What's New on the Rialto
Interview with Victoria Clark
By Charles Battersby
Victoria Clark's career encompasses numerous Broadway shows, including Urinetown, Titanic, How to Succeed ..., Cabaret, Guys and Dolls and Sunday In The Park With George.
Now this veteran is taking the stage in the new Adam Guettel/ Craig Lucas musical The Light in the Piazza. Ms. Clark spent a few minutes last month chatting with Charles Battersby for Talkin' Broadway.
Charles Battersby: The last time we spoke, you were just rounding off Sondheim's Opening Doors at Carnegie Hall. Did you jump into The Light in The Piazza immediately after that?
Victoria Clark: After that I directed the Children's Christmas Pageant Extravaganza at my church, with 45 children between the ages of three and sixteen.
CB: Were any of them Equity?
VC: (Laughs) Unfortunately, no. It was pretty awesome ... It's very exciting to work with kids. My son played Joseph because nobody else would play Joseph ... I wrote music for it, a little piece for the 11-year old girl playing Mary.
CB: And you have "The Light in the Piazza" coming up in just over month.
VC: I do indeed.
CB: The composer and writer team are Adam Guettel and Craig Lucas. I understand that Craig Lucas and Bartlett Sher (Director) worked on another project recently.
VC: They work together all the time. They just did The Singing Forest, a three-act play that had its world premier at the Intiman Theatre in Seattle, and just had its East Coast premier at the Long Wharf. Bartlett has directed a lot of Craig's plays.
CB: You've also worked with Ted Sperling (Musical Director) on other projects.
VC: Oh yes. He conducted How to Succeed ... and I coached him on his performance in Titanic. He's wonderful, he's magic. Ted and I went to college together. I dragged him out of the Yale symphony orchestra to start music directing. He was the first viola in the Yale Symphony Orchestra. We were friends because we sang in the same professional choir at school.
I said to him "You really have the leadership skills and the everything-else-skills be a conductor." He knew very little about musicals and I started playing him a million things. And he fell in love with it.
I like to say that I discovered Ted. (Laughs).
CB: It seems there's a lot of interconnection among the people who are working on Piazza ...
VC: A lot of us have worked together before. I know Adam (Guettel) - I did a couple of his songs at a benefit concert a few years ago. Some of us have doing this piece for a long time. Patti Cohenour, Mark Harelik, Glenn Seven Allen and Kelli O'Hara have been working on it for two years.
CB: Did it start in Seattle?
VC: It had a workshop phase that I was not involved in at the Sundance Theatre Lab. After that, it had a New York reading, and then the following spring, we went to Seattle. In December, we went to the Goodman in Chicago. There's been some reshuffling of casting, and material that's come and gone in all the different productions.
CB: The show is based on a novella by Elizabeth Spencer.
VC: Yes. I met her; she and my mother have become friends because they live one town apart from each other, in North Carolina. They're both extremely intelligent, witty women, and they hit it off. When I'm down there visiting my family we often get together with her.
CB: And how does she feel about this Broadway adaptation of a novella she wrote 50 years ago?
VC: In Seattle, they had a beautiful opening ... and it was a big deal. She flew out for it and I said to her, "Well how does it feel to have characters that you created walking around and singing?" She looked at me and totally deadpan said, "Well, darling, it was a major motion picture."
She's very sanguine about it. She's an international traveler .. and she's very, very funny. She's really excited about it but, like she said, she had Olivia de Havilland staring in a major motion picture ... She's seen the big time before; let me put it to you that way.
CB: Speaking of the movie and the book, when you were first approached for the role, did you see the movie or read the book?
VC: I've read the book over and over and over again. But I won't see the movie until I'm done with this part. I won't. I have so much respect for Olivia de Havilland, so I won't go anywhere near that film. Because I want to bring my own eccentricities, my own thing to it and I don't want to be influenced by the memory of someone else's performance.
CB: As for the audience, are they going to need to do their homework and read the book to fully understand the show?
VC: No, no, no, no. If you know the story and you want to read it, that's great, but you'll get everything if you go [to the show].
CB: Are there any aspects that you share with this character?
VC: Well she's a strong southern woman, and I have oodles of those in my family history. There's a charm and a self-effacing quality that southern women have that can often mask an unbelievable strength. Like courage, strength and stubbornness, or a mean streak.
There's a lot going on in an intelligent, charming southern woman. And I have studied them my whole life without even knowing that I was doing it. So there's a lot of my mother and my grandmother and all of my aunts. Even though I didn't grow up in North Carolina, one whole side of my family is from there.
She's a woman I know very well. We're both mothers and we're both struggling to let go of baggage that we don't need to carry around. We're both looking for love in a certain way, and looking to be appreciated and acknowledged in a certain way. There isn't a single person in the audience who isn't going to relate to her in some way.
CB: You mentioned there'd been a few things that had been changed over the development of the project. Is there something that was cut that you had hoped would have been kept?
VC: There was the aria that Adam added in Seattle that was very complicated. It was very evocative of the story itself. It's very intense, musically and thematically. We played that at the end of the first act throughout Seattle. Then we showed it to Bob Falls at the Goodman in Chicago and he said "I don't think we need that."
It totally restructured and reordered my through line. I don't miss it, but having done it in so many different ways, I know a lot about her, who she is, because of all the different journeys we've taken with her. I'm not one to mourn cut material, because I think it's usually for the best.
CB: So what's next for you?
VC: My mom asks me that everyday and I tell her "You know what? We're not allowed to ask that question." Whatever comes next will come up. This has been the last 2-1/2 years of my life, almost exclusively. And I've put everything else on hold. We've brought the piece this far so I'm trying to really just dive into it and enjoy every second of it, and not worry too much about what's next. Because it'll be here soon enough.
The Light in the Piazza begins previews March 17, and opens on April 18, at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre at Lincoln Center. For ticket and performance information, visit Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: Telecharge
Search What's New on the Rialto