A CRITIC REMINISCES
Every theater town worth its name has a diva. I mean “diva” in the good sense, as in reigning goddess.
For many years, Robyn Ferracane was our diva.
A striking brunette beauty with an exceptional voice and strong acting chops, this bundle of talent came close to dominating Phoenix theater – especially the musical quarter – from the late 1970s until she married and moved to New York.
Robyn hails from a Valley mini-dynasty. Her brother, Rusty, is also a top-rank actor and singer. (He just impressed audiences and critics in Good People at Actors Theatre.) Both of them became performers while still children, and only got better at the game.
Robyn’s diva status was guaranteed with me when she appeared at the top of the Harmonia Gardens’ staircase in Phoenix Little Theatre’s production of Hello, Dolly! People stood when she descended to the tuner’s title song. Critics don’t stand. Gives a bad impression. But, damned if I didn’t want to. She was incandescent. No other word cuts it.
And if that was glorious, well, I’m not sure I can adequately describe her “Rose’s Turn” in Gypsy, also at PLT. She was miscast as Gypsy Rose Lee’s mom in some ways: too young, too beautiful. But somewhere, inside, she understood that character, she understood what it was like to stand outside the spotlight when you yearned to be at its center. It all came out.
I loved her, too, in the many revues she did: Starting Here, Starting Now, Perfectly Frank, Party of One; and when she performed in the musical group, Spice. Robyn had no musical fears. She would tackle any style and wrestle it into a distinctive showcase for her personality and vocal range.
If Dolly and Gypsy were her at the top of the stairs (pun intended), I have a sentimental favorite: Her performance in PLT’s The Pajama Game. She was paired with the late Brad Craig, a performer as electrifying as she. When they launched into “There Once Was A Man,” the chills starting climbing up my spine. (Just thinking about it, they start heading for my nerve centers all over again.) However good Doris Day and John Raitt were in the film, Robyn and Brad, doing it live, very nearly stole their thunder.
During her Phoenix career, Robyn was always surprising her fans. Regarded as a singer, she caught everyone off guard with her Mona Kent in Dames at Sea. I always thought of that as an Ann Miller part – you know, ferocious tap-dancing. Well, Robyn apparently did, too.
More surprising were her forays into the darker corners of the canon. Her whore, Colette, in Brendan Behan’s The Hostage (which put Actors Theatre of Arizona on the local theater radar) didn’t sing a note. She didn’t need music to make a powerful impression.
In Frankie & Johnny at the Clair du Lune, she stripped away the glamor, the very “divaness” of her persona, to play a working class woman, a waitress, who wasn’t sure about loving a man, though sex was always an option.
There was her Eva Peron in Evita, her Patsy Cline in Always Patsy Cline, her totally off-the-wall craziness in Six Women With Brain Death. And I haven’t forgotten her Bunny in the absurdist comedy, The House of Blue Leaves. Good grief, she was only a college student then. Whoa!
On stage, you never doubted it. Robyn Ferracane was a STAR! Off-stage, she didn’t go in for the “kiss the ring on my finger” stuff. As near as I could tell, she was everybody’s best friend forever. I know that when someone was in trouble, when they were hurting, she was there. When Brad Craig died much too young, Robyn, through her tears, comforted the rest of us.
You could write a book about a woman like this. Someone should. Now a mother with an offspring approaching adulthood and having found a new career as artistic director of Actors Playground of Westchester, N.Y., she doesn’t take to the spotlight very often.
That is such a waste. If you’re looking for a personality who impacted Valley theater on the scale of a meteor smacking into the earth, Robyn Ferracane has to head your list.
- AND NOW FOR THE HOLLYWOOD SHOT …
- PHOTOGRAPHS, REVIEWS & THE KITCHEN SINK
The House of Blue Leaves, which inaugurated the new theater at Scottsdale Community College in 1977, was one of the first to bring Robyn to the theater public’s attention. She was Bunny, mistress of the play’s anti-hero, and handled the story’s absurdist comedy with aplomb. It was the first time she acted with Richard Glover, who, like her, would become a VIP on local stages.
Robyn performed her tribute to Patsy Cline at several venues around the country, including Nancy’s Country Cupboard in Sun City.
Although her greatest fame came from her work in musicals, Robyn had sure instincts for comedy and made the most of them on many occasions. Here she is in Moon Over Buffalo, Ken Ludwig’s hilarious tale of a married pair of battling actors on tour in the New York town. She was a hoot!
- BACKSTAGE AND OUT AND ABOUT