Sunday, June 8, 2014

James Judy: Joe Boyd Damn Yankees Goodspeed Opera House

Stars can't shine without darkness.

JAMES JUDY (Joe Boyd) is thrilled to be returning to Goodspeed, where he was Finian in Finian’s Rainbow, Mr. Shalford in Half a Sixpence, and Jack in The Gig at Chester. Broadway: Into the Woods, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Jekyll and Hyde, A Christmas Carol. National Tours: Deaf West's Big River, South Pacific. Off- Broadway: Fiorello, City Center Encores; 1,2,3,4,5 and The Gig, Manhattan Theatre Club; Catch Me If I Fall, Promenade Theatre; La Boheme, NYSF. TV: Boardwalk Empire, Trinity, Cosby. Regional: A Christmas Story (Jean Shepard), A Wonderful Life (George Bailey).

I was lucky enough to see James Judy's joyous performance as Joe Boyd in Damn Yankees at Goodspeed Opera House earlier last month.
He took a break from his busy schedule yesterday to discuss his journey to this point. Today, I celebrate James Judy and his body of "worth".
James is grateful to be where he is at this point in his life. In this business, all artists are never sure if it's going to disappear.He has been a lucky man to keep working these past thirty-five years, since 1978 basically. He has worked in the theatre primarily and has hone from show to show.
He has also from time to time scraped by until the next experience. It has been an extraordinary journey. Mostly, he is just grateful that he is still working today. He says there is always this nagging fear that someone is going to "reveal you" and that you're not really good at all and that you will never work again.There are also a number of disappointments along the way and projects he thought he should have
gotten or projects that he was once involved in that he is no longer involved in and they go on to bigger success.
At those moments, you have to be grateful for what you do have and where you are. At the moment, James is enjoying the work that he is getting to do.

He loves sharing the stage with David Beach (as Applegate) every night. Last week, George Abbott's widow attended the show. That was a thrill. James has had so much "unknowing" of what's going to be "next" in his life.
Luckily, right now, the horizon is a little clear. After Damn Yankees, James is heading to the O'Neill to work on a new musical play, then he heads to the Kansas City Starlight Theatre to do The Sound of Music.
After August 1st, he doesn't know what is next. His whole life has been like that, so much so that he is constantly moved to the edge of not knowing what is about to happen.
He has gotten more used to it. It, however, never gets any easier. There is always that element of slight terror.
What does James know now that he wishes he had when he first started out?
He wishes that he had the steadiness then that he now has.
He had much more of a roller coasterish personal life then. He led a very serious party life that was ongoing on at the same time that he was maintaining a professional life. That, of course, made his work that much more difficult. It is so much hard to get your instrument back up to where you desire it or to be well enough physically and emotionally to really do the work that needs to be done. Now, he no longer lives like that and he no longer has all of those obstacles in the way. Obviously, his work life is so much easier than it was and it is so much less tortured than it was when he was younger.
He made his life so much more difficult than it needed to be by just dealing with his own demons.
Knowing that he needed to look at those demons a lot more seriously when he was a lot younger, he would have saved himself a lot of pain and heartache, but then, you don't turn into the person you are if you don't live through those things.
He just wishes he had known to be able to take advantage of some of those things that had come his way that he really did squander because he was too busy with his head in the skies.

Ann Arvia plays Meg Boyd and James Judy plays her husband, Joe Boyd
(Cloe Poisson, cpoisson@courant.com )
Damn Yankees     
He has a true star turn when he is left alone on stage to sing Goodbye, Old Girl.

It is such a pleasure to be able to have the stage to yourself and be able to sing such a wonderful range of a song.
James looks forward to that every night and tries to touch the audience's heart and get them ready for the emotional journey of the show. Every time, James runs into anyone his age or older who knows that he is doing the show says, "Oh, you get to sing that song", and James tells them, "Yes, I get to sing that song!"
That also happens to be his favorite moment in the show.

In James' biography at the top of this blog, you will see that this is his fourth time at the Goodspeed Opera House. The first time he was there was in 1993. He was not performing on the main stage. He was out at Chester working on a show called The Gig.
In 1996, he returned to play Finian in Finian's Rainbow, that time on the main stage. He returned again in 2008 in Half a Sixpence.  And here he is again.
As part of this series celebrating Damn Yankees, I have interviewed director Daniel Goldstein and James' Meg, Ann Arvia.  
They all have praised the luxury of a long rehearsal period. James is certainly no exception."It's a fantastic place because you really have a great haven without the distractions of other things that are going on if you were in New York." You don't have the pressure of trying to do other auditions or dealing with other parts of the business. At Goodspeed, you are truly taken away from it all. The cast and crew live, for several months, in an idealic country situation in which they can concentrate only on the work. In that rehearsal space, over the years, James has seen so many extraordinary things happen. Every time he walks into that space, he knows that maybe he will get somewhere that he has
James Judy as Joe Boyd, (left) makes his pact with Applegate (the devil) (right) during Act
never gotten to before.

It is such a safe environment working with conductor Michael O'Flaherty, who James has worked with before. James has known him since '93. Many of these people, Donna Lynn Cooper Hilton, for example, who is the line producer on Damn Yankees, James has known for years.
Stephen Mark Lukas (Joe Hardy), James, Ann Arvia (www.Goodspeed.org)
She was originally James' stage manager on Finian's Rainbow
Knowing all of these people all adds to the safe environment. The addition of the waterfall, and the possibility of flooding any second, also adds to the excitement! There is also new housing for the first time for James.
It is quite close to the rehearsal hall and he has a great set up with bird feeders outside his window. 
It is a very enriching environment there. Although they are out of the city, they can still easily get to the city if they desire.
This is the first time that James has played Joe. It came around by someone breaking their foot! James was not originally cast in this production.
David Beach, Stephen Mark Lukas and James Judy (Older Joe) at Damn Yankees first Read-through. (c)Diane Soblolewski
James had not even gone in for the auditions the first time around. He might have been out of town at that time. He had just, in frustration, contacted his agent because he wasn't working. He told his agent, "My God! Damn Yankees is being done at Goodspeed.
(c)Diane Soblolewski
Joe Boyd is the type of role I should be seen for." A week later, the audition came through. Due to the circumstances, they needed a replacement.  
It is a role that James had auditioned for before so he had  learned and knew Joe's big ballad.
It is, however, a completely different script (via Joe DiPietro). The Washington Senators have been replaced by the Boston Red Sox.
Although he had not played the role before, he had researched it before in preparing to hopefully do it.
This is also the first time that James has worked with director Daniel Goldstein. Working with Daniel was a wonderful experience and there is a lot that James says he will take forward with him throughout the rest of his career. James believes he has elevated himself to a whole new level of centeredness.
(c)Diane Soblolewski 
There is a phrase he will steal from Bill Findlay, another director he has worked with on a project he did several years ago, "Everything blossoms with love."That phrase really does apply with what works within this show, within these scenes, and how James' character wins in the end. That is something James will take with him and will be a kernel in his heart forever. In a musical, especially, you have to create moments. Daniel just allowed his cast to find those moments sometimes out of thin air because they are not necessarily there in the script. For example, those moments that give the audience more a feel of the home environment. There is a short scene between James and Ann in which they succeed brilliantly.
James Judy getting ready (Playbill.com)
That scene leads into their song and that feeling carries through the rest of the show.
Prior to this production, James had never seen a stage production of Damn Yankees
Now, he wants to. James shares a dressing room with Ron Wisniski, who plays Coach Van Buren. He had the good fortune of working with the late George Abbott a few times.
He also has done Damn Yankees more than once, playing Applegate, utilizing the original script. James is fascinated hearing Van Buren talking about it. They both have an admiration for the original piece and what Abbott was able to do with it. Abbott's jokes and structure are still sure fire. With the wonderful aspects that Joe DiPietro has brought in by updating it and making it more relevant to right now, James would love to do it again. It would also be a thrill to do the original and play the similarities and differences.
I asked James if he thought the Red Sox/Yankees aspect could play as easily in other parts of the country. His answer was, "I suppose. " It is, however, more relevant now. So many people know about the long Red Sox droughts and the "Big Bambino Curse". More of that does seem to be common knowledge. The original script concerns the Washington Senators and there is a lot of political humor of the day. Some aspects of the original are actually outdated around the country. A lot of the younger audience are not going to get the political jokes from the original. SOME aspects of the revision, might play across the country.
Some will not. That being said, the original Abbott script has so many wonderfully structural phonetic things that are part of it that all of that will play just as well. You cannot take anything away from the score and text of this piece.
James thinks this score is so much fun. He loves listening to all of it and seeing how it is so informative and witty and fun and move the story along, and yet, still those wonderful ballads that Steve sings so beautifully throughout the show. Then add to the mix Lola. So many of these songs became standards. Most audiences of James' age and older know these songs. It is a testament to this kind of writing. This kind of score will endure forever. Audiences depart the Goodspeed Opera House with Heart stuck in their heads.  
Speaking of Stephen Mark Lucas, he is spectacular. He is an amazing talent. He has been nothing but fun to work with. "Boy, my God, he's got so much talent." He really is a true triple threat. When he opens his mouth to sing, all challenges melt away. James has been doing some workshops at Goodspeed with students. They do workshops and then they see the shows. All the girls want to know where Stephen is. He has that matinee idol quality and appeal. He is a very sincere and a gifted actor as well. He should do very well.
If James could sell his soul to the devil and have ONE CHANGE in the business, he would love to see more theatre that wasn't so celebrity and star driven and that people would go to see plays and new shows simply because of what they are and that, somehow, theatre could be made affordable again.
James cannot afford to go see theatre on a regular basis in New York. Neither can I.
We are grateful when we are comped in and get to see things. He would also love to see actors paid a better living wage. Magically, it would ALL be so affordable so we could fill those seats. James went to school in England. They are raised on theatre. It is part of their daily lives there. It is so much more accessible for them to get to and so much more affordable for them to go to. If we had that, we would have a much more broader audience and a livlier theatre scene.


I asked James what he considered his lowest point in his career. It surrounds his time in The Scarlet
Pimpernel on Broadway.
He feels that he had been in the show too long and he got himself into a very unhealthy lifestyle  at the same time. A different director took over the project and reworked it. James stayed when the show when, according to him, he shouldn't have. His experience was creating the musical with the original director. That experience was very fulfilling and thrilling. It was the highpoint of his career. It slowly whittled away at him artistically.
There was a rough patch from that point until he got his head "back on straight" until his next project came along. In general, that can happen in longer runs of shows where you are not being artistically and emotionally fulfilled at the same time. James internalized all of that and turned it into a negative experience. So, to James, The Scarlet Pimpernel was "the best of times, the worst of times."
(Photo by: Tracy Martin)
I asked James about his evolution as an artist. He believes it coincides with his evolution as a human being. This is not a new story with almost any artist I speak with. The better human being that James has become, the better artist he has become...the more well read, the more educated, more passionate, more in touch with his surroundings. His life, in general, gets reflected in his work.He can bring that confidence with him into his work. There is now a strong security in his growth as a human being. They are so tied together. James is so grateful that he basically has these challenges added to his life. These challenges have afforded him a lot of joy and heartache. Those have helped him to want to improve all aspects of his life AND his work.
What motivates James to keep striving, to keep working?
Everything you've just read here. He wakes up each day and strives to do better that day and be a better person that day. It sounds Pollyannaish and altruistic but it is a striving that seems to be part of his nature and it is a part of most people's nature.
That striving is part of what makes a theatre professional whole.
The advice that James gives to all artists is to stay curious. What interests you? In the a fore mentioned workshops that James teaches at Goodspeed, he has focused on both the acting and the singing.It is very interesting to see what they latch on to. They were working on Heart, for example. They were all working on their various parts. He asked a couple of kids to rap the song. They stood up and started rapping and hip hopping their idea of Heart.They just came alive. James told them that it is the same story telling. They got deeper into the words. To find out what it would take to get them communicate with people and to find a reason as to why THEY want to do it in stead of the star driven money making goal is, the "Kardashian" idea that is prevalent now. There needs to be a reason that is part of their personal growth. Then, they will have something to hang on to and to work on.
In closing, James would like to say this is a fantastic gift he has been given to be at Goodspeed this spring. It is an honor to be part of Michael Price's last season. (I hope to interview Michael before he moves on.) 
James has known him for many years and would like to take this moment to acknowledge the extraordinary job he has done.
Ron Wisniski, as Coach Van Buren, (left) talks to members of the "Red Sox" in the first act
There are going to be big shoes to fill with him leaving. He has been nothing but a mensch to James from the beginning.
James is really grateful that Damn Yankees stepped up to the plate and blew it out of the park for Michael's favorite season. James prays to God that Michael's successor realizes what a huge responsibility they have to maintain and keep Goodspeed's bar as high as it has been under Michael Price's tutelage. It has really been something. That is what James will take with him. He is also grateful that someone broke their foot so he could be there!

 Thank you ALL who have shaped me in my journey to this point.

 With grateful XOXOXs ,





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