December 20, 2013
Ann Morrison, whose Broadway debut was originating the role of Mary in the Sondheim/Prince musical Merrily We Roll Along, makes a rare NYC cabaret appearance on January 6, 2014 at 54 Below (details here). Her career since Merrily has brought her a Drama Desk Award and, last year, a United Solo Award for Best Actress for her one-woman play Linda Lovely Goes to Broadway, which tells the true story of her work with a young woman with Down's Syndrome whose dream was to appear in a Broadway musical. Linda Lovely and Trevor's Fire, another solo piece written by Ann (for her longtime collaborator Blake Walton), were both published on Indie Theater Now, and that's how I have gotten to know her. Annie's newest solo work, Word Paintings: Soliloquies Around an Easel, will be coming to Indie Theater Now next month, right around the time that Ann performs Now You Know: An Evening with Steve, Lenny and Annie at 54 Below. So this seemed like the perfect time for us to get to know this extraordinary woman a little better.
MD: Annie, we are so excited that you are bringing Now You Know back to 54 Below! Can you talk briefly about how this show came to be?
AM: I am very glad to be coming back to 54 Below as they took such great care of me on my first visit and we had a ball together. I got to 54 back in June when Phillip Bond, the program director at the time, asked me to come and do their Sondheim Unplugged series that 54 Below does every month. I sang two songs, one from my Broadway debut, Merrily We Roll Along, the song “Now You Know.” The second song was a cut song from Follies called “Ah But Underneath.” Well both were received beautifully and a reviewer wrote… “ Would someone please give Annie a showcase!”
So my producer friend Stuart Wilk said “Let’s do it.” But he requested I sing Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein, hence the name of my show Now You Know: An Evening with Steve and Lenny and Annie! I told Stuart that I loved the challenge but I am a storyteller so I have an agenda to tell my personal story of why I am not living in NY and why it has been 28 years since I have sang a cabaret act in there as well. I use Steve and Lenny’s songs throughout weaving the story. It is quite fun!
MD: Given the title, I am guessing you are doing that number from Merrily... What’s it like coming back to a song you introduced several years ago?
AM: It is a thrill to revisit. And as a storyteller I like to sing a song out of context of a show with a different perspective. In Merrily I was singing the song to a dear friend and a man I was in love with, to help him focus on what really matters in his live and leave the painful thoughts and state he is in and move on. In my cabaret act I have just told the story of auditioning for Stephen Sondheim and after realizing he had not written the song “Now You Know” yet I felt he was writing the song for me. Ha-ha! So I sing the song in the moment of my discovery and the words become a metaphor for what I am discovering in my joy of being cast in a Broadway show! I do that sort of thing throughout the night.
MD: We are blessed to have two of your one-person plays on Indie Theater Now (and Word Paintings coming very soon!). What brought you to playwriting?
AM: I came from a very creative home. My mother was a Renaissance woman, playwright, lyricist, poet, modern dancer, painter, director, choreographer, designer, and, and, and… My father was a music professor and a composer and my folks collaborated in creative projects together. I thought this was normal. When I asked a playwright friend to write a monologue for a one-woman show I wanted to create, he told me to write it myself. He loved my own thoughts and poetry and he challenged me to do it all myself. I had a ball. I am dyslexic so this really challenged me. I was writing for myself mostly and was thrilled when others wanted to perform what I was creating.
MD: Do you have a preference among the many “hats” you wear in the theater—actor, director, writer?
AM: I have to honestly say… none of them. I want to be a brain surgeon!… I’m kidding!... I like the hat that is on at the time. I forget the other two while one is on so they are all challenging and creative and every once in a while all three get snippy with each other if the actor misses a line from the writer or the director gets in the way of the actor… Ha- ha- ha!
MD: So, you’ve let the cat out of the bag and we now know that your son is going to appear with you at 54 Below next month. Have you performed with him in the past?
AM: Yes. My son Huck Walton is flying from Los Angeles to sing with me on stage. I am thrilled, as is his father Blake Walton (and my collaborator in theatre projects). We will all be together in New York after a long time away. I last sung with Huck in Chicago singing in a backers reading of a musical he wrote called The Charm. Stephen Sondheim has been mentoring Huck with his musical. Before that we did Oliver! together at the Music Theatre of Wichita when Huck was twelve. He was the Artful Dodger to my Nancy. And before that the musical It's a Wonderful Life and his father also joined the cast. I remember he and I sang also for a Christmas concert when Huck was 5. I was a druid at the time and was asked to sing a druid Christmas song. I had to laugh because druids don’t celebrate Christmas. So I had fun singing "The Holly and The Ivy," the old pre-Christian version, as a druid priestess and Huck was a wood elf. Ha-ha-ha! We had so much fun because during I explained how Christians stole our winter solstice holiday. Ha-ha-ha! See how much fun I have in the world!
MD: What is one thing you want to tell your fans about Huck that they may not know?
AM: Well, I am a proud mother and still I am going to try and speak about him from another’s eyes. Huck is a very loving and compassionate young man. He is a singer/songwriter who has a wonderful band supporting him. Huck and the Walltones. Because Huck was raised in the theatre writes lyrics and music with a keen storytelling eye and ear!
If my fans want to make a mother very happy they would go to YouTube, search for The Walltones television channel and SUBSCRIBE. A record company is wooing him and they need to see he has a following. You will not be disappointed.
Huck is very socially minded and wants to make the world a better place. He is passionate with working with autistic kids, well, persons with all kinds of developmental disabilities, or as Huck and I say… differences. Both Huck and I are dyslexic and have a big love for motivational speaking to other learning different individuals. (Thank God for spell-check!) He is in a very beautiful relationship with Mary Lucas and I adore her! I am sad she can not fly with Huck to NY to see the show because of her own work but maybe we will get out to LA to do our show.
Also Liz Callaway is joining me on stage to sing a song from Merrily that I do as part of this show; she will join me in a wonderful arrangement by Alex Rybeck that Liz performs with her sister Ann Hampton Callaway. I have performed this piece before in Sarasota with Liz when she came on tour and she asked me to join her in her show. We are very excited to reprise this time together. I see Liz like a sister, and so want to do more things with her. Hey, maybe a producer will be in the audience and see that Huck and Liz and I should do their next musical! It could happen!