I feel eternally grateful for being given the opportunity to interview the one and only Kathleen Turner, Academy Award nominee, Golden Globe winner & two-time Tony nominee, about her upcoming cabaret debut, entitled Finding My Voice, at Philadelphia Theatre Company. I grew up watching Kathleen Turner light up the big screen and as an adult, I got to see her on the Broadway stage. Peggy Sue Got Married, Serial Mom, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, The Jewel of the Nile, and The Graduate on Broadway are just a few of my favorite Kathleen Turner projects.
Getting to talk with Kathleen about this special project was a true honor! She is so passionate about making her cabaret debut. The road to getting here was an interesting one. I loved hearing how one lunch meeting and a play lead to Kathleen fully embracing her desire to sing and the real reason why she waited so long to do it. It also fascinated me to learn why she is making her cabaret debut at the Philadelphia Theatre Company. But, my favorite part of this interview was learning who she would "Serial Mom" and who she would like to seduce, just like her character "Mrs. Robinson" did in The Graduate on Broadway.
Finding My Voice brings Kathleen's trademark husky voice to the American songbook, performing classic songs, interwoven with personal anecdotes, with her band, led by Mark Janas. Finding My Voice will play on Monday, September 25, 2017 for one night only, at Philadelphia Theatre Company at 7pm & 9pm!(480 S. Broad Street, Broad & Lombard Street, Philadelphia, PA 19146).
1. This September you are making your cabaret debut at Philadelphia Theatre Company with your show Finding My Voice. What made you want to venture into the cabaret world? How long has this been in the works for...from your first thought of, "I want to do a cabaret show" to inception? Molly Smith, who is the artistic director at Arena Stage in Washington, DC, asked me to do Mother Courage and Her Children in 2014, which is a play with songs as opposed to a full fledged musical. The character "Mother Courage" sings five songs, so I thought, I’d like to give it a try. The reason I never sang professionally, prior to Mother Courage, was because when I started in the business 40 years ago, any woman my age was a Soprano, which clearly, was not going to be me. So at the beginning of my career, I told people, "No I don’t sing, I just act" and that became true.
So I worked on my singing to get those songs to a place where I would be confident performing them before I started rehearsals. If you know Mother Courage and Her Children, they called it Lear2 because it’s a huge text, so I felt, if I got the songs out of the way before I get down there, it’d be of good for everyone. The production was thrilling, absolutely amazing. I loved doing it, I loved my singing, so, when I got back to New York, in between jobs, I contacted Andy Gale and Mark Janas, and said, I want to keep working with you guys and just see what I can do. Then I went away to do Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking and upon my return, I called Andy & Mark and said I want to get serious about signing, set a real schedule, and see what happens. So all three of us started bringing in songs that we loved or thought would fit my vocal range and we discussed some stories that reflected parts of my life and from there things started to fall into place. Then one of us said, "Let’s make this a cabaret" and I said, "Ok!" So, I sat down and really started to write the body/patter of the night, linked them up to the songs and it turned into Finding My Voice.
2. What made you want to make your cabaret debut at Philadelphia Theatre Company? I'm making my debut at PTC because I created the play Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins there. They’ve always been very supportive and good to work with. The new artistic director Paige Price is just terrific. Paige & I were throwing our heads together to find a way to generate more income ourselves because you know whatever budget comes out of Washington, G-d help us, it will cut the arts. So we thought of a template to allow us to have cabaret shows on the theatre’s stage. We are sort of going to close the curtains to the house and put tables on the stage. We have a great designer who is going to hang practical chandeliers to create a ceiling and room atmosphere and we have the best sound guy in the business, Nevin Steinberg, who happens to be married to Paige (thank you very much), to figure out how to work the sound in the cinderblock world.
If we can really make this template work, why wouldn’t it work for other regional houses around the country who have dark nights during the run of a show and like PTC, have a subscription based audience.
3. What excites you most about making your cabaret debut? I’m really very proud of myself because this is something that I created and I’m getting better and better as a singer and I love it!
Some of the show is about my career and the excitement of it and being away and what that costs you and some it is about how your life changes and how you have to adjust to those unexpected moments. It’s kind of like an arc of my life, but with songs that make sense to me about it.
4. What has it been like to prepare for this evening? How is it similar to your preparation of an acting role? As you can imagine after all these years in the business, I have pretty good control of my voice, period. It wasn’t that big of a leap to use it in another way, but it is different. There’s a lot you can do with the rhythm and melody line that creates emotion or thought in cabaret that you don’t have in scripts. It’s almost like floating a boat. I’m not real sure how to describe it. I think it takes me more out of myself.
5. What was the first song you knew, hands down, you just had to sing? I was down in Washington DC doing my usual marching or testifying & Molly Smith asked me if I wanted to have lunch with her. I said, "Yeah, great." As we are driving around in her Volkswagen, and I tell this story in the show, she asks me if I can sing. I said, "Yeah, I can sing." So she asks me to sing something. I said, "What? Now? Right here in the car?" She said, "Why not?" I thought to myself, you know the song I always loved to sing is "Since I Fell For You," and so I sang that and afterwards, Molly says, "You can sing" and that is when she offered me the part in Mother Courage. But I’ll tell you, the song sounds a lot better with a band though [laughs].
6. I love the title of your show, Finding My Voice. What do you feel you found with cabaret that you were not finding in acting/directing? There's many ways to use your voice. I don’t think there is only one avenue, one method. But cabaret is a new way to use my voice. At least new to me. One of the things that was most pleasing to me was I had an invited dress about a week ago at Don’t Tell Mama’s in NYC and somebody said to me, "I really liked this. It’s not just like going to a cabaret and hearing somebody sing songs. It’s more like coming to a night of theatre." That was very exciting for me to hear because this is a show I put together.
Kathleen Turner, Photo Credit: REX/SHUTTERSTOCK
7. Are there plans already to bring this show to NYC or will you wait until after the show to figure out next steps? I already agreed to book Michael Feinstein’s club in San Francisco, Feinstein's at the Nikko, and at first, I said, "Wait a minute, I haven’t even done this yet," and Michael said, "Well, if you’re doing it, it's going to be great" and I was like "Well, thank you for the vote of confidence." So, yeah, I’m booked there in October and then I’m getting all kinds of calls from different venues around NYC, so I think we’ll be bringing it to the city. I don’t want this to run away with me, but it’s kind of ideal because, now that I know I love doing it, if I do a film or a play, I can book this show around it. It gives me a freedom within a longer-term project which is really kind of cool.
8. I have a new segment to my interviews called "I Can See Clearly Now" where I like to clear up any misconceptions out there. What do you feel is the biggest misconception out there about yourself that you'd like to clear the air about? Oh honey, I’m not going to criticize myself in public. Give me a break! I mean there are plenty of people to find fault with me, let them do it.
Kathleen Turner as "Mrs. Robinson" in The Graduate
9. I also have a section called 1% better, where through my own fitness regime, I try to inspire people to improve their lives by 1% better everyday. What is something in your life you'd like to improve by 1% better everyday? Doing service in the organizations I volunteer for: City Meals, Planned Parenthood, and People for the American Way. I give as much as I can, given the availability of my time. It’s so rewarding & enriches my life. I tell people all the time that you don’t know how much this gives you until you start doing it. I’m always trying to do a little more of that.
10. Two of my favorite projects of yours are Serial Mom & The Graduate on Broadway. So my two questions are, if you could Serial Mom anybody, who would you run down (my favorite way you offed someone in the movie.)? [Huge Laugh] Oh, well, why not be honest, I usually am, Mike Pence. I don’t worry about Trump as much as I worry about him.
11. In The Graduate on Broadway, you played "Mrs. Robinson," who seduced Jason Biggs' character "Benjamin Braddock," Kathleen Turner interjects, "At age 48 might I add." If you could seduce anyone today, who would you choose? That’s a good one. It’s not my style usually to seduce, but I just met Nathan Fillion, from Castle, in Toronto. He was a sweetheart! I’ll take him.
More on Kathleen Turner:
American film, television and stage actress, Kathleen Turner is known for her trademark husky voice. She starred on Broadway in High, Indiscretions; The Graduate; and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, for which she received Tony nominations for Best Actress. On screen, she garnered critical acclaim for her performances in Body Heat, for which she was nominated for a Golden Globe; Romancing The Stone and Prizzi's Honor, each of which earned her a Golden Globe Award; Peggy Sue Got Married, which brought both Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations; and War of the Roses, for another Golden Globe nomination.
On television, Kathleen guest starred on the hit NBC sitcom Friends as "Chandler Bing’s" cross dressing father and as a sex crazed owner of a talent agency on Showtime’s Californication. As a voice actress, Kathleen performed the role of "Jessica Rabbit" in Who Framed Roger Rabbit and on the television series The Simpsons and King of the Hill.
Recently, Kathleen has turned her attention to directing with such productions as Would You Still Love Me If… at New World Stages, The Killing of Sister George at Long Wharf Theatre, and Crimes of the Heart at both Roundabout Theatre and Williamstown Theatre Festival. In addition, Kathleen released her 2008 autobiography Send Yourself Roses: Thoughts on my Life, Love, and Leading Roles, which secured a position on the New York Times Best-Seller List.