Thursday, July 24, 2014
Spotlight On...Christine Toy Johnson
Hometown: Katonah, New York
Education: BA/Sarah Lawrence College, Certificate of Screenwriting/NYU, BMI Musical Theatre Writing Workshop
Select Credits: Actor, writer, filmmaker, advocate for inclusion. 3 times on Broadway (Chu Chem, Grease!, The Music Man), 3 national tours (Cats, Flower Drum Song, Bombay Dreams), 10 Off-Broadway shows (most recently Philip Goes Forth at the Mint), about 100 television & film appearances (most recently Richard Thomas’ wife on "The Americans"). Written works included in the Library of Congress Asian Pacific American Performing Arts Collection. Executive producer/co-director (with husband Bruce Johnson) of the award-winning documentary feature, Transcending – The Wat Misaka Story. Recipient of the 2013 Rosetta LeNoire Award from AEA for “outstanding artistic contributions to the universality of the human spirit in American theatre”. Details: www.christinetoyjohnson.com
Why theater?: There’s nothing like the shared experience (between audience, actors, musicians, and crew) of telling a story in the theatre, all in this one unique moment in time. No matter how many performances you might give of the same show, each performance exists only then, shared amongst only the people in that same space -- and I really believe that the alchemy of that moment is pure magic! Growing up in the suburbs of NYC, I started going to see Broadway shows at a very early age and was hooked at first sight. All I ever dreamed of was being in a Broadway musical! I feel incredibly lucky to have had that dream come true three times – so far!
Who do you play in Urban Momfare?: Debbie Nakamura-Greenberg, mother of 3 and self-assigned boss of everyone.
Tell us about Urban Momfare: It’s a fun and irreverent musical about 3 Upper East Side women navigating the ups and downs of motherhood and friendship over a period of 17 years. Music and lyrics by Pamela Weiler Grayson, book by Pam and Alice Jankell (who is also the director). We’re playing Theatre 80 on St. Marks Place in the New York Fringe Festival in August. (Check out www.fringenyc.org for dates/ticket info etc.)
What is it like being a part of Urban Momfare?: I’m so proud of the writers Pam Weiler Grayson and Alice Jankell (who is also the director). Pam and I survived the BMI Musical Theatre Writing workshop together and Alice and I have worked together with the Barrow Group Theatre Company’s FAB Women. Their joy in creating and seeing this piece come to fruition is contagious – and is a great affirmation of one of the best reasons we all do this! It’s also pretty awesome to be in the company of so many powerful women (cast, crew, creative team) every day, telling a story that we don’t hear very often in the theatre and a story with so much heart.
What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I love stories that are about something, are full of heart, and illuminate the human spirit. It doesn’t have to be big and shiny, but it does have to be meaningful, even if the meaning is to lift us up by being truly entertaining. I’m deeply moved by man-made art that lasts over time. I write about this all the time. My musical Barcelona was inspired by spending one day in the city of Barcelona and being embraced by the genius of Antoni Gaudi’s architecture. My travels around the world (for both work and pleasure) have taken me to astounding places like Ankor Wat, Ephesus, The Great Wall, Rome, Paris, Copenhagen, Bangkok, Athens…and I’m so grateful to the vision of artists who dedicated themselves to creating beauty that has lasted for all these centuries in all of these places.
Any roles you’re dying to play?: I’ve had the great fortune to play a lot of my dream roles (“Amalia” in She Loves Me, “Maria” in West Side Story, “Cunegonde” in Candide, etc.) when I was younger, and “Dolly Levi” in Hello, Dolly! last year! I’d love to get to play “Margaret Johnson” in The Light In The Piazza, and “Desiree” in A Little Night Music, and I’m still waiting for someone to write an amazing, 3-dimensional, textured, flawed and interesting Asian American woman over the age of 40 that didn’t come over from China last year, isn’t named Mei Li, and sings in her head voice. (And I don’t write roles for myself to play, so I don’t think it should be me!)
What’s your favorite showtune?: “The Sound of Music” (I’m so old school – but I mean, come on: “My heart wants to beat like the wings of the birds that rise from the lake to the trees! My heart wants to sigh like a chime that flies from the lake to the trees”! Aren’t you just happier now?)
If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: I’ve worked with some pretty amazing people (Steve Sondheim and John Weidman are at the top the list, along with Susan Stroman, Casey Nicholaw and others) but though I consider Lynn Ahrens to be somewhat of a mentor, we’ve never worked together on a new project together. And I would love that. So I will say Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty! (Part 2: Since you didn’t say they had to still be with us, I would also say Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II.)
Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: Mary Tyler Moore (from the 1970 and 80s) as the inner me and Lucy Liu as the me I wish I was as thin as, in “Pathologically Optimistic”. Story: A young Asian American actress, in spite of all the odds, very few role models (remember it begins in the 70s) and people telling her things like she could maybe “play Guinevere in Camelot in theatre for the blind” forges ahead to make a career in show business and remains cheerful about it.
What show have you recommended to your friends?: Rocky (Hurry!), Beautiful, Here Lies Love, A Gentleman’s Guide To Love And Murder, Act One, Violet.
What’s the most played song on your iTunes?: Okay, at the risk of sounding totally narcissistic, I got Baayork Lee (not only the original “Connie Wong” in A Chorus Line, but also an original “Turkey Lurkey” girl in Promises, Promises) to make her first stage appearance in 37 years (!!) with me in November, where we recreated part of “Turkey Lurkey” together -- and I listen to my recording of this when I’m on the elliptical machine and need a real boost. Dancing and singing that number with her (one of my personal heroes and earliest role models) was out of this world!
What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Going out to eat with my friends at places like Jebon in the east village (happy hour spicy tuna rolls from 4-7!), Bonchon in midtown (two words: fried chicken), or Joe’s Ginger in Chinatown (soup dumplings!). Any excuse to do this will suffice.
What’s up next?: I’m shooting a part in a movie called “Jack of the Red Hearts”, preparing for a workshop of Barcelona (I wrote the book and lyrics with composer/lyricist Jason Ma) in September and an upcoming developmental reading of a new musical called Chandra & Phoolan (writing book and lyrics with composer/lyricist Kamala Sankaram), as well as continuing to write a play with music called How To Be A Domestic Goddess In 7 Easy Lessons Or Less with Kevin Duda.
For more on Urban Momfare, visit http://www.urbanmomfare.com/ For more on Christine, visit http://www.christinetoyjohnson.com/