All That Jazz: Alonzo Saunders Talks "Chicago"
Hang on to your garters, San Diego. The raucous, riproarin Kander and Ebb romp "Chicago The Musical" is hitting The Birch North Park Theater through Sunday, March 3. Come join the San Diego Musical Theatre’s rag-tag band of amazing talent as they bring this oft-awarded prohibition-era romp chronicling crime, sex, booze and crazy fun-and what it takes to get away with murder.
Cast member Alonzo Saunders plays the female newspaper reporter Mary Sunshine, who at the end of the show is traditionally revealed to be a male.
He took a moment to talk with The Rage Monthly about his life’s journey and how he ended up doing drag on Broadway.
So Alonzo, tell me a little about where you grew up and how you got started.
I am completely east coast. I grew up in Atlanta and went to performing arts high school there; I did that sort of artsy-fartsy scene as a teenager. After high school I went straight to New York, to attend Theatre Conservatory.
After I finished the Conservatory, I booked a national tour of "The Wizard of Oz" and I literally saw the entire country-in less than six months-it was crazy! I ran the gamut; I have been to pretty much every major city in every state except for Hawaii!
The next big thing was Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey; they are considered a Broadway house. It was there that I got to work with some really amazing people. Shortly thereafter I got my first Broadway show, "Showboat."
I remember my first day on stage, it was just after we finished the opening number and standing there was the god of theatre, Hal Prince. (The American producer responsible for some of the most successful Broadway musicals of the past halfcentury.) He said to me, "Hello Alonzo, welcome to Broadway," it was so amazing, I was totally freaking out.
So tell me a bit about what you’re doing now? How has it changed from your earlier days?
I’m currently up for Susan Stroman’s "Scottsboro Boys" coming up at the Ahmunson
Theatre. We were in there rehearsing and tap-dancing and I remember thinking, "wow, this used to be so much easier." I can still do it, but at the same time I’m like, "oh my god, I need a respirator!" That’s the thing that’s changed, age does catch up with you. My mother says that I’m Dorian Grey, but I’m afraid to run across that attic with the picture hidden away! I hope I never find it...
How do you deal with the highs and lows of theatre?
I have been lucky, "bless the heavens." I have been fortunate enough to keep working. I got "Showboat" when I was 20 or 21 and when it closed in ’97, they had a company in Chicago doing the same show and I went there as a replacement for another actor. He was injured, so I went and stepped in for him, then that following September, I got the part in "Chicago The Musical."
Was that with Bebe Neuwirth and Anne Reinking from the original revival cast?
No, I didn’t work with them until almost six months later because I was on the road with the national tour. We had such a wonderful cast, we had to be on our toes. People like the wonderful Brent Barrett and Karen Ziemba, it was like a Broadway who’s-who.
We all switched and traded after that and I went into the Broadway company, which was still at the Schubert Theatre. For a theatre person, that’s like being on hallowed ground. Actors say, "I’m in a new show" and the second question is usually, "which theatre are you at?"
Later on Broadway, working with Bebe was amazing. She is so regimented in the way she prepares, in her warm-up and how she readies herself. Usually she’s hidden away until she would go on stage, but she would come up and watch my number and I remember being so amazed by that. To garner that attention and support from her and so many other talented people was thrilling.
What was it like to work with Anne Reinking? She’s for me one of those names that when you hear it, hails with a chorus of angelic voices-the "holy grail" of dancers.
Right, (laughs) she is heavenly. The original "instigator" of "Fosse the Musical" was Chet Walker and many Broadway dancers used to take his class back then, myself included. He sort of molded Fosse around us then, at least until it got closer to it actually becoming a production.
Then in through the doorway one day walks Gwen Verdon and Annie Reinking. It was insane, totally insane, but a wonderful, wonderful time.
It is pretty astounding when you look at how many people have been in "Chicago." It’s a cavalcade of stars!
It would be kind of scary to add them up. It felt at times like that scene from Auntie Mame, when she comes down the stairs-it’s a new year with a new apartment redecorated in a whole new look. Every time you came into the scene for your number, there was a different Billy Flynn, a different Roxy or a different Velma.
All of them together, wouldn’t that make a great Tony Awards show number?
Exactly, (laughs) mix Jerry Herman with Kaster and Ebb! That would be funny...
You have been in San Diego before correct?<
I have. I had done a production at the Old Globe, and it was called Sammy, which was another extraordinary moment for me. I had the chance there to work with Leslie Bricusse, which was another bee in my bonnet. It ended up being another coincidental moment. I had been in London doing "The Rat Pack" in the West End, and all of those songs were Leslie Bricusse songs, so to be there in San Diego doing that music was so surreal.
I am looking forward to being in San Diego again. When I was there with my mom, we both fell in love. It’s so relaxed, and in a stress-filled life, that’s a pretty great thing.
The city is a great place to be in the theatre, there is always something exciting brewing here.
I know that La Jolla Playhouse and the Globe are the top two theatres to bring production to Broadway. San Diego really is a haven for all the head honchos and Broadway folk to create new productions. I love the magic one can create, whether it’s on stage or in TV or film when you’re given the opportunity. That’s what I’m here for!
"Chicago The Musical" takes place at the Birch North Park Theatre through Sunday, March 3. For tickets and more information call 619.239.8836 or go to sdmt.org.