How does one get to Carnegie Hall?
"Practice, practice, practice" as the old saying goes.
But how does a small-town girl from southern Missouri get to Broadway? "With a little bit of luck," to quote a famous lyric from "My Fair Lady."
Patti Suarez, whose face is recognized by literally hundreds of thousands of Oklahomans because of her position as anchor for KWTV (Channel 9)'s 6 and 10 p.m. news, once had her sights set on becoming a Broadway star.
And, although she got sidetracked along the way a dozen or so years ago, she will have the opportunity to step back into the spotlights once again this week when she takes the lead in Lyric Theatre's production of "Mame."
The 1966 blockbuster musical, which introduced such hits as "Mame," "Open a New Window," "We Need a Little Christmas" and "If He Walked Into My Life," will open Tuesday and continue Tuesdays through Saturdays through July 28 in the Kirkpatrick Fine Arts Auditorium, 2501 N Blackwelder.
Suarez grew up in Cabool, Mo., a small (Pop. 1,800) rural community in the heart of the state's dairy farming district. There, she participated in just about everything the tiny school system had to offer acting in plays, serving as drum major for the marching band, securing a spot on the debate team and becoming one of the school's cheerleaders.
Later, while attending the University of Missouri, Suarez auditioned for and was hired for a position in the chorus at St. Louis' Muny Theater, where she performed in a different show every week.
"From there, I got on a bus with some girlfriends and took off for New York," Suarez recalled. "Isn't that amazing? I can't believe I survived. I guess it was just innocence that kept us alive that and the fact that we thought we were simply the best."
It was only three weeks before the young performer landed her first job, that as a chorus member and pit singer in "Promises, Promises."
Her talents were quickly recognized and, a short while later, she earned a spot in the production of "Applause" with Lauren Bacall.
Suarez, who then was known as Patti Davis, eventually took over the role of Eve Harrington, a part she would play in numerous theaters across the United States. Before leaving the role, she played opposite Anne Baxter, Arlene Dahl, Eva Gabor and Eleanor Powell.
Although the rewards were great, the strenuous grind of being a New York performer began to take its toll after a while, and Suarez became less and less enamored with the hectic pace of the city.
"New York kind of wears you down," she said. "And this little girl from Missouri finally decided she had had enough."
By then, she had married Peter Suarez, who at the time was working as a photographer, scenic designer and stagehand. Before long, they decided to return to this part of the country, eventually settling in Missouri.
It was in Springfield that the former actress got her first introduction to television news, convincing the management at station KOLR-TV that she was indeed cut out to be a news anchor.
"They took a big chance on me and it worked," she said. "And I ended up anchoring, reporting, writing, editing the ten o'clock news and sweeping the floors. It was a great learning experience."
After nearly two years there, Suarez came to Oklahoma City, where she was named news anchor for station KWTV. Just a week ago she announced her resignation from that position. In mid-August, she will head for Los Angeles where she will serve as news anchor for KTTV, the Fox Broadcasting Company's flagship station.
Suarez never fully turned her back on performing, however, despite her fervent interest in television news. During the past decade, she has appeared in regional productions of Puccini's opera "Madame Butterfly," Lehar's operetta "The Merry Widow" and numerous musicals.
In 1985, she was invited to make a guest appearance with Joel Levine and the Oklahoma Symphony Orchestra, where she performed several Broadway tunes. Because of that success, Suarez subsequently was asked by Levine to consider auditioning for a role at Lyric Theatre, where he serves as music director.
"Joel had been asking me for years if I would like to do something, but nothing had been quite right," Suarez said. "Finally, this role came along, and it's just right.
"Mame is such a positive, wonderful lady. People think of her as a birdbrain, as crazy, but I love her because she is so moral. She hates bigots; she hates all the disgusting things in the world.
"She doesn't believe in wasting a single moment in life. There is a line in the show in which she says "life's a banquet.' That's her whole philosophy of life.
"And I share her attitude about life. If we waste a moment of it, it's our own fault. There is so much to do and so much to be lived, and there is no time for pretense. You should look for the unique in everyone. Everybody has something wonderful about them, and there is just no time for bigotry, prejudice, pettiness or small-mindedness."
The role of the life-loving Mame Dennis always has attracted celebrities because of her larger-than-life qualities. Angela Lansbury was the first of many actresses to star in Jerry Herman's musical version of the Patrick Dennis novel, followed by Janis Paige, Jane Morgan, Ann Miller and Ginger Rogers among others.
Two other famous Mames were Rosaline Russell, who became known for her portrayal of the title character in the non-musical film version released in 1958, and Lucille Ball, who starred in the 1974 musical film.
Considering the type of actress the role of Mame seems to attract, the question of celebrity comes to mind. But is that enough to pull off such a demanding role?
"Obviously, the answer to that is no," Suarez said. "Perhaps for some of the audience, it might be enough. But I would never have done it, never ever dreamed about accepting the role, if I didn't think I could do it."
One week before rehearsals began on the show, however, when this interview was conducted, Suarez admitted to having some second thoughts about agreeing to appear in the role.
"It has nothing to do with whether or not I can do it," she said.
"I'm just trying to learn lines, music and work at the station all at the same time.
"And of course I've got to go to the gym, because I've got all of these great gowns to wear. I mean, a body has to look good!"
When Patti Suarez sits down behind the anchor's desk on the Channel 9 news set, she projects an air of self-confidence and professionalism.
But the thought of stepping out on the Lyric stage in front of a live audience every night is making her just a little bit nervous.
"I may be very sorry I did it, but I think that, for the most part, people out there will be wishing me well," she said. "And if there are any of the others who want me to fall on my face ... well, they might get to see that, too.
"I believe, as Mame says, that "life's a banquet.' That's part of the fun of life to take these kinds of chances."
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