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Over the past two and a half decades, few have lit up Boston stages quite like Kathy St. George. Her face is bound to be familiar to even the most casual of Boston theatergoers, whether from her turns as Judy Garland in multiple productions, or her Elliot Norton Award-winning performance as Sister Walburga/Mrs. MacDuffie in SpeakEasy’s own Divine Sister. Kathy was gracious enough to share some of the show business wisdom and great stories she’s picked up over her illustrious career, from Fiddler on the Roof on Broadway to playing Helene in SIGNIFICANT OTHER.
This is a big anniversary year for you. It was a mere 35 years ago that you made your Broadway debut in Fiddler on the Roof. What do you remember most about that experience?
I remember the phone call offering me the role. No exaggeration, I almost fainted, holding that rotary phone. They wanted me to start rehearsals the very next day in New York. I had just moved back to my hometown (Stoneham, MA) two weeks prior, had given up show business, and was returning to my job as a second-grade teacher. It was a difficult decision for me, because I truly loved teaching. But I knew this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. So the next morning, I went to the Superintendent’s Office, resigned from the job I’d held for five years, grabbed the train to NYC, and started rehearsals at Lincoln Center. It was a crazy, whirlwind couple of days.
Fiddler on the Roof has been very good to me. I’ve done two Broadway productions and four national tours. We toured throughout the USA, Canada, and Japan. The 1990 revival starring Topol played at the Gershwin Theatre for nine months, and we won the Tony Award for “Best Revival.” That was such a thrill!
This season also marks the 25th Anniversary of your return from New York to Boston to pursue your career here at home. Was it hard to leave New York? Any regrets?
No regrets. I love living in the Boston area. This is my home…and there’s no place like home! I’ve had a great career, and have worked at most of the theaters in the area. The Boston Theatre Community is awesome, and these are my people. Also, I was very fortunate to book a few long-running shows here in Boston such as I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change; MenopauseThe Musical; and Shear Madness.
You have had many successes in your career, including several shows in which you played Judy Garland. Tell us a little bit about your connection to Judy.
I have been a fan of Judy’s since I was a kid, and The Wizard of Oz is still one of my favorite movies. But it wasn’t until I performed “You Made Me Love You” at a benefit in 1989, that I was hooked. A critic of that show remarked that I was “reminiscent of a young Judy,” and that comment really stuck with me. I began to perform more of her songs, and really began to appreciate not only her choice of music, but also the way she poured her heart into every song and every performance. Over the years, I have had the privilege to play Judy in four shows: And Now Ladies & Gentlemen, Miss Judy Garland (2007);Dear Miss Garland (2009 and 2012 Revised Version); and End of the Rainbow (2014). There truly was no one quite like her.
We are so excited that you are starting off this special year here at SpeakEasy by appearing in our pre-Broadway production of SIGNIFICANT OTHER. Tell us about the show and the character you play, Helene.
This is a beautiful, funny, and heart-warming play about a young man named Jordan who suddenly finds himself alone as his three very best friends start marrying off. I play his grandmother, Helene, whom he comes to visit.
Helene has had a full life with a husband and children. She loves Jordan and wants the same for him. Even though these two are at opposite ends of their lives, their struggles have many similarities, which I will leave our audience to figure out as they watch the show.
The show is beautifully written – funny, poignant, and full of moments that everyone can relate to, whether you are just starting out as a young adult, or looking back, like Helene, on a life well-lived.
What do you like about Helene, and how did you prepare for the role?
I’ve learned a lot about playing Helene by being a caregiver for my Mom, who will be 91 next month. Both of these women are smart, feisty, and eager to share the life lessons they’ve learned.
I also like that Helene serves the play by offering some perspective on what the younger characters are experiencing in the play.
Not to give away any secrets, but isn’t your Mom represented in the show?
Yes, we are using my Mom’s footstool in the play, for Helene to rest her feet on when in her armchair. My Mom hand-painted the footstool about 50 years ago, and it’s been in her living room ever since. When I asked if we could use it in the show, she said “Sure. Does this mean my footstool is going to be famous?!!”
This is very premature, but have you given any thought to a title should you decide to write an autobiography?
I have indeed. A long time ago. The title will be “You Go in First.” I got it from an inspirational book I read back when I was doing cattle call auditions as a young actress in New York. You would wait for hours at those auditions, and hear so many talented people perform, that it could be a little intimidating and scary to enter the audition room when your name was finally called. The book advised that you say the phrase “You go in first!” to invite God or a higher power to enter the room ahead of you – to take away the fear and fill the space with warm, comforting white light. I still use this mantra to this day when I go onstage or enter any new or scary place. It really works.