When her Hollywood agent asked if she’d like to take part in a symphonic staged concert in D.C., Paige Davis reacted with characteristic enthusiasm — and sass.
“In Los Angeles, they don’t always get what a big deal something like [this is],” says Davis, who recalls rattling off her reasons to the agent. “‘Yes, I want to perform at Arena Stage. Yes, I want to do American Pops. Yes I want to do Jerry Herman music…. Why are you asking me these questions?!?’”
She may be best known for her career detour on TV as the much-loved host of TLC’s genre-pioneering home remodeling show Trading Spaces, but Davis is also a musical theater veteran. Or as she puts it, “the song and the dance, and the acting, came first.”
She jumped at the opportunity to join the American Pops Orchestra for this Saturday night’s tribute to legendary musical composer Jerry Herman — not least because it means performing on Arena Stage’s in-the-round Fichandler Stage. “I know it’s not for Arena Stage per se, but it’s been a bit of a bucket list for me to perform in that space,” she says. “I’ve seen shows at Arena and I really like the work they do there. So to be able to say, ‘Oh, I’m going to actually be down there on that floor’ is cool.”
Last summer, Davis performed on another historic, in-the-round stage, the North Shore Music Theatre in Massachusetts, as the titular diva in Herman’s musical classic Mame. Davis has also previously portrayed Irene Molloy in a production of Herman’s original Broadway blockbuster Hello, Dolly. It seems logical to assume that she will sing songs from both of those shows during the APO’s tribute, but whether that’s so she doesn’t divulge. “I don’t know if I’m allowed to say, to be honest,” she replies. “It’s my understanding that it’s all supposed to be a surprise.”
Among her favorite Herman songs, Davis cites the gay anthem from La Cage Aux Folles that also serves as the program’s title, “I Am What I Am.” “I also love the ballads,” she adds, including Mame’s “If You Walked Into My Life.” “It’s just so introspective. And I really love ‘Time Heals Everything’ from Mack and Mabel. It just makes me sob.” Another song from Hello, Dolly, “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” has become a regular theme song for her and her husband, musical actor Patrick Page. “We do a little lyric change. We always joke when we’re around the house: ‘Put on your comfy pants when you feel down and out.’”
Incidentally, Davis and Page met while in the original national touring production of Beauty and the Beast — Page played Lumiere, who was the object of affection for Davis’ character Babette. The couple spent four months in D.C. when the show was ensconced at the Kennedy Center, and they’ve returned occasionally since then, with Page a familiar presence at the Shakespeare Theatre Company. “We have a lot of really incredible memories of D.C., and I have a lot of sentimental attachment to the city,” Davis says. “I’m really looking forward to just being in D.C., period.”
Davis’ return will be, by necessity, a solo act — Page is tied up playing the Tony-nominated lead in Broadway’s newest sensation Hadestown. “I can’t stop seeing it,” Davis says about Anaïs Mitchell’s musical. She’s seen it seven times so far by her count, adding that the infatuation goes well beyond Page’s participation. “I mean, he’s wonderful…and I hope he wins the Tony,” she says. “But…the whole show is so magnificent, it’s ridiculous. It’s sick. Nothing should be that good.”
Paige Davis will perform at the American Pops Orchestra concert “I Am What I Am: The Music of Jerry Herman” on Saturday, May 18, at 8 p.m. at the Fichandler Stage in the Mead Center for American Theater, 1101 6th St. SW. Tickets are $25 to $75. Call 202-599-3865 or visit www.theamericanpops.org.