Valerie Perri is best known for playing Eva Peron in the Tony Award-winning musical Evita. Directed by Harold Prince, she headed the first National Touring production through the U.S. and Canada. She’s also enjoyed starring roles in Gypsy, The World Goes Round, Man of La Mancha, City of Angels, Jerome Robbins Broadway, and others. She received the LA Drama Critics Award for her performance in the Pasadena Playhouse’s Harry Chapin: Lies and Legends, and was a nominee for Chicago’s Sarah Siddons Award for Eva Peron. She has performed in concert halls around the world, on and in a variety of television shows and films, and is a successful recording artist. www.valerieperri.com
GN: Congratulations on this beautiful production of Sunset Blvd. A perfect role for you.
Valerie: I enjoy the role, the venue, the entire company — every aspect, stellar. When I’d heard about Musical Theatre West doing this, I immediately called my agent and said, “What’s the deal?” He got me an audition — they put me through the ringer! They had me sing part of “With One Look” and gave me several scenes to prepare. I take it upon myself — my own process of auditioning for something like this — to throw myself into the role as much as possible. By the time I went in, I had done enough homework to have gone onstage and performed for an audience. For me, it wasn’t an audition; it was a performance. If you don’t put all of yourself into it, you’re cheating yourself. It was great auditioning for director Larry Raben. Besides being a lovely man, he’s a very smart actor/director, and with our also smart musical director David Lamoureux, who explained to me what he saw musically in this show. I was really glad to get the offer.
GN: Sunset Blvd. is a sung-through piece the way that Evita is, leaning toward opera. Is that challenging?
Valerie: I’ve had lots of practice, starring in Evita in my 20s, learning how to sing this music. Andrew Lloyd Webber writes the female voice right at the top of our range. He said to me, “I find it thrilling to hear a woman belt those notes.” And I said, “Well, yes, you’re on the other side of it!” I’ve toured performing his music, so it’s just “there” for me – where my voice lives. Also that early experience made me aware of the route I needed to take as Norma Desmond – living with celebrity and stardom — what I experienced in the Broadway community at a very early age. Nothing after that was as visible or magnificent. I played Aldonza and Golda — many great roles but not Evita or Norma. So for a while I felt that loss of not being able to do something as grand.
GN: Speaking of celebrity and stardom, what kind of mindset does it take to make us believe that you, as Norma, are the greatest star?
Valerie: It’s all preparation. I learn my music, my words, my scenes. Then I put them away and work on character. Because I played Evita, I have old tapes and reviews, saved by my mother. It was a big deal in the early ‘80s – the first time it had come to the U.S. after being in London. There was so much press. I was struck with instant celebrity in any city I performed. So, all I needed to do was spend time reviewing tapes of me on every local TV and radio station. At the time, I was having lunch with senators in Washington, going to diplomatic parties, driving back and forth in a limousine every night. Then it all faded. So, watching these old tapes, I related to Norma. The other part was feeling the loss. While my role as Evita lasted three years in high profile, Norma’s lasted decades of the silent film era. How do you cope with that loss? Norma has Max, her greatest asset. He would do anything for her.
GN: And how beautifully Max is played by Norman Large.
Valerie: You know what? Norman is my rock. He is incredibly giving and talented – that gorgeous baritone voice – perfectly cast in that role.
GN: And how does it feel to have David Burnham as a stage lover when you have 21-year-old twins?
Valerie: (Laughter) Such a beautiful face to stare into, such a talented, stunning man. I feed off him and his youth. I can’t imagine doing it with anybody else. David and I had done concerts together and not long ago said, “Wouldn’t it be great to do a show together?” I said, “You know what would be a great show for us – Sunset Blvd. But nobody ever does it.” We put it out into the universe. It was Kismet.