From the producers of Menopause The Musical and Fiddler on the Roof, Dan Clancy's Middletown is a play about human connection. For the Chicago run of the show, the two couples are played onstage at The Apollo Theatre by Sandy Duncan, Donny Most, Adrian Zmed and Kate Buddeke.
Many will remember Duncan from the Broadway revival of Peter Pan and on television for The Hogan Family. She is a Tony, Emmy and Golden Globe nominated performer with a wide range of shows. Taylorville, Illinois even named a street, Sandy Duncan Drive in her honor based on her character from Taylorville in Funny Face and The Sandy Duncan Show.
Duncan reflected on her lengthy career on her birthday in a new interview.
Windy City Times: When was the last time you have been to Chicago?
Sandy Duncan: I haven't been there since I did The King and I in 2004.
WCT: The other cast members of Middletown told me that you are the new kid on the block for this production.
SD: Yes, the new kid on the block, with two days rehearsal. My brain cells, at 74, make it hard to think. I have been enjoying it because the other three people in these roles are the sweetest people I think I've ever worked with. They are supportive and have led me a long. They have been encouraging me. It certainly seems genuine! [Laughs]
WCT: Talk about your role in Middletown.
SD: Peg is that woman that does things in all the right ways. She is everyone's crutch that they lean on. She has so many things happening to her over her lifetime, that she wonders how she stands up. The emotional arc of this character is heartbreaking and it sucks! [laughs] By the end I need a drink and I'm tired. The whole play is very fast paced.
I had no idea what this play was when they asked me to do it. I read it and found it touching. I didn't know how they would stage it in an unusual form. That in itself was enough to try it.
We have been doing a renovation on our home. We live on the water, and it's a hurricane area. We had to raise the house 10 feet. I was just happy to get out of that for a while!
WCT: Where do you live?
SD: We live in Connecticut. They get hit very often with hurricanes.
WCT: In Middletown there's not much blocking. The lines are read at a podium?
SD: Yes, at a podium. There are cues that I have managed to mess up on at least two times at every show. There is some movement back and forth, but it's primarily talking to each other and the audience. The audience is essentially a character. They are included in the dialogue. It is a bit like Love Letters, but elevated to some new form where the people do interact with each other. You know about Love Letters, right?
WCT: I read about Love Letters and saw Carol Burnett did the play.
SD: She did it at one point. Everyone you can think of has done it. I've done it four times. It's such a beautiful play. You don't move and stay at a desk.
Middletown is a little more complicated than that. Emotionally it's demanding. If you have ever had any relationship in life, you can relate to it.
WCT: How about LGBT relationships?
SD: My son in the play is gay. There's a really lovely scene in the play between Don Most and Adrian Zmed about accepting that our son is gay. It is solved in a sweet way that I wish everyone could be like if they find out their son is gay. They are completely accepting and loving.
It moves to a more developed relationship as the play goes on. He becomes my go-to guy.
WCT: You must have had many gay friends over the years.
SD: Yes, I have, and my son is gay.
WCT: You have always reminded me of my aunt, with your haircut. It's her birthday today.
SD: It's my birthday today, too! Tell her that I don't have that haircut now. I'm letting my hair grow.
WCT: Did you see the recent FX miniseries Fosse/Verdon?
SD: I thought the production was great. Michelle Williams was terrific. I loved Sam Rockwell as an actor.
One thing is, they didn't hit on the qualities of Bob that made him so irresistible to peoplewomen in particular. They didn't show his playful humor in this interpretation of him. He was very serious all the time in this version. That was not who Bob was.
WCT: How was being in Finding Neverland after being in Peter Pan?
SD: Not good. The thing they do with shows now is they rehearse four or five days. If you are a replacement, you come in the room with the stage manager and never leave that room. When you go to rehearsal you are inundated with notes that you haven't had time to rehearse and you haven't even rehearsed with performers from the show yet. I left and said, "I can't do this." I apologized to the cast, most of whom I hadn't even met. There was a strong standby that did the role. I have never missed a show my entire life. To do that, was a big deal.
WCT: Is there one musical you would want to do, but haven't?
SD: No; I don't think that way. I either do what is presented or not. With musicals, I have been a dancer my entire life. I used to do a split leap in the air and not think a thing about it. I was in the kitchen the other day with my husband and he wanted me to jump in his arms, but I couldn't get off the ground. Those days are over!
WCT: Favorite musical that you were in?
SD: Carousel. I played Louise Bigelow, the ballet role in it. It was for choreographer Agnes de Mille and one of the first things I did when I got to New York. Agnes was a taskmaster. Having that fulfillment in my work after accomplishing it was a big deal at 22 years old.
I also like doing the musical Chicago.
WCT: If you can be remembered for one thing in your career, what would it be?
SD: Peter Pan. It changed my life!
Take a trip to Middletown for $65 at The Apollo Theatre, 2540 N. Lincoln Ave.. ( The Apollo is limiting the number of tickets sold to less than 200 per show for all remaining performances through March 22. ) Tickets can be found at ApolloChicago.com or 773-935-6100.