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Carolee Carmello in the infamous pink wig in The Scarlet Pimpernel.

Photo by Joan Marcus

In just a few short years, actress Carolee Carmello has emerged from the ensembles of such shows as City of Angels -- where her future husband, Gregg Edelman, was the star -- and risen to the rank of star herself. Following New York roles in Hello Again, Falsettos and 1776, Carmello was nominated for a Best Actress (Musical) Tony Award in 1999 for her mellow, passionately-sung performance as Lucille Frank, the fiercely loyal wife in Lincoln Center Theater's Parade. It was the sort of job actresses kill for: creating a character in a new musical. Carmello begins a less serious role Sept. 10 on Broadway, playing lusty Frenchwoman Marguerite in the return of the musical adventure, The Scarlet Pimpernel, at the Neil Simon Theatre. Playbill On-Line spoke to her about roles past and present, serious and silly.

Playbill On-Line: You toured Houston, Dallas and Atlanta with this scaled-down The Scarlet Pimpernel, a trimmer version of the show that played Broadway earlier this year. How was the tour?
Carolee Carmello: Having had no experience performing the show for an audience, I was unaware the impact it has. I was kind of pleasantly shocked and surprised at the response. People were jumping to their feet.

PBOL: It's a big romp.
CC: Yeah. As far we were concerned it went well. People were really loving it.

PBOL: After Parade, did you purposely want to do something lighter, or was this the gig that was in front of you?
CC: This was kinda the gig in front of me. I knew there was a possibility that Parade would happen again, but that wasn't going to be for a while. Actors are often faced with the possibility of not working for long stretches of time, and I really didn't want to do that right now. When you have a house and a child you don't have option of hanging out and waiting for another gig. This offer came and I really did want to do it because I had a little bit of a history with the show. I had done all the [1995-96] pre-Broadway readings and presentations for groups sales, so I sort of had the role in my body somewhere. I felt it would be great to actually get to do it, to come full circle.

PBOL: You just wanted to wear the giant wigs.
CC: I really did. I've often said, it may sound like a joke, but it is all about the wigs. [Laughs.]

PBOL: The opening number, "Storybook," has you in giant wig, right?
CC: It's giant, yeah! For someone like me, who believes that a character is all about a wig, that certainly is one way to make a character statement. [Laughs.]

PBOL: Lucille Frank in Parade was a wig...
CC: She was a wig.

PBOL: But dignified.
CC: I thought so, y'know. Some people might've thought that was giant, but I think it was subdued and definitely knew its place in society, as opposed to the big, pink one in "Storybook."

PBOL: What attracted you to Pimpernel?
CC: I think it's a beautiful score, I believed in the score from the first readings that we worked on. I love singing those songs. I love the fact that it's sort of escapist, romance-novel theatre. Even though it's a romp and it's heightened reality, it really does take people along -- it's fun to be in a crowd-pleaser.

PBOL: Alfred Uhry and Hal Prince hoped for a national tour of Parade beginning in Atlanta in 2000. Have you heard anything? Would you be involved?
CC: I have heard from Hal, who said, "I think this is going to happen, we hope you're available." It's always sort of looming in my mind, only because I loved that show so much, I still love it, I felt a little frustrated at the way it all ended, so it would be nice to do it again. With a family, it's hard to pick up and leave town for months at a time. It's going to depend on what's going on with my husband and what else is happening in my life at the time, so I can't say whether I'll be doing it or not, but I certainly wouldn't rule out the possibility. I think they're serious about it, and I think it will happen.

PBOL: My guess is that Lucille Frank is your most significant, satisfying role yet, just in terms of the meatiness of it, the Tony nomination, etc.
CC: Yeah, I think that's accurate. It's the show that meant the most to me as far diving into it body and soul and being involved in it from the very onset and feeling like I was really part of the creation of the role. I knew every step of the way I should savor it because you don't get to create a role very often. And even when you do, it doesn't always have the substance you hope it would have. I was so thrilled and honored to be able to do it with that score, with that book by Alfred Uhry. I didn't know at the time it would be gone so soon. I do feel like it's the most artistically fulfilling experience that I've ever had.

PBOL: Who's the theatre person you would drop anything for if they asked you to work on a project?
CC: That's a hard question because it's so much about all the elements. Right now I feel that if Betty Comden and Adolph Green called me, because they're talking about a future revival of Bells Are Ringing, I would pretty much drop everything, but that's also because it's that show. I think that role is so incredible, and I did get a chance to do it recently out in L.A., I know how much fun it is. If that would happen, I think I would go through hell and high water to get there.

PBOL: Did you meet your husband, Gregg, in City of Angels?
CC: We had met, but because he was the big star and I was the chorus girl, we never really had any connection. I left the show quickly, because I was offered the national tour of Chess. It was a year and half later we did Arthur [at Goodspeed] and connected.

PBOL: Do you and Gregg look for projects together?
CC: We have done a lot of concert things recently, but I don't know that we really look for it. We don't rule it out if it comes along. We look for things that keep us home [in the New York City area]. I think we both feel we're OK without the other one. In fact, I think sometimes when you're in the middle of rehearsing you become a little self-conscious if your mate is there watching you figure out what you're doing. [Laughs.] "Don't watch me! Don't look at me!"

-- Ken Jones

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