The Art of Seeing by Michael Milton
Out of respect for the title of this column, “seeing” perhaps isn’t the art I’m referring to here. “Spying?” That sounds creepy. “Observing” then, at the very least. In my defense, the monotony of a gym’s treadmill encourages “observation.”
I was intrigued by Paige Davis from the moment I “observed” her working out near my usual machine. Still, it was many months before we finally had a conversation. One can’t miss her gorgeous dancer’s body, or her dynamic personality coupled with a kind of concentration and focus (clearly, unlike observational me!) that was inspiring. PLUS, I had seen her on television; and though I make a big deal about not being star struck, I confess, I do get a little giddy around show biz folk.
So I asked her out to dinner.
Well, you know the old expression, “Too much of a good thing?” That old chestnut came to mind while I was sitting enjoying dinner at Brooklyn’s Locanda Vini and Olii in Ft. Greene/Clinton Hill where I had made reservations for our rendezvous.
I really did want to concentrate on my fresh fava bean, English pea, arugula, mint and scallion salad and the perfectly prepared Alaskan cod served over sliced potatoes with fresh parsley, both excellent, as was the 4 mushroom pasta my dinner partner and I shared.
But Paige had me at “hello!” And then to find out, she is, in addition to her TV shows and other Broadway credits, also on a revolving list of talented women who perform the role of “Roxie Hart” in Broadway’s CHICAGO–a show I have some personal history with, too! Wellllllllll…
Frankly, I could have been eating the phone book! Still, I was focused enough to know that the delicious fare at the charming Locanda warrants another visit in the near future.
But back to Paige!
Paige has met Oprah! Need I say more? Not just MET, but was summoned to the Harpo Studios in Chicago to discuss a possible joint venture. “What was it like?” I ask, my tongue hanging out, eager for the scoop and proving how much I misspeak when I refer to an imagined coolness around such luminaries.
“Everything you would expect… and more,” Paige reports. “Oprah doesn’t disappoint.”
If you’ve seen TRADING SPACES on THE TLC network, than you have seen Paige Davis. She is the buoyant, empathetic hostess who coaches neighbors who have agreed to re-do a room in each other’s home… in two days and on a limited budget. Paige brings these burgeoning homeowner/decorators through stressful decisions, helping them to trust in their taste and to nudge them in more suitable directions if it turns out their taste is a trifle too… adventurous.
“I’m a Libra; I am very fair,” said Paige. “It helps me out in many situations.”
And I guess one would need to be fair when counseling homeowners that the flocked velvet wallpaper they are considering might be a trifle more retro than their neighbors could live permanently with.
Paige has been involved with CHICAGO for the past 18 years. “I was cast in the ensemble originally and understudied Roxie. Then I moved up to playing the role outright. Now, between celebrity castings (like, say, a Brandy or a Jennifer Nettles) the producers—Fran and Barry Weissler– can call me to do it.”
Unless you just crawled out from under a rock, I imagine anyone reading this has seen CHICAGO in some form, on stage or in film. As a matter of fact, I was an associate producer on the movie; and the man I worked with for many years—Marty Richards– won his Academy Award as Best Producer in 2003 for the film of the show he originally produced on Broadway back in 1973 starring Gwen Verdon and his good pal Chita Rivera.
“It has been a fantastic experience for me. Ann Reinking helped me so much with the role of Roxie. She was so complimentary of my work. Her kind words meant the world to me,” she said. “And getting to work with Bebe Neuwirth while I was still in the ensemble! I mean, wow! I am her biggest fan. She’s the one who inspired me to go into this business. Being able to share that with her was a highlight moment in my career.”
Paige is in a rare position in the theatre; she has the opportunity to do a role in a long running show (the longest running American show on Broadway, to be exact, with no expectation of expiration in the near future), a role she will be able to age with.
“Bob Fosse created the role of Roxie for his ex-wife and best friend Gwen Verdon… and she was in her 50s when she did the show,” she said. The story originally focused on the misdeeds of two middle-aged women grasping for their last big chance of being a “somebody.” The point of view of the film switched to two younger women, but still desperate to be stars in vaudeville.
The average run of a Broadway show today is a couple of years, not allowing an opportunity for a performer to re-assess their character through an older and more experienced eye as time goes by. Historically, stars of stage in France and England—beloved by their fans—would bring back roles that had made them stars when they were younger, roles for which one might think they were no longer suited; Sarah Bernhardt, for example, as Juliet…when she was in her 60’s! It is imagined that her incandescence burned through the years and allowed Juliet to live yet again through her.
“It’s a joy for me,” Paige says. “I know how fortunate I am. And I am so grateful to Fran and Barry for this continuing opportunity.”
What’s in the future? “I can imagine so many outcomes that would make me happy. Because I have a perky personality, people assume I only do comedy. But in my heart, I know the more dramatic stuff is where I soar.”
Soaring, I think, is a great vision for the future.