Tuesday, June 23, 2009

New Interview with Judy Norton

Actress Judy Norton, best known as Mary Ellen Walton from the long-running hit TV series The Waltons, has an accomplished background in musical theatre. She recently co-starred in the acclaimed Blood Brothers at the Whitefire, a co-production of Music Theatre of Los Angeles and Canary Productions, headed by actor Eduardo Enrikez, and is currently director of their production of Cabaret at the Met.
Q: Tell me about life after The Waltons. Your involvement with theatre, and TV, and the kinds of roles you've been playing.
JN: Since The Waltons I have been branching out into both writing and directing as well as singing and acting. I spent 10 years living in Canada where I was the co-artistic director for two theatres. For 8 years I was responsible for co-writing and directing over 40 original productions. I have also been working in numerous television and film productions as an actor. On stage I’ve done many musical theatre roles such as Annie in Annie Get Your Gun, Dolly in Hello Dolly, Maria in Sound of Music...in non musicals I’ve done shows such as Social Security, Move Over Mrs. Markham and I Ought to Be in Pictures. As a singer, I’ve headlined my own concert style show and performed for numerous benefits.
Q: Talk briefly about the theatre company outside of LA that you have been active in for several years.
JN: For several years now I’ve been a guest writer and director for Texas Family Musicals. This company provides shows for theatres in Galveston, Texas and the Granbury Opera House. For Texas Family Musicals I have created the original musicals - Swinging With the Stars, Majesty of the Silver Screen, A Tribute to Patsy Cline, and Get Me John Denver.
Q: What do you like best about Cabaret?
JN: With CABARET – I love the characters. Being an actor, I’m always drawn to the characters and their journey. In CABARET you have a wonderful array of people who are all brought together at a major political turning point in history. To have these small stories set against the bigger picture provides a wonderful artistic challenge. The best part about working on this production has been the cast and production team. It has truly been a collaborative effort. The producers, Bonnie and Eduardo have been fabulous to work with. We have been so fortunate to have an incredibly talented cast who brought so much to the show. And the behind the scenes team has been everything a director could wish for. This has absolutely been a labor of love.
Q: Talk about the challenges of directing the show on a small stage.
JN: Set and transitions become the biggest challenge. There is no capacity to fly set pieces, or roll in large pieces, so the stage has to be very versatile. We wanted to keep it minimal yet define the two different spaces – in the Kit Kat Club and in the apartments, and yet blur the lines between the two. I wanted to keep the action moving, and as seamlessly as possible, move from one scene to the next.
Q: What do you feel makes it still stand up after almost 50 years? Are its themes timeless? What about Kander and Ebb's score in 2009?
JN: Man’s struggle for freedom, the feeling of being helpless against suppressive government elements are unfortunately as relevant today as in 1930 Berlin. The need to be able to express oneself, to have dreams but not be able to reach them, the small personal conflicts, I believe we can all relate to these issues. Kander and Ebb’s score is as fun, poignant and memorable as ever. These are songs you walk away humming. I have spent countless nights during rehearsals with one or another of the songs running through my head all night!
Q: What is your favorite musical of all time?
JN: This is a very tough question.... One of my long standing favorites is CAMELOT. Another timeless story, although with an element of fantasy. My other longtime favorite is My Fair Lady - hard to beat a book based on the great George Bernard Shaw’s work!
Q:What is the role that you like the most, that you've played?
JN: My favorite musical role so far was probably Annie in Annie Get Your Gun - I was such a tomboy growing up that I really related to the character, and it has so many classic songs.
Q: Any role that you're yearning to do? Like Lady Macbeth or Auntie Mame...?
JN: There are so many roles I’d like to do.... Desiree in A Little Night Music, Norma Desmond in Sunset Blvd, Kate in Kiss Me Kate, Auntie Mame, Rose in Gypsy. There are some terrific roles out there for strong women, I’d like to do them all!
Q: If you had your choice of filming a musical that hasn't been filmed, which one would you choose to direct?
JN: Great question.... I may need to think about that one for a while....
Q: As an actress who grew up working on TV, what advice do you give kids interested in pursuing an acting career?
JN: Make sure it is YOUR idea and not your parents... And that you have a really strong sense of who you are. Being well grounded as a person and being able to handle rejection and criticism without taking it personally, I believe, are crucial to survival in this industry.
Q: Tell me briefly about your family. Any kids? Are they into the arts?
JN: I have one son – Devin – who is 13. Although he is quite talented with wonderful natural ability as a singer and actor, he is not interested in pursuing a career as a performer. Currently he is interested in writing.
Q: Anything else you would like to share?
JN: I’m currently developing a new musical ATARIA - music and lyrics by Raven Kane, book by Judy Norton and Raven Kane. I’m tremendously excited about this project. Folks can learn more about it and keep updated by checking out the website:
You can also check out my website:
And don't miss Cabaret at the Met! Check out my review of the show on my review site.

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