DIVA TALK: Catching Up With A Christmas Story, The Musical Star Caroline O'Connor

By Andrew Gans
07 Dec 2012

O'Connor in Sweeney Todd at the Chatelet Theatre in Paris.

In this version that we did, [there's a] kind of cute-like, animated vision of Hal — with his speaking voice… It's storytelling of how these shows came about. We just did a very condensed version of it, obviously, and I'll be honest with you — that job came about in the most unbelievable way because of Sweeney Todd. When I did Sweeney in Paris, Sondheim saw that, and when Hal Price was talking about Prince of Broadway, he recommended me to Hal. [Laughs.] Obviously, there's going to be Sweeney Todd material in the show, and I did some work from Cabaret — [Fraulein] Schneider work. And so I get this call — can you imagine — in my house in Australia, saying, "Hal Prince is going to call you at six o'clock." I'm like, "What?!" He rings me and was like, "Hi, Caroline, it's Hal." And, I was like, "Can you just hang on for one second?" And, I put the phone down, and I just started jumping up and down in the bedroom going, "Oh my God, is this really happening?" I said, "I'm so sorry. I had to just let that sink in for a minute that you called me at my house."

… And, he starts telling me about it and getting very excited about it. It could be incredible. To think of the amount of extraordinary material that the man has directed, created, produced over the years. Talk about getting your money's worth! Imagine sitting there one evening and just watching all of those shows — well, numbers from those shows — one after the other. I just think it would be an incredible evening at the theatre. What an extraordinary career he's had, and what an amazing gentleman. I learned a lot in that one week just being in the room with him, and I love that. And, then Susan Stroman — she's extraordinary — so I'm really keeping my fingers crossed that that happens because I think it would be a wonderful event here on Broadway.

Question: It sounds exciting. He also directed Evita, which is how I fell in love with musical theatre.
O'Connor: I know! Obviously, at that event they couldn't do everything, because it was just a presentation — but there was an overture… Jason Robert Brown was the MD and played on the piano. I mean, my God, can he play the piano or what? Incredible. And, all of these titles were coming up on the screen one after the other — Fiddler on the Roof and Follies and Sweeney Todd. I mean, just so many shows, and you just look and go, "That's incredible." That's such a big chunk of Broadway history that he's been involved with — either as a director or a producer — just blows me away, and still as enthusiastic as ever. You can still see the love of it, still, in his eyes and the way he felt being in the room with everybody. That's the thing about our business. It's a real love affair. It truly is. I can't get over it, you know, that you can still feel this way. When I started rehearsals for this, it was so exciting to be doing a new piece and here on Broadway at this time of year.

O'Connor in Follies.
photo by Liz Lauren

Question: You mentioned before: playing Phyllis in Follies. What was that experience like for you?
O'Connor: That was amazing because that came out of the blue, too. I got a call from Gary Griffin asking me if I would be interested in doing it, and, of course, I jumped at the chance. I don't know how that happened, to be honest with you… [Laughs.] But he brought something out of me, actually, in that production that I've never really done before. I'm known as quite an energetic, bit of an Eveready Bunny. I do have a lot of energy, but with Phyllis, it's not that appropriate, but I think he saw that he could do something with me that would be a bit different. I mean, Phyllis is very still — very still journey the entire show — and very in control. Well, in control [but] underneath it was this thing bubbling, obviously.

I just found the whole process with him very interesting because he kept saying to me, "That's it. Don't do anymore. Less, less, less." And, I kept thinking, "I'm not doing anything. I'm not doing anything!" And, of course, you really get the payoff in Act Two when the explosion happens — the arguments — and the number, so I learned a lot about graduating the performance. It was fascinating to me, and working on that material… It's complicated. The script is very complicated. It's not on the page. You really have to investigate what, actually, is going on because it's very personal, and it's very moving. The audience [is] watching this party, so to speak, but they're watching these people with their real lives and what's happened to them in the past…sort of what's become of them, which is, at times, quite devastating to see… I think it's an incredible piece of work. I was really honored to be part of that production. I mean, Susan Moniz was just stunning as Sally, and Brent Barrett was my husband — I mean, God, incredible — and Robert Petkoff was sensational. I just loved every minute. I wish we could have run longer. Business was great, and I think we could have run longer, but that was a fabulous experience. Also, the choreography — I'd never worked with Alex Sanchez before, and he was just wonderful. And then I got a lovely prize at the end, which was — I was just blown away — I got the Jeff Award, and I was like, "Oh my God!" [Laughs.] It was worth it, you know, to go through that whole process. It's difficult. Follies is a difficult show, for all of us. We had a wonderful time.