Many members of the A Free Man of Color cast are well-acquainted with the large rehearsal room, on LCT's bottom floor, where the production has been working in lively fashion the past few weeks. (One recent highlight: Wynton Marsalis imparted some of his knowledge of New Orleans culture to the cast.) Robert Stanton, who plays Harcourt, was here for The Coast of Utopia.Wendy Rich Stetson, who plays Mrs. Harcourt and Euterpe, was here a year ago for In The Next Room.
Veanne Cox, who portrays Polisena, Mandragola, and Livingston, is new to the room, and to say that she is pleased about it is a little like saying that the dancers in La Cage aux Folles, her previous Broadway gig, are colorful.
"I have wanted to work at Lincoln Center for 26 years," Cox said during a lunch break the other day. "This is the final frontier for me. I've pretty much worked everywhere else in New York except here, certainly at all of the main non-profit theaters in town."
Cox, who was born in Norfolk, Virginia, is known in part for playing Amy inCompany, for the Roundabout in 1995, for which she received a Tony nomination. For many people, her rendition of the song "Getting Married Today" was the production's high point.
Cox made her Broadway debut in 1986 in Smile, the musical version of Michael Ritchie's cult-fave movie about a California beauty pageant. "The dress I wore in the finale - I won the pageant -- cost $10,000," Cox said. "The costumes in Free Man are grand in another way. It will be worth seeing the show just for the costumes." Cox has already had her fitting for the muslin versions of the Free Man outfits. (A muslin, Cox said, relieving me of my sartorial ignorance, is a dry run for a final costume that is made from muslin fabric. It allows for fixing the fit before the final garment is made.)
Cox's previous association with George C. Wolfe, the Free Man director, came about through the 2003 musical, Caroline, or Change, where she played the role of Rose Stopnick Gellman. "I'm very fortunate with Free Man,Cox said. "I get to work again with George, and with [composer] Jeanine Tesori and [choreographer] Hope Clarke."
What prompted Cox to move from the swirling Riviera of the current hit Broadway revival of La Cage, where she played Mme. Dindon and Mme. Renaud, to the epic New Orleans of Free Man? "That's a good question," she replied. "I had settled in at La Cage for a nice long run. But I feel I've moved from one good job to another good job."
Cox elaborated on her switch: "I have to use the word 'risk,'" adding: "Sometimes, I feel both as an actor and as a theatergoer that the theater lately has gotten risk-averse. We need to take risks. They don't always pay off, but when they do there is nothing more exciting."
BRENDAN LEMON is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com