to be overlooked or outdone, PYGmalion Theatre Company has been
pushing hard on their own season this year. While the first half of
the season was taken up with the mighty successful The Passion Of
Sister Dottie S. Dixon, it gave other productions a chance to do
their thing behind the scenes and prepare for the second half. Which
we'll be discussing the first of those today.
--- Any fan of jazz knows the works of
Billie Holiday, earning the nickname The Queen Of Song from her
skills behind the mic and penning her own works. Captivating
audiences while recording works on nearly every major label at the
time, and setting a new bar before passing at just the age of 44. The
play Lady Day At Emerson's Bar & Grill
takes a brief look
at her life with key songs serving as the soundtrack. I got a chance
to chat with the director behind the play, Teresa Sanderson, as well
as the duo performing on stage, Dee-Dee Darby-Duffin and Trevor J.
Wicher, about the play as well as their thoughts on local
theatre.Teresa Sanderson, Dee-Dee Darby-Duffin and
Hey guys, first off, tell us a
little bit about yourselves.
I am really known around town as an actress been working in SLC for
twenty years and I love it! I direct some and produce a lot of stuff
around town. I am the Board Chair for the Davis Arts Council. We
program the Ed Kenley Amphitheater in Layton Commons Park. I also
Coordinate the Arts in the Park program for Layton City, We have 800
kids in area parks and give them a little taste of recreation, visual
arts and theatre arts. the program is in its fifth year and just
keeps growing. I am a happily married person, 25 years in October,
Barry and I have two kids: a boy at 23 and a girl at 21. Our son Rob
is a musician (and a Baker) and McKalle is in the third year of the
musical theatre program at Weber State Honestly I feel so lucky to
have this great family and get to do what I love.
I seem to be known amongst my peers as the hardest working man in
theatre! I'm a 25 year old Actor/Director/Music
Director/Conductor/Lighting Designer who just loves to be a part of
anything theatre. I grew up in Layton, UT (Father was in the Air
Force and retired here), and moved to Salt Lake City about four years
go to work after attending Utah State University in Logan. I'm always
working on two or three shows at a time... call me crazy. I recently
Musically Directed Reefer Madness that opened two weeks ago
with Dark Horse Company Theatre, and Kiss Me Kate that opened
last month with Rodgers Memorial Theatre. It's my passion, what can I
inspired all you to take an interest in theater?
It really all started with my elementary school choir when I was in
the third grade. I loved being up front and performing for an
audience. Additionally, my teacher was the accompanist for the choir
and I wanted to play the piano like her, so I begged my parents to
sign me up for piano lessons. Studying the piano changed my life in
ways I didn't even understand at that age. It became the foundation
for all that I would do in regards to singing, acting, performing,
etc. From that point forward I started doing the annual church
Christmas play and getting involved in choir and theatre classes in
Jr. High. By the time I was in High School I was director of the
Church Choir and Drama Ministry, and President of the Productions
Company at school. I knew that aside from acting in theatre, that I
was also beginning a nice long career as a leader and director as
I love where theater takes you. You can be so many different people
and the applause is pretty validating.
I think I have always been interested in theatre I don't remember
ever deciding I was going to do theatre I just always did. I can't
imagine my life without it. I am one of those saps that believe the
arts can change the world at the most, and make it a better place to
live at the least. I think art enriches our lives in so many ways I
don't want to live in a world without it. That's probably why I give
so much of my time making sure kids are exposed to art.
Teresa, how did you come to be
a director for Pygmalion Theatre this season?
I found Lady Day a long time ago (about 15 years) I knew I
wanted to direct it. I have been a Billie fan since junior high. I
was working for Theatre Works West at the time we talked about
producing it then but we weren't sure we could cast it. Fast forward
14 or 15 years and Pygmalion (who are a lot of the same folks from
Theatre Works West days) came to me this summer and ask me if I still
wanted to direct Lady Day. I said yes right away and we
started talking about auditions. I knew whoever was going to play
Billie had a lot of work ahead of them so I wanted to cast right away
and I started then looking for piano players too.
What made you decide to do
Lady Day as your
I love Billie always have. I think people only see the drug addicted
Billie they forget the journey that got her there. It is amazing she
survived as long as she did. She was brave and strong and she wasn't
afraid to be herself She was the first female (never mind black
female) to tour with the big bands that was the 30's and segregation
was in full swing. Lots of places made her sit in the bus until she
sang. She couldn't use the front entrance, or eat in the club she
was singing in. And when she was with Artie Shaw the band really
stood up for her they all ate in the kitchen with Billie and the
colored help. Used the same door Billie had to. They were her Pals.
That was only 50 years ago. I want people to think about that too.
After she got in trouble with the authorities they would follow her
around checking up on her. They never liked that she sang “Strange
Fruit” they told her they would stop following her if she would
stop singing that damn song. She refused and had it written into her
contract that she could sing it anytime she wanted. She was so much
more than what people remember about her. I wanted to show the whole
the body of work and the music involved, were you looking more for a
singer or an actress going into auditions?
I was looking for the whole package because I thought there was
someone out there who could deliver in both areas. But I was looking
for someone who was connected to music in a real way. I was hoping
for a jazz singer. Its funny that Dee didn't really care for Billie's
sound. Dee has a great big powerful voice, not like Billie's at all
but I knew she could find Billie. And when she read Billies stories
it was oh so right. She understood the dialect right away heck she
grew up in Baltimore she just got it.
Dee-Dee and Trevor, what was it
about this play that caught your eye to audition for it?
Dee-Dee: I just wanted to
sing and to be able to sing music not written specifically for
musical theater was very appealing.
Trevor: I do a lot of shows,
and the main thing I love to look for is variety, or shows that I
have not had the opportunity of working on previously; Lady Day
was just that. I had never heard of the show before and with it being
about Billie Holiday I knew it had to be an interesting project.
Besides, I had an opening in my "theatrical schedule" and I
am always looking to keep those openings to a minimum!
What was the audition
process like for you and what was it like getting the part?
Trevor: Well, I got a voice
message from Teresa one day saying our mutual friend David Evanoff
had referred me to her and she asked if I would be interested in
Musically Directing and playing the piano for the show. I called her
back that same day and got all the details and by the end of the
phone conversation I had been confirmed to join the production team
as Musical Director. It just so happened to be that the Musical
Director/Piano Player would also have a few lines and be an actual
character in the nightly performance so my "audition"
process was a little more simple and easy going this time
Dee-Dee: It was a pretty
smooth audition. I knew that she was auditioning another person even
past the original audition date and so I was anxious.
Dee-Dee, was there any
research on your part about Holiday prior to rehearsing, or did you
want to make the role more your own?
Dee-Dee: I had to research
the music, and you can't separate the Lady from her music. I read
everything and saw films and internet videos. Teresa also has a vast
collection of Billie Holiday information.
How was it for you
learning these songs and matching her tone and performance to each
Dee-Dee: It was a bit
intimidating. Billie has never been duplicated but she was one of the
most influential jazz musicians of all times. I know that I don't
match her tone perfectly. What I hope I do well is interpret the
feeling she poured into each and every song she sang. I hope that
resonates with people.
Trevor, what was it like
for you coming into these works and taking on the musical director
role for this production?
Trevor: It's always a weird
feeling starting a project that you are not very familiar with. Jazz
is not a particular genre that I studied while growing up. I was
classically trained and knew going into this production that it would
be a nice challenge for me. Upon getting hired for the show I
immediately started listening to as much jazz and Billie Holiday that
I could in order to start developing a feel for the style. I started
studying the actual music from the show and practicing back in
December to be better prepared for when rehearsals would start in the
middle of February.
you tried putting your own spin on the material, or are you mainly
sticking to the material at hand?
Trevor: Jazz in general
leaves much room for interpretation or improvising so as far as the
accompaniment is concerned I have been able to really play with that
and put my own touch to it. With the vocals we tried to stay more
true to the material and to what Holiday would have done when she
performed it. We really took advantage of the rehearsals to explore
and create a balance of the written notes and styles provided by the
publishing company and what myself as the musical director and
Dee-Dee as the actor felt most comfortable and natural with. While in
the theatre world we usually work on consistency, we also know that
Holiday rarely performed any of her songs the same way twice and very
much played off of the mood she was feeling during each of her
concerts. Dee-Dee has done a great job incorporating a little bit of
that into her performance at each rehearsal.
How is it for the two
of you performing and interacting on stage, not just as a duo but
essentially as a musical act.
Dee-Dee: It is wonderful. We
fell into a natural rhythm and we feed off each others
Trevor: It's been great! I
love working with Dee-Dee. She is so easy and funny and we can goof
off and have such a great time. I think naturally, our chemistry has
worked so well on stage. I find myself being a task-master anyway,
and my role as Jimmy Powers is almost similar in the sense that he
keeps Lady Day on track and makes sure she sings the numbers
she is suppose to in case she gets on her tangents. Jimmy Powers
cares for her and takes care of her and we really have captured that
chemistry very well I think.
Going into opening
night, what are your overall thoughts on the production?
Teresa: There are so many
thoughts going into opening night I don't know where to begin, there
are millions of detail things and each one is important to the show.
There are still a couple light cues we are playing with. Still
fussing with the last moment to get it perfect. Bringing in seats and
bars and coasters and ties and tea thats the right color for booze
and and and. But mostly I am looking forward to showcasing these
amazing talents .Trevor Jerome as Jimmy Powers and Dee-Dee Darby
Duffin as Miss Billie Holiday. It has been a total treat to put this
show together. I am excited to let everyone get to know Billie. She
was a gas!
Trevor: We have a fantastic
production that is super prepared and just ready to have an audience.
I'm so excited to be able to feed off of the energy of having that
response and even silence at times, as we anticipate some pieces will
have the audience so engaged there will be nothing but silence
following the number.
Dee-Dee: I hope I remember
all my lines! No, I want people to come with the idea that they will
be traveling back to a bygone era. People dressed up to go hear good
music. Music that touched them and meant something.
A bit state-wide, what
are your thoughts on local theater, both good and bad?
Trevor: I've always felt
Utah has such a wonderful theater community. There aren't many places
like Utah that have so many opportunities to perform and do what you
love. I myself am discovering more and more companies and
opportunities every time I blink. I was not familiar with Pygmalion
Theatre Company until I was asked to do this show. The bad part is we
have so many talented performers, directors, designers and musicians
and most places are hardly able to pay them what they deserve if even
anything at all.
Dee-Dee: I am seeing some
wonderful productions coming out of Utah theater.
Teresa: I gotta say I am
proud to be part of the theatre community in SLC. It is vibrant and
special. When we needed tall bar stools, we called SLAC and they were
happy to help. We needed a bar one phone, a call to the Egyptian
Theatre and we had a bar. We promote one-another's projects in our
programs. Offer discount tickets to each others shows and this
project is part of the Edward Lewis Black Theatre Festival. That kind
of energy is good for every company in town. And there are a million
little companies, which means great opportunities for work!
Is there anything you
believe could be done to improve it?
Dee-Dee: I of course always
think we can do more by mentoring more diverse writers and bringing
there stories to life.
Teresa: Money would be good,
we can always use that.
Trevor: Being very
optimistic here, but perhaps getting out of this recession and seeing
people spending money on things like the arts again, I believe
theatres will find themselves in stronger financial positions to
start offering more compensation in order to get the quality of
talent they need and deserve. It's all about time. I've seen theatres
come so far from paying $15.00 a show minimum to now $30.00 a show
minimum. It's a step... maybe a baby step, but it's a step.
What's your take on the
recent push to bring “Broadway to Utah”?
Trevor: I think it's a
beautiful thing. People are becoming more and more educated on
theatre and the arts, and this is a great way to give them an
opportunity to see amazing theatre without the costs of leaving their
city to fly to New York, Chicago or LA to see professional shows.
It's so important for us to have the proper facilities in order to
bring these shows in. What most people don't realize is we end up
getting 2nd or 3rd run tours that have been
scaled down in order to fit their elaborate sets into our space.
Think of how long it took for us to finally get Lion King
here! I would love to see a new facility in town where the stage is
large enough to host a Broadway tour on it's initial run! But again
it's about educating people and I think we are finally seeing that
push to do so.
Teresa: Hmmm. Broadway in
SLC Okay, I am all for getting people to the theatre, so I guess
whatever works. I am a musical theatre girl. Love it! But the older I
get I care less about sets and costumes and more about a story. And I
wonder if they really know what it would take monetarily to run a
Broadway Theatre in SLC There is so much great local theatre going on
I would rather see people support that.
Dee-Dee: I think Broadway is
great, but I also think that local and regional productions are the
backbone of theater.
can we expect from all of you over the rest of the year?
Teresa: Next for me is
Sordid Lives, in fact I start rehearsals for that before Lady
Day is closed. I played this role for PYGmalion last year and had
such a good time I was excited to revisit Lavonda Jean Dupree. and I
get to share the stage with some of my dearest friends. Its more fun
that a grown up should be allowed.
Dee-Dee: A break, this was
exhausting! I hope to be doing more singing this summer.
Trevor: Well, I am lucky to
have a few other performance opportunities already in the works.
After this production I'll be playing Keyboard for Bingo: The
Musical in May at the Grand Theatre, playing keyboard and making
an appearance in Hair up at the Egyptian Theatre in Park City
in June/July, and musically directing/conducting Guys & Dolls
for Sandy Arts in August. I'm sure I'll work it out to perform on
stage in at least one other production this year...
from the obvious, is there anything you'd like to promote or
Dee-Dee: My husbands bands,
Slick Rock Gypsies and StuK. He plays bass. We are a very musical
Please see Lady Day and don't miss Sordid Lives, and
come on up to Davis County and check out our “Summer Nights With
The Stars” series. More info at DavisArts.org.