Supporting theatrical work written, directed and/or designed by women.
Gerrianne Raphael has honed her stagecraft since she was a child six decades ago. She appeared in Threepenny Opera opposite Lotte Lenya and Beatrice Arthur, starred in Man of La Mancha, and is well known for her voice over work in commercials and cartoons. What an amazing life in the theater. And, she’s still charming audiences.
This weekend, HA!, her latest show opens at WorkShop Theater in New York City. HA! is a trio of Rich Orloff’s popular short comedies. Gerrianne plays different characters in each one: Jocasta in Oedi, a rich landowner in The News from St. Petersburg, and a professor grading God on his latest science experiment in The Whole Shebang.
Gerrianne spoke to Works by Women about her illustrious career, some of her favorite childhood memories and her advice for performers just starting out today.
WBW = Works by Women // GR= Gerrianne Raphael
WBW: What drew you to HA!? And what should audiences expect?
GR: l love Rich Orloff’s work. l have performed in his plays before and his work Foreign Affairs, was one of my most favorite experiences. Audiences should expect to laugh. A lot and be intrigued by the depth of the comic imagination.
WBW: You’ve spent your whole life as a performer. Tell me about how you started.
GR: l started on radio when l was 4. My father was the concert pianist with the CBS symphony and he also played on Let’s Pretend — a wonderful children’s program of fairy tales, and l was on that show holding my script. No one believed l could read however. My first Broadway show was at 7 years of age in a play called Solitaire by John Van Druten. l understudied Patricia Hitchcock, the daughter of [Alfred Hitchcock]. It was the leading role, and we only ran three weeks so l never got to play the role but was more than ready. The next two plays were also flops but for a child to be able to explore theatres like the Belasco, and the Martin Beck(now the Al Hirchfeld), it was a wonderful childhood. My first teenage role was in Goodbye My Fancy, and we ran for more than a year. l subsequently started doing musicals – Lil’ Abner and three or four very expensive flops. Sometime before all these flops, l appeared in my first musical — the original Threepenny Opera with Lotte Lenya. That was a great experience. l started out as the ‘baby whore’ and then replaced Jo Sullivan as Polly Peachum and then after a few more year’s and shows, l returned to play Jenny.
WBW: Tell me about your family and more about your Broadway experiences.
GR: Somewhere in the middle of all this, l had three children, returning to the stage immediately after each was born. After the first, l did Milk and Honey; after the second, a summer engagement of Fiorello; and when my third Deirdre was 11-days-old, l auditioned for Man of La Mancha and was cast to cover the leading role of Aldonza. When the two original cast members went on their vacation, l played opposite Jose Ferrer and including that engagement, the revival at Lincoln Center where David Atkinson and l were the matinee company and a national tour opposite Alan Jones. l have played well over 400 performances as Aldonza. It was the most taxing role l have ever played but not the most rewarding. Maria in Westside Story was my favorite until most recently l grew into Madame Hortense in Zorba, which l truly loved doing. l also played opposite Sid Caesar all around the country with various symphonies. We did a pantomime of a couple having a dreadful fight to the first movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. It was a wonderful experience to have worked with him.
WBW: You are known for many of your voice overs – particularly cartoon characters.
GR: Since l started in radio as a child doing voice overs and cartoons was the natural progression. At one point l had, Revlon, Gloria Vanderbilt, Geritol and Helena Rubinstein all running at the same time. Oh, yes, and the littlest dwarf on the Ajax commercials. My voice was the sexy up-scale sound, but l always could imitate and so l did many children’s voices too and then what fun when l got Thundercats and could to character voices. l teach voice over classes, but one has to have a very terrific ear and be quite fearless to do cartoons.
WBW: What are the challenges facing women in American theater?
GR: The challenges for American women in the theatre are not very different today from what they were for me ‘back in the day’. l do think all young people today are required to be able to do everything. If you are a dancer, you must also be able to sing and act, and the same for a singer. No longer do they just stand there and get out of the way to let the dancers take over the stage. They must be able to move too, and everyone takes classes these days in acting. One must be fully equipped if you expect to compete in today’s market.
WBW: What is your advice to women in American theater?
GR: Be ready when the opportunity presents itself. It may never come around again.
HA! runs March 30 through April 16; Monday and Thursday at 7pm, Friday and Saturday at 8pm; with additional performances Sunday, April 1 at 5pm, and matinees at 3pm Saturday, April 7, Sunday, April 8; Saturday, April 14 and Sunday, April 15.