Moonlighting has been off the air for 21 years (!), but two-time Emmy nominee Allyce Beasley is still fondly remembered as rhyming receptionist Agnes DiPesto, the sweet counterpoint to the often sour pairing of Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd. More recently, Beasley had a long-running gig as the on-air announcer for Playhouse Disney and fell in love with musical theater after playing Agnes Gooch at a 2004 Hollywood Bowl concert version of Mame. Since the Brooklyn-born actress moved back to her hometown, she’s played Jason Schwartzman’s mother in TV's Bored to Death, Mrs. Tottendale in The Drowsy Chaperone at Long Island’s Gateway Playhouse, and she's (finally) making her Broadway debut as café owner Mme. Renaud and Anne’s repressed mother Mme. Dindon in La Cage aux Folles. In her familiar girlish voice—but speaking a mile a minute—Beasley chatted about her happy return to NYC.
Are you enjoying being on Broadway for the first time?
Oh, it’s unbelievably exciting! The show is so well-directed and well-acted that it’s hard for me to make a wrong move.
Without giving too much away, your predecessor, Veanne Cox, wore a very revealing costume at one point in the show….
Same thing! It’s a leotard with spangles, custom-made in London. I’m definitely on my slim side right now, so that helps. The Cagelles are so supportive in that scene. [When I’m thinking] “Is it okay if I show myself off?” they’re right there with me the whole time. They're just fantastic.
Both parts you’re playing seem like they’re fun to do.
The first part [Mme. Renaud] is fun because I basically get to just stand there and be tickled by what Kelsey [Grammer as Georges] and Doug [Hodge as Albin] are doing. The second part [Mme. Dindon] is fun because I know what it’s like to be a mom and to want your child to be happy. [Beasley has a 23-year-old son from her first marriage to the late actor Vincent Schiavelli.] Moms want to make things work; they hang in there for the sake of their kids. I understand that, and I love playing it.
Had you ever sung in public before playing Agnes Gooch in Mame at the Hollywood Bowl?
Never. My agent called me about the audition, saying, “Gooch is perfect for you.” Jane Lynch from Glee was there auditioning for it also. We’re buddies from doing voiceovers in L.A. When I walked in, Jane looked up and said, “Hey, Allyce—you’re Gooch.” I said, “Really, Jane?” Because I didn’t know the show. And she said, “Oh, you’re Gooch.” I made my musical debut in front of 12,610 people, but who’s counting? It was a thrill.
What do you enjoy about performing in musicals?
I don’t think you can get any more emotionally connected with a character than when you’re singing, and I love having that extra means of expression. I’m not a singer—I’m an actor who sings a little—but to be connected with a character on such a deep emotional level is a wonderful experience.
How often do you get recognized as Miss DiPesto from Moonlighting? Every day?
Yeah. I guess it was a show that New Yorkers liked a lot. I only had a couple of lines per episode at first, so I didn’t expect to have that much of an impact, but I found out pretty quickly that people were crazy about the character. She had a huge heart, and that’s something people always connect to.
Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd really hated each other, right?
Yes, and it was very difficult. That was my first dream-come-true job, and I just didn’t understand what the problem was. We had a hit show, a smart show that was wonderfully written and that couldn’t have been any more fun to do. I kind of became like my character was, the emotional barometer between the two of them. I had to be like the kid in a dysfunctional family, saying, “Come on Dad, come on Mom, let’s get along!” It was awful, and I remember feeling so sad. But we made it through four and a half years.
Have you kept in touch with either of them?
Nope. I got along completely with both of them—that’s my job—and when we walked away, it wouldn’t necessarily follow that we would continue to be friends. But I wish them well.
Do people ever mix you up with the sweet, naive characters you’ve played and voiced?
People always say, “You really do speak like that!” And I say, “Yeah, I do,” but it doesn’t mean that’s who I am. I just have a very soft voice. Like anything in this business, it can work for you or against you. It definitely works for Madame Dindon, and that’s a good thing. I believe you have to be yourself, and if you have something unique to offer, people will want it.