Spotlight on Michel Pawk
by Nancy Rosati     

(part two)

NR:  How did you end up in New York?

MP:  I got Mail.

NR:  I wanted to ask you about that show because I don’t know anything about it.

MP:  It was this great musical. Jerry Colker and Michael Rupert wrote this musical. We ran at the Pasadena Playhouse for a long time. It was just great, just fun and joyous.

NR:  What was it about?

MP:  Basically, the play opens up with Michael Rupert, who also starred in it, having a nervous breakdown at the beginning of the show. He freaks out and he leaves. Then, in the very next scene, he comes back to his life after just checking out and not keeping in touch with anyone for three months - his girlfriend, his agent, his father, and his best friend, who was played by Brian Stokes Mitchell. What happens is he starts to get in touch with his life again and all that happened in three months by reading his mail. As he reads this mail, it all comes to life.

NR:  That sounds so interesting. Was it a musical?

MP:  Yes. It was just a blast. It had the most ingenuous set. We jumped through couches. It was a ball. I had a great time.

NR:  How long did it run?

MP:  I think a month. It was really too bad. They wanted to keep it open long enough to see if we could collect some nominations. A lot of it should have been nominated.

NR:  What year was it?

MP:  I remember Into the Woods was that year and Chess was that year. I couldn’t even tell you what year that was.

NR:  So, tell me about Crazy For You because that was one of my favorite shows. In fact, I’ve done it myself.

MP:  Oh, yeah?

NR:  Yes - it was a number of years ago. I played Irene.

MP:  Is that not the best role?

NR:  It was a blast. It was really fun being bitchy. I loved being backstage while they were kicking themselves to death in “I Got Rhythm” and I didn’t have to do that. That was fun.

Michele and Kathleen  Marshall
"Crazy for You"
MP:  Or standing behind the car and watching all those girls come in and out. Janey Connell and I squatting. Janey Connell, bless her heart, down on her hands and knees in this long gown. That woman is amazing. She had a hip replacement in the middle of it and was still crawling through that car.

NR:  I loved that production. I actually saw it three times, and (laughing) that was a lot in those days. What was it like to do?

MP:  It was just sheer joy. Obviously with that score you can’t go wrong. Every number is amazing.

NR:  I remember the critics kind of picked on it a little bit.

MP:  I don’t even remember what they said about it. I really don’t. I remember being in rehearsal for that show. Susan Stroman had just finished choreographing “I Got Rhythm” and at that point it was another minute and a half longer, if you can believe it. It was stunning. They said, “Come in and watch this number.” They had just finished it. We sat around the periphery of the room and I remember I was crying. We all were crying and we said, “Oh, my God. I think we’re in a hit.” And we were.

NR:  That number ... just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, it did.

MP:  That team of she and Mike Ockrent - that team was obviously a match.

NR:  That was certainly a fun show. It was totally different from Cabaret which you also did. Which one was your favorite?

Crazy for You
"Crazy for You"
MP:  They’re all so different. I loved the piece I did at Lincoln Center called Hello Again. I love them all ... most of them. (And I’m not going to say which ones I don’t.) I was really honored to be in Cabaret, as well as I was honored to be in Crazy For You. Most of the ones I’ve really enjoyed were because I was inspired by the people. I felt lucky to be in that group. Harry (Groener), Jodi Benson - they made it a joy to come to work every night. John Hillner is out of his mind. He’s absolutely crazy. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed working with anybody more in my life. He and Denis O’Hare, my partner in Cabaret. Never have I worked with such great actors who were such fun and always so “there” on stage, but every time you came off stage (and we did those shows for years) you talked about how it was. You talked about how it went. I found that amazing.

NR:  That’s fantastic, to keep it fresh for that long. How long were you in Crazy For You?

MP:  Two years.

NR:  Wow. That’s a long time.

MP:  And I was one of the first people to leave that show. It was an “older” group, and when I say “older” I mean late twenties. Nobody was nineteen years old and thought, “This is what it’s going to be like. I’m going to work, work, work.” People were in their late twenties and knew, “I’m really lucky to be in a big fat hit like this, so I’m going to stay.”

NR:  There weren’t a lot of shows like that back then, so I remember seeing Harry Groener and thinking, “He’s a fantastic song and dance man and they don’t write shows for people like that any more.”

MP:  That’s right, and he knew it. That guy got to the theater every night at six o’clock and warmed up on stage in taps.

NR:  It was a joy to watch him and I’m sure it was a joy for him to do.

MP:  Yeah. He stayed at least another year after I left.

NR:  So, Cabaret was an interesting experience I assume. Tell me about that.

MP:  That was art ... I have to say that I’ve been really blessed in my career to be able to work with the people that I’ve worked with. I’ve lucked into situations. Mike Ockrent and Susan Stroman and the whole team that they assembled. Roger Horchow who produced Crazy For You. He came in the first day of rehearsal and I had flown in from California. I moved my entire life here. This guy had never produced a show in his life. He and Elizabeth Williams were the major producers of Crazy For You. He got up to speak and I’m paraphrasing, but he said, “I grew up in Cincinnati and George Gershwin came to my house one time and played on my mother’s piano and I have always been in love with Gershwin music. I always knew that I wanted to produce a Gershwin musical.” Then he said this (and there aren’t many of these people around!): “I don’t really care if this makes any money or not. I just want to produce this Gershwin musical.”

NR:  Wow!

MP:  Out of town when we were in Washington, DC, we had this whole number with a printing press that cost a million dollars - and it was cut. How many producers do you know that would cut something after they spent a million dollars? But it wasn’t forwarding the show and we needed to cut time so they cut it.


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