Les Girls of Iphigenia
This is Part 7 of a multi-part series of posts. I suggest that you start with Part 1 if you have the time and really want to appreciate the full effulgence.
Les Girls of Iphigenia:
Twelve young starlets play one classic role in the same opera. Twelve variations of the same young girl facing her death at the hands of her father all in the service of her country. We wondered if it would work, if the audiences would ‘get it’. They had no trouble with the concept and the musical/rock opera rode on the giant wings of these twelve amazingly talented women in every performance.
How I loved these women! Twelve of the top talents in NYC to work with, to write for, to arrange for. It was a composer’s dream come true.
Over the couple of years of the run, first in workshops in NYC, then in London and then again in performances back in NYC, there were a number of other women who came in and out – understudies, swings and replacements, (Broadway star Patti Lupone was one) but the core twelve were something special and over the years, after the run of the show, I had the gratifying opportunity to watch nearly every one of them blossom into a star on a major scale.
Julianne — Julianne Marshall was our rock. She was there for the entire run of the show and I can’t remember that she ever missed a performance. She was a beautiful presence on stage, one of the quieter side of Iphigenia, but the leader of the kettle drum choir – six of the twelve learned to play timpani and would erupt periodically throughout the show in a grand tattoo of rhythmic pounding which represented the war around them. Julianne would radically change in an instant from demure to powerful when she got those mallets in her hands.
Nell – Nell Carter was our trumpet. With a voice that would cut diamonds and shatter glass she was a tremendous presence. There were moments when I could put Nell on the melody and everybody else on the harmonies and Nell’s voice would still cut through the other eleven and state the theme. And she was funny – probably our one true comic relief in the cast – with her wide body and her crazy spirit, she could have handled the role by herself in another production.
Nell in Ain’t Misbehavin’
Nell went on to win a Tony Award for her performance in the Broadway musical Ain’t Misbehavin’, as well as an Emmy Award for her reprisal of the role on television.
She also received Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for her starring role in the long-running 1980s’ sitcom Gimme a Break!.
Sharon – Sharon Redd was simply beautiful and talented. She had the fire and had one of those classic R&B voices that you heard on the radio. Often it was Sharon, singing on commercials, as one of Bette Midler’s Harlettes and finally having a most successful career as a background vocalist, most notably with the group Soirée, which also included among its members Luther Vandross and Jocelyn Brown.
Trish – Trish Hawkins was the vulnerable side of Iphigenia. Trish always felt to me like a fresh breath of air from the country. She was the strongest actress of the group and, consequently, the turn-to girl that handled most of the spoken lines. I secretly fell in love with her in the course of the run because of her natural beauty and great presence.
Trish with Judd-Hirsch
Later in life she became Lanford Wilson’s female lead in his Pulitzer Prize winning Broadway play Talley’s Folly, as well as his Broadway plays The Happy Hooker and Fifth of July.
Marion – Marion Ramsey was the energy! Here was a blast-‘em-through-the-roof R&B/Gospel singer with serious chops and the great ability to get the audience standin’ up and clappin’. Her big number was a song called Gate Tender which never failed to bring the house down.
Marion in Police Academy
She seemed always happy and ready for a laugh and was one of the most popular among the girls. She was later a regular on the TV series Cos but is best known for her role as the timid Officer Laverne Hooks in the Police Academy movies.
Pam – Pamela Pentony was our Janis Joplin. The music of the show covered many pop genres and Pam’s number, I Wonder, was a screamin’ gut wrenching rock n’ roll moment that she just tore up every night. One wondered how she could sing like that whiskey-voiced and rockin’ and rollin’ night after night. How could her voice possibly hold out? But it did – 8 performances a week for a couple of years. Pam was special. Everybody loved her because she gave it everything she had night after night, night after night … (more…)