BY CARY GINELL
Actress Nancy Dussault has enjoyed a career that has lasted over a half-century. She was born in Pensacola, Florida and started singing in the Washington-Lee High School drama program before moving on to Northwestern University. By the age of 25, she was co-starring on Broadway with Phil Silvers in the 1961 musical Do-Re-Mi, which was followed, ironically, by her singing “Do-Re-Mi” as Maria in The Sound of Music, which was still in its first Broadway run. Her career since then has concentrated on television, with regular roles in The New Dick Van Dyke Show and Too Close for Comfort. Showing her versatility as a personality, Dussault was the first host of ABC’s Good Morning, America, sharing the anchor booth with David Hartman. Although she has spent much of her career in television, the stage was never far away. For two years, she played the Witch in Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods. This week, Dussault co-stars with Conchata Ferrell in the Rubicon Theatre Company’s production of Nora Ephron’s Love, Loss, and What I Wore. The show plays for four weeks with a different cast starring each week.
VCOS: Your career started in theater, but you became better known later on for your work in television. Have you done much theater through your career?
NANCY: Oh, yeah. In fact, it was always so funny because one time on Too Close for Comfort, I sang a song with Ted Knight and people were just shocked. I did summer theater in New York in all those years. I don’t work as much as I used to but I’m going off to do some stuff this summer, so it’s great. I feel very blessed that people are still interested!
VCOS: Has theater always been your big passion?
NANCY: Yes. And I really believe that that’s what I’m the best at. But I love television because it was so quick. And the reviews didn’t kill you (laughs); they could’t make or break a TV show, really, and I like working fast. I had a really good career in television. That has slowed down CONSIDERABLY, but I’m still singing. I’m putting together a cabaret evening act and I can still do those things whenever I want, which is really great because it keeps me busy and working and I can do some teaching now, too, both vocal teaching and coaching.
VCOS: I would love to see you in Company, singing “The Ladies Who Lunch.”
NANCY: I’ve been asked to do that but I never did it, because Elaine Stritch is so in my head. Did you see that film?
NANCY: Isn’t it great? I was up for Company initially, for the part of Amy. At that time, that was the biggest part in the show, the one who sings “Getting Married Today.” And at the last minute, I did not get it because they kept cutting it down and they said “It’s too small for you.” I said, “Well, you could’ve asked!”
VCOS: There are no small parts, only small people.
NANCY: Well, I have a real history with that show. It goes way back.
VCOS: So now you’re in Love, Loss & What I Wore. Have you played the Rubicon before?
NANCY: No. So I’m happy on both accounts. I’m happy to be doing this particular show again because I got to do it in New York last year, so this is going to be fun. I played Gingy, who is the one constant character. Everybody else plays multiple characters.
VCOS: Since you’ve played her before, can you talk about how you discovered your character?
NANCY: It’s one of those shows where you read your part. These are moments and episodes in people’s lives that are triggered by where you were and what you had on. It’s like how memories work, like when you hear an old song. My character is a lot like me. She’s very outgoing, she’s very personable and friendly, and she’s absolutely married; she’s always been a married woman. I just felt a real connection with her. There are a couple of really moving moments in this because of what life has dealt her. I just read an interview with Nicole Kidman, talking about how, as you get older, how much more you have to draw on as an artist and as a performer because so much has happened to you in your life, so this allows me to really tap into that, which I really appreciate. The woman is not a young, young woman, and I do like playing people who are more my age (laughs) – you know, not trying to be something else. I think one of the shows I did that was one of my favorites was I’m Getting My Act Together and Taking It On the Road. Gretchen Cryer wrote that about her life – about a woman who tries to find out who she really was. She quits a really good job on a soap opera and starts to sing with a band, but it’s about a woman’s discovery. It was one of the first shows I had done where it was contemporary and dealing with getting close to middle age and trying to figure out your life. I even feel in this show, Love, Loss & What I Wore, these episodes that you hear about, being engulfed in a memory, you really get a sense of how revealing it is about them and how it’s impacted their life. And I think that’s one of the really interesting things about Nora Ephron’s writing.
VCOS: Did you ever think that your own wardrobe made statements in your life?
NANCY: Oh yes. Not to this degree. I mean, when I grew up, my mother picked most of my clothes until I started earning my own money. When I did, the first thing I did was go out and buy some high-heel red shoes and – not a provocative dress at all, but a dress that I thought was really hip and current. And I can still see it all. I really wish I still had that dress. But clothes do make a statement. Even now, I laugh, because I thought I’d like to be a hair more current than I am in the way I dress. Maybe it’s because I’m still an inbred New Yorker. I dress very simple. People say I’m very “classic” in the way I dress, but, God, we’re in California! I should have a little more fun.
VCOS: Did you audition for the show?
VCOS: If you had auditioned, what would you have worn?
NANCY: At this point, I probably would have worn black pants and some kind of a white or cream-colored top. In the show in New York it was kind of interesting. We all wore black, and we’re all wearing black here. They don’t want a big statement about it and yet, all of us in New York had – and they spent a lot of money on this – designer shoes. It was almost like the shoes became more of a statement about the characters than what you had on. I had on a dress and a jacket, but had on some really, REALLY hip shoes! As was everyone else. And that made it kind of fun. A young girl in the show in New York who has a cooking show on the Cooking Channel, a really darling girl, of course had the greatest shoes of all. And a real short dress (laughs). Now, my big decision here is whether to wear a black dress or slacks again. But even that won’t tell you something about the character. It depends on what jewelry you wear, what the neckline is. All that is revealing. Now it’s not as much fun because all the stars have stylists. Nobody’s left on their own.
Our interview with Nancy Dussault will continue tomorrow on VC On Stage. Love, Loss & What I Wore features a different core cast every week, so if you want to see Nancy perform in the show, get your tickets soon. See the VC On Stage Calendar for dates and show times.