In The Skin of Our Teeth, Priscilla Lopez plays the Fortune Teller. “At first,” Lopez told me one night this week, “I didn’t know what to make of her. She’s in Atlantic City, she is a kind of conscience to the main characters, the Antrobuses, but what else?” With some help from costume details – fake nails, a ribbon, a headband – and some experiences before an audience, Lopez said that she learned much more about the person she is playing.
“There are many sides to her. She’s a tough cookie. She isn’t afraid of making mischief. I’ve grown to really like her.”
Lopez’s own likability is never in question. It takes no effort to have affection for someone whose Playbill bio, in the case of The Skin of Our Teeth, says merely: “Happy to be in my 16th Broadway show and still kicking!”
“For those bios,” Lopez told me, “they always ask for 150 words and then some of the things I’m proud of get cut. So this time I decided to be concise. Besides, if someone wants to know more about you they can just do a Google search.”
Let me save you the trouble. Lopez was born in the Bronx and graduated from Manhattan’s High School of Performing Arts. She was a glorious replacement in Sondheim’s Company, whose choreographer, Michael Bennett, subsequently asked her to take part in the process that resulted in A Chorus Line, in which Lopez introduced “What I Did for Love” and received a Tony nomination. A few years later, she won a Tony for her indelible performance in A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine, directed by Tommy Tune, with whom Lopez subsequently worked on the musical Nine.
As Lopez neared her 40s, things slowed down professionally. “I had tasted all aspects of the business,” she said. “So I decided it was time to have children with my husband” – the music director, conductor, and musician Vincent Fanuele. “I’m so happy I did. As a performer, it can get frustrating when you’re not working. That’s why it’s so important to have a life – to be a sister, a wife, a mother, a daughter, a colleague, a friend.” She added: “The Skin of Our Teeth centers on a family, and the importance of that family. Families are essential to all of us, whether they are our biological families or the families we create out of people we love.”
Lopez mentioned Mrs. Antrobus’s line in The Skin of Our Teeth about why she has stayed married for so long. “She says she made a promise, and that’s it’s important to keep that promise. I feel the same way, and that’s one of the reasons I’ve been married for more than 50 years. It may not always be easy to stay with someone for so long. But when you do stick with it you have the chance to fall back in love with someone many times. And you don’t get to experience that if you don’t stick around.”
Sticking with an acting career has allowed Lopez to play a variety of roles. On television, she’s been a lawyer, a nurse, a judge. On Broadway this century, she’s been in the play Anna in the Tropics, which won the Pulitzer, and the musical In the Heights, which was a finalist for that prize. And, speaking of awards, let me mention that The Inheritance, which won last year’s Tony as Best Play, was written by Matthew Lopez, who is Priscilla Lopez’s nephew.
“I’m grateful that I’ve been able to play so many types of characters,” Lopez said. “I was helped by the fact that I was never a sex symbol, so I didn’t have a big problem transitioning to roles that weren’t centered on sex. I didn’t have to erase my face to keep up. I have a few wrinkles now and that’s fine. And during the pandemic I let my hair go back to its natural color. It’s silver and I can honestly say I’m so happy with it!”
Brendan Lemon is the editor of lemonwade.com