DIVA TALK: Chatting With NYMF Stars Susan Blackwell, Annie Golden, Rachel Stern and Allyson Tucker

By Andrew Gans
05 Jul 2013

Allyson Tucker

Allyson Tucker
Mother Divine at the Pearl Theater Company Performance Space; July 11-20

How did you get involved with this production?
I first learned of this production when my dear friend Randy Davis called me up to tell me that he had just booked a job as a choreographer of a NYMF show. I was (and still am) totally over the moon for him. We've been friends for a long time and I just love him to pieces. He's a wonderful performer, a devoted and loyal friend and has been interested in choreographing shows for a while. As we spoke about the show, he asked if I were interested in auditioning for the show. I told him that I would look at the breakdown for the show and if there was something in it for me, I'd love to audition. I do have a very strict policy about working with friends and family members: Our friendship stays at the door when we walk into the rehearsal room and that there are no hard feelings at all if I don't get cast. That has absolutely nothing to do with our friendship. I looked at the breakdown and initially I thought that I wasn't right for anything. I told him I would love to come in if I wasn't going to waste the creative team's time for the role of Ms. Handsome Is As Handsome Does, although I didn't quite fit the character description. Lucky for me, I got the part (thanks be to those that saw outside of the box) and to Randy's credit, he didn't tell me anything until after I heard from the casting director, Michael Cassara.

What other NYMF productions have you been a part of?
I am extremely excited because this is my first NYMF show. I have seen other productions in the festival over the years, but I haven't auditioned for a NYMF show due to conflicts or work. I am very excited to have this opportunity.

How would you describe the character you're playing?
Ms. Handsome Is As Handsome Does (great name, right?) is a pillar in her church community with a bit of a non-traditional past. She's a true believer and follower of Father Divine, but she has a lot of compassion, warmth and good intentions. She's a no-nonsense type of lady, but is willing to take people as they are without any judgment. She's convicted and optimistic.

Why do you think audiences should attend this particular production?
Mother Divine is a fun, feel-good, warm-your-heart and please-your-ears musical. It's based on a real ministry, but then we segue into fantasy and fun. Our music director, Julianne Merrill, has done some great arranging, our director Adam Hester is taking us on a great ride, the cast is ridiculous amounts of fun, and we're all held together by a fantastic and energetic stage manager Bernadette Schoenborn (and the rest of her team). And, Laurel Vartabedian and Bill Evans have written and composed a fun, joyous and heartfelt adventure. I have yet to see the set or costumes at this early date, but I have a feeling that they'll be spectacular, too. It's a fun night in the theatre and you leave feeling warm and fuzzy and just uplifted. We're having a great time as a company, and that is infectious when it comes to shows.

Why do you think NYMF is so important?
I think NYMF is so important to the theatrical community and to NYC at large because it's a festival that nurtures up-and-coming creative talent while giving more performers a chance to showcase themselves. It's jobs and in this economy, that's a beautiful thing. It's really hard to put up a show, and this gives people the chance to show a sample of what is and with a little imagination, what will be, if given the chance. It's also a great venue, since NYC is the leader in theatre, for NYers and non-NYers to see a show in the works. It helps to broaden people's views as to what a show is and or could be by exposing them to topics that they might not ordinarily consider theatre or musical material (Next to Normal comes to mind). It's an opportunity for audiences to really appreciate what can happen when/if people are given an opportunity to create and share their ideas. Who knows? Perhaps they'll invest in a writer or composer in their own communities who will end up writing the next great play or musical.

NYMF celebrates new musicals, but which role in a classic musical would you most like to perform and why?
There are soooooo many roles that I would love to perform! I would love to play Aldonza again (I was fortunate to understudy and perform the role in the last Broadway revival) because she's so strong yet vulnerable and undergoes such a transformation. She's open and because of that, her soul is accessed and she is able to be enlightened. Being open, vulnerable, truthful and wearing your emotions on your sleeve is such a wonderful feeling, but her journey is more than just raw emotion. There's a deeper connection for her in finding and accepting her vulnerability that ultimately empowers her.

Then, of course, there's Lola in Damn Yankees. Who doesn't want to be a seductress and dance like that?! It's a dream role.

There's Reno Sweeney from Anything Goes, which is just a tour de force role. And the music! Ahhhh!! I love a great score and am such a romantic!!!

And then there's Sweet Anita in Jelly's Last Jam. Always one of my favorite shows and the role is one of true strength and complexity.

Truly, there are just too many dream roles! This list goes on for quite some time, and I'm hoping I'll get the chance to do more of them!

What is your most memorable onstage mishap?
You're kidding, right? I'm supposed to answer this one and still think I can have a career? LOL!

What was your most enjoyable theatrical experience of the season (as a member of the audience)?
There were so many wonderful performances this season. I am blessed to be a Councillor of Actors' Equity Association (thank you all for re-electing me), and as such am a Tony voter. I just loved celebrating the artistry of everyone. From such performers (and friends) as Billy Porter, Ms. Tyson, Chita, Danny Burstein, Patina Miller, Judith Ivey, Richard Kind, Valisa LeKae, Holland Taylor, Andrea Martin and Charl Brown to the creative team members like Jerry Mitchell, George C. Wolfe, Santo Loquasto, Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer, Charles Randolph Wright, Jonathan Deans and Emilio Sosa — it was truly an embarrassment of riches. And that doesn't include the vast amount of regional theatre (Off-Broadway, Off-Off Broadway, etc.) that goes on in this city. All of these shows have evoked something in me, and I have enjoyed the journey of each and every one of them. Live theater in NYC is alive and inspiring.

Do you have any other projects in the works?
After Mother Divine, I'm looking forward to my most important role as "Mommy." I have a few irons in the fire, but nothing concrete as of yet. But as the great Fats Waller said, "One never knows, do one?"

Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.