A Gorgeous Range of Voices
Carol Philips has a penchant for comedy, whether singing or acting
Singer and actor Carol Philips. Photo by Paul Carter.
By Randi Bjornstad
Four years ago, Carol Philips was poised to play one of the murderous elderly sisters in Radio Redux’s 2014 production of Arsenic and Old Lace when her own health disaster happened, and she had to be dropped from the cast.
Now, Radio Redux is staging a reprise of the old radio play, and Carol not only is eager to try it again but also determined that, this time around, nothing will come between her and the opportunity.
Back then, Radio Redux founder and director Fred Crafts had cast Carol to play Abby Brewster, with veteran Radio Reduxer Judi Weinkauf taking the part of sister Martha Brewster.
“Judi is so much fun — she is such a hoot,” Carol said with a laugh. “And she’s such a great actress, I don’t think you could throw anything at her she couldn’t handle. She’s got super acting chops.”
What Judi ended up having to handle then was a suddenly different actor playing her “sister” in Arsenic and Old Lace.
“We’d had one rehearsal," Carol said, "and a night or two later, I got a call from Fred (Crafts), and he said, ‘Are you coming to rehearsal tonight?’ and I said ‘What rehearsal?’ — that’s when I realized I was completely out of it.” She had become so dehydrated she was hospitalized.
But that was then, and this is now, and Carol is raring to deliver the role.
“Carol is a tremendously talented performer, with a gorgeous voice, and when she does the elderly sister she creates a wobbly voice that is absolutely hysterical,” Crafts said. “It’s a voice she’s used before in our take on Bob and Ray’s Garish Summit. The audience loves her.”
'I sang all the time'
“I’ve always been a singer,” 76-year-old Carol said, “but didn’t consider myself an actor. I did a few little acting things in college, but they always came out of being involved somehow with singing.”
She grew up in Winnipeg in an English-Irish family that included a commercial artist father and a pianist mother as well as a sister “who was always involved in theater” and studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Art in New York.
“Growing up in Canada, I was exposed to a lot of accents, not to mention a lot of people with great senses of humor and lots of laughs,” Carol said. “We moved to California when I was 12. I still have quite a few relatives in British Columbia and I go back to Canada once a year to visit them.”
Starting in junior high school, “I sang all the time,” she said. “When I got to high school, the music director took me aside and offered to teach me voice for free. I did that all through high school. Now, I sometimes stop to marvel at what that meant to my life — I wonder, ‘Did I ever even give him a present or anything to show my gratitude?’ ”
In 1965 she graduated from the University of Redlands in California, with degrees in both English and music and a minor in education. After that, Carol moved to New York City, working in arts administration for The Juilliard School, Carnegie Hall and Aspen Music Festival in Colorado.
“In Aspen I discovered that I had some talent for comedy,” she said. “I got a job there at the Crystal Palace,” a longtime venue for dinner theater that closed in 2008. “In order to work there, you had to be a singer — we did political satire, snappy patter, opera. It was a high-end restaurant, we did three shows a night, and the tips were great. I don’t know why I ever gave up that job.”
One of her best roles at the Crystal Palace was the part of the old woman in Leonard Bernstein’s operetta Candide.
“It was musically demanding as well as theatrical,” Carol said. “I felt unsure of myself in comedy, but when it came to the dress rehearsal, the character just overcame me. It was the first time I ever had that feeling — I had no idea I could do that. Afterward, the pianist, who also was the owner of the Crystal Palace, came to me and said, ‘That’s it, Carol, that’s your talent.’ ”
Ditzy old ladies
Along with her performing arts career, Carol owned and operated a bed-and-breakfast in Lake Tahoe, which further finessed her ability to deftly handle all manner of crises small and large. She often cooked and served breakfast for 40 guests.
In 1998, she was hired as Executive Director of the Cascade Music Festival in Central Oregon.
In 2000 she moved to Eugene, where she became marketing and then the programming director for the Hult Center for the Performing Arts — and continued acting and singing as well as working.
“I was always a soprano but I’m an alto now, partly because of my health issues,” she said. “I sing in a church choir, and I have done maybe six or seven shows with Radio Redux.”
Carol first knew of Fred Crafts during the 1980s, when she was living in Southern California and he was the Fine Arts Editor of the Los Angeles Times.
Later their paths crossed often during her tenure at the Hult Center.
“My job was to study shows and develop marketing materials,” she said. “I’d share those with Fred, but then he’d interview performers personally and the shows would come alive.”
In addition to singing with various choirs, while working at the Hult Carol also pursued acting roles, including the part of Aunt Julia in Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler at Oregon Contemporary Theater and performed in The Vagina Monologues at Lane Community College.
Ten years ago, when she heard Crafts was starting Radio Redux, Carol thought it sounded like fun.
“Carol is a tremendously talented performer, with a gorgeous voice, and when she does the elderly sister she creates a wobbly voice that is absolutely hysterical,” said Fred Crafts, founder and director at Radio Redux. Photo by Paul Carter.
Carol's performing arts career included work as a performer as well as in arts administration.She's worked in arts administration for The Juilliard School, Carnegie Hall, the Aspen Music Festival and the Cascade Music Festival in Bend.
“I said to Fred, ‘Instead of auditioning for parts, why don’t I develop some characters that I think I can do,’ and he liked that idea,” she said. “When we got together and I showed him, it was the ‘ditzy old dame’ roles that took off for both of us.”
Radio Redux “is just fun, doing goofy characters,” Carol said. “For quite a while, I was playing the character of Lady Agatha (Garish Summit) — it was part of a series of short scripts that Fred would throw into the program from time to time — and it was such fun. It makes me laugh just to think about it, it was so over the top.”
Crafts agrees that Carol has the concept down pat.
“She has a lovely, flexible voice and is a whiz at doing wacky elderly ladies,” he said.
For her part, Carol says “The ditzy old lady characters just seem natural for me, and they always have. They just feel fun.”
Randi Bjornstad's work can also be found at Eugenescene.org.
Carol is sought after for both vocal and acting roles. Photo by Randi Bjornstad.