Corrections or additions?

This article by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the January 31,

2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Celebrating Sandy Duncan

They say that once we learn to fly it isn’t easy to

come down to earth. It is, however, easy for Sandy Duncan, who, became

adept at flying off to Never Never Land as "Peter Pan"

(getting

her third Tony nomination) in the 1980 Broadway revival of the popular

musical. Yet she’s been fortunate enough to perform mostly on terra

firma in a career that has spanned over 40 years.

There will be no boards more firma than those under Duncan’s feet

when she appears with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra on the stage

of the War Memorial Theater in Trenton on Friday, February 2. In a

revue called "Sandy Duncan Celebrates Broadway," she co-stars

with her husband, Don Correia, and their friend Guy Stroman.

The blonde, blue-eyed actor, dancer, and singer continues to soar,

fueled by her unstoppable vitality and vivacious personality. You

may have seen Duncan and company kick start their collaboration for

the annual Boston Pops television special on the A&E network, on

Independence

Day, 1996. It led the way to the shows throughout North America with

various symphony orchestras, winning them even more fans. Duncan’s

able support comes from Correia, who made his Broadway debut in "A

Chorus Line," and won a Tony nomination for "Singin’ in the

Rain," and Stroman, whose Broadway appearances include

"Annie"

and "Peter Pan."

Besides personifying James M. Barrie’s little boy who wouldn’t grow

up, Duncan is best known as the sweet and bubbly star of her own TV

sitcom, "Funny Face," which ran in the early ’70s, and for

such popular family TV specials as "Sandy Duncan in

Disneyland"

and "The Muppet Show." It was her performance as Maisie, the

quirky flapper who tap danced en pointe to a Charleston tune

in the acclaimed 1971 Broadway revival of "The Boyfriend,"

that endeared her to me forever.

However, I wasn’t the least bit surprised at the positive response

she got during her recently concluded nine-month run as the "merry

murderess," Roxie Hart, in the current production of

"Chicago"

on Broadway. "It was one of the best things I’ve done in my

career,"

says Duncan, during our phone conversation last week. One of best

things I discovered about Duncan is how she intends to keep changing

our perception of her.

Part of that change includes playwriting. Older audiences at the

Berkshire

Theater Festival in 1996, where the play premiered, were unprepared

for the Duncan who authored and starred in "Free Fall," as

directed by Stroman. "I guess they were shocked by the language,

and that I played three different characters, including a gay song

and dance man," says Duncan.

Husband Don’s name has already been added to the roster

of stars signed for the upcoming Broadway revival of

"Follies,"

fast becoming the hottest ticket in town. Didn’t Duncan audition too?

I ask. "It was the worst audition of my life," she says,

"I’ve

never been able to audition." The process, she says, can make

her feel like an insecure 14-year-old amateur. Duncan says that she

continued to go up on the lyrics to "In Buddy’s Eyes," even

with Sondheim feeding them to her. "It was a fiasco," she

groans, adding that the nicest thing anybody said to her was that

she "individualized" the song.

Correia’s role is as stand by for the two male leads. The fact that

Correia sometimes gets the role and sometimes Duncan doesn’t get the

role doesn’t affect their marriage of 21 years. Duncan met Correia

right after "The Boy Friend" closed in 1971. When Correia

was one of the dancers in the TV special "Sandy in

Disneyland,"

Duncan says she could see immediately that Correia was the best dancer

out there. They soon found themselves dancing together from one TV

special to another.

In 1979 they began dating seriously and married one year later.

Following

Duncan’s great success on Broadway as "Peter Pan," she and

Correia combined their talents again for "5, 6, 7, 8 Dance,"

a Radio City Music Hall spectacular that ran an entire summer. "I

was pregnant with my second baby, and doing two shows a day wasn’t

fun," says Duncan. Proving that couples that tap together stay

together, the duo co-starred in the national and international tour

of Tommy Tune’s Tony award-winning musical "My One and Only."

After moving from Los Angeles to New York three years ago, Duncan,

Correia, and Stroman decided to work on an act together. "At the

time, and it still remains true, the only theater jobs I was offered

were revivals," says Duncan. "I’ve never originated a major

role," she says, "but at my age [she’s 55] it’s the work that

counts."

"We still need to make money. We have two great kids," says

Duncan, giving sons Jeffrey and Michael a plug. It isn’t a surprise

to hear that 18-year-old Jeffrey "is going to be an actor,"

and is auditioning for Juilliard this month. Just to balance things

out, she tells me that, Michael, a sophomore, is "a sports kid

and he’s happy."

Although there is undoubtedly prestige connected with doing their

show with The New Jersey Symphony, Duncan laughs describing what it

was like to break in the show playing two-a-day for a group of

condominium

theaters in Florida. "We would do the show with just the piano

accompaniment, jump into a car, fix our makeup and head for the next

condominium. The audiences were always sweet, warm, and

responsive,"

says Duncan.

"Sandy Duncan Celebrates Broadway," she says, is more than

a concert. "It has a book, and you can expect us to dance,"

she says.

Born and raised in Henderson, Texas, by her father,

who ran a gas station, and her mother, a homemaker, Duncan showed

enough talent by the age of four to be sent for singing and dancing

lessons. Duncan chose to follow her dance teacher to Lon Morris

College

in Jacksonville, Texas. One year later Duncan was cast in the New

York City Center production of "The Music Man." That show

was followed by "Finian’s Rainbow," "Carousel," and

"Life With Father," also at City Center.

"It was wonderful. And I didn’t have to audition for any of them.

I had already worked with all the different directors during my

summers

in Dallas," says Duncan with a laugh.

Duncan lost the sight in her left eye after surgery to remove a brain

tumor, a condition that struck at the height of her career. She is

also near-sighted in the right eye. Hardly a deterrent for this

intrepid

performer who, unlike "Peter Pan," says "I like being

55 now and coming into my age as a character actress. I like having

the freedom to move from role to role with ease. I hope you are coming

to see the show. You’ll see another new me," she says with the

familiar voice she uses as the spokesperson for Nabisco’s Wheat Thins.

"Only if you promise to do a tap dance on point," I reply

impertinently. Of course, I wouldn’t miss it. The show will be

repeated

on Saturday, February 3, at Prudential Hall at NJPAC in Newark.

— Simon Saltzman

Sandy Duncan Celebrates Broadway , New Jersey Symphony

Orchestra, War Memorial Theater, Trenton, 800-ALLEGRO. Jack Lee

conducts, accompanied by pianist Steven Freeman and Bob Breithaupt

on drums. $14 to $55. Friday, February 2, 8 p.m.


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