Interview with Ed Dixon
Ed Dixon played Ozzy in the original cast of The Scarlet Pimpernel and stayed with the show throughout the entire run of SP1. At the time of our interview, Ed was nearing the end of the limited engagement of The Iceman Cometh, and was about to begin rehearsals for an original musical that he wrote called Fanny Hill.
NR: Tell me a little bit about where you grew up.
ED: I grew up in Oklahoma.
NR: Really? That's pretty far from here.
ED: I've come a long way. I came here when I was 18. I had $100 and I didn't know anyone. I had never been to a large city before. (laughing) It's been a LONG walk.
NR: (laughing) I guess you were too young to know that that was a dumb idea!
ED: Things were so unpleasant in Oklahoma. If you can imagine Oklahoma in the 50's. Anything that happened to me here was so pleasant in comparison. (laughs) I didn't expect people to be nice to me. I didn't expect it to be easy. I expected it to be hard and unpleasant, and often I was surprised by how nice it was. I'd never had any money. We were very poor, so I was constantly trying to get a hot dog or something. I remember days when I could get two hot dogs. (laughs) It's really been a long journey.
NR: Did you come because you wanted to do theater?
ED: Oh, sure. I knew from junior high school on. One of the very first things I did was The Threepenny Opera (of all things, to start out with). I had a poster of The Threepenny Opera in German on my wall in my little room in Oklahoma - can you imagine? I also had a big panorama of the skyline of New York on my wall and I knew that that was where I was going. It was amazing that I knew that so early.
NR: Now, you do so many things. You do singing, acting, composing, writing...help me out here.
ED: I also teach. I coach people's auditions. I teach voice. I've done that since 1970. I was in the original revival of No, No, Nanette and some of the dancers came to me and said, "Will you help us?" because I was already getting a reputation as a singer. I said, "Well, I can't make them worse than they are." (laughs) I helped some really damaged voices very early on. Helen Gallagher, who taught a group class in those days, started sending me people, so by the time I was 25, I had a whole studio full of "damaged people" doing really serious repair work on voices. That's how I started out.
I have always composed. I got a scholarship to Manhattan School of Music doing a series of things which they required, but in the optional group I used some songs that I had written, which was what I think put it over the top in terms of me getting a scholarship.
NR: In the beginning, did you want to do everything, or was there one area you concentrated on?
ED: I considered myself a singer when I started. By the time I was 30, I realized that a guy singer was not a very saleable commodity. You've got to be an actor, so I started changing my whole viewpoint. I started off like a "walking voice." Singing was what really interested me first but I started to realize that you have to do a lot more things in order to be rounded.
NR: Did you start taking acting classes then?
ED: I took acting classes and audition classes. Because I came from small towns in Oklahoma and I was really uneducated, it was a long process for me to educate myself. The wonderful thing that happened was that I started doing classical roles and I started having to read all the classics to study. I wasn't a good student, but because of the way my life has been, I've learned things as I've gone along, and have finally become an educated person.
NR: That's great. You do tremendous dialects. Do they just come naturally?
ED: I studied a lot of languages when I was studying opera. I was also an opera singer. I ran away to Europe at one point and lived in Germany.
ED: Yeah. I am the most eclectic person. I wasn't 30 yet when I did that. I'd always wanted to give it a shot. I went over and I lived there for awhile. That's when I realized that musical theater was what I wanted to really commit to. Before that, I'd always flipped back and forth - I'd do an opera, I'd do a musical, I'd do a concert. I've always been very eclectic for whatever reason.
NR: Well, you went from Pimpernel to Iceman...
ED: That's eclectic. In between, I did Midsummer Night's Dream.
NR: What do you prefer - being on stage or behind the scenes?
ED: You know, what I always find is that they use such different parts of one's personality. Like in teaching, it's a kind of parental thing. Because I don't have kids, it's like I get to exercise a part of myself that I wouldn't have otherwise. The creative act of writing is such a unique act because it's completely new, whereas when you're working as an actor. you're recreating something. So, they're all such different ways of expression and I can't imagine dropping any of them at this point. I enjoy teaching so much. I taught today. I enjoy it. It's kind of an interaction with another person that's unique. It's one on one. It has to do with sharing what you know and helping a person to do better. It's a very paternal feeling that I enjoy very much.
NR: Are the students that you are teaching adults or college students?
ED: I like to work with professional people. I started off doing really remedial work and it's been a long walk to get to work with people that...I got to coach Bebe Neuwirth for Chicago. We're old friends. That was a thrill. One of the most thrilling things that ever happened to me...my idol was George Rose. Before he died, one of the last things he did was a new Alan Jay Lerner show, Dance A Little Closer, and he wanted to change the way he did it. He was my idol, and he came to me to coach. He wanted to come up with a Germanic type of singing. It was an amazing experience. I got to coach Allison Reed for the movie A Chorus Line when she played Cassie. It's wonderful to be able to work with really highly skilled professionals in a way like that.
NR: Let's talk about Pimpernel a little bit. Looking back, can you believe the roller coaster that this show has been through?
ED: It's one of the most amazing things that I've ever seen.
NR: Have you ever seen anything like it?
ED: No, I haven't. Don't ever expect to again.
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