Spotlight on Karen Ziemba

by Nancy Rosati        

(part three)

NR:  Susan lost her husband (Mike Ockrent) not long ago. You were working through all this when it happened. How on earth ... it must have been so difficult.

KZ:  More so for her than the rest of us. I find because she has so much respect from her colleagues, her creative team and also those of us who work with her as her dancers, singers, and actors, that whenever we feel a pang from her, or a fatigue because there’s just so much going on in her mind, we take it on and we all get into that mode, and we still can work through it. It’s just a quieter, more intense, focused kind of thing. Then there will be a moment when she’ll just be cutting up and having a great time and we join in in force - not because we have to do this to make her feel better but because she has a way of being such a great leader that you get into that mode. She sets that tone from the first day - that we’re going to have a great time, but it’s not just fun and games. It’s about creating something really beautiful, and it’s all of us together, a real team.

NR:  It’s probably been a wonderful thing for her actually, that she had this and The Music Man, and they all look like they’re coming out so well, which is fantastic.

Crazy for You KZ:  Oh, yeah, because she’s put her focus so much into her work right now, which is what she always does, and always has, but I feel (and this is my opinion only), but I would love to think that she’s doing this not only because she’s a great artist, but she’s also doing it with Mike’s help and the things she’s learned from him, and to continue his legacy. He is so proud of her and she was of him, and wants to make him proud.

NR:  Thank goodness she has all of you with her.

KZ:  Oh, yeah, and as I was saying about my grandmother, he’s watching too and that means a lot to her, to know that he’s still there and he’s the angel on her shoulder.

NR:  That’s wonderful. Now, tell me about things that didn’t work out as well. I want to talk about Steel Pier.

KZ:  Ugh! Yeah.

NR:  First of all, that has to be totally heart-breaking - to throw everything into something like that and it wasn’t really given a chance. I was thinking thatThe Scarlet Pimpernel came along a year later and they were given this wonderful rescue. Can you imagine if you had had a chance like that?

KZ:  The same thing with Kiss of the Spider Woman too, the other Kander and Ebb show that turned out to be a beautiful show. Of course this is speaking in hindsight, (you learn a lot from these things) - at the time, I’ll tell you, the month after we closed was when everything kind of settled. When you lose someone or you lose something, it takes a little while for you to all of a sudden hit your head and say, “Ohmigosh.” I didn’t go into a deep depression, but I remember feeling like it was my fault, thinking “What could I have done to make it better?”, “Why didn’t I say this?”, “Why didn’t I say that?”

West Side Story

There are so many variables involved in why a show is a success or not and one thing I can say is that any kind of a show that is done from scratch, not a revival, no music has ever been written, no book has ever been written, no characters, it’s based on real life things that happen in a certain period of time ... (You can say, “Well, it sort of seems like this story or that story or that movie” and of course we’re all influenced by things we’ve seen before - that’s why stories are written.) But this was all original and anything like that that you’re conjuring up from nothing takes time, takes a gestation period and more than anything, a live show needs to be performed in front of a live audience. I’m not talking about fifty of your friends in the basement in the rehearsal hall, I’m talking about a real live theater full of lay people, full of “civilians” that come to the theater and find out what works and what doesn’t, and maybe why. That’s why shows go out on the road. That’s why shows go to Boston and go to Minneapolis and Chicago. We didn’t have that opportunity. I think it would have been very important to do that because when you’re acting in a very intimate situation, things work. You see what somebody’s eyes are saying. You see the tears, you see a look, a gesture. When you’re in a 1500 seat house, maybe something needs to be said instead of just a look. Maybe a song needs to be reprised to put a point across to let you know what’s going on. Maybe a story needs to be fixed. Maybe a new song needs to be written, and not two days before you open to the critics, but that’s the kind of stuff that goes on. Sometimes it really works and sometimes it doesn’t.

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