“Top billing Monday, Tuesday you’re touring in stock…”
If there was a Helen Hayes category for quick turnaround, the award would undoubtedly go to Sherri L. Edelen. Last weekend, she closed Gypsy at Signature Theatre, where her Mama Rose won rave reviews. (On DCTS.com, Jayne Blanchard wrote that “Miss Edelen’s Rose commands the stage in a cathartic howl…” while Peter Marks in The Washington Post said that she “gives perhaps the rawest and most wrenching performance of her life…”) Less than a week later, she was before an audience at Olney, as Miss Jones, leading the big production number “Brotherhood of Man.”
“I’m incredibly tired,” Edelen told me one recent Monday, her only day off. “It’s grueling.” She added that doing a five-show weekend as Mama Rose would be “tough, whether you had another job or not.”
The Olney people gave the schedule to Edelen, and asked “are you sure you close on the 26th? Let’s make sure we understand.” Once it was clear that, despite the reviews, Gypsy couldn’t extend past the 26th because the Signature space was booked for the next production and Gypsy, rave reviews or no, “had to be out,” the folks at Olney were “willing to go for it,” Edelen said.
Of course, that still had her rehearsing How to Succeed… while doing an eight-show week of Gypsy. Add to the mix the fact that it’s hard to think of two theaters further apart in Helen Hayes eligible territory than Signature and Olney. Oh, and Edelen lives in Fredricksburg, VA. No wonder she’s tired.
The Olney team has been “really, really accommodating,” Edelen told me. They kept her for only two to four hours a day and didn’t mess with her two-show days. “So far, it’s been fantastic. I’ve never worked with Jason,” Edelen said of her How to Succeed… director Loewith, “and I wanted to work with him. Hopefully, it will lead to more work with him!” It’s been six years since Edelen did a show at Olney (that was Fiddler on the Roof). Edelen’s husband Thomas Adrian Simpson had worked with Loewith on The Adding Machine at Studio Theatre and spoke “really highly” of him, so Edelen “wanted to work with him, to get out there,” back to Olney.
This time slot historically “doesn’t sell very well,” Edelen said, and that helps to explain why a well-known musical is programmed in it. She quickly added that “if it doesn’t get seen it will be a shame, it’s really great. We’re working our rear ends off.” In addition to praising her director, she spoke of her admiration for Choreographer Tommy Rapley (“amazing”) as well as the rest of the cast, and here she mentioned, in addition to Ludwig, Lawrence Redmond, one of the area’s most consistently employed actors, as well as a number of young people that “I didn’t know, who are extremely talented. I sit at rehearsal and laugh.”
For his part, Loewith admitted that they will “miss her greatly” during the technical rehearsals she will have to miss because of the Gypsy commitment, though he amended the remark to note that tech rehearsals are chiefly about “projections, orchestra, etc. We’ll have plenty to do.” However, in explaining why he accepted the limited access to Edelen during rehearsal, he said that when you do a “big musical, you want to work with the best talent around. The most important thing to say about it is that she’s a superstar and she is spot on the moment she comes into the room. She’s one of those rare talents who can go into the room with a part like this and so nail it that putting her in is not going to be difficult but a joy.”
Loewith added, “She’s incredibly game.” He described a rehearsal during which they were working on the “Brotherhood of Man” number and, to “come up with ideas,” they were playing around and Edelen ended up doing cartwheels around the rehearsal room. Loewith said to her, “If you break your neck, I’ll kill myself.” Then, referring to his Signature Theatre counterpart, he added, “If Eric Schaeffer doesn’t kill me first.”
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying is open now at Olney Theatre Center, with a run scheduled to close on February 23, 2014.