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Rachel York, the 'Anything Goes' mama on the go

The actress leads the tap-dancing jollity in the touring Cole Porter musical, stealing away for playful private duos with her young daughter. It's a fast tempo.

December 23, 2012|By Laura J. Nelson, Los Angeles Times
  • Rachel York applies makeup backstage for the evening's performnce of "Anything Goes" on Dec. 16, 2012.
Rachel York applies makeup backstage for the evening's performnce… (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles…)

The slower the traffic on the 101 Freeway, the less time Rachel York will have as Mommy before she becomes Reno Sweeney again.

"Shoot," York says on a recent Sunday, squinting through her windshield wipers at the straggling line of taillights on the on ramp. "This may have been a mistake."

At home — or at least, what's home at the moment — there is a little girl clutching a stuffed red Elmo who shrieks "Mommy!" as York walks inside and who puts on tiny patent-leather tap shoes so they can dance together to the music of "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse."

There's a reason few Broadway stars have children, York says wryly — and why those who do usually don't bring a toddler on a national tour.

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Between matinee and evening performances at the Ahmanson Theatre, York braves the traffic, mostly without complaint. Her bigger concern: finding time to see her daughter and still take care of herself during a grueling 10-month tour of "Anything Goes," a full-tilt, tap-dancing, standard-belting musical.

York, 41, plays brassy-voiced nightclub singer Reno Sweeney in the Roundabout Theatre's production of the Cole Porter musical, playing at the Ahmanson until Jan. 6. The tour began in Cleveland on Oct. 2 and played in five more cities before arriving in Los Angeles. It'll continue on to such cities as San Francisco, Chicago and Washington, D.C., before winding up in Toronto in August.

Appearing in Los Angeles has a bonus for York. She once lived here, her sister lives in Pacific Palisades, and her parents live in Westlake Village.

Once she leaves her Manhattan home, the touring life will mean months of rented cars, rented apartments and little time with her husband of three years, movie and theater producer Ayal Miodovnik. They met during an onstage romance (a "showmance") nearly a decade ago.

The role of Reno Sweeney is demanding. Sutton Foster originated it for the 2011 Broadway revival, winning a Tony Award. York is onstage for much of the musical's 152 minutes, wisecracking, dancing and singing Porter standards such as "I Get a Kick Out of You," "Friendship" and "You're the Top."

At the end of the first act, York leads a crew of a dozen passengers and dancing sailors from the S.S. American through a six-minute rendition of the show's signature number, "Anything Goes." She opens with a lament of the laxness of modern times (that is, 1934) then launches into nearly three minutes of tapping on the deck of the ship before launching again with a robust: "Anything goes!"

Costar Edward Staudenmayer, who plays foppish Lord Evelyn Oakleigh, says he sometimes sneaks into the audience to watch the spectacle. He's had a "professional crush" on York, whom he calls "a supermodel who can act, sing and dance," since he heard her on the cast album of "City of Angels."

PHOTOS: Rachel York

"It makes me so happy to see her absolutely make the number, then gasp for air and grin so widely when it's over," Staudenmayer says. "Because I know she'll do it again in 20 minutes."

The second act lifts off with another big number. York returns wearing a flame-colored leotard with a gold-fringed skirt, belting the nightclub evangelism showstopper "Blow, Gabriel, Blow." Her smile doesn't budge as the applause begins. Her heaving shoulders are the only sign that she has spent a quarter of an hour doing some seriously strenuous cardio.

York's feet take the most abuse. The dancing in "Anything Goes" includes the bevel position, which leaves the soles and balls of her feet aching. In the mornings, she feels tension in her neck, back and feet.

Dresser Mary Basile helps York put on 11 costumes during the show. Her longest break is 10 minutes. She uses it to stretch.

After the show, York greets well-wishers backstage. On this Sunday her visitors include actress Marilu Henner, a Broadway alum herself.

During the demanding performances, York says she falls back on muscle memory from a 20-year career. She's been called a triple threat: someone who can act, sing and dance, which musical theater especially cherishes.

York was born in Orlando and moved to Los Angeles to study acting at the American Center for Music Theatre at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. (The center is now in Hollywood.) She settled in New York City in 1988.

She drew attention in her dual role as Mallory Kingsley/Avril Raines in the original Broadway run of "City of Angels" and as Norma Cassidy in the Broadway production of "Victor/Victoria" opposite Julie Andrews.

York has been on Broadway six times. She's also done three other national tours, including Porter's "Kiss Me, Kate." She's played Reno twice before, in 2002 with the Reprise Theatre Company in Los Angeles and in 2009 at Kansas City's Starlight Theatre.

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