At Lauren Graham's first rehearsal for her Broadway debut in "Guys and Dolls," the star of TV's long-running "Gilmore Girls" felt a twinge of insecurity when the actors were asked how many times they've been cast in a Broadway show.
"I was like, 'Oh no,'" she recalled, groaning, as those around her chirped: "Eight! Eleven! Five!"
When Graham said "one," her cast mates applauded.
Now on view at the Nederlander Theatre, this latest revival of "Guys and Dolls" stars Graham as the long-suffering, slightly dizzy fiance of Nathan Detroit, a sweet-natured gambler played by Oliver Platt.
"I had to get over feeling kind of apologetic that I haven't done more of this," Graham said, "because that just gets in your way. But I feel glad to be surrounded by people who have so much more experience. I feel it helps me."
During an interview in her cramped dressing room just days before her Broadway debut, Graham was unruffled _ even as the cast and crew rushed to make final adjustments to the show.
Casually dressed in slim fitting jeans, a long-sleeved white T-shirt and minimal makeup, she prepared a mug of hot chocolate during one of her short breaks. She barely took a sip before dashing out again _summoned back to rehearsal by a stagehand.
The TV veteran is not, in fact, a newcomer to theater. Her resume includes numerous college, graduate school and summer stock stage credits. Most recently, she appeared in a 2002 production of the comedy "Once in a Lifetime" at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Massachusetts.
But after Graham returns to her dressing room, she admits to some fleeting moments of anxiety. "What we just did is change a whole little dance number, which took me, like, two months to learn," she said. "And I'm like, 'Wh-wh-wh-why are we doing this?' I still go through the same panic, forgetting that it'll be fine."
Choreographer Sergio Trujillo said the leggy 5-foot-9 Graham _ who's not a trained dancer _ is a hard worker with natural ability. "She just had to learn to trust me and learn that I was on her side and I was going to make her look good," he said.
As directed by Des McAnuff, the revival is set during the 1930s _ the period when Damon Runyon wrote the stories on which "Guys and Dolls" was based. The character of Adelaide, often played as a nightclub singer, is imagined in this production as a burlesque performer.
She wears a blond wig and several skimpy costumes, which she sheds during two striptease numbers backed by her dancers, the Hot Box Girls.
"We got lucky because Lauren Graham has such a spectacular body that it made sense to do that," Trujillo said.
But despite showing some skin, Graham manages to lighten her sex appeal with an equal measure of goofiness.
"She's like a Marilyn meets Lucille Ball kind of character," Trujillo said.
Graham, 41, honed her comedic chops on television in the mid-1990s with a string of guest appearances on "3rd Rock from the Sun," "NewsRadio," "Caroline in the City" and "Seinfeld." At the same time, she was cast as a regular on several new sitcoms, all of which quickly flopped.
Her luck turned in 2000, when she was offered the part of single, young mother Lorelai Gilmore. Her quirky charm and talent for lightning-fast patter earned her a loyal fan following and critical recognition, including nominations for a Golden Globe, two SAG Awards and two Television Critics Association Awards.
On the big screen, Graham is perhaps best known as the libidinous girlfriend of Billy Bob Thornton's degenerate Santa impersonator in the 2003 hit "Bad Santa." Since "Gilmore Girls" ended in 2007, she has played Steve Carell's wife in the family comedy "Evan Almighty" and starred with Greg Kinnear in "Flash of Genius."
"She's like a triple threat," said co-star Platt, who received a Tony nomination for his 2006 performance in Conor McPherson's "Shining City." "She's a wonderful actress and on top of that a great comedian, and then she busts out with the singing, and who knew about that?" Platt said she's brought a fresh take to the character, who has been played memorably by stage talents like Vivian Blaine and Faith Prince. "She's an Adelaide who is as tough as she is vulnerable, which I think is both original and appealing," he said.
Graham will star in "Guys and Dolls" through the fall. She'll also appear on the big screen opposite Jeff Daniels in "Arlen Faber," a romantic comedy.
This year may also mark Graham's return to TV. With a team that includes "Arrested Development" creator Mitchell Hurwitz, she's developing a comedy for ABC in which she'll play a self-help expert who has trouble following her own advice.
Graham said the show promises to have a sharper edge than the more family friendly tone of "Gilmore Girls." Almost two years after the show ended, Lorelai's shadow still looms large.
"I don't know how many years people are going to ask me when the 'Gilmore Girls' movie is," Graham said, laughing. "Maybe the rest of my life."
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