Peterson and Mallory Will Show Everything’s Still Possible
How often do we get the chance to see not one, but two performers who were part of the original 1971 cast of Follies?
Not often, and so we must make the most of their music when Kurt Peterson and Victoria Mallory perform their show at City Center.
Fittingly enough, it’s called When Everything Was Possible, and it will allow the pair to relive, laugh and love their time before, during and after the legendary musical’s even more legendary production.
Peterson tells of his growing up in Stevens Point, Wisconsin while Victoria Morales was army-bratting her way around Georgia. She did take time out to appear in school productions, but it was a piano scholarship that was offered her by the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music.
Then her high school music teacher called out of the blue. He was directing Little Mary Sunshine in New York, and his Mary had fallen ill. Would she do it? Yes, although she had to promise her mother that she’d leave New York in time for school. (Who can say if her playing that virgin gave her an advantage later when she played a virgin in a very different Little musical: Anne Egerman in the original cast of A Little Night Music.)
Peterson says that he was “on my way to – well, nowhere.” That’s not quite accurate. He had been accepted at his hometown’s local college where he’d study chemical engineering. (On second thought, there are those who would say that that would be a way to nowhere.)
Then Peterson heard about the American Musical and Dramatic Academy. He promised his father that he’d return after he took an eight week summer course at “this little drama school in New York.”
But then on the first day of classes, Peterson laid eyes on Morales, and she on him. Never mind what they’d promised their parents. Peterson knew that he wouldn’t be badgering The Badger State any longer; Morales was convinced that she’d found a peach unlike any that she could find in The Peach State.
Peterson still smiles beatifically when he recalls the first song that he ever heard Morales sing – one that he’d later hear her do as the lead in a City Center revival. (He and we will hear her do it in When Everything Was Possible, too.)
Obviously, director Philip Burton (Richard’s adoptive father) felt the chemistry between them, for he cast them as Romeo and Juliet. This was a harbinger of two similar roles they’d play in 1968 at the fondly remembered Music Theater of Lincoln Center: Tony and Maria in you-know-what.
Richard Rodgers, the organization’s president, was the one to suggest that Ms. Morales change her last name. “My middle name was Mallory,” she says, “because that was my mother’s maiden name. That’s what I chose.”
After that, Peterson was cast as the juvenile lead in Dear World. And considering that its songwriter Jerry Herman had just done Hello, Dolly! and Mame, Peterson was feeling very secure. What he then did with his first paychecks would ultimately make him feel very insecure – and something he plans to divulge in When Everything Was Possible. He’ll also reveal the contents of the critical note that star Angela Lansbury left for him. “Not that it had anything to do with my performance,” he’s quick to say.
In this revue, they’ll sing the songs that they had in musicals, and a few new ones that Peterson wrote with Jesse Weiner (whom he describes as “a wunderkind from Harvard”). But in duets, when a woman is called to take part in a song Peterson originally did, Mallory now assumes the role. Ditto when Mallory needs a man to fill out her duet. Now that they’ve got a few years on them, they’ll get to sing the songs that were originally sung by then-older actors in the shows they did – including Follies and A Little Night Music.
Both of them barely made it into Follies. Hear how Peterson’s being super-accurate and honest about his age almost cost him the job. Learn how Mallory had to fast-talk and negotiate with co-director Harold Prince to get into it – and the big surprise that she got during rehearsals.
Because they played the younger alter egos, Peterson and Mallory were in the wings for most of the show. “But we watched everything as much as we could,” Peterson says – and who can blame them? Both say that they even loved the understudy rehearsals each Thursday. (To quote the Hot-Box Girls: “Well, wouldn’t you?”)
Nevertheless, Peterson left Follies, if you can imagine such a thing. He’ll tell you why – and why this decision turned out to be unwise. It did, however, lead to his visiting London, winding up in Elaine Stritch’s hotel suite – and acquiring a very odd souvenir.
Not long after Mallory was hand-picked by Prince to play Anne in Night Music, Peterson got busy putting together an event that turned out to be what many have called one of the greatest nights in musical theater history. (Are you surprised to hear that it involved one Stephen Sondheim?) Mallory was involved, too, and in this new show will sing the same song that she did that night almost 40 years ago. Peterson will also relate the cute quip that Sondheim said to him after the event.
We often hear of “reunion concerts.” This truly is one. For Peterson and Mallory, after eight years of “being everything but husband and wife,” he says, stopped seeing each other or even communicating. “That drought lasted 35 years,” admits Peterson. The reason can almost be found in the plot of A Little Night Music.
Not long after Mallory had moved to California, she got a nice offer. Michael Bennett, her Follies co-director, called and said he had a role for her. “And,” she says, “over the phone, Marvin Hamlisch played ‘At the Ballet.’ I told them, ‘Give me the night to think it over.’”
They did. And she didn’t take it. That’s the closest she ever got to A Chorus Line, unless one counts the character who has her old name. “I never found out,” she says, “if Morales was named after me.”
Mallory does a good deal of teaching in Park City, Utah. Needless to say, she helped her daughter Ramona Mallory forge a career. “But when she got my old role in the revival of A Little Night Music,” she says, “I let her make her own choices.”
Peterson coaches singers, too – “and stresses the work ethic,” he says, raising his eyebrows as if to indict performers who call in sick at the sign of a sniffle. “I’m very surprised that kids today are willing to risk their reputations in a time where work isn’t plentiful,” he says. “When we were starting out we had auditions every week. There were simply more things out there. Yes, everything was possible.” — Peter Filichia