The 2009-2010 Broadway season ended April 29 on a rapturous note, in the literal and religious sense of the word, when Everyday Rapture sailed into the American Airlines Theatre at the 11th hour, filling a gaping hole in Roundabout's schedule caused by the sudden cancellation of Lips Together, Teeth Apart. Enter Sherie Rene Scott, planting her feet on that abandoned stage and claiming her big come-and-get-it-day. It's enough to make you believe in Mickey-and-Judy movies, but then Sherie — or at least the Sherie in the show — already believes.
In the bubblingly bogus (or, rather, semi-autobiographical) musical bio which she and Dick Scanlan have concocted for her to perform — and which Michael Mayer has directed when he wasn't otherwise engaged with American Idiot — Scott paints herself as a religion-bound, budding superstar, growing up in Kansas, serving two gods at once — Jesus and Judy. It's a delicate imbalance, brought on by overly identifying with Judy Garland, who, on occasion, rode Kansas twisters and the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe (but who, in fact, only set foot in the state once — to do a few weeks of drug rehab in Topeka). Oh, well! A true believer overlooks.
Everyday Rapture considers the musical question, "Can a Mennonite from the Midwest find happiness and showbiz success in Manhattan?" Off stage, in the lobby of the theatre, doing interviews after the show, Scott hastened to say that wasn't really the real Sherie Rene Scott, just another role to hide behind. No, really.
As a matter of fact, her denial starts on a very high plain, indeed. "I really enjoyed the writing process, and I was really hoping to write it for someone else," she advanced, "but I was convinced to perform it. Then I got re-convinced and re-convinced, doing it. That's a part of me that's not really known to others.
"And the part I'm playing on stage would have ripped the script out of someone's bloody stump and done anything so they could get on stage. I did anything to get the show up, but the fact that I'm in it is the least interesting part of the process for me." Scanlan explained: "What we tried to do was make a voice that was ours. This other character that we call Sherie in the play was a lot of her and a lot of me. She's up there speaking that character's voice. My own voice is related to that character's voice, and hers is too, but there's also some major differences."
That collective voice, which collected some impressive notices last spring at Second Stage, was picked up by Roundabout executives, panicked by the Carlsbad Cavern-size hole in their schedule. Jim Carnahan, the company's casting director, S.O.S.-ed Scanlan about the show. "He asked, 'Is it impossible in 37 days to have this open on Broadway?' and I said, 'No — but we're going to do it.' It was impossible. There's no way this should have worked. I thought, 'This is our miracle.' Sherie said, 'You can't say no to a miracle. You just have to make the miracle work.'
"The weird thing is, we thought we had really put this away — we were all working on other things — but the moment Sherie and I got together after The Call came through, we realized that we'd been kidding ourselves, that a part of us somewhere inside kept it alive because it was as if she had performed it the night before. It was very fresh to us. I actually didn't know that would be the case. My greatest anxiety was 'Could we do the rewriting we had wanted to do?' But the fact [that] it was so alive in our hearts when we sat down to write it actually made it go very quickly."
No rest for the weary, Scanlan is off and running on his next project, which will turn his Thoroughly Modern Millie into The Unsinkable Molly Brown. Sutton Foster will try on Tammy Grimes' Tony-winning title role for a two-week reading in May, opposite Craig Bierko as her hubby, James Joseph "J.J." Brown (played first by Harve Presnell as "Leadville" Johny Brown).
"Kathleen Marshall is directing-choreographing it, and Michael Rafter is the music supervisor [as he is for Everyday Rapture], and, in that show, that's a very good job because we're only using part of the original score — and, for the rest of the show, we've gone into Meredith Willson's trunk.
"I'm the first person who has ever been allowed in that trunk, and I found piles of wonderful songs that nobody knows so Michael Rafter's building those into a score that sounds like one unified score." Scanlan has written a brand-new libretto that eliminates all of the other characters except for the two leads.
"There are similarities in the characters of 'J.J.' and Molly, but the lines that they are saying and the story they are telling is different from the 1960 version," Scanlan noted.
"We start next week, and we rehearse for two weeks. I'll know about the timetable after the reading — whether it's 'Oh, boy, we should do a production of this' or 'I have to go back and rework things.' The reading will tell me when it's time to do this.'"
A busy, busy boy this season, Mayer is here marking his second Broadway musical opening in nine days. (Is that some kind of record, Mr. Guinness?) "Actually, I had almost three whole weeks on this show," the director fine-tuned. "The day after we froze American Idiot, that next morning I was in rehearsal over here with Everyday Rapture. All the preliminary work — which we had a whole week for — was being done by the assistants to all the designers, with the exception of Tom Broecker, the costume designer, who was free to start work on this even though he's doing 'Saturday Night Live.'
"Everyone was doing a million other things, but, thank God, we had the same cast. Michele Lynch, our brilliant choreographer, was available, and Dick was available, so they got in a room and basically just put up what we had before, and then I came back to it, and we started futzing with it and went right into tech and rehearsed all through tech, all through previews, too. It was just very exhilarating."
Did going from Off-Broadway's intimate Second Stage to the big Broadway stage call for some upsizing? He dodged the question like a tactful diplomat: "Listen, the truth is that Sherie Rene Scott belongs on Broadway. She is a Broadway baby. It was clear the minute we started in this theatre that the whole house embraced her in a spectacular way. In fact, one of the set pieces — the frame with the light bulbs in it at the end — we cut from American Idiot because it wasn't working. A little light bulb went off in my head, and I thought, 'Omigod, that would look so good in Everyday Rapture, so I brought it over here. It was like it was made for this."
Choreographer Lynch, mostly, stuck with her Second Stage steps. "We expanded maybe a little bit for the space and added a few little things — maybe 10 percent," she said.
[flipbook] "Sherie didn't know she could dance. She said she wasn't a dancer, but, if I gave it to her in acting terms, she could do it. She was a dream. There's magic in that body."
Most of Lynch's choreographic nips 'n' tucks were for the three people who penetrated Scott's stage space: Lindsay Mendez and Betsy Wolfe, her two back-up singers, and Eamon Foley, who plays a [real-life] obsessed teen fan who entered Scott's life via an eerily accurate imitation of her on YouTube.
"I did an extra cross for the girls and changed up Eamon's dance a little bit. He's a year older now, and his voice had changed since Second Stage. I used him as a creative muse and could take his body and say, 'Start from your hips, move your rear, add the arm.' He can do anything — a real sponge. He soaked everything up."
Everyday Rapture is the sixth Broadway show for the 16-year-old Foley. A frenetic fireball on stage, he already speaks showbiz off-stage ("My first Broadway show was when I was 9. I did Gypsy with Bernadette Peters").
Yes, he enjoys his gyrating walk-on of a role ("It's so full of energy, and it's great to be able to vary from someone who's shy and in his shell or even just a blank slate in Sherie's imagination to being someone who is flamboyant and hilarious").
And, no, he hasn't met the actual kid he plays. ("In fact, I haven't been able to see the video. They won't let me see the video until after the show closes. I know a lot of people who have seen it, and they have said that, surprisingly, a lot of the moves I do are very similar to the guy's moves. I don't know if Michele has gotten familiar with the moves on YouTube, but I think I can translate it well. I'm very happy with it.")
Kurt Deutsch, Scott's husband who co-founded with her Sh-K-Boom and its imprint Ghostlight Records a decade ago, released the original cast recording two days before the show opened. "We recorded the band right after Second Stage, and we've just been sitting on it, taking our time doing it because we didn't know what was going to happen with the show," said Deutsch. "I had it all ready, but I didn't have a compelling reason to put it out there. Then, this happened, and I did." The record was not a slam-dunk for either Sh-K-Boom exec. "Making an album of this show was a challenge because, really, the songs were born out of stories," he pointed out, "not songs Sherie would necessarily want to sing in concert. We asked ourselves, 'Do we want to tell the stories on the album? — like the Elaine Stritch album?' That was a live album with all the dialogue. What was important, at least for me, was to hear songs. Maybe one day there could be a film of this or part of a live experience where you would get those stories. So we made a record where we put the songs from the show with the arrangements from the show without the exposition. Now, when people listen to the album, they hopefully will have seen the show and remember, 'Oh, that was when this happened, and I have the feeling I felt when I heard those stories' — yet it's a musical experience because the songs can be heard over and over."
As befits the little show that thought big, its after-party was splashed all about the Broadway side of the Marriott Marquis' eighth floor. The view there is spectacular these days — window-to-window razzle-dazzle Times Square neon. The fruit-flavored specialty cocktails, provided by Izze, ranged from The Topeka-Tini to a particularly potent concoction they would only initial W.W.J.D. (for What Would Judy Drink?)
The cluster of composers in attendance included Charles Strouse and Maury Yeston, both of whom expect to have shows on the Main Stem next spring (Minsky's for Strouse, Death Takes a Holiday for Yeston) — plus the newbie-on-the-block who currently has three shows going at full tilt, Tom Kitt. He did the orchestrations and arrangements for Scott's eclectic mix, as he did for Green Day's American Idiot, and wrote the songs for the Pulitzer Prize-winning Next to Normal. "I can't just stop at one," he cracked.
But seriously, he added, "It's an amazing feeling, especially because they're all so unique. I'm just thrilled to be apart of all three of them. Your dream is to get to Broadway once, so it happened to me — and it happened three times. Heaven knows if it will ever happen to me again so I'm going to enjoy it while I have it.
"I kinda refer to Sherie and Kurt as my Broadway family because, when I was just out of college, Kurt opened a lot of doors for me and hired me to musically-direct for the Sh-K-Boom concert series that they would do. They've really taken care of me, and it really helps that I was able to give back to them and work on this show." There was a composer in the house who actually had a song in the show. "I knew I had a song in there," said the Talking Head David Byrne. "It was very flattering, and just great what she did." He seemed to be coming down with the theatre malaise that has been going around in rock circles of late: "I'm working on some musical-theatre kind of thing called Here Lies Love, but I won't be in it." He plans to take it to the home of Hair and A Chorus Line — The Public.
Alan Campbell, Broadway's original Joe Gillis in Sunset Boulevard, was paying a neighborly visit to the show. He and wife Lauren Kennedy "are neighbors of Sherie and Kurt on the Upper West Side. Our children ride the same shuttle every morning." Of late, the Campbells have been producing down in Raleigh, NC, at their own theatre, The Kennedy Theatre. "'Hot Summer Nights at The Kennedy' is the series we do. We got four shows lined up: Barefoot in the Park, Death and the Maiden, The Great Trailer Park Musical and Tell Me on a Sunday."
Edward Hibbert and the fabulous Denise Nolin, former neighbors at The Whitby, arrived arm-in-arm. She "just did a reading of a new musical called Friends Like These by John McMahon, Jay Binder and Jay Jeffreys. It's a 'Sex and the City' thing and a hoot and a half. It has such crazy lyrics. You don't get good lyrics anymore. Jeffreys is also doing Aesop's Tales, Brad Oscar's musical. It's having a reading May 3 at the York."
Dana Ivey, fully recovered from knee surgery, said that she will nevertheless be stationery in her next outing — as Winnie, slowly sinking into terra firma in Beckett's Happy Days, up at the Westport Playhouse in July.
Coming in (old) twos: Rosie O'Donnell and Natasha Lyonne; Mark Morris and Martin Pakledinaz; Byron Jennings and Carolyn McCormick; Kelli O'Hara and Greg Naughton; David Pittu, late of Equivocation and Anne Kaufman Schneider; Terrence McNally and spouse Tom Kirdahy; Roger Rees and Rick Elice, and cabaret chanteuse Marilyn Maye and attorney Mark Sendroff. Among the other first-nighters were Liza Vann, one of the recent Good Ol' Girls; Sara Gettelfinger; Roundabout founding director Gene Feist; Disney Theatrical's Thomas Schumacher; Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Doug Wright; Mary Beth Peil ("We just finished wrapping 'The Good Wife' so I'm looking around for some stage stuff"); Joan Hamburg; The Irish Curse director Matt Lenz; the Next to Normal director Michael Greif, and Richard Kind, who just shot a Michael Mann pilot called "Luck" with Dustin Hoffman and Nick Nolte.