CBS Local: What was the first show you ever saw on Broadway? Would you tell me about it?
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Dana: Well, I was trying to remember that exactly, and I think I have it down to the first musical I saw… It was Me and My Girl, it was 1986. The first play I saw … was Fences… These were both in 1986. Fences, the Pulitzer prize-winning Fences, and with James Earl Jones.
The classic musical kind of a thing. And then the serious part of a series of African American life, as written by Alex Wilson, who I never would have thought I would have the opportunity to interview Mr. Wilson and James Earl Jones. And so it’s just really important to me that Fences was my first play and then the musical … Me and My Girl.
CBS Local: And how did you feel when you saw them? Were you surprised? Were you awed? Were you just overjoyed? How did you feel?
Dana: I was in Ohio and I was here for a few days. You know when you’re from another part of the country, there’s this mystique about Broadway and to be there. I did it all! I bought tickets, stood in a line, bought a cheap ticket, had an obstructed view. I remember for Fences I was behind the pillar, and I sat in the balcony for Me and My Girl. I felt like even though the shows run every single day, this show was the only one like it. Because it’s live and that to me is the beauty of Broadway, it’s every show, I really believe them! They do everything they can to make that one experience, that each one of us is having, something we will never forget for the rest of our lives. And that is the beauty of live theater. So, I loved it. I was an adult, of course. My days of saying ‘I want to do that’ were long gone. In high school I was the person who got to be the stage manager… I was never on stage in any kind of productions or anything so… I just totally have respect for the talent, respect for the industry and this beautiful part of New York’s character that I think is so very important. Financially of course, but also just what is so important is America, it’s New York
CBS Local: So what is your fondest Broadway memory?
“Hairspray” (credit: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Dana: My fondest Broadway memory… That’s a hard one. I would say my greatest Broadway experience, outside from sitting in the theater, is just to stand at the stage door and congratulate and meet these actors… It is just so tangible! All of Broadway is just so tangible. Every time someone comes into town, I have one of my nieces and nephews, we stand at the door. Sometimes we ask for autograph. But I just love that excitement… These are real people who just gave it their all, and they are so willing to let you say ‘thank you’ and ‘congratulations…’ There is such accessibility about Broadway. I love that! I love the community, you feel like you’re part of the community. When everybody is standing out on the street afterwards, and its so easy to do — that I think it’s wonderful.
CBS Local: What are some of your favorite shows?
Dana: …Just getting back to Fences and the importance of a play and thought-provoking issues, to me that is a gift of Broadway. I love musicals, I love to escape into a musical… I saw Hairspray, I think, 12 times, I saw Wicked 14 times, I saw Guys and Dolls four or five times… So I love a musical. My mother, I can remember, listening to the album, and we still have it, to West Side Story, with the black and white photo on top. And you know that was an out-of-reach kind of a thing. I could watch the movie, I could listen to the record with the static, but then to come here and hear a musical and hear the genius of not only the story based on the book, but also the words and music together. So I appreciate that. And the musicians who we can’t see, who are underneath or on other floors, behind the scenes, that they’re not in an obvious pit, I love all of that collaboration … My intent is to separate and hear everything individually in a show, there’s that type of a drum or there’s the brass or there’s the guitar, and then to put it all together. And a lot of these theaters … the orchestra,, they are in separate rooms looking at the conductor on a TV screen. So they are not all sitting together. So that mystique of it that it all comes down together, I love that!
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CBS Local: So you mentioned James Earl Jones earlier, who are some of your other favorite Broadway performers?
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Dana: I find myself wondering, do I go see a show because of the person? And I tend to see every show, so I don’t. I mean, that’s part of my job, I see every show and I have to make that clear. So I can see 40 shows a year … I like Linda Lavin, I’ve seen many of the things that she’s done. Stockard Channing, Faith Prince, she hasn’t been here for a while, but a I’m a big fan of hers. Hugh Jackman just gave everything, just never a dull moment watching him when he was in The Boy from Oz. It’s just everything he does … how does this person do all of that? Audra McDonald and Brian Stokes Mitchell, they’re fabulous. Cynthia Nixon, there’s so many things she’s done Broadway and Off-Broadway. I love Nathan Lane. The Producers just made me laugh out loud so many times.
And that’s the whole thing too, just learning all the backstories of everything … just understanding how everything works and the many parts of the creative team … that’s really important. I should also say I saw Tarzan 14 times…
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CBS Local: So what do you think about Hollywood actors crossing over to the Broadway Stage?
Dana: You know, I think that they wouldn’t be there if they couldn’t handle it. I think they know what they’re getting into. The producers know what they’re getting into. You can have the whole conversation about stunt casting. But I think that in the end, when someone is there and committing to a long period of time … [because] it is a commitment … and so many of them have roots in theater, they know what they’re getting into. …And every time I interview one of them … they talk about the hard work, the reward you know the tangible… The audience lets you know right there, it’s not hurry up and wait while shooting all day.
And I find its always very nice to interview them. I think they are sort of surprised how the relationship with Broadway reporters is. Those of us who are committed, we are not here trying to do “gotcha” stuff. We are committed to Broadway and the experience. So I find it’s really rewarding to talk with them. They are always giving ‘hats off’ to those who are on Broadway all the time. I think people forget how hard the work is.
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CBS Local: I feel like when a movie or even on television to some degree you can hide things or manipulate or cover up. But on the stage, you’re just exposed, you’re there…
Dana: You are there and even just how you take care of your voice, whether it’s a play or a musical. But voice rest, what you eat, how late you stay out the night before … it’s really about how you take care of yourself … self discipline and how have to live your life. They don’t want to fail. They want to be able to do it, and I appreciate that risk that they’re taking.
CBS Local: I know that feeling you get when you realize that a performer just went above and beyond and gave such an outstanding performance. I remember I saw Jerusalem a couple of years ago, and I walked out of that theater thinking, ‘WOW! That guy was working tonight!’
(credit: Brigitte Lacombe)
Dana: Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Andrew Garfield in Death of a Salesman… you cannot imagine! You feel like you were drained. … I don’t how they do it. But I hear what they do is he [Hoffman] sits on the stage beforehand getting in the character [Willy Loman], the curtain is down. And he is another extraordinary extraordinary talent … [But] this endless resource of people who live here 24/7, who aren’t boldfaced names in the sense of mainstream. But the Broadway community knows them and they’re always glad to see them.
CBS Local: You touched on this earlier, do you prefer plays or musicals or do you like them equally for different reasons?
Dana: Oh yes, I like them equally. And let’s be honest, sometimes it just depends on the mood you’re in. Sometimes a play can be a really heavy subject matter and you need to be ready for that and you don’t want to think. Sometimes you just want to escape to a musical that is singing and dancing… So I like them both, there is no doubt about that. I never read stuff before I see a show. I go in with a fresh and open mind and I just make sure that I am in the right mindset when I do see a show.
I like to go, I like to go out afterwards and talk about it. And I also go to a place where there are a lot of actors. I certainly try and respect their privacy, but if the opportunity comes to say hello, I talk to them … and I congratulate them. And then I’ll read afterwards, I am aware of reviews, but that doesn’t keep me from seeing something. For what I do, if I I am going to do a story … I feel like its not right for me to introduce myself to someone if I haven’t seen their show. It’s not fair, It’s not respectful. So I do see everything.
CBS Local: Where do you like to go, before or after you see a show, to have these conversations, to see actors, or just to relax and discuss the play?
Dana: Beforehand … always places in the theater district. I can eat in 45 minutes. I got it down to a science… I am trying to think about New York-y places that I go to… like Joe Allen’s … I go to Nizza. Those are probably my main places… There are some sushi places between 48th and 49th [theater district], but I can’t think of their names.
CBS Local: What are some of your favorite Broadway theaters? Do you have any that you like, where you’ve seen productions?
Dana: I like that question… Well, I like the older ones. You can just imagine, if these walls could talk. I love to read “At This Theater” in Playbill to see what was there before. … I like some of the smaller ones, The Booth, I am just interested in how their aisles work, those little peculiarities. The Helen Hayes is small and sweet. And the palace has so much history. But [in] some theaters, different seats are aligned in different ways, even that you become aware of. How does the floor slope? How are the seats aligned?
CBS Local: I always imagine all the performances dating back in time… Those encounters that you mentioned before at the backstage door 20 years ago, 30 years ago, 40 years ago.
Dana: Oh yeah! Of people all dressed up, the car waiting. I put my head on the rest and I look up at the ceiling. There is some beautiful art on so many of the ceilings, beautiful murals… If you’re back with an actor, a couple of them have the stories of who had their dressing room. Some of them have walls where everybody has signed who’s been there, so that’s really neat. Real stories that are specific to each theater, and you feel that respect from them. …The new ones [theatres] don’t have that old-style charm. But the convenience, the space you know more bathrooms, so it’s a give and take, each has different benefits. The Gershwin, where Wicked is, it’s just madness the way that thing works and how the stage is over top of that walkway. I’ve been really fortunate to be in and about in these places and I just love that. And the stagehands and the people who are back there…
CBS Local: Because there is so much more going on than what people see.
Dana: Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh! And you know they don’t change! They are there all the time. I get to know a lot of the guys who run the stage doors and the electricians when we do interviews. Because that’s who is there when I go there and when I’m working. And that’s very nice too! There’s a very small group of us from television … there is the reviewing side and the feature-story side. In TV there’s a group of us who have become close. There is the community side in theater and the reporting of theater, which is nice. It’s a dwindling group. Times change, but we’re still there. I’ll tell you one other thing! The wardrobe, the wigs, the costumes… Oh my gosh! And how fast everybody does everything! Most of them do their own makeup, but my gosh! … You get to know everybody!
I listen to Broadway on Sirius … and they had somebody who was a dresser. She is a comedian, but she was a dresser. She was just telling some of the most hysterical stories of how fast… You’re in the dark and it’s all about Velcro. But it’s a finely tuned machine with all these different people who aren’t screwing around. And for a lot of them, they are working more than one job. …It’s just not the person in the stage getting the applause, it’s the whole community.
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CBS Local: So one final question for you. What do you think its next for Broadway? What shows are you most excited about that are coming?
Dana: I am going to see Harvey, this would be the night before the Tonys. It is the first show of the new season, with Jim Parsons and man I just love that Jimmy Stewart movie. I am really curious to see how they’re going to do that…
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