The Scarlet Pimpernel : Broadway's Most Intriguing Musical.

Interview with Amy Bodnar

I interviewed Amy very early in her run as Marguerite at the Shubert Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut. By the time I met her, she had only played the role four times.

NR: I read in your bio that you grew up in Pittsburgh?

AB: I did! Yes. My family's still there. My dad and my mom are still there. I love Pittsburgh. I can't wait to play there.

NR: Is the tour going to Pittsburgh? I can't remember.

AB: The tour's going there in October. I'm sure my mother and dad have already booked buses full of people. (laughs)

NR: Oh, that will be so much fun! What a wonderful thing.

AB: It is. It's really great because they've always been so incredibly supportive of me and come out to see me wherever I've been. So now I get to come to them and they don't have to worry. My sister's coming tonight. She's not coming to the show till tomorrow, but she's going to be here tonight and through Tuesday, so that's also good.

NR: That's great. I understand you have ballet training?

AB: I do. I was a professional ballet dancer for ten years.

NR: Ten years!

AB: Yeah, that was my first lifetime. (laughs)

NR: Oh, I see. So you didn't originally want to go into acting? You just wanted to be a dancer?

AB: Well, from the time I was eleven years old, I thought this is what I want to do. I want to be a professional ballet dancer, and put my life around that. And that's what I did. But that world is really, really something. It's unlike any other world.

NR: In what way? I don't know much about it.

AB: It's just very difficult. Of all the art forms, I think it's probably the most demanding from a young age, it really is. It's not just about what talent you have or what ability you have - it's what you look like and dedication to the nth degree. But even with all of that...I'm sure you've heard other people who dance talk about it. It's an incredible thing because it puts focus into your life like no other art form could do. So it makes it easier when you do decide to do something else, you're really ready for it.

NR: That's great. Did you sing during that time as well?

AB: Well I grew up... my dad's a United Methodist minister and I grew up singing in church all the time. That's where I started.

NR: I see. I believe Ragtime was your Broadway debut?

AB: That's right.

NR: That must have been incredible.

AB: It was amazing! And I got to do that during the Tony time which was absolutely fantastic. I was there with the original cast.

NR: What a great experience.

AB: Actually, I think I got the best of all possible worlds with that production because I was in the original L.A. company and then two days after the L.A. company closed, they brought me to New York to be part of the original Broadway company. A month or so after that, we were at the Tony's.

NR: What a great experience! A lifetime of education in one show.

AB: Oh my gosh, I can't even tell you. I mean, just to be around those people and to see those performers every night. To watch Marin (Mazzie) and Brian (Stokes Mitchell) and Audra (McDonald) every single night and see them just turning it out every night - that was incredible.

NR: And you got to play Evelyn sometimes?

AB: Yeah, that was great.

NR: That's really good. So what's your favorite role you've played so far? Do you have one?

AB: know this sounds so corny, but it's Marguerite because I've never done anything like this and I think any actress that would play this role would say that it's fantastic! It has everything in it from getting married to having a sword fight, so how could it not be?

NR: That's true. Is there a role you haven't done yet, that you would love to do?

AB: To be honest, I've been so blessed and fortunate to get this part. I'm so into this right now that I can't even think about the future. This is my present and my future and I'm really excited about just being a part of this. It just consumes me right now. Maybe a year down the road I'll be able to think about that, but it's just such a discovery at this moment. Every performance I learn something new about myself and I learn something new about the character, about the other people in the play. I intend to just explore this for awhile.

NR: I can understand that. It's a very rich character.

NR: Can you tell me about the Canadian tour you did?

AB: Yes. I did Sunset Boulevard.

NR: How did you like life on the road?

AB: I have to say that this is going to be my first true taste of life on the road. What I just did - Martin Guerre - was probably more of a tour than anything that I've done. Sunset was planted in Toronto for a year and then it took three months off because that set was so massive that it took three months to move the set from Toronto to Vancouver. We had three months off, we were in Vancouver for five months, and then it closed. I call it a "Canadian tour," because (laughing) it went to two Canadian cities, but really we were sitting down. That production was too big to move. In fact, I think part of the problem with the national tour that went out in the US was that it cost them so much to move the set from place to place.

I loved Canada, and I loved that show. I made a lot of friendships that I think will last for a lifetime, and that's the most important thing I think about being on the road.

NR: How do you think you're going to do on this tour? Did you bring something from home to make yourself feel more comfortable?

AB: Well, already I feel good. Everybody in this cast is so tremendous. I went over to the laundromat today and it just so happened that four other people were at the laundromat. We were just talking about what the dynamic of the group is, and how incredible it is. It's a very great group of people, very generous, very mature. It's not a cast that's going to go out and be crazy, but we do like to have fun. We're all sort of at similar places in our lives and this means a lot to us for a lot of different reasons.

NR: How about when you go to a different house, as you did with Martin Guerre? Is it hard to adjust? Are the sets pretty much the same even though they're on a different stage?

AB: I guess we'll see with this. I don't want to say we're concerned, but one thing we're all thinking about right now is that this house is wonderful. It's big enough but it's also intimate. The shows plays so beautifully here and the response we've gotten has been wonderful. I just came from the Kennedy Center doing Martin Guerre. It's fantastic, the energy is great like this...the people who have been on that stage and what you feel, the same way that you do here...except it's HUGE. It's gigantic, so I think there's probably a bit of a thought about how those big houses are going to receive this show.

NR: Not only that, but I know Douglas (Sills) has very tightly timed entrances.

AB: Absolutely. I'm sure that will all change.

NR: If he, or whoever is playing Percy at the time, has a much larger distance to travel there will be a problem.

AB: Right. That will all have to adapt to each space.

NR: But you don't get a lot of time in the house before you start, do you?

AB: No. Even the Ordway, our next theater...I've seen a show there and that's a larger theater than this so I'm sure it will change at the Ordway.

NR: How about the audiences? Do different cities react differently?

AB: Oh, absolutely. That's something that I've noticed with all the different shows that I've been with. They're just so generous here in New Haven. It's been incredible. I think some of the cities where we'll find a different kind of response are probably cities like DC and L.A. and cities that are maybe a little bit larger. Also, when the venue is larger it seems like there's less of a response because they're more separated from us. The distance is a little greater. But, I have to say that of any show that I've done, I think this show will play so incredibly well regionally. I really, really do. I wouldn't say that if I didn't feel it was true.

NR: I agree, but then I'm very prejudiced. (laughs)

AB: I know for a fact in Minneapolis/St. Paul, those audiences are incredibly generous. They loved Martin Guerre. They were on their feet every night. I fully expect them to be on their feet every night for Pimpernel. Something else it seems that The Pimpernel inspires and other shows that I've been with have not, is just an incredible fan base. They're so loyal.

NR: I was going to ask you if you knew anything about that before you came here. First of all, how much did you know about the show before you came?

AB: Well, I've seen all three versions and yes, I know that there are very, very generous fans. It seems that it's the (Frank) Wildhorn shows that just inspire such a following. They really find an audience.

NR: That's true, but what's interesting is that each show brings in very different groups of fans. The shows are very different and they each seem to attract their own group of fans. So, you had heard about them in advance?

AB: Oh, yes, and I think it's inspiring. It's wonderful to have people that really love to see the show and cheer for us. They're like family.

NR: What has your reaction been to them so far? What have your experiences been like?

AB: I haven't had any yet! I don't think they know who I am. I think I look quite different without the "gear."

NR: Have you gone out the back door?

AB: I have.

NR: You're right then. They don't know who you are. A few people told me that they didn't see you so they assumed you went out the front door. Stop for a few minutes tonight.

AB: (laughing) Oh, no, it's OK. It's all right.

NR: Seriously, people were hoping to meet you, if that's OK with you.

AB: Of course it's OK with me. That's so sweet.

NR: I'll stop you tonight and point you out. I'm surprised Douglas hasn't done that yet. He loves doing that.

AB: No he hasn't. I think I snuck by him too. So, you're a big fan of the show?

NR: Yes, I love this show.

AB: What do you think of our new ending?

NR: I haven't seen it yet! I live pretty far from here and I haven't been able to see it yet. I'm going to see it tonight for the first time. You and William (Paul Michals) are the first two people I've ever interviewed without seeing you perform first.

AB: Well, good. (big smile) So I'll know that somebody's out there. Excellent.

NR: Tell me about your version of Marguerite. How do you describe her?

AB: As I said, it's a wonderful character. It's so well written. I can't say enough about Nan Knighton. So many characters, (I can't even just say female characters,) but characters in musicals are not thoroughly explored. You don't see a journey from beginning to end with those characters, but I think with Marguerite you really do. You see every element of her. You see her when she's at her most joyous and happiest at her wedding, and a very emotional sad moment in the beginning when she's actually leaving La Comedie Francaise and leaving her home, leaving France. That's emotional. Then, when she's completely distraught at the end when she truly believes that her husband's dead and that she was the cause of it. We see her very frightened and nervous by everything that Chauvelin has done to her and is doing to her with the blackmail, but then we also see her very strong and grounded. It's incredible. I have such an incredible role to play. I guess if I were to describe what I'm trying to do with Marguerite (and I'm sure it will take me awhile to do it all), it is to bring out all of those aspects of her. She's a very, very complex character.

NR: Yes, she is. What have rehearsals been like?

AB: Fantastic. Absolutely amazing. Bobby (Longbottom) is amazing to work with. I really relate to his sensibility because he also comes from a dance background. The way that he discusses things is so particular and he knows exactly what he wants for everything. I relate to that and I love that. I love the detail. So many directors are very lax about detail. They leave it to you to fill in all the blanks. He allows us room. I'm not saying he's not open for suggestions, but he knows exactly what he wants to see and I enjoy that. I like working with somebody like that.

NR: I hear that Douglas is allowed to ad lib again. Does that make you nervous?

AB: Oh, it's fantastic! Are you kidding? The show is different eight times a week. What could be duller than...a question you get in interviews all the time is "How can you do this eight times a week without getting bored?" Well, I'll tell you how - right next door. (indicating Douglas' dressing room.) It's never the same twice.

NR: Well, you probably won't be the target, so I guess you'll be all right. Do you break up?

AB: There are certain things that he does that I have told him, "If you do that, I will laugh."

NR: (laughing) Oh, that was a mistake! I'm sure you've now given him ideas.

AB: (laughing) There is no question about it. There are certain things that he does that will tear me apart and he knows that they make me laugh. But he's just so fantastic to work with. And William too. The fact that William and I started out in the same place and that we're discovering this together is also amazing. I think it's a big step for both of us to be playing these roles.

NR: That's wonderful. Let's see, we've talked about the League, and we've also talked about what you want to do next, which is this.

AB: I know it sounds so silly, but I'm so involved in this right now that there's absolutely no way I can think about what is next. We just started. This is our first venue. I'll tell you, what I'm looking forward to most is getting out to Los Angeles. It is such an important city in the entertainment business and it's never seen this production before, so it's sort of like a re-opening for The Scarlet Pimpernel and it could give it a whole new energy and bring a whole new life to it.

NR: It's a wonderful thing, and I'm very happy about that, especially since it closed in New York. At least this way a lot of people are going to see what we took for granted in New York.

AB: You know, it's so amazing that the show just continued on through three versions. I think it's a complete testimony to the fans who love the show so much. Even though I know everybody was so upset that it closed, they should think about how much they had to do with it staying open.

NR: Absolutely. In reality, it should have closed in late '97 or early '98.

AB: So, it was really you guys that made it...

NR: ...and the producers. And Nan.

AB: And Douglas, who was such a blessing to this production.

NR: Well...welcome to the show!

AB: Thank you.

NR: I hope you have a wonderful stay. It's a great group - on stage and off.

AB: Oh, great. I hope you enjoy it tonight.

NR: Yes, I'm looking forward to it. It seems that I bought these tickets so long ago. Thank you.

AB: You're welcome.

As you can tell, Amy is very excited to be a part of this first national tour of The Scarlet Pimpernel and her enthusiasm is very contagious. I loved the way she described the complexities of Marguerite to me and it will be fascinating to see how her character develops over the next several months. SP4 is once again very different from the former versions, which will give Amy an opportunity to create something all her own, without feeling as if former Marguerites are looking over her shoulder. I wish her the very best during this exciting chapter in her life.

Questions suggested by:

Leona Hoegsberg, Kathleen Smith, Carolyn Peters, JoeyKo, Jan Kolb, Jamster, Shari Perkins, Stephanie Henkin, karen k, Mary Helfrick, Jan Combopiano, Jody Uyanik

Interview conducted and photographs by Nancy Rosati.


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