I first interviewed two-time Tony Award Nominee, Carolee Carmello in 2009 when she was starring on Broadway in the mega-hit musical "Mamma Mia." Since that time, Carolee left "Mamma Mia" to originate the role of "Alice Bienke" in the Broadway show "The Addams Family" for which she received an Outer Critics Circle Nomination as well as her third Drama Desk Award Nomination. Now, Carolee is reprising the role of "Aimee Semple McPherson" in Kathie Lee Gifford's musical "Saving Aimee," which Carolee first originated in 2007 in the world premiere of "Saving Aimee" at the Signature Theatre in Arlington, VA. (I had the privilege of seeing Carolee in the 2007 version. Her performance was spectacular as she embodied "Aimee" and belted her way through the score written by Kathie Lee, David Friedman, and David Pomeranz).
"Saving Aimee" tells the true-life story of "Aimee Semple McPherson," the first media superstar evangelist...before Bakker, before Swaggart, and before Robertson who's fall from grace is coupled with scandalous love affairs and a tabloid-frenzied trial. "Saving Aimee" plays at the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle, WA from September 30-October 29 (1308 5th Avenue, Seattle, WA 98101). Click here for tickets!
1. What attracted you to "Saving Aimee" and what keeps you want to participate in these developmental runs? I didn't know anything about Aimee Semple McPherson before I started work on this show, but everything I've learned since has been fascinating. She offers everything you could want as an actress....she was passionate, smart, charismatic, sexy, and addicted to drugs!
2. How did you and Kathie Lee first come to work together? What have you learned from working with her? I first heard about the project when I was doing "Urinetown" and one of my cast-mates was doing a reading of the show. He was describing the story to me one night backstage, and I said, "I need to play that part." Kathie Lee and I spoke on the phone shortly after that and I proposed turning the role (which was then played by 2 actresses) into a one-woman part.
I've learned so much from Kathie Lee. She is incredibly tenacious and energetic and hard-working. And she is so completely committed to this piece.
3. How do you think "Aimee's" story relates to today's times and what do you hope audiences will come away learning from seeing you in the show? I think this story is incredibly timely. It deals with the way someone can be seduced by fame. She was as famous in her day as Madonna or Oprah is today. And she was a master at using the media to her advantage.
I'm not sure people will learn anything from me, but I think the piece will definitely peak their curiosity about Aimee and her life.
4. What is your favorite part of originating a role in a show and what do you like best about taking over a role? Well, when you originate a role you have so much more freedom (of course, that can be scary!) and much more exposure, too.
Replacing in a role is tricky because you are squeezing into someone else's shoes, but it's also easier in a way, because that person has already worked out the kinks.
5. What is your favorite part of the rehearsal/preview period in a show? My favorite part of the rehearsal period is when it's over. I need the audience.
6. Favorite place to practice/rehearse on your own? I learn a lot of music while I'm driving in my car. Other drivers who look in, probably think I'm insane.
7. What have you learned about yourself from being a performer? What has kept you grounded in an industry that has lead others down a darker path? I've learned that I like variety in my work. I like comedy, then drama; stage, then TV; employment, then unemployment!
I think my family keeps me grounded. Nothing makes you behave more than being responsible for children.
8. What has been your proudest moment so far? In the past couple of years, I have been very flattered by honors at both my college and my high school. There's something really gratifying about feeling successful in your hometown.
9. What's the best advice you've ever received? When I first moved to New York, someone told me to audition for everything that I could. It really proved helpful, not only because I got better at auditioning (which is the strangest/hardest part of this business), but because there are many times when a casting person or director will see you at one audition and bring you in for something else all together. It's advice that I've passed on to other actors. Don't decide you're not going to get the job before you go in for it. You may get something even better.
10. If you could dream about anyone while you sleep, who would it be? Right now, I would like to dream about Aimee Semple McPherson....I could use all the help I can get with this show!
11. Favorite way to stay in shape? I've been doing a lot of running lately. I find it really helps my endurance on stage. I decided to try a half-marathon this year. (I was pretty proud that I got through those 13 plus miles.) Next year, my goal is a full marathon. We'll see if I can do it. Something tells me that 26 is more than twice as hard as 13!
12. Favorite way to spend your day off? I love spending time with my kids....preferably doing something physical and getting some fresh air....then a great meal (which I don't have to cook or clean up!) and, if I'm really fantasizing, a full 8 hours of sleep!
13. "Mary" or "Rhoda"? "Rhoda," for sure! I love a good head scarf!
For a sampling of the talent that is Carolee Carmello, check out this video of her and the cast of "Saving Aimee" singing "For Such A Time As This!"