Judy Kaye's Motto For Life: 'Ride the Horse in the Direction It's Going' | Playbill

How Did I Get Here Judy Kaye's Motto For Life: 'Ride the Horse in the Direction It's Going'

The two-time Tony winner can currently be seen Off-Broadway in Abingdon Theatre Company's production of Elizabeth Coplan's ’Til Death.

Graphic by Vi Dang

Following a stint as Betty Rizzo in Grease, two-time Tony winner Judy Kaye officially burst onto the Broadway scene in 1978 as Agnes in On the Twentieth Century. She then stepped into the leading, career-making role of Lily Garland that was created by the late Madeline Kahn

A decade later, she was cast as Carlotta Guidicelli in the original Broadway production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera, and at the time she wondered what she could bring to a part that had already been developed in the London production. She needn't have worried. Kaye won her first Tony in 1988 for Best Supporting Actress in a Musical for her take on the opera diva in the Harold Prince-directed production. She would win her second Tony in 2012 for her work as prohibitionist Duchess Estonia Dulworth in the Gershwin musical Nice Work If You Can Get It.

Kaye was also Tony-nominated for her roles in Souvenir and Mamma Mia!, and her numerous other Broadway credits include Diana, the Musical; Anastasia; Wicked; Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella; Sweeney Todd; Ragtime; Oh, Brother!; and The Moony Shapiro SongbookAnd, now, the Arizona native can be seen Off-Broadway in Abingdon Theatre Company's production of Elizabeth Coplan's ’Til Death, which is directed by Chad Austin and also features Robert Cuccioli, Michael Lee Brown, Dominick LaRuffa Jr., Whitney Morse, and Amy Hargreaves. Broadway favorite Kaye plays a mother whose choice unveils a family's long-buried secrets in the limited engagement, which continues through December 23.

The new year will bring the ever-busy Kaye another new role: Magdalene Kragh Thoresen in the world premiere of Charles Busch's Ibsen's Ghost: An Irresponsible Biographical Fantasyfirst at the George Street Playhouse in January 2024 and then at 59E59 for Primary Stages in March.

In the brief interview below for the Playbill series How Did I Get Here—spotlighting not only actors, but directors, designers, musicians, and others who work on and off the stage to create the magic that is live theatre—Kaye reveals her most meaningful theatrical role and what she has never had to do in 56 years in the business.

Judy Kaye and Michael Lee Brown in ’Til Death Julieta Cervantes

Where did you train/study?
Judy Kaye: I studied theatre and voice at UCLA. I was part of a course of study called The Acting Specialization. It was something of a conservatory within the theatre major. We studied voice and diction, stage movement, mask and mime, Shakespeare scene study, and acting. I was also a member of the Opera Workshop and the Musical Comedy Workshop.

Was there a teacher who was particularly impactful/helpful? What made this instructor stand out?
I was put together with a voice teacher by the name Erv Windward. His credo was, "Don't make a problem out of anything." He was speaking of things vocal—i.e., phlegm, etc. But his teaching has helped me throughout my life. Onstage and off. I suppose it goes hand-in-hoof with, "Ride the horse in the direction it's going." I think I made that one up myself....

Tell me a little about the character you are playing in 'Til Death.
Mary, the role I'm playing in 'Til Death, is a good but flawed person. She has not always responded well when her children have needed her. And, here she is at the end of her life, trying to make amends as she deals with very personal drama: her end of life.

Sarah Brightman and Judy Kaye at the final Phantom Broadway performance Kayleen Bertrand

What was your reaction to the closing of The Phantom of the Opera?
was no doubt a major event in my professional life. It was bittersweet, to be sure, attending the final Broadway performance. I especially missed being able to hug Hal Prince, who was a mentor and a friend. Phantom would not have been the Phantom that the world knows and loves were it not for Hal's vision.

How did you get your first job in the theatre?
My first job in the professional theatre came at a theatre-in-the round in Anaheim, California. I played a season of stock there, earned my Actors' Equity card, and never looked back.

What do you consider your big break?
And, you ask about big breaks, well Mr. Prince was responsible for my big break in On the Twentieth Century. It was life-changing, not just career-changing. I also must thanks Pat Birch, the great director/choreographer who introduced me to Hal. I think, at the end of the day, she really taught me to act.

What is your proudest achievement as an actor so far?
I guess it was the creation of Florence Foster Jenkins in the wonderful Stephen Temperley play Souvenir opposite the masterful Donald Corren. We made magic together, and that's what it's all about. Magic!

What is the most memorable day job you ever had?
I am embarrassed and grateful that I have never had to take a day job. I have made my living in the theatre for 56 years. Even I can't believe it, and I have lived it!

Go Inside The Closing Performance of The Phantom of The Opera on Broadway

Today’s Most Popular News:

Blocking belongs
on the stage,
not on websites.

Our website is made possible by
displaying online advertisements to our visitors.

Please consider supporting us by
whitelisting playbill.com with your ad blocker.
Thank you!