Wednesday, January 7, 2009
Dangerously Sexy Diva
She was 21 when I first met her. Terra was one of the performers I met in rehearsals, in Los Angeles, for a theme park job in Japan. She was from Montreal, Canada, so when she rode in the passenger seat of my Geo Metro, I made sure to slow down from my usual L.A. pace while driving on the freeways.
She was still terrified from the way I drove.
Terra was tall, with the enviable lithe figure achieved from years of dance training, combined with youth. She had beautifully fair skin and long, dark brown locks. She had a kind of retro beauty that made her seem more mature than her actual age, an intelligent and sophisticated beauty that was reminiscent of a young Anne Bancroft.
Terra could look sexy in a way that was almost dangerous, if you didn't know her. We typed her right away.
"Oh!" the other dancers exclaimed. "You're perfect for the musical 'Chicago,' as one of the merry murderesses in the ensemble."
She was. Terra was physically fit and a triple-threat (dancer, singer, and actress) who was talented as hell. And she had that dangerous sexiness that made her ideal casting for the famous Fosse musical.
We underestimated her.
After our gig in Japan, Terra was cast in a Paris, France production of 'Chicago' as the lead, Velma Kelly. Being from Montreal, Terra was a triple-threat who was also fluent in French - she was a quadruple-threat, and she was tailor-made for this specific role in this specific production.
Terra's portrayal of Velma impressed the casting directors so much, she ended up performing the role in English, on Broadway. Her time on the Great White Way extended into a national tour of 'Chicago,' which eventually brought her back to Los Angeles. I had the privilege of seeing my friend perform the role of Velma at the Pantages Theatre.
Terra is not a celebrity. She is not a name that audiences know from film or television. But in the opening number for the show, "All That Jazz," when she arose center stage on her mini elevator-platform, frozen in a classic Fosse pose, the audience applauded madly as if she were celebrity royalty. It was a thrilling moment for me, and it was thrilling to watch her perform such a physically demanding role - a role that has had more than three decades built up in audience expectations.
Terra's performance did not disappoint. I couldn't wait to tell her about the murmurs of approval I overheard in the audience.
How lucky am I to live in the greater Los Angeles area? When it comes to theater, we may not have much in bragging rights compared to New York, but we get a fair share.
This past fall, Terra was back in L.A. performing the title role of 'Kiss of the Spider Woman.' As Aurora, Terra was yet again able to showcase her triple-threat abilities and that dangerous sexiness that is uniquely her own.
And she is back in L.A. this month, too. I get to see her play Velma again, when a touring production of 'Chicago' makes a whirlwind weekend stop at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts.
And I feel so lucky! Why? All I ever wanted out of life was to be able to perform as a one of the chorus boys surrounding a fierce diva. It's as simple as that. I may no longer be dancing, and my performing career never even approached close to the level and prestige that Terra's did. But I still have groupie tendencies for a goddess of entertainment - it is the natural plight of most gay men to want to worship and admire a diva or two.
I admire Terra's long and amazing career. It's been fourteen years since I first met her. By now, I feel we are lifelong friends, and I am definitely her lifelong fan.