The Broadway Blog’s editor Matthew Wexler catches up with pop star Taylor Dayne as she prepares to take on one of Broadway’s most legendary roles.
Has the world turned upside down? No. Just your idea of what you think musical theater should be. For anyone familiar with Taylor Dayne’s high-voltage vocals, it should come as no surprise that director/choreographer Jacob Brent had his eye on the three-time GRAMMY-nominated singer to tackle the iconic role of Grizabella, made famous by powerhouse belters Elaine Paige, Betty Buckley, Laurie Beechman and others.
“Cats was the first Broadway show I auditioned for. Through hard work and preparation I booked it and spent the next eight years as The Magical Mr. Mistoffelees in the Broadway and London companies,” said Jacob Brent, director and choreographer of Cats at Merry-Go-Round Playhouse as part of The Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival. “Being part of many performances and having heard multiple women sing “Memory,” the show’s iconic 11-o’clock number, I knew I wanted to find something different for this production. I had recently seen Taylor Dayne in concert and thought her voice was amazing and her rocker quality would lend itself perfectly for this role. Having already rehearsed with her, all I can say is people are not ready for her performance. She is going to be amazing!”
Dayne is no stranger to Broadway. Growing up on Long Island, her parents would take her to see all sorts of theater, but she always wanted to be a rock ‘n’ roll star. “My parents were avid theater goers. We went to Broadway, off-Broadway, off-off Broadway… I was exposed to incredible pieces of work. We saw shows in Central Park and at La Mama.” Highlights of Dayne’s early theater-going days include the original productions of Ain’t Misbehavin’ and Runaways.
But Dayne’s music career—as she had hoped—took off. It was in the mid 90s after Warren Beatty saw her on The Tonight Show that her versatility as a performer was recognized. She appeared in the films Love Affair and Stag and her name eventually came to the attention of the legendary composer Jules Styne, who was planning on a revival of Funny Girl.
“I remember singing “Don’t Rain on My Parade” and the accompanist said ‘be you’ but Jules was bitching,” recalls Dayne of the senior’s short-tempered but accurate assessment of her performance. “Jules said just sing the song. I sang “The Music That Makes Me Dance” and his response was ‘Wow. I found my Funny Girl.’” The pair made appearances, performed at the Friar’s Club and tried to gain interest (included that of Barry and Fran Weissler). Styne’s health began to fail and ultimately he passed away before the production came to fruition, but it planted a seed that began to germinate with Dayne.
She was in many of the initial workshops of Elton John and Tim Rice’s AIDA. “To build a show like that is a real undertaking,” says Dayne, who found herself “pounding out notes” with the likes of Terrence Mann and Audra McDonald. Four years later the creative team asked her to return to the show to take over the role of Amneris
All the while, Dayne has continued to record and tour, having sold more than 75 million albums and singles worldwide—many of which have become strongholds for the LGBT community. Her song, “Facing a Miracle,” was the anthem for the Gay Games in Cologne and songs like “Stand,” “Change the World,” and her biggest hits “Tell it to My Heart” and “Love Will Lead You Back” reflect the singer’s big sound and expressive interpretation.
“When you choose material and write material it’s about becoming a storyteller,” says Dayne. “I started out in the pop/dance genre. But these power ballads lend to my voice. Going into the studio, every phrase is meaningful and has to say something. That’s what you’re hearing – the emotionality of it. That’s the blessing for me.”
Dayne has proven herself time and again, but this time around the offer came directly from The Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festivals Producing Director Ed Sayles, who told Syracuse.com, “No auditions. Her career to date is her audition.”
Revving up to tackle one of the greatest female songs in musical theater, Dayne is honing in on musical theater technique versus her pop style. She had a great teacher, after all. “I’ve been thinking a lot about Julie Styne,” reflects Dayne. “I went into that first audition for him as a pop singer but the music already had the job.” She says of her approach to Cats, “Why would I change the notes? The liberties can come, if the director and I believe it should go somewhere. I learn what’s on the page and deliver it deliberately. I choose not taking those liberties and trust the music and the book. I find often times the melodies get lost and that’s what people want to hear the most. It’s important to have that knowledge.
Dayne says she’s not scared of tackling the role, but honored to have the opportunity. “It’s real emotional journey and a singer’s dream.”
Taylor Dayne appears as Grizabella (in the original key with that high E-flat) in The Finger Lakes Musical Theater Festival’s production of Cats from August 21 – September 11.
Click Here for ticket information.
Can’t make it to the Finger Lakes? Catch Taylor Dayne live on tour:
Aug. 3 — Marina del Rey, CA
Aug. 10 — Norfolk, VA (Hampton Roads Pride Fest)
Aug. 16 — El Cajon, CA
Aug. 24 — Big Bear, CA
Sept. 27 — Rockport, ME
Oct. 5 — Orlando, FL
Oct. 12 — Atlanta , GA (Atlanta Pride)
About Merry-Go-Round Playhouse and Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival:
Located in Auburn, N.Y., the Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival is the largest musical theatre producing organization in New York State, outside of New York City. With three stages running concurrently, the festival provides exciting and diverse professional musical theatre entertainment. The main stage at The Merry-Go-Round Playhouse has been in existence for more than 30 years and presents hit Broadway spectacles. The MGR Downtown program at Auburn Public Theater presents newer and quirkier material. The third space, Theater Mack, is a cabaret-style environment, which features a new musical in development each week in a new-works series, known as “The PiTCH.” The Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival works to provide top-notch entertainment to more than 60,000 patrons each summer and maintain a high regard in the theatre community.