Carmen Ruby Floyd's World Goes 'Round and 'Round
by Anthony Chase
The World Goes ’Round is a happy and sassy revue of torch songs and comic tunes from the Kander and Ebb songbook. You know, the guys who wrote music for Cabaret, and Chicago, and New York New York, and The Rink, and The Kiss of the Spider Woman, and even Liza with a Z. When it opened off-Broadway in 1991, the feisty little show (then called And the World Goes ’Round) was an immediate hit and spawned productions across the country.
Niagara University has enjoyed a close and long-standing relationship to John Kander and the late Fred Ebb, as well as to a number of the famed interpreters of their work, including Karen Ziemba who was in the original production of The World Goes ’Round. Ziemba holds an honorary doctorate from NU, as does the original Spider Woman, Chita Rivera. Legendary Brother Augustine Towey, retired head of the NU theater program, has been cultivating these relationships for years, and thanks to his charm and enthusiasm, NU can similarly count David Hyde Pierce (Curtains) and Debra Monk (Steel Pier and Curtains) among the Kander and Ebb alumni associated with NU.
This weekend, NU appropriately opens a production of The World Goes ’Round as a summer alumni show, featuring former students of their theater program. Participants include director/choreographer Derek Roland, ’00; Louis Colaiacovo, ’99; Carmen Ruby Floyd, ’00; Paschal Frisina III, ’00; Vanessa Gawinski, ’01; and Michele Marie Roberts, ’99. Stage manager is Kurt Erb, ’09, while Ian Tweedie, ’05, is light and sound designer, and Sarah Cymba, ’11, is set designer.
I remember Carmen Ruby Floyd from her student days. In Clare Booth Luce’s The Women she popped in a way that was not entirely appropriate to a small role. I did not take this as a minus, but rather as a suggestion of performances to come. That prediction was correct. Before she had even had time to finish the NU program, Floyd landed a place in the Toronto company of The Lion King and she was on her way. She starred on Broadway in Avenue Q; and was recently featured in William Finn’s Broadway-bound musical adaptation of the film, Little Miss Sunshine, playing the aggressive hospital administrator, among other roles.
“I was actually performing in Ain’t Misbehavin’ at Artpark while auditioning for Lion King,” recalls Floyd, “and when I got the news I was hired, I took off the very next day. Being at Artpark [near the university] it was great having professional Equity members around for advice. I was glad that I was able to tell Bro [Brother Augustine] in person, and to work out what was going to happen with my last year at NU!”
In some ways, Floyd was destined for a career as a performer.
“My mother is part of Buffalo’s own Gayles Family Singers, and I’ve been performing since I was born—according to her,” says Floyd. “My first job at the age of 14 was a musical at Ujima Theater Company with Lorna C. Hill. And with the exception of two summer jobs, I’ve been professionally employed ever since. NU actually asked me to represent the Arts Department in a Niagara University commercial. I can truly say it was my first.”
Asking Floyd to recount highlights from her young career inspires an avalanche of excited recollections.
“Receiving the 2003 Gypsy Robe from the Broadway community—given to someone in the cast who has done the most Broadway shows of that company, was exciting.
“I loved doing Damn Yankees. I thought of it as a tribute to my grandfather and all of the players of the Negro baseball league.
“I also cherish the Audelco nominations for Langston Hughes’ Little Ham and winning for Crowns.
“I entered the opera world, performing in a concert version of Showboat at Carnegie Hall! I was hand-picked by conductor Paul Gimiani!
“Whenever I can, I love attending red carpet events—like Kim Kardashian!
“I loved getting kisses from Hugh Jackman—what a lovely man!
“I loved going on set with my husband and meeting Denzel [Washington].
“My audition for James Lapine and William Finn was thrilling. Wow!
“I will never forget performing for greats like Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis, August Wilson, Phylicia Rashad, and Bette Midler (who sang happy birthday to my mother). Meeting President Clinton, Diana Ross, Tom Hanks, Sarah Jessica Parker. Love her!
“Crying in Barbara Cook’s presence telling her the first song I tried to learn was ‘Glitter and be Gay’ and her response: ‘Oh, honey why not start out with something easy, like ‘Plain and Fancy’? And she hugged me!
“Meeting my circle of friends, who have become my New York City family. And of course meeting my husband, Mr. Calloway, and yes we met doing a show together and now it’s history.”
(She might also have added, being the featured celebrity with Javier in Artvoice, posing in front of the iconic van from Little Miss Sunshine in La Jolla.)
“It’s funny, but knowing that at any time or place, my family and friends can see my face or hear my voice on TV or the radio is a thrill.”
The World Goes ’Round continues through July 31 at Leary Theatre, Clet Hall, on the NU campus. Call 286-8685 for tickets.
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