B'way gives its regards to Ables Sayre
By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Writer
By Wayne Harada
Loretta Ables Sayre is carrying the banner for Hawai'i in her first-ever Broadway musical, "South Pacific," which opened last night at Lincoln Center. It's an awesome responsibility — redefining the Bloody Mary role as the show gets its first major New York revival in nearly six decades.
Ables Sayre is reshaping the Rodgers and Hammerstein character who sings "Bali Hai," aiming to bring dignity, compassion and vulnerability to the character. She is challenged to make Mary less of a cartoon figure, hawking trinkets to sailors, and more of a woman with gritty humanity who tries to shape her daughter Liat's destiny.
"I have been overwhelmed with the entire New York and Broadway experience," Ables Sayre said, via an e-mail interview from the city. "There is so much to learn and so much to take in. ... It wasn't until I met Alice Hammerstein and Mary Rodgers (survivors of composers Oscar Hammerstein and Richard Rodgers) that I realized the enormity of this opportunity.
"I realize how important it is to get this role right — to make her (Bloody Mary) multidimensional and someone who is real. I want her to move you."
Bloody Mary has typically been portrayed as a two-dimensional character. The character, and story, originated in author James Michener's Pulitzer Prize-winning "Tales of the South Pacific" — set on a mythical tropical island during World War II, with two love stories impacted by the reality of war and subject to racial prejudices.
Ables Sayre said she was encouraged by director Tony Award nominee Bartlett Sher (who has Island ties) "to delve deeper into character ... to bring out more depth. She's much more gritty, earthy and vulnerable. ... Bloody Mary is a survivor and a mother who will stop at nothing to make sure her child, her most precious possession, will have a better life."
Ables Sayre — who is part Filipino — also sees Bloody Mary as "the face of South Pacific for the show. And, coming from Hawai'i, I hope that I have brought the pride, color and the soul of the South Pacific into her."
A TOTAL-IMMERSION GIG
It's been a learning experience from the get-go, when Ables Sayre auditioned in Honolulu last year, was flown to The Big Apple for a callback, and landed the part last winter. She turned 50 on April 1 — celebrating a journey that has included long hours and hard work, driven by ambition and desire.
"A typical day would entail getting to the theater by noon for notes with our director Bart Sher and musical director Ted Sperling," she said. "Discussing what worked and didn't work the night before — what might be changed, what might be experimented with emotionally (i.e., last night she was angry, tonight let's make her vulnerable). Then we do a vocal warm-up and yoga warm-up session. Then it's onto the stage to reblock scenes ... rehearsing musical entrances and exits, sometimes solo and sometimes with the group. We break for dinner and then we are back at the theater at 7 p.m. for makeup, hair and costumes. The show starts at 8 p.m., finishes by 11 p.m., and we sometimes have notes with the director after the show ... get home around midnight and then repeat it again the next day.
"It's exhausting, but it's also exhilarating — learning on the spot. ... Every single day has been like taking a master class with all the incredible actors and directors of this show."
Even before the reviews are in, Ables Sayre has been named one of three Broadway break out stars by the New York Daily News. By season's end, she could be a Tony nominee.
She has been painfully homesick — this is the first time she has been living on the Mainland and separated 5,000 miles and a six-hour time difference from her publicist husband, David Sayre, who has been at her side several times in the rehearsal process.
"The beauty of being in this show is that I get to sit on the stage in the Vivian Beaumont Theater and look out at the 'ocean' every day," she said of the stage decor. "However, it makes me pine more for the rest of Hawai'i. So, when I get home, I crank up The Caz and let (Robert Cazimero's) voice fill the room. I have an Al Furtado print on my wall of a Hawaiian woman praying surrounded by hanging heliconia that calms my soul just by looking at her.
"I had some friends who came to town and brought me plumeria and ginger lei; it was enough to make me weep. I miss the smell of our Island flowers. I took pictures of the monstera and red torch ginger in our garden at home and framed them and hung them all over our walls in our apartment. I made Spam musubi and brought it to the cast, and I have wonderful friends in Hawai'i who have sent me a stash of li hing mui, pickled apricot and mac nuts. It all helps, but I still long for Hawai'i in my heart and soul every day."
She realizes the sacrifices of living away while making an imprint on Broadway. And because she values the concept of 'ohana, she's made new friends among the cast members.
"Certainly, I could live here periodically and do a show here. But live here full time, I don't think so. My roots are in Hawai'i and that's truly where my life is," she said.
Theater is theater, whether she's doing it at Diamond Head Theatre or Broadway. "You still have to rehearse and do the best job you can. You still have notes. And you still pine for more free time," said Ables Sayre.
In the meantime, she's building bridges and bonding.
"We have not had the time to do a potluck yet. But we have plans to," she said about cast parties. "I find myself baking for the cast weekly (she makes divine cookies and brownies). And even if we only get five minutes during our intermission, we gather in the green room, talk story, eat a little something, share some kisses and head back to the stage."
WHAT, NO LAULAU?
Because of the expansive preparations to tweak her character, Ables Sayre has had precious little free time to explore New York and its offerings.
"I haven't had the time to see any of New York," she said. "I do know how to get from my apartment to the theater (her apartment overlooks Central Park, not far from Lincoln Center). Duane Reade would be our ubiquitous sundries store (no Longs Drugs in The Big Apple). And the most wonderful thing about New York is that if you are hungry, everyone delivers."
But she is 'ono for flapjacks from The Original Pancake House. "That will be one of the first places that I visit when I come back home," she said. "As wonderful as the food is here, nobody has pancakes as good as they do. I cannot find laulau, lomi salmon or loco moco. (Hint: L&L Hawaiian Barbecue has an outlet near South Street Seaport.) But we've had some of the best Italian food we've ever eaten."
She has yet to venture underground and try the subway, "something I will only do with my husband, David," she said. "I fear if I catch it myself, I'll end up in Mexico. I prefer the bus, where I can see landmarks.
"This incredible opportunity has introduced us to some of the most amazing people we've ever met. We have a wonderful apartment overlooking Central Park and the once-in-a-lifetime thrill of doing a Broadway show. However, it is a challenge to be apart from each other with a six-hour time change to boot. Exciting things happen every day, and it's sad not to have him with me here all the time so he can experience them with me. But it makes seeing each other again all the more fun. We realize that this is only a temporary situation, but we are loving every minute of it."
She's also gained insights into her craft. The process of prepping for a Broadway show has yielded three lasting lessons, she said:
"1 — Listen more than you talk. These people have much more experience than I do, and it's best really to listen to what they have to say.
"2 — Listen to your gut. Many times you may question direction and find out that your gut instinct was correct.
"3 — Be humble."
Reach Wayne Harada at email@example.com.