A Conversation with Carole Demas & Sarah Rice

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A Conversation with Carole Demas & Sarah Rice

 June 1, 2017

Carole Demas & Sarah Rice at Salon
Photo: Steve Bustamonte

Carole Demas and Sarah Rice, who have been friends for many years, have had career-long associations and friendships with the team of Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt. Both singers and actresses have had their time on the Broadway stage, as original stars creating major roles, most notably as Sandy in Grease (Carole) and Johanna in Sweeney Todd (Sarah). They have also made their home on cabaret and concert stages across the country. With their mutual respect and love for Jones & Schmidt, they have come together to present an evening from their unique perspective of the songwriting teams songs, with accompanying personal stories and memories. The result, Thank You for Your Love: A Musical Celebration of Broadway’s Tom Jones & Harvey Schmidt, is at NYC’s Laurie Beechman Theater, June 24 and 27 at 7:00 pm..

Left photo: Carole as Sandy and Barry Bostwick in “Grease” (Photo: Bill Ray/LIFE Magazine)
Right photo: Sarah as Johanna in “Sweeney Todd”

Cabaret Scenes: How long have you known each other?

We met in the mid-1970s and got to know each other bit by bit. We had the same manager, along with John Travolta, a friend of Carole’s. While she was working in TV in L.A., Sarah and John were dating and planned to stay in Carole’s New York apartment.  John landed in L.A. doing Welcome Back Kotter instead. Sarah was playing Luisa in The Fantasticks at Sullivan Street Playhouse and had to take a month off for tonsil surgery. Carole had played Luisa there 10 years earlier (1966-68) and Tom & Harvey asked her to come in and play the role for Sarah. During that time, we got to know each other better. Later, on Broadway, Carole created the role of Sandy in Grease, and Sarah was the original Johanna in Sweeney Todd on Broadway.

Cabaret Scenes: Have you worked together before?

Yes. We have been singing together in concerts for years, grew closer as friends, and found we are on the same page artistically. We are different performers and our voices are different, but we both believe in investing emotionally and dramatically in a song. We admire each other’s work and we have a lot of laughs together.

Cabaret Scenes: How did you decide to do this show together?

We’ve been thinking about this for several years. We both have worked with and adore Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt, both in their late 80s now. We wanted to express our appreciation while they were still with us to hear it. We realized we had each maintained an ongoing relationship with Tom and Harvey. They were and still are a vivid part of our personal and professional memories and lives.

“The Fantasticks”
Left photo: Sarah with David Brummell & Ralph Bruneau
Right Photo: Carole with Eric Howell (R) & Frank Geraci
Photos: Van Williams

Cabaret Scenes: Tell us more about your histories with Jones & Schmidt?

We played Luisa for two years each, in The Fantasticks at Sullivan Street Playhouse—Carole in the mid 1960s and Sarah in the mid-’70s—and became close to Tom and Harvey during those times. Carole spent several years playing roles in productions of Philemon and what became The Bone Room at Tom and Harvey’s portfolio workshop in the NYC theater district. Shortly after Celebration closed on Broadway, Carole was thrilled to play Angel in the show’s second production, opposite the original, totally beguiling “orphan”, Michael Glenn Smith, at A.C.T. in Seattle. Tom went to Seattle to see it.

Cabaret Scenes: Even with your association with Jones & Schmidt, how did you decide to do this show?

Tom and Harvey’s words and music matter to us, as they do to many people. As we rehearse and build our show we are struck all over again by how gorgeous the music and the poetry of the lyrics are. There are so many strong emotional moments—jewels of humanity, in a way. Their material is deep, but genuine, witty, fun, moving. This is the work of a great team. Tom’s words, sometimes in the book as well as lyrics, captivate and shine on their own. Harvey’s music colors them with rich, often unexpected harmonies. It is illuminating, like his art. They have a rare creative synergy, coming from two very different people. Their songs stick in your heart and head. From their college days of writing zany, edgy madness they moved toward their coming of age with powerful, beautiful, often clever theater songs. It is hard to select what not to sing (this time!).

Carole with Chapman Roberts in “Philemon”
Carole with Michael Glenn-Smith in “Celebration” at A.C.T.

Cabaret Scenes: Many cabaret shows are surveys of songwriters. How is your show different from the others?

Good question! Our show is not a general retrospective. Our approach to it is through our own prism—a viewpoint specific to us. It’s based on years of our personal connection to “the boys,” as they describe themselves. We chose our songs because of what they mean to us—from roles we’ve played or wish we’d played—and because of the way they make us feel. Our brilliant music director, Joe Goodrich, is also a fine singer and joins us in duets and group numbers. Harpist Maria Banks has played for The Fantasticks for years and is part of The Fantasticks family. She will bring texture and a lovely sound on an instrument rarely heard in cabaret. Sarah’s first El Gallo, well-known fellow Broadway actor Hal Robinson, will make a special guest appearance. Direction is by Broadway veteran/award-winning director Charles Repole. Sound design is by award-winning designer Stuart J. Allyn, with thanks to Sennheiser Corporation for providing their new digital wireless mics. Carole’s friend, writer/director John Schak also serves as Harvey’s personal assistant and has sent music and other valuable resources from Harvey’s archives in Texas.

We’ve included photos to show and personal stories to tell—glimpses of Tom and Harvey—not only as artists, but as the interesting people they are, as we know them.

Sarah at the christening of “Fantasticks Lane” with the cast
(on the ladder) and (standing) lyricist Tom Jones,
producer Lore Noto, composer Harvey Schmidt)
Sarah and the cast of “The Fantasticks”

Cabaret Scenes: What do you hope audiences will take away from your show?

Another really great question, one we chewed on a lot when we took that leap into this project. We take off into the stratosphere when we start trying to describe what we hope will happen in 85 minutes on the Laurie Beechman stage. We’re both pretty romantic and probably crazy. We’re aiming for theater with the intimacy and the fun of cabaret. It’s a heartfelt mission for us—there is so much to sing, so much to tell! Cabaret can be a pure, even naked, medium; the songs are the heart of it, not much in the way of scenery, costumes, orchestra, etc., but, as we know, good songs can stand on their own and come fully alive. 

We’d like for our audiences to have the pleasure of hearing these songs and our interpretations of them and to reinforce the understanding that great theater songs like these become a part of us—for both players and audience. We hope our audiences will enjoy a range of emotions and a renewed appreciation of the legacy of this remarkable team; to come away transported and to feel they have met Tom and Harvey on some level. We hope to inspire a new awareness of some of their lesser-known songs, as well as to wrap people in the beauty of some of their greatest.

As we have “tested” our choices, bringing them to various venues, people say they are moved to tears by how they find themselves traveling back to when this music first struck them—to innocence, youth and possibilities.

Currently, on thefantasticks.com website, teenagers, around 15 or 16, are writing to say, “How did you know this is how I feel?” It’s a relief to know that even in this age of cell phones and constant social media, classic theater music of this caliber reaches them just as it reached us.

We hope to offer the magic of Tom and Harvey.

Cabaret Scenes: Your publicity features the recognizable font, created by Harvey Schmidt, used for The Fantasticks. Is this his work, too?

Yes—our poster features Harvey’s inimitable script. Aren’t we lucky! Harvey was a major artist, well known for his illustration, genre, landscape and his artwork in the New Yorker. He told us he doesn’t really draw anymore—his hands aren’t as steady as they once were—but he lovingly made this title especially for us. It’s fun to see how people recognize it as his. He also sent us each a personal frame-worthy memento of the title because, well, he’s Harvey!

Cabaret Scenes: We hear there’s a necktie story. What is it?

Harvey loved ties, wore them often, had/still has a huge collection—a hall-mark of his wardrobe style. His artist’s eye loves color and pattern.  The “necktie” is just one of many little stories we will share. Come to the show and find out!

Please visit us at: www.caroledemas.com; www.sarahrice.com

Carole Demas & Sarah Rice
Thank You for Your Love:
A Musical Celebration of Broadway’s Tom Jones & Harvey Schmidt
Laurie Beechman Theater
June 24 and 27 at 7:00 pm