Sunday, May 4, 2008

Lenora Nemetz

It took 24 years for Lenora Nemetz to return to Broadway and thankfully, we are blessed to have her featured in the current revival of Gypsy as Miss Cratchitt and Ms. Mazeppa (with her revolution in dance). Her hometown paper, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, has a lovely article about her career and how she got the part in the current revival. To think that she was initially rejected for the lovely-yet-not-quite-as-spectacular-in-the-role Nancy Opel is mind-boggling. All due respect to Opel, who did a fine job, Nemetz is just first-rate in those roles. I'm so glad things have worked out so well for her these past few months.

For Lenora Nemetz, good luck strikes twice at Broadway audition
Sunday, May 04, 2008
By Christopher Rawson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

NEW YORK -- Lenora Nemetz is back on Broadway and, fittingly, in "Gypsy," because who better typifies the indomitable showbiz gypsy than the spunky phoenix from Pittsburgh?

She plays two roles, the wry Miss Cratchitt in Act 1 and the brassy Miss Mazeppa, the trumpet-wielding stripper in Act 2. And she's the standby for star Patti LuPone in the role of a lifetime, Rose, the stage mother to end all stage mothers.

"I never gave up the dream I'd be back here," Nemetz says over a pre-show supper at Angus McIndoe's, right beside "Gypsy's" home at the St. James Theatre. "And now I'm here, like the play," she says, referring to all the yearning in "Gypsy" to get into the big time.

Thinking about it, she mists up. "As Rose says, everyone needs something impossible to hope for. But I never thought it would happen so abruptly."
That's an illusion, of course: it took her whole life to bring her where she is. But the call from director Arthur Laurents came after the usual showbiz experience of rejection. She auditioned last spring to play Mazeppa in Laurents' semi-staged version of "Gypsy" in the Encores! series, but she lost out to Nancy Opel. Then "Gypsy" was announced for Broadway, and out of the blue in December, Nemetz was cast as Mazeppa. Opel was doing the national tour of "The Drowsy Chaperone," and rather than try to pry her loose, Laurents opted for Nemetz. "I love the costume," she says; "it has fringe, and fringe moves!"

Right after Christmas, she was called again to audition to standby for Rose. When she walked in, she recalls Laurents saying, "Ah, the ironies of life. Don't you just love them? I guess you wanted to kill yourself when you didn't get it the first time." She got the standby job. And an hour later she was called back to read for Miss Cratchitt. "You didn't know it was Christmas, did you?" said Laurents.

She came to New York Feb. 2 and started rehearsals two days later. Previews began March 3 and they opened March 27 to the kind of reviews (knock wood) that make a long run likely.

She laughs, giddy: "And I'm still looking for an apartment!"

Actually, she hasn't had time to look, she's so busy with playing two roles, costume fittings, voice lessons and standby rehearsals for Rose. She's been living month-to-month, this month in an apartment provided by the producers, because of all the extra rehearsals.

In 1968, Broadway seemed Nemetz's natural home. That's when the young Langley High School grad impulsively and improbably landed a third-year replacement role in the ensemble of "Cabaret" -- the same role she played in the national tour a couple of years ago. Her career is full of such echoes, parallels and connections.

Then, after studying at the Pittsburgh Playhouse ("Michael Bennett said I should go to school -- 'You don't fit in the ensemble' ") and starring for the CLO, Odd Chair and Don Brockett, she returned to Broadway to standby for Gwen Verdon and then Chita Rivera in "Chicago" ("one day I did Velma in the afternoon and Roxie at night"), before taking over Chita's role. "I took everything for granted," she says. "Things just fell into place."

Over the years, other Broadway credits have included "The Rink" and "Working," and there was a New York show with Peter Allen, "Up in One," and at Lincoln Center, "Pajama Game." There were also a number of national tours and plenty of work in Pittsburgh, from the CLO to City Theatre to Pittsburgh Musical Theatre (never the Public). She even played Mazeppa for the CLO.

But there were dark times, too, and a bout with alcohol, now long past. Recently, her mother died. When Nemetz comes on stage with that dusky, serrated voice, dancer's body and 1,000-watt smile, there's a lot of life experience backing them up.

Talking with her is a journey through theater history. "People always say, 'You're old school.' Actually, I'm not: I was trained by them [Bennett, Bob Fosse, et al] but I was part of the change" -- the change to darker musicals. "I can't ever recall doing a musical comedy on Broadway -- even 'Sweet Charity' was dark."

On "Gypsy's" opening night, there was a note for her: "Dear Lenora. You're back. I'm glad. Love, Chita." Meryl Streep told her she was funny, and she grinned like a kid. There have been many friends from Pittsburgh. Rob Marshall and John DeLuca came to see it, and Kathleen Marshall was there opening night -- the Marshalls were her fans back when they weren't yet teenagers.

And there have been many reunions. Setting the original Jerome Robbins choreography for "Gypsy" has been Bonnie Walker, the dance captain on that long-ago "Cabaret." Production stage manager Craig Jacobs worked on "Chicago." The list goes on. "You hang in there long enough, it all comes back to you," she says with showbiz faith.

"Patti and I are so different," she says. "But she's a good friend and so supportive -- like Gwen and Chita." Working with her on "Rose's Turn," Laurents has "allowed me to do it differently, to be me. You have to bring who you are to it."

Nemetz brings plenty.

1 comment:

Roxie said...

My God - Arthur Laurents such an old crotchety bastard...