A veteran actor, cabaret performer, and singer for more than thirty-five years, Paula Wolfson has a Dora for her role in Shaking the Foundations, and was in the first Canadian tours of Les Miserables and Beauty and the Beast. But her stage performances have become less frequent in Toronto in the last few years, as she diversified into teaching (she’s an Artists Educator with the Royal Conservatory of Music), cantoral singing (she’s a Soloist at Shir Libeynu), and horticulture (she’s a Master Gardener with her own business, My Garden’s Keeper). But she came back in a big way at the 2018 Fringe Festival, where her show Judas Star Supersong received rave reviews and earned her a nomination for Outstanding Performance in a Musical; it’ll be remounted on February 28 and March 1 at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.
Can you remember your first experience with theatre?
My mom took me to Anne of Green Gables at the Royal Alex, 1968. The mighty Barbara Hamilton played Marilla.
When did you know you wanted to be an actor?
When I scored the Mary Magdelene role in a high school J C S, that was it; hook line and sinker. 1975. I was a Canadian Actor’s Equity member by 1980. Godspell, at the now defunct Bayview Playhouse.
What’s your favourite role you’ve ever performed?
The alcoholic homophobe in Dorothy Dittrich’s When We Were Singing. Buddies in Bad Times.
What is it about the music and story of JCS that speaks to you? Do you have any personal connections with the show you’d like to share?
J C S was my first love, my first big role, the music ROCKED and the whole experience resonated deeply in me. I KNEW that I had to keep kicking at the musical theatre can. I KNEW that I could sing.
You both created and performed Judas Star Supersong at the Fringe. Where did the idea come from and what insights can you give us into the development process?
I’d been hankering to sing Judas for years and years and years. I dreamt that maybe some nice wealthy person would fund the whole thing with a cast of women, but no one stepped up. The clock was ticking, my friends, and it was a now-or-never decision. I can’t expect my voice to last forever. Gawd knows my bones are giving out! I know J C S like the back of my own hand, and knew that I wanted the focus on Judas, so I tore the score apart and put it back together, keeping the essence of the story. With one exception, everything is in the original key.
What are some of the challenges of performing a solo show?
It’s not so much the performing solo that’s challenging, I’ve been doing solo cabarets for years; it’s the challenge of producing and self-promoting that I find hard and not enjoyable. I was SO blessed to have Bonnie Anderson and Alison Lawrence step up to take it on for the Fringe. I wouldn’t have done it on my own. I had a Dream Team – Ed Sahely directing, Giustin MacLean music directing, Sharon DiGenova production manager and Pieter Huyer on percussion.
There was a very strong audience response to the show at the Fringe. Given the touchy subject of rights, where do you see the show going from here?
We’re gonna risk two more performances, Feb 28 and March 1 at Buddies, to see how it works in a black box. Then we’ll worry about rights. St Stephens in-the-Fields was an extraordinary and spectacular venue for our Fringe run.
Now Magazine’s rave review of JSS referred to you as “Stage veteran Wolfson, who’s seen too infrequently on Toronto stages”. Are there reasons for that rarity that you’re comfortable discussing? With the success of this show, how do you envision your stage career moving forward – is there an ideal work/life balance, for you?
I SUCK at auditions. I can’t put myself through them anymore. When I get hungry to perform, I will, on my terms. There’s a ton of music in my life that pays the rent, so I’m happy.
What are you working on now/next?
(besides those two nights coming up at Buddies) I am the Conductor of Singing With Parkinson’s which takes place weekly at the Canadian Opera Company; I am regularly the Cantorial Soloist (Cantor) at Shir Libeynu and I’m often at senior’s residences for singalongs.