Today we are talking to DROP DEAD DIVA guest star Sharon Lawrence and discussing her long-awaited return to the series as Bobbie Dobkins in Sunday's "Mother's Day" episode as well as taking a look at her long and varied film and theater career with thoughts on everything from CABARET and CHICAGO onstage to DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES, LAW & ORDER: SVU and CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM on the small screen and the new Theresa Rebeck play she stars in opening next month at the Mark Taper Forum in LA, POOR BEHAVIOR, as well as much, much more!
Over the course of the next several weeks, we are going to be taking an extensive look at the sights and sounds both onscreen and onset of the hit TV dramedy series DROP DEAD DIVA - new episodes airing Sunday nights at 9 PM on Lifetime - featuring exclusive interviews with the leading lady divas and dashing supporting men on the LA-based supernatural legal series. Featuring a memorable collection of musical performances and Broadway guest stars over the years - Paula Abdul, Rosie O'Donnell, Delta Burke and many more included - DROP DEAD DIVA is the quintessential TV series for Broadway babies looking for some laughs and levity - the latter available in many more ways than one, given the show's heavenly aspirations. DROP DEAD DIVA centers on a legal eagle named Jane whose body acts as the means for the indomitable spirit of a model, Deb, who loses her life, to make a second chance and how the girl inside must learn to adjust to looking like the woman on the outside that she is now. In other words, a model finds out what it means to look like everyone else, in a delightfully quirky twist of fate - and learns to be a lawyer, too. Season Three picks up with the cliffhanger car crash that closed last season in a dark and shocking way. What will Grayson remember of the conversation he had with Jane pre-crash? What will Jane do to save him? What about his engagement (to somebody else)? What will happen back at the office with Teri, Kim and Parker? What about Stacy and Fred? All these questions and many more will most assuredly be answered come Sunday night! Plus, there's always a musical number or two not too far off if you stay tuned - such as this week's BroadwayWorld exclusive world premiere of "Lean On Me" available here!
Be sure to check back often because in the following weeks we will also feature conversations with DROP DEAD DIVA stars Josh Henderson, Jackson Hurst, Ben Feldman and definitely stay tuned for next week's exclusive chat with featured guest star and Tony-winner, the one and only Faith Prince!
Continuing the BRIDGING TV & THEATRE: DROP DEAD DIVA series, here is my extended conversation with DROP DEAD DIVA guest star Sharon Lawrence in which we discuss her many Broadway credits - CABARET, CHICAGO, ZORBA and FIDDLER ON THE ROOF included - as well as her extensive and varied theater career and acting alongside the likes of Cherry Jones, Marian Seldes and DROP DEAD DIVA guest star and fellow Broadway baby Faith Prince. Additionally, Ms. Lawrence shares her fascinating insights into the art of acting and the role of the actor in society as well as provides a detailed play-by-play of her own process and the juxtaposition of musical theatre versus straight drama - plus, comments on SMASH, GLEE, Weill, Brecht, feminism, and much, much more!
Flying In The Face Of Fear
PC: I adore your recording of "Don't Look Now" on the Kurt Weill CENTENNIAL recording. Do you remember recording that?
SL: That was a long time ago!
PC: Yes - a live concert.
SL: I remember it was in LA at Don't Tell Mama.
PC: What do you think of Kurt Weill's music in general?
SL: Well, there is a complexity and a sophistication and a reaching for something deeper in the human psyche - pulling no punches. I think that was an interesting aspect of our culture at the time - as our world become more connected in some ways with our technology, the struggles of other people became more evident and it showed up in our art. I think that's true now, too.
PC: Totally. Plus, Brecht and Weill contributed so much to modern culture if only for the alienation effect - reality TV comes out of that tradition, at the very least.
SL: Yeah, and I think that what humans have always done is to, for lack of a better word, rubber-neck. (Laughs.)
PC: I completely agree.
SL: We watch when people are reflecting our shadows. Back in the 1930s, it was an important time to reveal those shadows. That, then gave rise to our better natures - stepping up and working for justice.
PC: Working for justice - what a lead-in to NYPD BLUE!
PC: Before we get to that, though, let's talk about a fellow participant in this column, Hal Prince, who was your director in CABARET.
SL: Well, he's such a legend for his imaginative, progressive, challenging, but very inclusive approach to storytelling. Something that people who hadn't worked with him personally may have not known is that this man - who is such a great leader and, again, willing to push The Shadows - had such a nurturing, warm, kind, gentle aspect to the way he works. I found that very encouraging - obviously, as someone under his tutelage at the time - but, also, that there is a standard at the top that can be expected.
SL: There is a kind way to be effective. To create something astounding does not have to be done in a way that is… destructive.
PC: Not everyone has to be a Fosse-esque taskmaster, right?
SL: Well, I think that it is true in any profession that there are people who are confident enough to use their encouragement and support as opposed to a dominating tact. That's true with any profession.
PC: Totally. John Kander has also done this column, and I have to ask: was doing Velma in CHICAGO on Broadway the thrill of a lifetime for you?
SL: It was. (Pause.) It was. It was - for me - a culmination of so many things, because I had worked with them before - in CABARET, of course - and, that was a dream long in coming true for me because when I was in college at UNC Chapel Hill, although they had a theater department, my major was journalism. They really didn't do musicals, but I had grown up in church choirs and listening to all of the great musicals because, you know, my parents had them.
PC: Of course. Was everything heading in that direction for you?
SL: Yes, I always thought that was where my future lay. I was so inspired and driven and delighted in combining music and movement and storytelling… so I was asked to be part of a cabaret at a local restaurant in Chapel Hill. (Laughs.)
PC: No way! That's hilarious.
SL: That was the first production of a theater that, ultimately, Terry Mann and I helped start. Terry and I were the leads in the first production that the North Carolina Theater every did. That theater has now been running strong as a regional company for twenty-seven years. The first show they ever did was this Kander & Ebb revue.
PC: What was the production like?
SL: The three of us cast members had this bounty of material to sing - songs that I did know and songs that I had never heard. And, when you sit with all that material and get to kind of carry it with you because you are playing more than one role in a revue like that, it's like they were my musical theatre teachers just as I sang their material - so many years before I ever met them. So, doing CHICAGO and knowing the history behind it and what its concept was generated from - the idea of repression of society and, particularly, of women in the 20s…
PC: It's such a rich piece.
SL: I was also working with the Weisslers, as I had before on ZORBA with Anthony Quinn and CABARET and FIDDLER - I knew that that show was successful for so many reasons. But, for me, it was so satisfying because of some reasons that maybe weren't so obvious: my history with the creative team and the statement that CHICAGO makes about women and the box that women were put in in a culture that would not recognize the levels of abuse and how little recourse women had.
PC: Without a doubt.
SL: Oftentimes, the final pushback that a woman had did land her in jail because she didn't really have the process by which to protect herself in other ways.
PC: You really invested so much thought into your character.
SL: Well, it's also fun to crack jokes that are so well-crafted and, of course, to be somebody else on the other side of the law!
PC: You can say that again!
SL: It's always a delight to play with that team and the musical director - you know, they put me in that show in about two and a half weeks.
PC: Wow! Even with that choreography?
SL: It was just incredible, their ability to be so effective and efficient as they are changing cast members. One of the most thrilling moments of my life - not just my work, but my life - was that Ann Reinking was part of the process putting me in.
PC: What was that like, working with her?
SL: Well, she, of course, is just juggling so much in her life that she would come in when she could. I remember we were working on "My Own Best Friend" and she was there to watch and coach. Then, at one point, she was, you know, doing Roxie - because it is a duet. And, at some point in one of the times we were running it together - probably the last time - it was a fully-realized performance and we were really doing it.
PC: It came alive.
SL: Yeah, it was… it was at a rehearsal hall and it had mirror and a view of midtown…
PC: A magical moment.
SL: It was the culmination of something very special to me.
PC: I remember seeing you in it at the Shubert - it has moved since, of course.
SL: Yeah, yeah - I loved that theater.
PC: That was where so many great shows have been.
SL: Of course.
PC: So, is KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN next for you then since you've done four other Kander & Ebb shows?
SL: (Big Laugh.) Well, are they reviving that anywhere that you know of? That's a challenging show.
PC: Apparently there is a lot of interest. Would you consider a big stage role like that at this point?
SL: Well, I am doing Theresa Rebeck's new play right now!
PC: Oh, wow! Marsha Norman just did this column and we were talking about Theresa and SMASH - isn't it just incredible?
SL: I know - it's so fantastic! Where we have gotten technically, where we can do musical numbers faster - I did a musical number on this sitcom that I starred in years ago.
PC: FIRED UP! I loved that show. On Must See TV on NBC!
SL: Oh, thank you so much for remembering that show! We had a blast working on that. But, now, with digital technology, you can commit to the investment of what it means to do a couple of musical numbers in an eight-day schedule or however long they are taking to do an episode.
PC: Thank goodness.
SL: Yeah, this is really a heyday for Hollywood musicals and those of us who had such stars in our eyes about them - both with GLEE and, now, with SMASH.
PC: I completely agree. It's a revolution!
SL: There's so much talent out there that can do it all. I mean, Brian D'Arcy James is a good friend of mine and I'm delighted for him to work on a show that is about the world that he has committed his life to and to be able to do it in New York where his family is. This team that Theresa has behind this show - Craig [Zadan] and Neil [Meron], who I worked with on DROP DEAD DIVA and did such a great job with the film version of CHICAGO…
PC: What an amazing accomplishment that was!
SL: Yes. It was stellar - because they set it back in the 1920s and you saw the internal world and what was pushing these women. It was more than about just women getting revenge - it was about Prohibition and people in excess and being pushed up against many walls; metaphorically and literally. And, pushing back. (Pause.) But, SMASH - if I could program it on my Tivo now, I would!
PC: Me too! Tell me everything about the new Rebeck piece.
SL: It's called POOR BEHAVIOR - and, I think it says it all right there in the title. It's so thrilling because it's Doug Hughes directing, too.
SL: And, it's a great cast - Christopher Evan Welch, Reg Rogers, JoAnna Day.
PC: What is it about?
SL: It's about America - where we are now and how we see ourselves. It is told through the prism of two couples who spend an evening together that leads to this entanglement of suspicion and infidelity and the idea of loyalty and where we deceive ourselves and others.
PC: Sounds amazing.
SL: We are rehearsing it in New York because of SMASH, but we will be premiering it and performing it at the Taper - because, of course, the Taper is so committed to new plays.
PC: And it is such a beautiful space to play in, as well.
SL: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
PC: Haven't you done a number of shows there?
SL: My first was understudying Holly Near in THUNDER & RAIN.
PC: What did you have to do?
SL: I had to learn her show!
Pat Cerasaro is a playwright and screenwriter currently in pre-production on his first feature film.|