Friday, April 13, 2012

Judy Blazer!

All You Need Is Love
-John Lennon

Happy Friday the 13th!
What a week! Liliane Montevecchi at Feinstein's, The Best Man on Broadway last night, and a conversation with Judy Blazer who is about to open as Vera Charles in Mame at The Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Connecticut opposite Louise Pitre ( I interviewed Louise in January shortly after it was announced that she would be playing Mame). Mame has a very special place in my heart. It is the first show I ever appeared in. Jerry Herman also happens to be my favorite composer and lyracist.
Judy Blazer and Louise Pitre
In the midst of preparations for the show, Judy and I sat down and talked Monday morning. This is the result of that conversation. Today, I am celebrating Judy Blazer! I always begin my interviews by asking for my subject's favorite philosophy or a personal quote. Judy says it is so hard to pin it down to one Oscar Wilde is always living in her head. If she had to pick ONE, it would have to be John Lennon's "All you need is love". Judy tells me that rather than her brain operating melodically, it operates harmonically. So rather than hearing the melody line, she hears the entire score all the time...""which is enough to make anybody nuts." 

Judy was born into this business. She only made a metamorphosis into musical theatre from classical music.  
 I asked Judy who the most iconic person she ever met and if they lived up to her expectations. She says there are two and interestingly enough, they will always be joined cinematically. The first is Robert Redford, who Judy worked with. She worked for him as part of the Sundance Festival.

She was starring in Funny Girl. He was a gentleman to Judy. 
Still sexy at that age, kind, rugged, an outdoorsman. Generous as he could be. 
He gave Judy a huge hug after her performance. 
Most of all, he was really kind to Judy's parents and she will never forget that. 

The other iconic figure, ironically, was Paul Newman. 
Judy has been very lucky in her career path in terms of who she has met. Olympia Dukakis is someone Judy knows personally. When she met Paul Newman, it was in her dressing room. He came backstage after Judy had done an Encores! production. She said it was the funniest thing on earth because she knelt in his presence. She told him she was now going to be like Marian Seldes and she knelt! 
Then he knelt before Judy!! 
Judy told him that she could go lower and she got flat on the ground. He laughed and said, "I think you won this round." She said looking into those blue eyes, she felt weak in the knees. It's not like her to do that. She has a pretty set of blue "flashlights" herself. In the eye department, it is rare that she is blown away by someone else's eyes. She tells me that the blueness of his eyes was something you could only fabricate electronically. "He was stunningly beautiful". He had a charm, a charisma that should be bottled. It wasn't because he was Paul Newman. Judy wonders did he become Paul Newman because of his talent and charm or did his charm and talent come out of the fact that he was Paul Newman. She doesn't know which came first but he knocked her socks off. 
Again, it's oronic that these two men whom Judy grew up loving in Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid and The Sting are two men that she had the pleasure of hugging and they were everything she ever dreamed they would be. Of course, she met them both when they were both much older. 

I asked Judy if she ever lost her concentration on stage and if so, what she did to get back on track. She says it HAS happened to her once or twice. It happens to every single actor. She tends to be hyper-focused when she works. A bomb could fall on her head and it would not change her focus. When you get older, things change. It has happened maybe twice in her career. You first have a panic attack. It can fold into almost blacking out. It is a horrible feeling. In that case, Judy tends to just make up words. She doesn't drop a stitch. But she has found that she has embraced a lace doily of a new scene into that moment. 

To ignore the slurs of injurious people is the one lesson Judy has learned in this business about making relationships lasting and resourceful. The lasting relationships will come as a result of how strongly you feel about your own convictions, your own ethics, and hanging on to the people who really influence you in a positive way, not a negative way. 

Judy grew up with people who were performing artists and who devoted much of their later life to teaching. She studied with them. They were her parents, her mentors, her teachers, her best friends. This influenced Judy tremendously. She taught at NYU for a while and then found that she is so rebellious against traditional education. She started her own school! She has a little company and school which is not in its prime right now because Judy is split in her focus. It's called The Artist's Crossing.". Judy will continue to be dedicated to it for the rest of her life. Teaching is very much a part of her life. It's appropriate for Judy at this stage in her life. She just watched the film version of the play, The History Boys. The line that she extracts from it is from the professor who dies at the end. He says to his students, "Pass it on..." 

The advice that Judy would give to anyone contemplating a career in the arts is to follow your passion. If you feel yourself falling into a state of neutrality, keep looking for where your passion lies. 

Since all my blogs touch upon Carol Channing, I asked Judy for her thoughts on Carol. She says she really does not know Carol that well outside of impersonators. When Judy was playing Fanny Brice, someone gave her a book on vaudeville. There is a page on Carol. Although Carol missed that era, her early cabaret work evoked that era.

"Judith Blazer was a comic whirlwind as the transsexual medium with dead-boyfriend problems."  - "Talking Points from a Year Onstage", New York Times.
Many factors played into Judy's upcoming role as Vera Charles. Judy was looking for the kind of role she could do regionally that would not take her too far from her mother who is 94. She was looking for something that would not be too long of a run. 
Judy's mother needs her very much right now. 
She has not been able to take long term jobs.
Judy's dad has passed and her mother has been alone and Judy's brother has been the primary care giver. She is from Italy. She is now a fish out of water in the woods of Tennessee. Judy asked her agent about some regional theatres that she had previously worked in in years past like Paper Mill and Goodspeed. And she asked her agent why she wasn't being considered for  projects that were coming up in those theatres. He replied by telling her that he didn't think she would be interested  in playing "Mame", for example, in a regional theatre. Judy stopped and took a beat and said, " Perhaps not Mame, but why not Vera?" The reason she thought of Vera is that it is a wonderful, peppery, racy role. She is an operetta star. Judy also did operetta when she was younger. She loves making jokes about it. She considers herself to be very much a type of that period...the 20s and 30s, over the top. The silent screen "look". She heard that Ray Roderick was directing it. Ray is someone that Judy loves and has known since they were both young in the business. A friend of Judy's, Kathy Morath, had just worked with Ray. As a matter of fact, Kathy is a co-teacher at Judy's school. Kathy had just done Bikinis with Ray and loved working with him. This was done at The Revision Theatre in Asbury Park, where I did Hello, Dolly!  
Interestingly enough, Judy has not been to the Goodspeed in 30 years! 30 years ago, Judy did Bloomer Girl at Goodspeed. She was looking for something and, quite frankly, she needs her "health weeks". She needs her health insurance. She looked at all of this and thought very genuinely for her at this point in her life, and her mom, and other areas of her life, she can't take on a role like Mame but she can certainly take on a role like Vera which is fun and gang busters and joyous and in a production so she went for it. She tells me that it is the first time in her life that she ever wrote an e-mail saying "please consider me for this part.". Her agent also submitted her. The people at Goodspeed are so dear and were happy that Judy desired to come back. It all worked out so beautifully. 
When I asked Judy what she considers to be HER biggest success in this business, she thought long and hard and said, "I have too many answers for that." She feels like she has already had four different careers. She started as an instrumentalist. She went into opera. Then she went into musical theatre and then into television and then back to theatre. There are so many times that, in its moment, where that moment was it. Performing at Carnegie and Avery Fisher Halls in oratorio, she felt as if she had arrived. Being on television every day, she didn't expect that. Her Broadway debut in Me And My Girl was thrilling. First night opening on Broadway on the Fourth of July. 
Michael Tilson Thomas
Last week, she was on television with Michael Tilson Thomas on PBS on  Boris and Bessie Thomashefsky, Yiddish theater pioneers, and she thought, "Wow! This is rally different and wonderful." Maybe it hasn't even happened yet. Maybe it's Mame! There are so many! It's like those oasis' on the road, a big pool of water. A mirage. You get there and there's no pool of water.You aspire to great things like being on Broadway or being in a film, then you get to it and it's such a process than when you've done it, you feel like I've arrived. Then you realize there's a whole other vista you need to reach. 

Judy openly admits that she has battled with depression in her life. She has battled with very low self-esteem issues. 
The book that changed her life was The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. 
Julia Cameron
Judy was able to meet Julia Cameron when she once went to a book signing for another book that she had written at Barnes and Noble and Judy was able to thank her. She asked Julia to write the dedication for her book. She was able to say thank you to Julia for saving her life at a very low point in her life. In 1997, Titantic was the most injurious to her ego of any job that she ever did. Her entire role was cut and she stayed in the ensemble. She stayed with the show for one year and three months. The only thing she could do was keep showing up and drawing from the love and dedication from her fellow colleagues in the cast who were so good to her. She learned that you can get bruised in life but it doesn't make it disappear. 

Judy wishes that the arts would go back to the art and less about status. 

Gregg Barnes
I asked Judy if what she wears on stage is considered clothing or costuming. She said when it comes to a character like Vera, the character is very much shaped by what she is wearing. She adores Gregg Barnes, the costumer for Mame. He did the costuming for Judy's My Fair Lady at The Paper Mill Playhouse years ago. They built the production around Judy, which very seldom happens in one's life. Gregg Barnes, at that point, had not yet become a Broadway designer. Judy says half of her character is what he had created. She feels that that is the case here once again for Vera. Vera is so over the top and what she wears so informs the way she moves. The costumes have to support the theatricality of her movements. Yes, they are costumes. However, these things have to become THEIR clothes on stage. For Vera, THAT'S what she wears. Those are Vera's clothes. For Judy, they are costumes. 

Judy is happy at this point in her career. 
What makes her unhappy? Financial struggle makes her unhappy.  Having to struggle to make a living and have health insurance makes her extremely unhappy. What makes her unhappy on a larger scheme is seeing people suffer. Social injustice. Friends not being able to get married because they are not making the rules. Judy needs to see equality for ALL people. Nature can make people suffer, we have no control over that. Someone being ill from a dis-ease. What really gets under her skin, however, is seeing someone suffer because of social injustice, because of some "big shot" calling the shots because he is a bully. 

I asked Judy how the business has changed since she made her debut. She said the recession has hurt "us". There is a trickle effect. Theatres are closing. Judy loves equality and is a socialist at heart. She would love to think that anyone has the opportunity to "have their say" on stage, to step into a "costume" or a pair of shoes that is right for them. Judy feels that right now everything is about "stardom" and celebrity. It has turned into a very materialistic world. Women bragging and boasting about how "free" they are since they can vote, and own property, and work. She feels that women today are bigger slaves than they were 100 years ago. However, if women aren't getting facelifts, and suction, and whatever, they feel they are not going to be a viable asset to this society. That pisses her off! Me, too!
Michael John LaChiusa's Bernarda Alba, a musical based on Garcia Lorca's The House of Bernarda Alba

How on earth does Judy reach theatregoers now that newspapers are obsolete and there are so many channels on TV you can’t pick the right ones to advertise on and with the web being so hit and miss...
Judy says that in some ways, she is like a child. She shows up and hopes all the work is going to be done for her. She has always been that way because her parents provided a platform for her from the time she was a child. She says her friends and fans get angry for her because she is not one to get out and advertise and tell people when she is doing something. She did not get a computer until 2008. She then reacquainted herself with the love of her life through the internet, Will Kaufman, someone she knew from the age of 12. It is because of the computer that they are re-united and she has this incredible partner in her life. She has the internet to thank for a lot of things. She just in January joined Facebook. Will who is a scholar in England and a folk musician. He made a website for Judy and she realizes the power of a website and creating your information and packaging it and putting it out electronically is really the way to do it now. 

A genie pops out of a bottle and grants Judy three wishes...Judy wishes for her mom a peaceful passing, hopefully in Judy's arms.
That she and Will will stay well, and physically strong, and spend ripe old age together in their lives. 
And that she can continue in the theatre, and with her teaching, and an involvement in the arts. That she can be inspired by it, inspire others, make a living at it, and not starve to death. 

I asked Judy to pick her favorite song. She was limited to one. She could not do it. If she could only carry one song in her heart, it would be the lullaby her mother used to sing to her as a small child. 

The last stage show that Judy saw that made a huge impact on her was Once just before it moved to Broadway. Her friend, Martin Lowe, is the musical supervisor for that. It changed Judy. It was one of those shows where she said, "Thank God for the theatre." 

I asked Judy what she does to prepare for a performance. She said she makes sure she has eaten that day. Show up on time. Slap on the paint and spackle. Slap on her clothes and her hair. Do the old Spencer Tracy, "Show up, know your lines, and don't bump into the furniture." Once you step on that conveyer belt, you're on it.  

From Marilynn Wick at Costume World, You do an iconic role. Do you think you should on to an iconic costume piece as a memento OR donate it to a museum for others to enjoy?

Judy told me that her entire closet was, at one time, from As The World Turns.  They let her take items home...for a small fee. 
 She gave a lot of it to her mom, some items to a few friends throughout the years, and some items that she has held on to. She has given some items to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids. What a great way to pay it forward...She has some clothes from a Neil Simon play that she did that she still wears. If she had a really incredibly designed costume piece that was designed for her, she doesn't feel that it would do any good just hanging in her closet.
Patricia Bruder DeBrovner, Judith Blazer, who starred in “As the World Turns,” and Dr. Charles DeBrovner

She would love to see it on display somewhere saying "Judy Blazer wore this" for others to enjoy. The truth is it really belongs to the designer more than it belongs to us. IF she kept it for a while, it would be donated in her will. 

Judy is one of the lucky few to make a living at this. She, again, also teaches. She was asked to teach several years ago. She came to realize that teaching is one of her callings. It is her way of parenting since she doesn't have biological children of her own. She feels like the old woman who lived in a shoe. She has millions of children that call her around the clock seeking her advice. She loves that and she is devoted to it. The stage, however, is home to her. 
She has never had to do another profession and has had to no other "survival" job to make a living. She says that although people consider her a success in this business, the last few years have been a dreadful struggle. It has been that way for so many, even big name performers. She tells me she doesn't have any other skills. She has managed by the "hair of her chinny chin chin" to make ends meet, but, again, it has been a struggle, especially now because she is divided between her art and taking care of her beloved mother and her sweetheart in England and trying to keep all of her "life" stuff up. She has never worked at anything else.

Judy has received a lot of compliments over the years on her craft, her talent, her abilities to morph into various characters. When people tell her that she touches their hearts, that means the world to her. 

Judy you have touched my heart on so many levels! I cannot wait to see you in Mame next Friday night! 
Order your tickets here

Thank you, to Judy, for the gifts you have given and continue to give to the world.

Your devoted fan,

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Tomorrow's blog will be..Lorraine Ford DeMann's Memories of Hello, Dolly!

Thank you, to all the mentioned in this blog!

  Here's to an INCREDIBLE tomorrow for ALL...with NO challenges!

Richard Skipper,                            

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