Crazy for Paige

Confessions of a long-distance performer who keeps on growing

What if, every time Albert Pujols stepped up to the plate at Busch Stadium, the slugger hit a home run 330 feet down the left-field line? Or what if, every time Kurt Warner took possession on his own goal line, he hurled the football 300 feet downfield to score a touchdown? Impossible, right? Yet at the Muny, a performer is expected to hurl every song and dance even farther -- a whopping 350 feet from the stage all the way up that steep terrain to the top of the amphitheater.

Impossible? Not at all. The 'swonderfully talented Paige Price has done it during previous appearances in Forest Park --and is doing it again this week in Crazy for You.

Just now the actress is sitting in the Muny free seats. Godspell is not due to begin for another hour, yet already the entire section is filled. "Look at all these people," she says with a touch of wonder. "One of the most heartening things about playing the Muny is to check out the size of the crowd before the show begins. It's inspiring."

In addition to being one of those rare talents who has mastered the Muny, Price is also a sports enthusiast with friends in high places (and we don't mean the free seats). Last week she sang "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" during a Cardinals seventh-inning stretch as a favor to her pal Tony LaRussa.

They met through Redbirds head trainer (and theater devotee) Barry Weinberg when he taught basic baseball skills to the cast of the 1994 Broadway revival of Damn Yankees. Weinberg suggested that Price should perform in LaRussa's annual benefit for ARF, his animal rescue foundation. She did, "and Tony has since become a great friend."

So tell us something about the Cardinals manager that we might not know.

"On television he always looks so serious," Price replies. "But he has a tremendous sense of humor. He is also one of the most respectful gentlemen I've ever met -- respectful to me as a woman and as a professional."

Born and raised in central New Jersey, Price began to take dance lessons at age four. At ten she was cast as Dainty June in a local production of Gypsy; school aside, she hasn't been offstage since. In addition to national tours of 42nd Street (ingénue Peggy Sawyer) and A Chorus Line (curvaceous Val, who sings "Tits and Ass"), she's starred on Broadway (Saturday Night Fever, Smokey Joe's Café, Beauty and the Beast) and also has become a busy producer of touring shows and concerts. A lot of actors say they produce, but Price really does it, and successfully. Last year in New York, she also found time to write and star in The eX-Files, an acclaimed cabaret act which offers an irreverent review of the men who have passed through her life.

How many of your exes made the final cut?

"They're all treated with humor, you understand. But I think about ten."

She pauses to do some quick math. "OK, maybe fifteen."

Price delights in poking fun at herself. Like for instance as she recounts her passion for ice hockey. "When I lived in Los Angeles, I knew I was in trouble because I would go to the Kings game, sing the national anthem, watch the game, then go home and watch it again on tape to hear the color commentary. How crazy is that?"

Or this admission about her audition for an upcoming Broadway musical. "I wish I were doing it," she says, "but I gave a dreadfully boring audition."

How could you tell?

"I bored myself! I danced well and got called back. But for my song, I should have chosen something peppy. Instead I sang a ballad. I only wanted to go once through, but the piano player kept playing, so it became doubly boring."

Now, serious. "I don't want to give up performing yet, but at the same time I don't want to spend the rest of my life sitting on a folding chair in a hallway begging for work. Another challenge for me, especially as I grow older, is that there are certain restrictions when you're five-foot-two, eyes of blue."

She is indeed five-foot-two. But here's the amazing thing: When singing and dancing on the Muny stage, from the free seats Paige Price looks ten feet tall. An optical illusion? She offers a hopeful explanation.

"When I first did 42nd Street, the choreographer kept saying, 'Dance taller.' I didn't know what that meant. Eventually I came to realize that it means 'Take the stage and make the audience look at you.' I've since come to believe that if you enjoy what you're doing, and share those positive vibrations with the audience, then you grow."

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