The Artist’s Challenge – Day Three

Day Three of the Artist’s Challenge (For 5 days, 1 post each day, 1pic or several pics or video of your artistic journey so far. Each day nominate 2 people to join).

I had auditioned for the 2001 revival of Stephen Sondheim’s FOLLIES (choreographed by Kathleen Marshall), but after a few cuts, it was clear it wasn’t my day. It happens. Not meant to be, right?

A few months later, I was working at Walnut Street Theatre dance captaining A Chorus Line. The Friday before we were to open, another Kathleen Marshall show on Bway – SEUSSICAL – offered me a contract to replace Darren Lee who was leaving. I knew the show wasn’t doing great at the box office, so I asked how long the powers that be thought the show would run. The answer – “we wouldn’t be hiring you if we didn’t know the show was going to run.”

So for the first time in my career, I gave notice at Walnut Street. Five days later, the closing notice went up at SEUSSICAL. My replacement had been hired already at Walnut Street and so I headed back to NYC unemployed and despondent.

A week after getting back to NYC, I received a call from folks in casting at the Roundabout Theatre Company. Out of the blue. One of the guys in FOLLIES had given his notice and Kathleen Marshall had told them (knowing I got the short end over at SEUSSICAL) that if the costumes fit, the job was mine. I was two blocks from the Belasco Theater. I RAN straight there. And the costumes fit. Squeeee!!!

And so, I ended up in a beautiful, magnificent show with a cast that was equally special. And they took me in as if I’d been there all along. My run was only 2 months with the show, but the experience and the cast have stayed close to my heart.

We closed on my birthday which I shared with the fabulous (and Tony Award-nominated) Polly Bergen. Her performance of “I’m Still Here” KILLED. My work in Act One was done by the time her number came, and I would work through the basement and stand in the back of the house several times each week to watch her powerhouse performance.

So, there you go. I was wrong. FOLLIES was meant to be. I just took a while to get there.

My FOLLIES family gathers again this week to honor dear Polly, who we lost last year. I love this cast. They always feel like family to me.

No pics of me in the show since I replaced. But you have to watch Polly knock it out of the park with her number below.

Closing night of FOLLIES on Broadway with Polly Bergen

Polly Bergen passes away at 84

Emmy Award winning actress/singer Polly Bergen

Polly Bergen, star of stage and screen, has passed away at the age of 84 in her Connecticut home.

The Emmy Award-winning, Tony Award-nominated actress, singer and business woman became a household name by the time she was in her 20s. In 1953, she made her Broadway debut, by 1957 she had her own TV series, and in the 1960s she moved into the world of film roles.

From the LA Times:

Bergen won an Emmy in 1958 portraying the tragic singer Helen Morgan on the famed anthology series “Playhouse 90.” She was nominated for another Emmy in 1989 for best supporting actress in a miniseries or special for “War and Remembrance.”

In recent years, she played Felicity Huffman’s mother on “Desperate Housewives” and the past mistress of Tony Soprano’s late father on “The Sopranos.”

When she was refused an audition for the 2001 Broadway revival of “Follies,” she contacted composer Stephen Sondheim. He auditioned her and gave her the role of a faded star who sings of her ups and downs in show business. The show-stopping song, “I’m Still Here,” was reminiscent of Bergen’s own saga. She was nominated for a Tony award for her role.

In 2002 she played a secondary role in the revival of “Cabaret” and the following year she was back on Broadway with the comedy “Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks.”

I have a very personal connection to Polly. Halfway through the run of the 2001 revival of FOLLIES, I was cast as a replacement. My experience with that cast and crew – who became family – was remarkable, especially in terms of depth of talent, commitment and warmth.

It’s not always easy to jump into the middle of a Broadway run. You haven’t made the connections and relationships that get forged in weeks of grueling rehearsals. But I was welcomed with open arms by everyone. Everyone. And in particular, Polly.

Backstage at the Belasco Theatre, closing night of 2001 revival of FOLLIES
At intermission, the cast and crew celebrated our shared birthday with us.

Polly’s performance of “I’m Still Here” brought the house down every night. Near the end of the first act, I was done with my duties onstage until Act Two. I would make my way under the stage and the audience, through the basement, to stand in the back of the house at the Belasco Theatre at least 6 or 7 out of 8 performances a week to marvel at her power, art and passion. I have never seen such a reaction from a Broadway audience. Polly would finish and the applause would come. After several seconds, she would make her way upstage right to exit. Most nights, just as she would reach the edge of the stage, the applause would surge again. It was thrilling.

We closed that production on Broadway on July 14, 2001. It was my birthday. A birthday I shared with Polly.

With Polly Bergen at the 10th Anniversary Reunion of 2001 Broadway revival of FOLLIES

A few years ago, upon the passing of our cast mate Betty Garrett, a 10th anniversary reunion was held for us all. The night was filled with smiles and comfortable friendships. Among many others, it was a treat to see and catch up with Polly that night. We laughed, we reminisced, and we remembered how lucky we all had been to come together as a family, if even for such a short time. You can find my post about that magnificent night here.

On this occasion, I require you all to watch Polly’s performance of her show-stopping “I’m Still Here” from FOLLIES at the 2001 Tony Awards (she was nominated for her powerhouse performance, of course). I would be remiss to not include this here.

There is a bootleg version on YouTube of Polly’s full performance of the song here. I know some theatre folks frown on the bootleg thing, but on days like this, I love that I can watch and revel in Polly Bergen’s magnificent talent again.

Although she may have left us for now, she is forever and always “still here.”