Julie Graves, who plays Val in the national touring production of "A Chorus Line," was really worried when we interviewed her last week.
She was in Costa Mesa, Calif., where the official "farewell tour" of the smash-hit Broadway musical was playing at the Orange County performing arts center. I was at my desk at the Deseret News."I'm going to be tarred and feathered - I just know I am," she said, expressing her concern about how Utah audiences would accept her when she comes to town. (The show will run for eight performances at the Capitol Theatre from Tuesday, Nov. 27, through Sunday, Dec. 2.)
Her qualms are understandable. Utah has a reputation for strait-laced conservatism. In "A Chorus Line," Val is the young actress whose "Dance: Ten; Looks: Three" rating (also the name of the song) sends her off to the doctor for some reconstructive, surgical renovation.
Graves' big song in a show full of big show-stopping tunes may be listed as "Dance: Ten; Looks: Three" in the program - but it's usually referred to by its more famous and controversial nickname: "that `T and A' song."
For the uninitiated, instead of "T and A," a more clinically literate title would be "Bosoms and Derriere."
Either way, the song does more than stop the show, it sometimes shocks those who aren't used to suck lyrics.
I assured Graves, who noted that the song also raised eyebrows in Oklahoma City and Costa mesa, that we had stopped tarring and feathering peaple a long, long time ago.
She probably won't even get run out of town on a rail.
"I get uncomfortable when I feel a coolness in the audience," she said. "I don't like doing things that offend people. There's a fine line between people. There's a fine line between `Yes, it's me,' and `no, it's the character.' And Val uses the `F-word' a lot."
Gravges recently played on Broadway in Tyne Daly's hit revival of "Gypsy!" She noted that writer/librettist Arthur Laurentz ("West Side Story," "Gypsy" and "Anyone Can Whistle"), once said that actors don't like to play unlikable characters, but that the one true test of an actor's skill is to play just such a character, one that offends.
"So I do get a little uncomfortable" playing Val, especially realizing that some people in the audience don't like to hear females saying the "F-word" or singing the "T and A" song, Graves added.
While many in the cast came directly from the recently closed Broadway production of "A Chorus Line," Graves is one of four "new kids on the block," who did not do the show on Broadway.
She hasd done the show twice before, though, playing Val in Michigan and Christine in a dinner theater in indianapolis, but these were both scaled-down productions with smaller casts in theaters that were too small to accommodate the entire line.
"A Chorus Line," she said, is fairly close to the mark in capturing the tension and realism of auditioning for a show, except that girls and guys rarely audition and the same time together.
"I was living in Chicago when `Cats' came through on tour, and the casting director held an audition," she said. "They took us in groups of 10, and I had the worst position - I was No. 1. I will never forget, it really was just like `A Chorus Line." I had never been to an audition where they have you talk about yourself, but the tension was there and your life really does depend on an audition when you're employed and the rent is due and you really do need that job."
"A Chorus Line," is staged just like an audition, with 24 dancers trying out for the eight openings in the chorus line of a Broadway musical. The kids are on a relatively bare stage, facing the glaring spotlights - and the fierce , inquisitional badgering of Zach, the show's choreographer. Zach is meriless as he interrogates each one of the prospective cast members about their lives, hopes, fears and fantasies.
"We've all felt that," said Graves whos job is to relive that feeling every night.
Graves, a Louisville, Ky., native who sang in church choirs before getting hooked on theater in high school, graduated from the University of Louisville with a degree in theater arts, and worked throughout the Midwest in regional and summer stock theater before moving to New York in February. She joined the "A Chorus Line: The Farewell Tour" company in mid-September and has a contract that runs through July. The show, she said, has been booked through 1992.
One of her claims to fame was delivering a singing telegram to then-Vice President George Bush. He was stumping in Kentucky as part of the Reagan re-election campaign and she was working for Eastern Onion, the singing telegram company, at the time.
This was around Kentucky Derby time, so, as a publicity gimmick, the REpublicans sent "a Derby filly' (in this case, Graves in a red-sequined costume) as a singing telegram.
"This was the very first telegram I had ever sung and there were Secret Service men all over the place. I sung the first two lines...and forgot the rest of the words. The woman who had hired me was there and she went into a panic. `Keep singing! Keep singing!' she told me - so I just smiled and said `OK,' and went on with it."
But Graves said you could either blame her or thank her for getting Reagan re-elected, depending on which political fence you're sitting on.
If you think life as an actrees is all glamour and bouquets of roses - then Graves could set you straight.
Like when she was living in Chicago, wehre she did the "Cats" audition. She was in the Windy City for about a year, performing in "Sugar BAbies" and "La Cage aux Folles." She was also a Mistletoe Bear for Marshall-Field department store during the Christmas season, walking around the huge store attired in a 75-pound bear costume complete with built-in air conditioning.
Graves comes from a close-knit family (whom she is planning on seeing for at least a few days when the show takes a break before Christmas), but while she's on the road, the "A Chorus Line" ensemble is like a family.
"When we're away from our homes in New York, then we tend to eat, work and play with these same people. Sometimes we do things on our own - and you do need your private time - but we still spend a lot to time together, which is kind of nice" she said.
"Randy Clements, who plays Zach, and I talked about touring as a group, and we agreed that you rely on each other for support. When you get bad news from home, etc., you're there for each other. It's almost a shock when you gett off athe road and back home. You beging to miss that closeness," Graves said.
Graves is the youngest of four children. Her mother used to sing with USO troupes and all of the children grew up singing, at home and at church. But it was her older sister, Karen, who got Graves into theater. When Karen did her first school play and Julie saw the standing ovation on opening night, "that convinced me."
Karen got married and is raising a family and teaches music in grade school, but Julie opted for pursuing a career in legtimate theater.
"A Chorus Line" ran for more than 6,000 performances on Broadway - the longest run of any musical in the history of the Great White Way.
It only runs for eight performances at the Capitol Theatre on this trip through town, so I'd recommend getting your tickets as soon as possible.
The original Broadway production won a batch of awards, including several Tonys and the Pultizer Prize for drama.
While the cast comes from New York, most of the musicians in the orchestra pit are from Salt Lake City. The touring company travels with four musicians - conductor Joseph Klein, pianist Mark Lipman, drummer David Tancredi and trumpet player Tino Gagliardi. They'll be augmented by players from Eugene Jelesnik's Salt Lake Philharmonic Orchestra.