BWW Interviews: Dorothy Stanley of Denver Center's WHITE CHRISTMAS - Broadway Beginnings and More
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by Michael Mulhern
MM: On behalf of BroadwayWorld, I just have to say how excited we are to have you and this wonderful award winning show coming to Denver!
DS: It's absolute heaven for me. If there's one word to describe my experience here, it's that. And, let's see, I had another word, too. It's heaven and very rewarding for those of us who are in the show and working at the DCPA. It's been great. My first experience here in Denver was in the Denver Center Attractions performance of Swingtime Canteen during the millennium. We started singing and performing in the latter part of '99, and I was here when it turned 2000. Although, my husband was doing Fosse in Chicago, so I flew to Chicago and we actually had our millennium dinner in Chicago, and the two of us were just keeping United busy flying back and forth seeing each other, but that's when I first came to Denver, and five years ago, of course, we did the White Christmas, and I came here with the Billy Elliot tour a year and a half ago.
MM: What do you think of our fine city?
DS: At one point I thought about moving here. I just love it. But I sort of have a bit of Colorado back in my life on the East Coast because I have a house in Vermont. So I've got the mountains back there, but I just love it. And we can't believe how blessed we've been with the weather since we got here. I got here on October 14, and other than one evening of a dusting of snow, as you know, we've had just glorious weather. Although I know that Denver would love to see some snow because, like Vermont, that's really good business for everybody. If you don't have snow, it's unfortunate.
MM: We are literally dreaming of a white Christmas.
DS: Exactly, and I hope it comes true.
MM: Me, too. You have quite a fun role as Martha Watson in White Christmas, why is this role significant for you?
DS: Oh, well, it's significant in many ways. It's just fun. The writing is great, so I don't do anything but go out there and just say the words. And luckily, Patti Colombo put me in, my number is usually just done in a tiny little scrim or a wrap of costumes, and she did this number that I get to play the whole stage with everybody on it watching, and it's a really fun number to do, 'Let Me Sing' is really fun. The show means a lot to me because, of course, I was raised watching every year we watchEd White Christmas, and my dad was a general in the Air Force. My mother bought a farm in Vermont when my dad retired he said he wanted to go south of the border, and she said "George, I was raised in Connecticut, so I want to stay in New England." So, she bought a farm and my folks spend seven months in Florida and five months in Vermont, and I sweat that's the reason they outlived their siblings and friends. Best of both worlds. But we had our farm, and my father was a general, and we never had a division come sing We'll Follow the Man, but we certainly vicariously enjoyed what could have happened because my dad was a general. So Martha's just so much fun and Kent Thompson's direction is great. He allowed me to do the one thing that I didn't do last time, which was to break the fourth wall on that one line about having dated 23 horn players and then dump every last one of them. I mean, it may be good for us time, but it works the audience a lot, and it's just fun to get that reaction every night, as you can imagine.
MM: The choreography was thoroughly impressive in this production, do you feel that the choreography has enhanced your character?
DS: Oh, of course, because I know that in the Randy Skinner - the fellow who directed the original - and Walter Bobbie. In the Walter Bobbie/Rander Skinner production, she's not in' I Love A Piano,' but because I'm a hoofer from years ago, Patti decided to put me in a section of 'I Love A Piano,' so that's a lot of fun. And of course I enjoy the applause and the reaction that we get when we do it. And I think she made the call and let me sing - very palatable for what I can do. And you have to sing at the same time. To do a lot of singing and dancing moves, especially in the Mile High City, can be a little tough. I so respect Kate and Nick for doing 'Best Things,' because that's quite the dance. And actually when Kent Thompson asked me back via an email about 10 months ago, he asked me about Patti Colombo. He asked "What do you think about bringing her back?" And I said "You've gotta do it" because all her numbers were such crowd pleasers last time. And so he did and so she came back and we had time because there were so many people that came back from the previous production, Kent and Patti both had time to really hone the musical numbers even more this time. So I think in many ways, the production was much improved this time around.
MM: You also have quite an extensive career on Broadway debuting in Sugar Babies, tell us a little about your history and love of Broadway.
DS: Oh, my love of Broadway started when I was a little girl. My mom put me in dancing school at the age of 4 and my parents had an extensive collection of musical theatre albums, so I still have the original record jackets and records of My Fair Lady and Guys and Dolls and Man of La Mancha, and Ed Sullivan put out a whole series of records with Kiss Me, Kate, and Carnival and Carousel, and I still have the original Oklahoma! and Carousel with Shirley Jones, who I actually had the good fortune to work with not too long ago in the revival of 42nd Street. But Broadway was my dream from a very early age and I danced but I also played the piano and the viola. I started playing the piano when I was 6 and a half and the viola when I was 8, and because I didn't have an extension, my leg, I couldn't give you 6 o'clock, but I could give you a quarter after. I didn't think I was a good enough dancer to be on Broadway, so I pursued a musical career. I was either gonna choose viola or piano and I chose the viola because I knew I wouldn't have as much competition. But I studied at Park College of Music with both viola and piano until I left high school, and then I went to Ithaca College, which had a good Drama Department. But I started out as a Bachelor of Music degree, and I changed after the first semester to Bachelor of Fine Arts and started taking all of my electives in the Drama Department. And all through high school, I did musicals. God, I did Bye, Bye, Birdie, Carousel, Sound of Music, Kismet in high school. And then at Ithaca College, I only worked backstage in Gypsy and I was Mustardseed in a production of Midsummer Nights Dream. But in the summer, The Farm that my mother bought was 18 minutes from the Weston Playhouse, and I started doing summer stock at the Weston Playhouse. So basically, I played my viola - I was in school with the viola from September to May, and would perform at the Weston Playhouse in the summer. And then I went to Carnegie Melon for grad work, where I actually did two productions. I was still majoring in viola, but Robert Page, who was Minati's grandfather, was the new dean of the department of music, and he asked the dean of the Drama Department to do a combined musical, and wouldn't you know the first musical they chose was Follies, and I just wanted to audition to be in the ensemble. But I auditioned early, before Thanksgiving, and when I came back from the Thanksgiving vacation, my roommate said that I had gotten one of the leads, which was Sally Plummer. So I did Sally Plummer in Follies at Carnegie Melon, followed by Bianca in Kiss Me, Kate my second year. And I auditioned, while I was in Pittsburgh, I auditioned for the summer season at Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera, and got hired as a dancer who sang in the ensemble, and therefore got my equity card. So, I had my equity card before I moved to then New York City right from Pittsburgh. Then my 30th audition in the city, I landed Kiss Me, Kate, and I went to NY City to actually study viola - my viola teacher was a principal of the Pittsburgh Symphony, and his teacher was Mr. Lindsor at Julliard, and he said, "Now the only thing for you to do is go study with my teacher," so I did. And while I was in New York, studying viola, I started auditioning. And I actually dovetailed playing the viola in various orchestras around the city with auditioning and getting jobs in the theatre. And I started getting jobs at the Darien Dinner Theatre, which is now defunct. So I did Promises, Promises, and Paint Your Wagon, which were both directed by Morton DaCosta, who was the director for Music Man. So I thought, you know, I'm just gonna take any job I can get in the theatre, because you never know who you're going to meet. And it was in that first job with Kiss Me, Kate, when I met a fellow in the ensemble who was a very good dancer and was an assistant to Donald Sadler, and actually, I ended up calling him, his name was Bobby Heath, my fairy godfather, because he was basically, he was responsible for my getting a number of shows early on in my career in the city, one of which was my first production contract - a revival of Annie. This is all extraneous - we could talk for 5 hours. But yeah, my love for Broadway started when I was a young kid, to answer your question.
MM: Is there a role that you love to perform that you can go back to over and over again?
DS: Well, certainly Martha is one of them, and I hope he asks me to do it in another 5 years. But another role that I loved and I'm too old to do it now, of course, was Billy Dawn in the play Born Yesterday, but that was a coup, because I was working with a director in the musical 1940's Radio Hour, and the role I played in 1940's Radio Hour at Syracuse Rep - and actually Robby Marshall was the choreographer - the director was Jack Billing, asked me what role I'd like to do. And I'd always liked the movie Born Yesterday, and I knew the play was out there, and I said I'd love to do the play Born Yesterday. And for someone with a musical theatre background like mine, it's a coup to be able to be cast in a play, but sure enough, he called me and asked me if I wanted to play it, and I said sure. And, like that, when I did George Abbott's Symposium at Great Lakes Theatre Festival, Gerald Friedman directed the musical Boys from Syracuse and George Abbot was 100 years old and directed a play called Broadway. So I was cast in that play, and we did those two shows, and Hal Finch happened to come see me do both roles, and fast forward - I was meeting a friend in an equity lounge one day to go for lunch, and I hear "Anyone else for Cabaret?" And I thought, Cabaret? I wondered who they were looking for, and so I said, "by the way, who are you looking for," and they said Fräulein Kost, and I said "okay, if you can wait, I'll go home, change, and get my material and come back and audition." And this was for the post-Broadway tour of Hal Finch's Cabaret, so I went in for the audition and auditioned for Hal, in a theatre, which doesn't happen anymore, but this was in the 80's, and he said "Oh, wonderful, we'll call you tomorrow." So, my first job with Hal Finch was the post- Broadway tour of Cabaret. I really enjoy playing Fräulein Kost. Of course, I love playing Lily St. Regis in Annie, but I'm too old to play those anymore. I can't go back to some of these roles, but the roles I really enjoyed were those. And also, I've played both Charlotte and Desiree in A Little Night Music, but I prefer Charlotte. I got an award, actually for playing Charlotte. I love the character - she's just so sympathetic. And of course, I love Sondheim, so I've been very lucky to have been able to play the Witch in Into the Woods, which I played at the Pioneer Theatre. I played both Charlotte and Desiree at different theatres, and I played JoAnn in Company at Connecticut Rep, and then I've played 7 roles in Follies at any given time. My three favorite Sondheims are - oh, and I played Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd - but my three favorite Sondheims are Follies, Sweeney Todd, and Night Music. I just think they're all perfection, and they're so different. But, yes, Follies I played Sally, and then when they did the revival on Broadway, I auditioned because when I played Sally I actually wanted to understudy Phyllis. So when I auditioned, I sang 'Could I Leave You?' And they called and said "We don't know what to do with you yet." And they ended up casting me covering Blythe Danner as Phyllis, Polly Bergen as Carlotta, Marge Champion as Emily, of course I played my own roll as Bebe West, but I also covered Carol Wood as Stella. So, I covered four people, played my own role, and went on for all of them. And it was a challenge but it was fun. And now I could play other roles in Follies, so I look forward to doing Follies again because I just love it. And I think you probably know that I covered and went on for Patti in Sweeney, with the instrument. And then they asked if I wanted to cover her and the three strippers in Gypsy, the revival, and I said no one in the business would do that. I said you can find someone to cover her, and you can find someone to cover the three strippers. I'll cover the three strippers. So, I auditioned and got that job, which was fun. But to cover both her and the three strippers would have been impossible. Nobody could have done it. Nobody would have wanted to do that. But covering Patti is not an easy gig, I'll tell you that.
MM: If you were not in theater, what job do you think that you would be doing in a parrallel universe?
DS: Oh, jeeze. At one point, when I had a bit of a down time, I took a real estate course, and I thought, well, maybe I'll go into real estate, like two of my other friends have done. Real estate always interested me. But now, since I have a dog and a farm and a place in Vermont, I thought about raising Alpacas and doing dog rescue like Bernadette Peters and Mary Tyler Moore. As a matter of fact, being friends with Billy from doing Annie so many years ago, I've been to Broadway Barks while I was doing shows on Broadway, every year. And finally, I said to Billy one day, he said "What are you looking for?" And I said, I want a small dog that I can travel with that's hypoallergenic that's not a puppy. I don't have the wherewithal to train a puppy. And two weeks later he called me and he said, this never happens, but we have a little Havanese that a gal has to get rid of because she's moving to a place that doesn't allow dogs. So I adopted this little dog. Her name is Millie. She travels everywhere with me. She's got a huge fan base and every show that I've done since I've had her, which has been 7 shows, the directors have allowed her in rehearsal. And actually, they've allowed her in the dressing room here, too, because when I did the Billy Elliot tour, I registered her - when I got her, she was a therapy dog, but I registered her as a service dog so I could take her everywhere with me. I would probably be dealing with animals in some way. My husband is one of one of the production members on Once on Broadway. I actually married the production carpenter of Showboat, when I did Showboat. We met in Canada. And now we have our own house in Vermont, and we still are working with my mother's farm, and we're going to be busy turning the farm back into a farm, with cattle and animals and things. That's what I'd be doing. The real estate idea sort of bypassed me. I'd say I'd be working with animals in any way, shape, or form.
MM: Any projects in the works after this show in finished?
DS: I don't have anything coming up. I did do a taping of Sense and Sensibility yesterday, but I wasn't happy with it, and I don't think...they auditioned me for a woman who plays two roles in the show and also understudies a role that Mary Testa did in a reading, but she's not going to be doing it actually. So, I don't know. But I don't feel I did well, so I don't feel I'm going to be doing Sense and Sensibility. But that's okay, so I'll be heading home. And I miss my husband and my house in Vermont. So, I'll see what comes up. I'm at that point now where I kindof like the unknowing...there's always hope involved. People who make it in our business, they live off of hope, and a lot of people say "Oh my God, I'll never work again," you know, after the show closes. But I seem to be very lucky. I was wondering what was going to happen after Billy Elliot closed early, because I thought that was going to be both my husband's and my retirement, because he was working Billy Elliot on Broadway, and I was working the second national tour. But they closed before we thought they would, and of course, the seated tour is out, but I didn't want to do that. And I was actually cast in a Flashdance tour, which would have conflicted with White Christmas, and it was a seated tour, so I thought, you know what...Beth Bauer did the reading, and she was promised the Broadway show, so why would I go out and do a seated production of Flashdance when I have this offer for White Christmas, and I thought if I turn White Christmas down with a two-week notice, I'll certainly burn a bridge. So, I turned Flashdance down; I chose White Christmas, and it was one of the best decisions I've ever made. Well, we're glad you chose us. Oh my God. I mean, I love the show so much, and Kent Thompson offered me Dotty in Noises Off, he just offered it to me after I did this show the last time. And then, fortunately I couldn't do it. I was slitting my wrists because I got the Patti LuPone Gypsy, so of course that was gonna last longer and keep me in New York, so I kindof had to do that. But I'm just hoping he offers me a play again someday out here and I just cross my fingers, because I love working here. Any opportunity to play in Denver, I'll come back.
MM: Well we love having you here. Now here's a fun question for you - What is your favorite Christmas tradition?
DS: Probably when I'm in town, I mean besides decorating Christmas trees, of course, but my husband's from Prince Edward Island and he used to decorate Charlottetown, the town of Charlottetown for Christmas. So my husband is very into decorating. But, aside from having fun decorating...Oh, this is funny. We live in Vermont and we have a 9-foot fake tree that we bought and it's so difficult putting it up and decorating it that we leave it up year-round. But other than that, I absolutely have to go to Rockefeller Center, see the tree. I have to go up and down 5th Avenue and look in the windows. I just...I love New York at Christmas. I mean, New York is kindof crazy, and I love Rockefeller Center. So I have to do that. I would say those are my favorite traditions. And, of course, it's not on Christmas, but watching the Macy's Day Parade. We always watch the parade, followed by Miracle on 34th Street, followed by the dog show. We always have to watch those movies and It's A Wonderful Life. You know, like everybody else. You've got to watch the classics. But, yes, I love walking around New York.
MM: Again - thank you so much for speaking with me and BroadwayWorld today!!! You are absolutely wonderful in White Christmas at the Denver Center and we wish you an enchanting Holidays!!!