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Texas in Seattle, Lonestar Love . . .
Texas in Seattle, Lonestar Love . . .
Interviews with Robert Cuccioli and Dee Hoty

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

Hey, Seattle! We've got another Broadway-bound musical stretching its muscles here at the 5th Avenue Theatre, this month. Another chance to see the Broadway stars, just like they'll be in New York. Lone Star Love, or The Merry Wives of Windsor, Texas opens with preview performances on September 8 and officially opens on September 19.

The musical takes it story from Shakespeare, with a crafty colonel trying to seduce other men's wives and wives taking their revenge on him for his efforts. But, from all accounts, that's about where this musical gallops off. Randy Quaid, star of screen and television, makes his Broadway debut as Colonel John Falstaff. Along with Quaid, a full roster of experienced Broadway vets are cast, headlined by Robert Cuccioli and Dee Hoty, multiple Tony nominees. In addition, an unusual live band will join in the fun on stage. Red Clay Ramblers is an experienced North Carolina string-band whose repertoire includes old-time mountain music, country, rock, Dixieland, and bluegrass. Some members of the band will also have speaking roles.

This Broadway musical is a much smaller venture than the monstrous Young Frankenstein that has been dominating recent theater press. With only one basic set, it's a simpler, more straightforward story. However, audiences are expected to be able to stomp their feet and clap their hands along with the rollicking music.

I had the opportunity to talk with Robert Cuccioli and Dee Hoty, just before their arrival in Seattle. Robert Cuccioli's first Broadway role was Javert in Les Miserable and his biggest role has been a number of years performing as Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, in the musical Jeckyll and Hyde. Jeckyll and Hyde premiered at the 5th Avenue, before going to Broadway, as well. Cuccioli might also be familiar to Seattle audiences from his work in 2001's A Little Night Music, here in Seattle. Dee Hoty has been hoofin' it on Broadway for quite a while and has garnered three Best Actress Tony nominations for Footloose, The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public and Will Rogers Follies. She was last in Seattle in Anything Goes in 2000.

I asked them to characterize Seattle and New York audiences and whether they have experienced much of a difference between them. Cuccioli says, "It's been a while since I've been to Seattle, in A Little Night Music, and I was in Seattle for the 9/11 tragedy. Of course, my perceptions were taken over by what was happening in New York and the country, but, as I remember, the audiences were wonderful, very receptive and giving and it was a great environment. New York audiences are not just New York people, but also tourists, as well, so it's difficult to really compare. But Seattle audiences are very warm and willing to enjoy what was given to them." Hoty agrees, "&they're both great theater towns, that's one of my impressions of Seattle. There is so much good theater (in Seattle)."

I suggested that the "Seattle nice" reputation might be a little soft on criticism and wondered if they would get a tough enough response to know what might need changing. I mentioned to Hoty that audiences in Seattle seem to give standing ovations more and more to solid, but not outstanding, performances. Hoty's take is that, "that's trendy, for people to get up. It's happening in New York, too. I get up because I can't see the rest of the bows. But, it (standing ovation) rarely happens in London. It has to really be heartfelt. On opening nights, it's one thing, or a concert show, like (her recent starring role in) Mama Mia, the music lends itself to sucking people out of their seats. So, it's not just Seattle, it's a sign of the times. I'm not sure what it means. I just think it's become a trend."

Cuccioli is not concerned. "The audience is definitely an extra element to the performance," he agrees, "and the reaction will help guide us in how to change the show. But our creators are very savvy and even if we don't get as rigorous a response, they can tell from a general audience what will work and what will not. We come to our own conclusion before we even hit the audience. If Seattle is 'too giving,' I still think we know what we need to build the show properly."

I asked them both about how they were brought into this show. Cuccioli had heard about an early incarnation of the show, over 10 years ago, when it was titled, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Texas," but never saw it then or in 2005 when it was presented off-Broadway. But he "came to read for the producers. From what I read, I thought it was wonderful and very much wanted to audition for it." He describes what he most likes about this role. "What I like the most is that it gives me a chance to show my comedic stuff. I often get cast in dark roles. In Little Night, I had a comedic role, Carl Magnus, a military man, a little stuffy, kind of jealous. This character is an intensely jealous man and that is part of the comedy involved in it. Jekyll and Jyde, Les Miz are both very dramatic, intense roles. This is intense, but humor comes out of the intensity."

Hoty explains that "Randy Skinner, the director/choreographer is an old, old friend. I've known him socially. I saw this show 2 1/2 years ago off-Broadway. It (the part) was actually offered to me and I turned it down at the time for various reasons. It's been completely been rewritten, songs and everything. I had just finished playing the lead in Mama Mia, and I was just tired! So, this show had a very successful run, and I had friends in it, and sort of joked (to Skinner), 'call me when you go to Broadway.' And he did!"

When asked about her take on her role, she exclaims, "Randy Quaid is so funny and wonderful and he's such a guy, not a star, he's just a team player and his work is wonderful and I've always wanted to work with Bob Cuccioli and Lauren Kennedy. I've known (Lauren's) husband, Alan Campbell, for years. What I like about Mrs. Page is that she's smart and has the courage of her convictions and is willing to admit when she's wrong. We all have issues when we're trying to marry our daughter off to the right guy and win back a husband's affection. It's hard to play a dumb person; I look smart. I thought I'd hung up my cowboy boots, but it's fun, dusting off my Texas accent!"

Hoty's path to Broadway was fairly traditional, if there is a tradition to getting to Broadway. "I grew up in a suburb of Cleveland and always was a ham, but always had a good loud voice so I was in the choir, and I was the one making the jokes. Then there were high school musicals, and I discovered you could major in it in college and could be paid for it after college! I started doing regional theater auditions and worked at The Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival, as a paid apprentice. When they found out I could sing, I never had to go back to the costume shop. I worked with professional directors and actors and moved to New York. I had a professional resume which got me other interviews and other work. Within two years, I had made my Broadway debut."

Cuccioli's road to Broadway was a bit different. "Theater is actually my second career! I worked on Wall Street for E.F. Hutton. I went to school for business, but I always did theater in my spare time. People said 'why don't you do this as a career?' It was all trial and error, I wasn't trained (as a singer). I had a friend in a light opera company in New York, Gilbert and Sullivan, etc. and got a job in the chorus, while still working on Wall Street and finally quit Wall Street to do this full time. Twelve years after that, I got Les Miz, which was my first Broadway role."

I spoke to Hoty, a bit, about women's roles and her experience. She differentiates the roles on stage from in movies and television. "What I've always loved about the theater is that you can grown old in the theater unlike the movies. You can be 40 and look like yourself; you don't need to have plastic surgery. You can own your age and be who you are. The business is skewed toward youth. When I was coming up, (though), you had to be in your 30s to work and they didn't want 20 year olds. It's not the same for men. Women in musicals have to be better than men in everything, a triple or quadruple threat&you have to be able to tumble or&(do something else fantastic). Men just have to look good and sing. There are a lot more parts for men, there will always be more men than women. Girls sell magazines, but girl movies don't sell like boy movies do. I don't mean it as a judgment."

I wondered if there were some aspects that were changing for women. Hoty agrees that "there will be roles (for women) written as women wake up and take more control. They'll write more for themselves and each other. We (women) are the majority and certainly with the aging boomers, I'm hoping there'll be a change, a marked increase in work for older women. It's happening now, but it's harder for (shows with more older women) to be produced because the benchmark hasn't been set. I hope that it's changing&I've been lucky. I've made a career in New York and I work hard for my money!"

Performing in a Broadway show requires eight performances a week, possibly for years. So, how do they do it and keep it fresh? Cuccioli describes, "You have to consider a performer as an athlete, like a decathalon athlete. You have to keep your body strong, your mind centered. It's not just working 2 1/2 hours a day. Your day is geared toward your work, which is 8 o'clock at night. So, you have to go to a gym or a chiropractor or get voice lessons so you keep your voice in tune and keep from hurting yourself." Hoty adds, "I could do this show (for years). The hardest thing about the show for me will be the corset! It brings its own kind of challenge: eating a carrot for dinner. (But) it's a great company and a fun story."

When asked if he had any other comments, Cuccioli says, "What people will see is not Shakespeare set to music. It's set in 1870, Windsor, Texas, so it's very contemporized. The music is country western, bluegrass, foot stomping, also we have a band on stage and to see that, as well as some of the band members play cast members in the show, it's going to be a very exciting show. You don't need to enjoy country western to like this show, but I'm a real fan of this music to both sing and listen to."

Hoty's encouragement is, "It's great that we'll present the show to people who aren't encumbered by the Broadway (atmosphere). Seattle seems to be 'the town to be in.' One night, we'll try something, and then another, and we'll see what works. It's like a new book before it's edited. If it's too long, whittle it down, change, rewrite over the days and weeks and then you have something solid."

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