Southern California’s Cathy Newman has had the great good fortune to tour the United States—and abroad—as a cast member of some of the top Equity National Tours of the past decade including Big River, Les Misérables, and My Fair Lady.  I enjoyed getting to know the effervescent Miss Newman a bit better as she prepares to return once again to her SoCal home base as Lt. Genevieve Marshall in the Lincoln Center Theatre production of Rodgers And Hammerstein’s South Pacific, opening October 12 at the Orange County Performing Arts Center


Hi Cathy. Though I’ve had the chance to see and review your terrific work in two local productions, FCLO’s Oklahoma! in 2008 and MTW’s Meet Me In St. Louis in 2009, I think of you mainly as the Queen Of National Tours, with South Pacific making it Tour Number Seven for you. That alone deserves a WOW! from StageSceneLA, especially since you’re an L.A. area native! You grew up in the San Gabriel Valley, West Covina to be more precise.  How did you get your start in theater?

I was always involved in theater from a young age. I did shows in high school and college, at San Diego State University.  My first professional gigs were Gilbert and Sullivan operettas in San Diego’s Balboa Park. 

Of the roles you played early in your career, are there any that you look back on with particular pleasure? 

I’ve always been a “character actor” even in my earliest shows, because of my stature and vocal type.  I played Aunt Eller in Oklahoma! in high school when I was 16 and have done it in my 30s and again in my 40s. I can’t wait to really grow up and be the right age for it. I most certainly will be prepared!!

How did your very first National Tour come about? 

I took an audition workshop with Ron LaRosa, who was a casting director with Johnson-Liff.  After that weekend, he called me in to audition for the 10th Anniversary production of Les Misérables.  I didn’t get in the show, but was put in their files. I auditioned for it another few times, and finally got it in 2001. 

What is it that appealed to you about the touring life?

I love seeing new places, exploring new cities.  I enjoy staying in hotels and I love eating out, which are all very helpful for a life on the road. There are the negative things about touring, like traveling on your one day off. Most travel days can be stressful, especially with increased security that happened after 9/11.  

Cathy (behind the sofa, far left) with some of the cast and crew of South Pacific, and signing the wall at the Winspear Opera House in Dallas.

There must be something about touring the country that keeps you signing up again and again for more, right? 

I don’t think it’s the touring, but the shows that interest me.  I’ve been fortunate to be a part of some pretty amazing productions! I audition for the shows that interest me, or think I’m right for, and the fact that they tour is just fine with me.

So is there anything about touring that you wish you could change? 

I wish there could be more venues that have the Broadway show schedule, which splits up the days of performing both matinee and evening shows. Our tour normally does two shows a day on Saturday and Sunday, making it a five-show weekend, which is a real killer. Especially since all the shows I’ve done recently are three-hour marathons!! 

That does sound exhausting!  Now here’s a question that may be a bit hard to answer, but which three cities have been your all-time favorites to visit and perform in? 

That is hard!  I loved Vancouver.  It could have been the time of year, but the weather was perfect and it was just lovely!  I’m so thankful that Los Angeles is usually a long sit-down for most of my tours.  It’s my home, so all my friends and family can see my shows. To work at The Ahmanson is a thrill for me, because it was the place I saw shows as a kid.  Seattle is also a favorite. I love the city, I have friends who live there, and it’s a town that really embraces theater. 

I’m sure that each tour stands out to you for a variety of reasons.  Could you share a brief memory of each of your National Tours, one which keeps that particular tour especially vivid in your memories? 

Cathy as The Widow Douglas in Big River (with Tyrone Giordano as Huck Finn) and in Les Misérables

I’ve loved them all for different reasons, but the closest to my heart was my tour of the Deaf West Production of Big River, directed by Jeff Calhoun.  Anyone who saw the Broadway production has told me that it was their favorite show they have ever seen.  It was for me, as well. I saw it and thought, “I have to be in that show!” Luckily that dream became a reality when I joined the tour. 

What about Les Miz?

I loved Les Misérables because it was my first really big job. Everything was so new and exciting.  I met some incredible people and still remain close with many of them. Getting to go to China to do the show with Colm Wilkinson, the original Jean Valjean, was a definite highlight!

Cathy, in character as Lt. Genevieve Marshall in South Pacific

What about South Pacific and My Fair Lady, two of the most brilliant touring productions I’ve ever seen?

Both South Pacific and My Fair Lady had lots of buzz and acclaim when I auditioned for the tours.  The fact that I got a chance to work with the original production teams on these shows is amazing!  I have to admit that I’m spoiled, because the tours I’ve done have all been top-notch, classics. People jump to their feet at the end of the shows and give us rousing ovations. 

Do you ever get a chance to hear directly from the audience how these shows have impacted them?

One of my favorite things to do on all the tours has been to collect money for Broadway Cares Equity Fights AIDS after the shows twice a year.  I not only love to do it because it’s a worthy cause, but I love to hear the comments that patrons have about the show. They want to share stories about the first time they saw the show or that they saw Mary Martin in South Pacific or Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady.  Those people are bringing their children and grandchildren back to experience something that was meaningful to them.  It helps remind me why I do this and what I love about theater!

Cathy, center, doing an Irish jig as feisty Irish maid Katie in  the Musical Theatre West production of Meet Me In St. Louis

During the year or so that you were back in Southern California, you costarred in a couple of big local CLO productions. As a gypsy, did it feel strange doing these short runs and sleeping in the same bed month after month? 

No, it’s heaven! To live and work at home is my dream—except for the hateful L.A. traffic. 

How about doing a show on The Great White Way?

I’d love to do a Broadway show and live and work in one place for a while, but I’m sort of scared, since New York is not one of my favorite places. But, I’d suffer through to work on Broadway!

Two of the productions you’ve toured in (My Fair Lady and South Pacific) are, in my humble opinion, quite possibly the very best productions of these classic shows—ever!  What is it about Trevor Nunn’s and Bartlett Sher’s visions that made both of these shows feel so brand new, and so much better than any that had come before? 

Thanks!  I feel that they are both very special, too!  I think these directors have a gift to take the wonderful material—again, both classics—and breathe new life into them. One of the things that I think make these productions feel updated is the new technology of sets and scenery.  Everything can now be automated.  Instead of having to perform downstage in front of a curtain for a short scene while the crew moves clunky sets, now everything moves flows quietly and smoothly and is much more cinematic.

South Pacific deals with war and racism in a way that was unheard of when it debuted on Broadway, but remains relevant even today.  What is it about South Pacific that keeps it so fresh six decades after its premiere? 

Besides the glorious, timeless music and wonderful story, its exploration of racism, bigotry and war is still moving and relevant.  As I sat in the audience in New York and then again in Dallas when I was joining the company, I heard audible gasps at certain lines in the show.  South Pacific is still making an impact on today’s audiences.

You got to play L.A. last June and July, and now you get to spend a couple weeks in L.A.-adjacent Orange County before heading back east to Pittsburgh in November. How has it been being back home? 

It’s always wonderful to spend time with my parents and some of my oldest and dearest friends who live in the L.A. area. Costa Mesa is a little bit of a commute, but I really love performing at the OCPAC. I have to soak up all the California sunshine I can get, before heading back to the chilly east coast for fall and winter!

If a genie could grant you three career-related wishes, what would they be? 

A Broadway show would be a nice addition to my resume! I’d love to do a production of Sweeney Todd and play my dream role of Mrs. Lovett.  And finally, just to continue working in this business. Being a steadily working actor is difficult in the best of times.  I’m so fortunate to have a job in a career I love and to have a steady paycheck and health insurance.  I’m a lucky girl!

I’ll say you are!  I can’t wait for South Pacific’s Opening Night at the beautiful Orange County Performing Arts Center! 

Thank you, Steven! 

Click here to order tickets to South Pacific.

Cathy is thrilled to be enlisting for duty with this, her 7th National Tour! Others include: Les Misérables (twice!) – U.S. & China premiere with Colm Wilkinson and the final touring company, National Theatre of Great Britain/Mackintosh production of My Fair Lady and the critically acclaimed Deaf West production of Big River.

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