the more free you ARE to HAVE fun…..and….I just adored him and felt so lucky to have him as my partner– we just worked extremely well together, and I really look forward to working with him again at some point.

 

BK: Do you have a favorite theater composer/lyricist (living)?
DLC: Well, I’m a huge fan of Jason Robert Brown for sure…and of course Larry OKeefe and Sondheim too. But I think my granddaddy of all time (currently living) favorites is Randy Newman, I just lose my MIND over Randy Newman.

 

BK: what are your favorite songs of his?
DLC: Well- with Randy Newman…ya know…he just runs the gamut of irreverence. I think….his…GOD’S SONG is near genius if you can get past kind of….what he’s saying and get to perhaps what he’s MEANING……. But then you know….there’s the sweet simplicity of MARIE…..or even…WHEN SHE LOVED ME from Toy Story II. I mean…..his willingness to just write what he’s thinking, PC consequences be damned….and then…..be able to even DO the mainstream thing without totally…..selling out to the form and formula? It’s just….yeah…..he’s a rebel and a messy teddy bear all rolled into one- what a fascinating musician and poet he is.

 

BK: Who’s your favorite dead-as-a-doornail songwriter?
DLC: Oh- Gershwin, absolutely.

 

BK: Donna Lynne Champlin – Hollywood Arms has gotten mixed reviews –
DLC: HAhahahahahaa ooooookkaaayyyyy-
yes….which, I don’t necessarily think is a bad thing at all- especially with this play I think…it’s almost a compliment in a way.

 

BK: Why is that?
DLC: Well, first of all- our box office is surging and not only were we in the black last week- but we are in the black for this week and next week already (which is fantastic, especially for a play). So– whether it’s word of mouth kicking in, or people are just following their own instincts and coming to see the show because they want to experience it for themselves– we’re really not suffering (knock wood) from the mixed reviews that we got at all.

But getting back to the “compliment” thing-I have a theory about that based on a personal experience I had during previews.

I literally had 5 different friends all come to the same show and sit together and they ALL came back and had a completely different journey. All five of them even picked a different character to identify with and it was absolutely fascinating. One said it was one of the funniest shows they’ve seen in ages- another said it was one of the saddest and most touching plays they’d seen in a long time……another found it to be so inspirational that they decided to go to one more audition because “if Helen can follow her dreams then so can THEY”..I mean….i even had one friend who was quite upset by the whole thing…she found herself even ANGRY at the audience for laughing at such….”serious issues” to her….but then again she herself has battled alcoholism for many years and so of course…she would……be uncomfortable faced with that issue for an evening.

I mean….i think that’s a sign of a fantastic play, if you ask me. This play comes off as very simplistic, but I think…it is actually working on a whole bunch of different levels and I think it’s one of the reasons that the response to it has been so varied.

 

BK: Do you read the reviews?
DLC: Do I read them? Yes,. I like to know what’s going on. I like to know how different people react. I like to see even if there’s a difference in the critics based on gender, region, etc.– And then I like to see what happens. I’m just kind of…fascinated by the whole thing really.

And….speaking of reviews…I have to say that the one reviewer who I think “got the play” the best is John Simon in New York Magazine. And I don’t say this because it was a lovely rave…I say this because the words he chose to use, the parts of the story that he chose to bring out and mention, the actual vocabulary and phrases in that review are the closest I’ve read so far to the actual words I heard over and over in the rehearsal process directly from Hal and Carol’s mouths. “Affection”, “trust”, “sympathy”, “warmth”, “fallibility”, “keep both the farcical and the maudlin at bay”, “love”….it was really amazing actually. He seemed to be most in “tune” and quite honestly the most “receptive” to what we were trying to create and convey with this piece. And I would venture to say that it is because he SEEMS to be the reviewer that went to the show with the LEAST expectations- (and I mean “least” expectations-NOT “lowest”, right…cause there’s a big difference there). And therefore, it seems to me he was the reviewer that was able to see most clearly what the show actually “was”- and not what the show “wasn’t” compared to what he expected or even WANTED to see based on perhaps his own personal ideas of Carol Burnett, the time period, addictions, family- what have you.

 

BK: How do you feel about reviewers?
DLC: hahahahahaa- uhm…..how do I feel about reviewers themselves? Oh wow….that’s a sticky wicket of a question…..I would say….they are a “necessary evil”. How’s that?

I mean- look, critics are….necessary. Especially with ticket prices going up and people being more protective of their money…it’s a comfort to have someone ELSE make a decision for you and decide FOR you what you will or will not like, It’s less of a risk, it’s less responsibility and i totally understand that. but– in the long run I think…. reviews…. ultimately cheat the actual theatergoer out of their own experience…and I would encourage everyone to just follow their own instincts and go see what they want to see- what appeals to them- regardless, because that’s really what it’s about.

So- I understand the critic’s position-and even respect how difficult their job must be- I know that I couldn’t do it for more than a month, tops, just like I suspect- they couldn’t do mine. But- I think….the danger of critics nowadays is not necessarily the critics themselves but the power that the general public GIVES THEM because they just assume for whatever reason (fear of wasting their money, fear of not going to the “hottest” show, fear of basically not enjoying themselves) that these critics are in a sense…”100% right”.

Like I was saying earlier with my grandma/ DIALOGUE OF THE CARMELITES story…
SO MUCH of what you get out of a show is where your mind and heart are when you GO IN. I mean….I had a life changing experience during act one of an opera that most people merely liked. If I had listened to people before hand I might not have been open to the incredible experience I had or even worse- I might not even have gone at ALL- and what a crime– what a loss for me as a person if that had happened.

So ya know, if people have told you that AMOUR sucks- but you love Legrand and Paris and Malcolm Gets, then get your ass to that show and SEE IT and support it and LOVE it- ya know? Same thing with BY JEEVES or you know…REEFER MADNESS even-

And on the opposite spectrum- take something like HAIRSPRAY or THE PRODUCERS- How long did it take, even after they got raves all over town… that they were fighting expectation themselves? Some people expecting the most earth shattering musical experience ever because the press TOLD them that’s what it was- walked out of that theatre thinking… “hmmmmm well- it was good but NOT AS GOOD AS so and so made it out to be in the paper…..” and how fair is THAT ultimately?
To the theatre goer- to that production?

And I only say this because I am totally guilty of the same thing. I have spent…many minutes wasted in a theatre while watching a show that had gotten panned- thinking…”what is the matter with THEM, I love this….wait, what’s the matter with ME, I love this.” ya know….WASTING TIME in the theatre….second guessing my own ENJOYMENT of something because I cannot let go of my own expectations of it since I’ve already chosen to believe someone ELSE. It’s sad really and the person who really misses out is me in the end. And I get it, I really do. And— I respect their job and I wouldn’t want it for the world….but I just wish people wouldn’t give them so much….power, that’s all.

 

BK: Do reviewers sometimes “get” to you and do you occasionally want to throttle the reviewer with pantyhose?
DLC: Well, normally they don’t really bother me.
But– I will say it DOES get a little frustrating when…..you see people finding fault in certain things that since they didn’t care for it themselves they automatically think that what they didn’t care for HAD to have been a mistake or an oversight on the part of the creative team. It doesn’t seem to occur to them that whatever it was that they found “uncomfortable”- was possibly….PUT in there on purpose to MAKE them feel uncomfortable, or confused, or upset, etc….you know?

It’s like…the art teacher who asks their students to draw a picture of a tree and the sky and one kid hands in a picture where the sky is red and the tree is purple and the art teacher gives that kid an “F” because according to the TEACHER– all trees are green and all skies are blue and that’s what they know and that’s what they EXPECT and that’s what in THEIR minds- is “right”. I mean, personally- I dig a purple tree and a red sky every once in a while- don’t you? And who’s to say in some sort of reality– the sky actually ISN’T red and trees aren’t actually purple?

Perhaps a better teacher might say- “wow, ok…the red sky and the purple tree are not what I would have chosen to do, and honestly….that’s something I didn’t expect from you– but what an interesting choice to make, and now that I look at it, quite beautiful.” So, the student is not necessarily WRONG…the student is just bringing a different slant to the project. And yeah- you can give a kid a “B minus” for that if you want…but to “fail” someone for that– is….well, it’s now more a….reflection of your own disappointment and expectations really, and not necessarily on the drawing itself anymore, I think.

But ultimately, as an actress what needs to concern me ONLY….that we are all doing our very best- and if Hal is pleased and Carol is pleased- and we are telling their story the way THEY want it….then there is nothing more to it. And I highly encourage people to take all reviews with a grain of salt — both raves and pans– because….theatre is so subjective….art is so subjective…if you have a yearning toward piece— trust your guts and go experience it and make your own decisions–because that’s the WHOLE point of it, really.

 

BK: In the face of the mixed notices, are your producers going to try to keep the show open?
DLC: Oh yeah, absolutely. Hal, Carol and Arielle are so positive about the show and the success of it and they all not only love it themselves…they believe in it. Plus, if the trend of the past week and our next two weeks of being really really great at the box office continues— there won’t even be an issue of “keeping” the show open…..it will survive on it’s own. PLUS– I mean…Hal believes in this show so much that he’s a producer besides being the director and I think….that alone, shows tremendously his commitment to us and to the play.

 

BK: Have you done cabaret shows? Tell us about what type of evening you do.
DLC: Yes, Emily Skinner and I did a show a few years ago at B. Smith’s through the Genius Guild that was quite surprisingly to us extremely successful-it was very tongue in cheek about show business and the reactions to talented chicks who weren’t necessarily traditionally beautiful in the eyes of the casting powers that be. We were approached to make into an off bway show at one point, kind of like a Music theatre’s CATHY AND MO show– but she had JUST started SIDE SHOW and i was regional gigging it everywhere– so we never got around to it..

A few years after that with her permission I expanded on it and turned it into a one woman show for myself called EVERYBODY REJOICE. I did it at the now defunct PEACHES a few times again through the Genisius Guild– it was a grand time– I’m a big story teller (as you’ve guessed by now I’m sure)– so…my cabaret style if I have one at all…very much revolves around personal experiences and story telling. I find the story I want to tell first and then wrap appropriate songs around it- it was….more than anything a personal healing adventure for me. I’d do it again— but I’ve sort of moved on from that place I was in when I wrote it…

I’d have to write another one I guess…but it’s fun for me…to write…..because I compose a bit and I’m a pianist myself so I get to put the book together, get my transposition skills back up to par….I enjoy the process of putting it together almost as much as the process of performing it I guess.

And then there’s BCEFA and ACTOR’S FUND stuff…I’m always up for singing a tune here and there if I’m asked. I love being a part of those causes— they are dear to my heart.

 

BK: Have you had any interesting backstage visitors at Hollywood Arms? Has Tim Conway or Harvey Korman or any of Carol’s gang been by?
DLC: Well it might be the backstage situation at THE CORT…or maybe…most of Carol’s close friends came to the Chicago run because no one was sure of the future of the play going anywhere else…but we’ve had the chance to meet quite a few “stars” from Carol’s personal circle who have come to support her…it kind of would just be a laundry list if I named them really- but there aren’t really any big surprise names there anyway. And regarding the “gang”- although I personally only had the chance to meet Mr. Conway at the opening night party in Chicago- I understand that the whole “gang” HAS seen the show at one point or another. It’s been very exciting backstage to say the least, though. I got an autograph book especially for the occasion.

 

BK: Donna Lynne Champlin, what do you think of today’s new musical theater writers?
DLC: I think they all deserve a medal, seriously. Anyone out there, in this particular “safe bet” climate-who’s managed as a creator to be seen at all and recognized in any fashion deserves the utmost respect for just getting out there. I shudder to think of all the talented young creators out there still struggling to find a venue to let them get their stuff out there and heard. So- I have nothing but the highest praise for all of today’s new musical theater writers-because the mere fact that any of us might be aware of them on any scale shows an amazing amount of talent and tenacity already. Good for them. Seriously. I think they’re all fabulous.

 

BK: Do you wish they would write more accessible shows?
DLC: Huh. “accessible” shows. I have to admit — I’m not sure what you mean. If I understand you right….I think…for ME….the trend these days is how can we make everything AS accessible as possible which is slightly disturbing to me. The trend in revivals, the sheer entertainment “Vegas” kind of musicals being put up…..shows with no book/story…..I don’t know…I’d actually like to see a new trend of more…edgy- risky-unusual-more interesting music THEATRE myself. So…I’d actually like to see more “risk taking” out there-and an attempt to NOT make things so across the board “accessible”….not to go so far as to do “IN” (or “UN”?) accessible stuff….just…”less” accessible. Jeez- I hope that made sense somewhere.

 

BK: Who are your favorite up-and-comers?
DLC: I love Jason Robert Brown, Larry OKeefe, John Bucchino, David Friedman, Georgia Stitt, Jenny Giering, Rob Nassiff and actor/writer Randy Redd as composers- Brad Rouse and Gabe Barre are both spectacular directors- Rob Ashford kicks absolute choreographing ass…. Michael O’Flaherty up at Goodspeed is one of the most talented Music Directors I’ve ever worked with, not to mention a fabulous arranger as well- Richard Gleaves who wrote a wonderful musical version of DORIAN I think is just waiting to be discovered by the right theatre and producer- I mean I have to say I’m leaning towards people I know and have worked with….

As far as people I’ve seen from a far-
I think the FOSTER siblings (Hunter and Sutton) are like….a genetic wonder- I mean, wherever they’re from they should bottle that water and sell it cause those two turned out juuusstt ffiinneeeee.
Adam Guettel i think is a wonderful composer-
I’m a huge Julie Taymor fan-

Again- I mean….anyone who’s– even got remote name recognition as a creative in the business… deserves kudos because you KNOW…it’s like… already ten years of slogging it to get that far—i just…I wish there was even MORE…support for new stuff. That’s my Christmas wish, I guess. “more money, more risks and less fear for new stuff!”

 

BK: And do you lament that there is no one writing vehicles for specific performers?
DLC: Oh my gosh….I kind of the think they still kind of ARE doing the star vehicles on the sly. You know? I mean, MARIE CHRISTINE was for Audra– both HIGH SOCIETY and SOUND OF MUSIC (if you count revivals too) were for Melissa Errico– MILLIE in some respects as far as I know was originally intended as a vehicle for Kristin Chenowith– DANCE OF THE VAMPIRES was for Crawford- right? Although, the MOST recent trend seems to be using the STAR vehicle as the composer- MOVIN OUT’s Billy Joel, CAPEMAN’s Paul Simon, even AIDA’s Elton John, etc. And, maybe this is just the gossip that gets back to me at the end of the day–and I’m completely wrong about all those things…

But I think the DESIRE is still there and the idea is still there…to find a ‘star’ and give them a vehicle….Of course—- since we have a lot more fear around the bigger budgets and risks, “suits” and everything than we did 30 years ago–
these days it’s almost… let’s find a REVIVAL that HAD a star…and FIND A STAR now…to DO IT AGAIN!! Hahahhahahaaaa.

So then you have a star who is trying to fit into someone ELSE’S star vehicle that was written for them- because someone is wanting to make them a star but is really only half assing the whole thing because they figure…well- if this NEW star doesn’t pan out…at least….the FAME OF THE FORMER star might still get people in here on title recognition factor.

So…upshot…I think they ARE still writing/ producing star vehicles– I just wish they were actually more ABOUT the personality of the actual STAR starring IN the show NOW…and not the “all encompassing accessibility factor” we were talking about earlier, that seems to muddy such good intentions up a bit.

 

BK: Donna Lynne Champlin, you have been a delight and we at haineshisway.com toast you with our official beverage, Diet Coke.
DLC: Well, thank you very much- it’s been an absolute pleasure answering all these great questions- I kind of feel like I owe you a “therapy session” fee or something…we went all the way back to my childhood for heaven’s sake!

 

BK: May you have continued success and thanks for doing this fershluganah unseemly interview.
DLC: Thank you very much and same right back to you, Bruce. And even tho I have no idea what “fershulganah” actually means.

 

To visit Donna Lynne Champlin on the web, go to www.donnalynnechamplin.com

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