Interview with James Judy
James has been a solid member of the cast since the very beginning. I enjoyed speaking with him about how the League has grown over the past year and a half, and what it was like going through the transition from the old show to the new.
NR: Can you tell me where you grew up?
JJ: Washington State. I was born in Tacoma, Washington and then I went to school in Oregon, Willamette University, for a couple of years and then I went to London for a year of drama. I came home and went back to Willamette for another semester, and then I switched and I ended up going to Evergreen State College which is kind of like an Antioch or Goddard, a new kind of school where you write your own program and you design what you want to do. Basically I said I wanted to be in a few shows and direct some shows and write about theater, and that's where I got my degree. Then I moved to Seattle and started working professionally.
NR: When did you know you wanted to act?
JJ: I knew it from when I was in high school. I started as a singer in college. I got an opera scholarship but I didn't like opera and I switched to theater. It was one of those blessings that I knew this was what I wanted to do. I thought maybe I was going to go into music therapy. In 1972 that was something that was kicking around. You would use music to do therapy for musicians that had been disabled, because I always had an interest in the medical profession. That is one thing I wanted to do in high school - be a doctor. My mother was a nurse and I had worked in nursing homes in high school, which was pretty hair-raising.
NR: Do you have a favorite role that you've performed?
JJ: Yeah, a few. Right before I did this I did the 50th Anniversary production of Finian's Rainbow up at Goodspeed Opera House and I played Finian. I was a little young for it but I grew my beard and it was all gray and I had a gray wig, and I loved the message of that show. It really meant a lot to me personally, so that was a very fulfilling and rewarding experience. It was right before this show came along. This has a great place in my heart because when you come to New York you always think "Oh my gosh, I want to be able to originate a role in a Broadway show" and I was able to do that here, and so this is obviously a favorite of mine. I've not really done a lot of traditional roles in traditional musicals. Almost all of my work here in New York were on new musicals or smaller musicals. I can't list off a bunch of roles that I've done from famous old musicals because I've really not done that many of those kinds of things. The roles would be in shows you wouldn't know of. The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz was a show that was supposed to come to Broadway, and that was also creating a role in a new musical and that would have been very exciting if that had come in. I was much younger then and it would have changed my career. That was a favorite role of mine, Virgil in The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz. It was written by Alan Menken and Austin Pendleton directed. It was a wonderful experience.
NR: Is there something you do offstage to prepare or get ready for your character?
JJ: Not really. The key to how I work is to just concentrate on listening, and listening intently enough that it always makes it fresh, because things are never exactly the same and things are never answered the same or asked the same, and then it makes it new every moment you come out. So, I really try to stay kind of blank. I do fill myself up with where I've just been and the information that I have to come on with. I remember a year ago, I had this very lengthy prayer that I would often say right before going on stage, but after a year and a half of doing it eight times a week, I know that prayer's in my heart and in my soul, and I believe that's what the theater does. Mostly it's to try to just stay clear and have no preconceived notion of what it was the time before and so this time it will be new and real and you really have to listen. That's been exciting with both Terry Mann and with Doug Sills because they both like to work that way, and that was a great part of this process. It's really been invaluable. It makes it interesting.
NR: How has Dewhurst changed in the new version?
JJ: Boy, Dewhurst has to do a lot more stuff that he never imagined in his whole life that he would be doing. Dewhurst hasn't changed, what he has to do has changed. He's still incredibly dedicated to Percy. He still has a certain extra empathy for what Percy's going through because in a way he started this ball rolling. He gave the information to him so he feels a little guilty about that. And his big interest is the safety of the other people around him and his concern for Percy, so my idea of the loyalty of the character hasn't really changed. It's a whole different level of comedy. I do actually enjoy the new challenge of having to go out and sell a number and act as if I am a dancer and act as if I know what I'm doing, and to get those teeth out and really sell it to the back of the house. I actually have risen to that challenge and enjoy it.
NR: Everybody talks about how, in September, Douglas did one version of the show during the day and another at night, but so did many of you. That must have been unbelievable. Tell me what that was like, especially learning new choreography.
JJ: The actual work part of it was difficult, and you had a lot on your brain, except you already knew the old show. The emotional part of it was ...it was very emotional, especially because it was something that I created, that we all kind of created together, especially in the first year when we were rewriting scenes ourselves and some of those lines that I had written, or situations that we had worked out together were there, and then they were taken away and moved around, and the focus of the show was pinpointed to the three leads much more than it was before. So, the big thing about the changeover was just how painful it was to let go of what it was and not take it personally, and get around to the other side of it. Now I just wake up every day and I'm just so amazed at this amazing transformation that this show has taken and it seems to really be turning around in all aspects. I'm kind of proud of that now, but yet it was still painful sometimes, still hard. I miss a lot of the old show.
NR: How about just learning new choreography and a couple of new words in the same song, and you did one version during the day, switched it at night, back to the other version the next day?
JJ: You know, I did that in another show. I was a lead in Catch Me If I Fall that came in to the Promenade Theater Off Broadway, and that was really difficult because I had much more on my plate, like Doug did. For someone like Doug it must have been really difficult because it also changed the focus of the character. But, in this business you can be in a long running show, and be doing a workshop of another musical during the day and that would be choreography and stuff for a different show. I didn't find that part hard. Surely, there was no confusing the old "Creation of Man" with the new "Creation of Man." It was completely different. What was difficult were the little things in "Into the Fire" because "Into the Fire" didn't really change too much except for a few nitpicky things and Bobby (Longbottom) and Tom (Kosis) are very nitpicky about very specific things, and it's hard to teach an old dog new tricks. We're trained to do that. When you deal in the craft (and I'm going to be 45 years old) and you've been doing it for 20 years, you are a good trained dog and you know all of your steps. But I think a couple of times it happened to me, and I know it happened to Doug quite a few times, where in that process I did do something new in the old show. In fact, just last night somebody from the cast gave a line from the old show on the footbridge and Rex Smith didn't know what on earth that was.
NR: I saw several of the previews and I thought that was really fascinating because I've never been able to watch a show develop that way before. For example, the library scene changed many times from October to November. What is that like? Were you a little confused about what you were going to say next?
JJ: No, because that was so fresh at that time, and again, we were all so involved inside of it. We'd be going offstage with Nan (Knighton), the writer, and all of us kind of coming up and creating it. So you were more excited about going on and trying it. We were trying so desperately to fix everything because it was so under rehearsed when we opened. Just trying to open cold in New York even in the best of circumstances is really, really hard. And again, I've been through quite a few preview processes. We did some of that in the preview process of this too. We kept an old version of this, rehearsed a new version for a week or so and put it in on Friday. The words part of it wasn't too hard because I don't have that many words. But, I'm a Virgo. I'm a pretty compartmentalized type, pretty logical thinking type person, generally.
NR: Now, I want an honest answer. What was the first reaction to the "Creation of Man" costumes?
JJ: (laughs) Oh boy. I just thought at that point it had been so hair-raising learning that number, and so nitpicky about it all, that I just looked at it and I thought, "Oh, my God, here we are." And those shoes ...you know, putting on those shoes, it was just like "The humiliation continues." It was just like a month of humiliation that was capped off by the cherry on the cake - that stupid costume! I'm not a fan of the costumes in general in the show. I wish that they had been able to make their statements without being quite so broad in all aspects of the show. It didn't surprise me. I knew that this was exactly what Bobby wanted and you kind of had to trust that this was where he was going. I'd love to see this show. I'd love to sit out there and see this show because now I bet that from the audience, it's a natural extension of everything and, from halfway back they don't look near as ridiculous as they do up front.
NR: Oh, yes they do!
JJ: Yes, they do? Well, good. That's comforting.
NR: (laughing) When you line up for the little ballet line, that's pretty much THE moment, and then you top if off with the hats. It's truly ...
NR: But I do like ... in the beginning you all came out looking like you had worn high heels all your life and that really bothered me. Now, you're all looking like you're having trouble with them, which I like better.
JJ: Well, that's interesting. That's very interesting you should say that because we initially wanted to come out and all look really uncomfortable but our director wanted us to come out and turn in uniform and be uniform. What he wants is things clean and choreographed and neat, and what we know is that there has to be a touch of reality in there to tell the story for the comedy to work. It's that fight and pull that the actor has some instincts. So, I'm glad you get that sense when we walk out that we're not really comfortable.
NR: Do you miss "Plague For Sale?"
JJ: My voice does not miss "Plague For Sale." A lot of my friends and family and fans miss all of that. It was fun but my voice does not miss it. After a year of that, my voice took a beating. I can sing along with the pop radio now. But that was such an undeveloped, annoying situation all year long also because it was almost something and then not, and it sometimes landed, sometimes not.
NR: Since you've been here since the beginning, how have you seen the League grow?
JJ: The League has done so much, the brunch that they're planning and all of the wonderful work that they've done. I know all of the wonderful groundswell work that they did for our show from the beginning. The last time I was on Broadway was Into the Woods ten years ago and there was nothing like what we have, and the support that we get from the League. So it's been pretty exciting and interesting. It was hard actually to get used to initially because you didn't know if it was appropriate even for you or for them and to see how close they were to the show, but then it really became a very supportive feeling.
NR: Do you have any theater superstitions?
JJ: No, not really. The same one, I don't like to quote from the "Scottish play" inside the theater. I understand why there's no whistling backstage for a million reasons. It began because that's what they used to call to make a drop of a drop. The stage hand would whistle to get that drop down so you can't have anybody whistle or you're going to get a flat on your head. Nowadays, it's just nice not to have anybody whistling backstage because it's so annoying.
NR: What do you wish you had more time for in your life?
JJ: That's an interesting thing you should ask. I know that I have a lot of time now to do some things if I want to use it wisely. I was just thinking today that I wish I had something that I really wanted to do right now. I mean, more creatively, like another side project or something that really interested me, that I can do for myself. I just got a computer and I know that there's lots of organizing and taking care of my life that I can do. Right now my life is pretty happy and I'm really enjoying my home life for the first time in many years. I'm enjoying a relationship and so I'm enjoying being at home. I wish there was more time to do things I want to do at home. And the other thing is I finally have the money and I don't have time to travel. I have only one day a week.
NR: What would you like to do in the future?
JJ: More of the same. I'd like to do another new musical. I'd love to create another character in another new musical again in my life, especially knowing what I know now, and have it be a larger character with a little bit more responsibility on me. I'd like to have a larger role that had more of a responsibility to it and to have the discipline that I would need to do that with. This involves a lot of discipline, but I don't have to go out on my own and crank out those big ballads like those guys do out there. I think I'm ready for that responsibility, so I would like to do that. I would like to also do some non-musical work here in the city, take advantage of this Broadway time to make sure I do some non-musical work on Broadway or Off Broadway here in New York, so I can have a bit of a film and television career also. I've got that "character dad, doctor" sort of thing and lots of roles that would be available to me and I want them to be open to me in this career. Unfortunately, in New York, you get pigeon-holed and if you do musical theater, you don't really get into that. I've done a bit of film and television and I will be able to work in that field. I want to make sure I get my foot into that field somehow. But I don't want to move to Los Angeles until they pay me to move there.
NR: OK, thank you.
JJ: You're welcome.
It was a pleasure to speak with James and share a laugh about his "adorable" costume. It would be fascinating to watch him take on more responsibility in a show and I hope he is given that opportunity in the future.
Questions suggested by:
John Bonavita, Stephanie Henkin, Renee, Lindsay Ribar, Peter Williams, Thom and Colleen Rosati
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