by Nancy Rosati
NR: Letís talk about Seussical. A lot of people donít know that much about it, or we donít completely understand what itís going to be. Can you explain it?
MP: Itís so joyous. Like Cabaret and Crazy For You, the team assembled, from the top ... when I did Cabaret, it just was stimulating, every second, to be in the room with that team. The two workshops that Iíve done of Seussical, itís the very same thing. You have Steve Flaherty and Lynne Ahrens and Frank Galati and Kathleen Marshall who are like children. Itís like playing. Itís totally joyous. I canít wait!
NR: Is there a story?
NR: Sort of like Into the Woods?
MP: In a way. Horton takes you through these various tales.
NR: I take it that this is something that the whole family will enjoy?
MP: Oh, yes. We did a couple of presentations in which there were kids there and I think the beautiful part about it is that kids get it on one level - itís animated, itís colorful, itís bright. They recognize some of the characters, and when I say recognize, we didnít have any costumes or sets or anything - they recognized the animated cells of them. Adults are weeping by the end of it because a) we remember those stories either as kids or we read them to children, and b) when you watch them again as adults you notice how far weíve gotten from those simple truths that he told. If youíve not read those books lately - theyíre amazing. The Star-bellied and Plain-bellied Sneetches and The Butter Battle - he told these tales in the simplest, truest forms and by the end of Seussical you think, ďOh, my God. How simple and pure and true life should be, and how far sometimes we get away from it.Ē
NR: When I saw the remake of Youíre a Good Man, Charlie Brown, people brought their kids and their kids didnít really understand a lot of it. But youíre saying thatís not going to be the case? The kids will definitely get it also?
MP: Oh, gosh, yes. With Kathleen choreographing it has almost a seamless flow through it. Itís more animated, (and I donít mean animated in a ďcartoonyĒ way), than Charlie Brown was.
NR: What kind of costumes are you going to have?
MP: I donít know. I have a fitting tomorrow as a matter of fact. Catherine Zuber is doing them and I had the extreme pleasure of working with her on Triumph of Love. Sheís so colorful and Iím sure sheís going to do something wonderful.
NR: Youíre Mayzie Bird, right? Thatís the one who leaves the egg and takes off.
MP: Yeah, can you imagine? Iím the one who just gave birth. I did this entire musical throughout my pregnancy. I was pregnant right at the beginning of it, and Iím the one thatís the bad mother! Go figure. She doesnít want to sit on her egg so she gives it to Horton.
NR: So you could have feathers. Who knows? Hopefully you wonít have a mask over your face.
MP: If theyíre staying true to what they had talked about earlier, they want to keep it as simple as possible, with suggestions instead of full-scale masks. It wonít be like Lion King with heads.
NR: Tell me about being a working mother. I know youíve taken all this time out. How do you think this is going to be?
MP: You know, I hesitate to even say this because youíre going to print this in your interview. I always thought Iíd want to work and be a mom and do all that stuff, but now, having this baby for four months, I could care less if I ever work again! Iím so thrilled that the thing I have to go back to is Seussical because my son is such a part of it. We did his baby room in Seuss characters. We painted them on the wall. Iím thrilled itís that, but I donít know. Itís going to be great, Iím sure.
NR: I can tell you, as a working mom, itís a little bit of both.
MP: Everybody says it to you, and you know itís true, but you donít really know until it happens to you - how your life really changes, and how important that part of your life is. Iím really lucky in this piece in that itís not a demanding part which is nice. Itís joyous and itís not like Cabaret where Iím going to be drained. I was really drained by that, as great as it was. And I am also planning on having him at the theater with me. The babyís become my first priority and Iíll make my work sort of work around it.
NR: Itís interesting that youíre going to do that. I wonder if someone has a baby really young, then maybe they regret things they didnít get to do.
MP: Yeah, maybe. Maybe there is something to that - being really ready for it and wanting and allowing your life to really change like that.
NR: Now, youíve done all of these roles for all of these years, and all of these TV shows, and all of these movies, and I did a search on the Internet but I had trouble finding you. Youíre known in theater circles, but you donít seem to be known outside of them. Does that bother you?
MP: No. Itís all relative I think. Itís funny. Iíve worked with some movie stars like Ronnie Rifkin, whoís a fantastic actor, and is able to do both. Also Natasha (Richardson) and Jennifer Jason Leigh. This sort of comes with age, but itís still such an eye-opener when you look at the problems that theyíre having in their careers and the things that theyíre trying to attain. Theyíre basically the same things, only on a different level. They deal with the same garbage. They come up with the same problems. They get told one thing and get screwed just like I do - but of course on a much larger scale. Their stuff is much higher profile. So, does it bother me? No. But also they can pick and choose, which is such a luxury. A lot of the time they can instigate projects. If I wanted to do a revival of a musical, I donít think anybodyís going to throw two million dollars at me. But if they wanted to do something ... . it goes both ways.
NR: Itís not an overriding goal in your life?
NR: Good for you.
MP: I donít really care. I feel really lucky to work and to make a living at what I really, really love to do.
NR: Do you have any role youíd still like to do? Suppose you get through Seussical and itís been a wonderful experience. What would you like to do after that?
MP: Iíd like to continue to work with people that are really challenging and inspiring. Iíll go see something and Iíll think, ďI want to do that! I want to be in that!Ē Itís funny, when you get older, there are some parts you think, ďIím too old. I never did that part and now itís passed me by.Ē There are some parts that maybe in regional theater Iíll get to do.
NR: (laughing) Carolee (Carmello) said the exact same thing to me.
MP: Itís funny. About three or four years ago I got a call from Paul Blake, who runs The Muni in St. Louis. Itís a ten thousand seat outdoor theater. He called me and said, ďDarling, Iím doing a production of A Chorus Line and I want to know if you want to play Sheila.Ē I was 35 at the time. I knew I could do it. Itís a role Iíve always wanted to do, in a show Iíve always wanted to do but thought Iíll never get to do it at this point. I said, ďPaul, but Sheila - the whole plot is about her turning 30.Ē He said to me, ďDarling, at The Muni you can play 25! There are ten thousand seats!Ē So, I did it. So, there are parts like that. I want to do 110 in the Shade. I donít know. I like to work with my sweetheart, John. Iíd like to do something with him.
NR: Have you worked together?
NR: That would be great. I hope you get the opportunity. Thanks so much, Michele, and Iím looking forward to seeing you in Seussical.
MP: Youíre welcome.
Learn more abuot Michele at her website: http://www.michelepawk.com/