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Portraying an icon; Amelia Broome is Katharine Hepburn.

Byline: Richard Duckett

Amelia Broome recalled going to see Kate Mulgrew play Katharine Hepburn in the one-woman show "Tea at Five" when it came to Boston a little more than three years ago.

"She was splendid in it," Broome said. And of course Hepburn is fascinating and intriguing, too ... not to mention formidable.

"I remember distinctly looking up and going, `Oh, I could never do that,'" Broome said.

But never say never.

Indeed, when the opportunity came along to play Hepburn in the current Worcester Foothills Theatre Company production of "Tea at Five," the Cambridge-based actress simply couldn't resist.

Consider: The play allows an opportunity for something of a tour de force performance. You are center stage, and you are Katharine Hepburn.

"I consider her very brave and ahead of her time," Broome said of Hepburn (1907-2003), whose career spanned 70 years and included four Oscars for Best Actress.

Indeed, Hepburn was very much her own person, defying certain conventions of her time with a wit and toughness that belied a vulnerability. Her relationship with Spencer Tracy was a study of battles royal and touching loyalty. It's hard not to be affected by her story.

"I could even get a little sentimental, teary, to be happy that she was here on the Earth. She was a great model for us," Brome said during an interview at Foothills before a recent rehearsal.

The intensity of those remarks indicated that Broome is very much touched and dedicated to the role - which also marks her debut at Foothills.

She was familiar with Hepburn's work and life before "Tea at Five" came her way. Then Broome hit the books on Hepburn (including her autobiography, "me"), and the movies.

"I love her now. I loved her before, I think. I always admired her. She seemed strong and full of life."

By the same token, "Yes, she's strong. But it's interesting talking about this endeavor that at least two of my actor friends mentioned her sorrow ... you can see the sorrow in her eyes."

Broome speaks intently and carefully, often correcting herself in midsentence to come up with just the right phrase. She phrased some of her sentences sounding like Hepburn. But she's also aware of the need for enough professional distance so that she can make the character her own.

Asked how she would have responded to Hepburn had she ever met her in person, Broome said, "I'm not sure how to answer. I would love to meet her just for myself ... but as for this role it's probably better that I didn't."

Matthew Lombardo's "Tea at Five" (which was written with Kate Mulgrew in mind), consists of two tea-time conversations between Hepburn and an unseen audience in her family's Connecticut home. The first act takes place in 1938 at a low point in her career after she has been declared box office poison. The play's second half is set in 1983 as she is recuperating from an accident. During the play, Hepburn relates the traumatic effects of the suicide of her brother, and talks about her stormy relationship with Tracy.

The Foothills production is being directed by the theater company's artistic director, Russell Garrett.

"It's going well. It's a good amount of work. It's a collaboration between Russell and me. So I'm saying I think we both have a handle on her as we both go through the process of telling the story of the play," Broome said.

Other well-known actresses have taken on the part of Hepburn, whether in "Tea at Five" or movies such as "Aviator" (Cate Blanchett). "We're all completely different women and the job is to find Katharine Hepburn's voice through our own," Broome said.

Broome was speaking in aesthetic and psychological terms, but finding the voice is also a linguistic challenge as well, since Hepburn did have a distinct accent.

As a dialect and voice teacher, Broome gave a brief lesson on the Hepburn Connecticut vowels and how when she is older the voice "drops down a little and rather catches in the throat." Broome paused and joked, "After eight hours of talking like Katharine Hepburn at 76, the voice needs a rest."

Obviously smart and very personable, Broome noted the she is originally from a small town in Georgia - a far cry from Connecticut. You can just about catch a little Georgia in her voice. But Broome has been based in the Boston area for several years. Her husband is chef and restaurant owner John Silberman.

She earned an MFA in theater education at Boston University and her resume has operatic and musical theater credits in addition to straight acting and an original solo performance piece she has put on at BU and Shakespeare & Company.

"Acting came first. When I moved to Boston I knew I was going to have to sing better so I could work more. A teacher got very excited about my voice and it just seemed like a good idea to study more." At Longwood Opera she played leading roles in "Don Pasquale," "The Magic Flute" and "Rigoletto."

Another teacher gave her a copy of voice teacher Kristen Linklater's highly influential "Freeing the Natural Voice." "I read the book and I thought it was wonderful. I showed up at one of Kristen's voice workshops and realized that was something I really wanted to learn. I became a voice teacher trained by her so that got me back interested in acting so I made a full circle."

She is effusive about the acting scene in the Boston area. "I think it's a real exciting time. Foothills, Speakeasy, Huntington, ART, the Lyric - all of them are doing such fine work. It's as vital and alive as it's been since I've been here," she said.

So she acts, but she also teaches full time. Right now ... even as she takes on Katharine Hepburn at Foothills.

Hepburn would probably have admired her dedication - and honesty.

"I love here (Foothills). I love teaching," she said. When asking her if the two complement each other, one might well have expected the usual answer. Instead, Broome said, "No. They both take a huge amount of energy. It takes superhuman strength.

"When I'm here, I love this because I'm fully here. But when I walk out the door I'm thinking, what do I wear, what do I teach? My students, they need my help. And I need to be there."

`Tea at Five'

When: Through March 2

Where: Worcester Foothills Theatre Company, 100 Front St., Worcester

How much: $30 to $35, depending on performance; $19 students. Call (508) 754-4018 or visit


CUTLINE: "I could even get a little sentimental, teary, to be happy that she was here on the Earth. She was a great model for us," says Amelia Broome of Katharine Hepburn, the woman she portrays.

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Title Annotation:ETC.
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Feb 10, 2008
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