Tuesday, July 9, 2013

2013 Interview with Valerie Perri

Actress/singer Valerie Perri, best known for her role of Eva Peron in Evita, will open as Norma Desmond in MTW's Sunset Boulevard Saturday July 13 in Long Beach. In our chat she discusses the challenges of portraying bigger than life fictional silent movie queen Norma Desmond.

How does it feel playing the grande diva of them all Norma Desmond?

 It feels great and so completely right for me for many reasons. I remember Hal Prince taking me aside after one of my opening night performances of Evita saying "You know playing this role so early in your career is both a blessing and a curse.  The blessing is that it is probably the most challenging role for any woman of your age range in musical theater. The curse is that it will be hard to find another role to match it until you're much older." Fast forward 30+ years later and here I am playing Norma. The shoes fit perfectly, and vocally it is where my voice lives.

What are your challenges in bringing her to life?

I suppose my challenge for any role I play is to bring her as close to me as possible. Norma is right at my fingertips. Looking at my own career I have had the great pleasure of knowing what it feels like to be feted by the elite. When I did the Evita tour I was treated like royalty. In Washington DC I was invited to diplomatic parties and lunched with senators and taken to and from the theater by Limo every night. I felt just like a movie star. Evita was a very big deal back in the late 70s early 80s and I was living the dream much like Norma Desmond was in her early career.

I also saw the glory fade away when the tour was done much the way Norma felt when "talkies" came into fashion and newer and younger actresses took the spotlight. 

When I finished out my contract I had been doing the show for almost three years.  I left the tour and went into a small off-Broadway show at Manhattan Theater Club but it was having all kinds of problems and they ended up replacing the director two weeks before we opened . I got a call from my dear friend Loni Ackerman who was doing Evita on Broadway at the time. She was pregnant with her first child and starting to feel some dizziness and didn't think she could continue and said the Prince office wanted to ask me to come in and take over the role. At the time, my show at MTC was about to open and knowing how difficult it would have been to replace me at such a late date I made the decision to stay in the show. It turned out that one of the other actresses in the show got offered a replacement role on Broadway just a few days later and left a week before we were scheduled to open. Imagine my disappointment giving up the opportunity to go into the Evita Broadway production after being told our show at MTC  would never officially open to critics,  just run the weeks we were scheduled while they continued to work on it, but nothing ever happened afterwards and I was out of work. The following year was even tougher for me. I was so identified with the role of Evita that I couldn't get a job in another show.  I ended up on a daytime soap for a short time and although it was nice to have a job, it was no Evita. So when I sing, " I've come home at last" in "As if We Never Said Goodbye", I speak the truth and I'm going to enjoy every single moment of it. 

What do you believe is Andrew Lloyd Webber's greatest strength in this musical?

Andrew has such a wonderful gift for being able to write very passionate sweeping romantic melodies. The score to Sunset is no exception and the orchestrations are very cinematic sounding which is completely right given it's based on a classic film.

You've played Evita, now Norma; is there another big, larger than life celebrity you'd like to take a crack at?  

Hilarita???  I just adore Hilary Clinton and I bet there will be a play or musical made about her life at some point in the future. I'm actually doing some research right now on the life of Anne Bancroft. I'd like to try her shoes on in a one-woman show. 

Is Evita your favorite role so far? 

Evita will always remain so special to me as it was such a Cinderella story getting the part, my equity card, and working with Hal Prince. Playing Louise in Gypsy many years ago was also a stellar moment.   It was the first musical album I owned as a kid  and I loved hearing the downbeat to that overture every night. 

Do you have a favorite musical of all time (whether you've played in it or not)? If so, what makes it a favorite?

...favorite musical of all time has to be West Side Story. I can listen to Leonard Bernstein's score and watch Jerome Robbins choreography over and over and never grow tired of it. I still weep at the end when Maria picks up the gun and says, "How many bullets are left in the gun Chino enough for you and you and you. How many can I kill and still have one left for me?" ...Breaks my heart all the time. I played Anita in college with film star Ray Liotta as Riff and later I had the privilege to work with Jerry Robbins in the Los Angeles production of Jerome Robbins Broadway which featured several of the musical numbers from the show in a dance suite. It was breathtaking every night! ...And after this run of Sunset Boulevard I do believe that Norma will be high on the list of favorite roles to play. 

Honest, intelligent and completely grounded, Valerie Perri has had resounding successes on the musical comedy stage...successes that make her the perfect candidate to inhabit the skin of the greatest star of them all...Norma Desmond. Don't miss her!
as Norma with David Burnham as Joe Gillis

This is the fourth and final show of the MTW  2012-2013 record-breaking 60th season:  Andrew Lloyd Webber’s SUNSET BOULEVARD directed by Broadway’s Larry Raben, with Musical Direction by David Lamoureux, and Staging by John Todd. 
SUNSET BOULEVARD will be presented July 12 – July 28, 2013 at the exquisite 1070 seat Richard and Karen Carpenter Performing Arts Center in Long Beach, CA
Valerie Perri as Evita

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