It would have been practically impossible to miss the incomparable Leslie Kritzer throughout the past year, as she was a veritable constant on both stage and screen. Whether she was pushing campers to lose weight in Gigantic, making ugly look good in The Robber Bridegroom, developing the role of Alice Kramden in the The Honeymooners musical or sparring with Ray Romano on HBO’s Vinyl, she was continuously proving her versatility as she developed a multitude of eccentric characters. The one-time stand-out from Piece of My Heart and Legally Blonde spoke with Playbill about her non-stop, award-winning year, which culminated in her replacing Heidi Blickenstaff as Bea in Something Rotten! this week.
You were a part of so many projects this year. How did they all begin?
Leslie Kritzer: Vinyl actually happened first. Last summer I really wanted to do more film and TV, so I focused my attention on that. I got to play opposite Ray Romano as his wife, Moira, in a couple of episodes. It was a dream come true. I’m a huge fan of Martin Scorsese. When I auditioned I just knew it was the right kind of part for me. It was one of those rare experiences where I was like, “If I don’t get this, I know I did my best.” I felt like I nailed it, so when I got it I was thrilled.
How did you know Moira was the right kind of part for you?
LK: I grew up in a middle-class town with a lot of women like Moira. I even had some friends who were similar. They resemble her mannerisms, her entitlement, that passive-aggressive attitude. She wears the pants in the relationship, and she’s a snobby New York housewife that is from a Jewish family. I culled from all these different people. I always pull things from my mother, too—little mannerisms. So many people told me that they know women like Moira.
Now that Vinyl has been cancelled, what will you take away from having worked on it?
LK: I loved working with Ray Romano. I’m such a fan. I kind of made friends with him and then was like, “I’m going to stand over here...” I didn’t want to be that crazy fan. He was so generous to me. When I walked on that set I was like, “Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god! I can’t believe I’m here!” It was a period piece, so every detail was amazing. Everything I wore was vintage. My hair was humongous. The thing I’ll really miss about that show is that they colored my hair for me, so I didn’t have to pay for hair color for six months!
After Vinyl, Gigantic came along, garnering you your first of two Lucille Lortel Award nominations in the same category!
LK: Yes, it was crazy! One of my best friends is [book writer and lyricist] Randy Blair, so he called and said he was doing a show called Gigantic, which I knew formally as Fat Camp. I’ll never forget it; I was in the parking lot of a Trader Joe’s. I was like, “Of course I’ll do it!” He said, “By the way, [in addition to playing Sandy] you have to be a guy in the second act in a fat suit. You will look like Duck Dynasty. You have to do a Michael Jackson ‘Thriller’ number.” I said, “Great. Sign me up.” I had the best time.
How did you go about developing Sandy’s self-centered, fitness crazed persona?
LK: The writing was really good, so I took inspiration from people I’ve met or other characters that I’ve seen that are overexcited, such as aerobics instructors, crazy spin instructors, etc. I made Sandy this crazy, five-hour-energy-times-twenty character, so really it was very easy for me! She wants these kids to lose some weight. Then I was able to switch and do this side character. The beard kind of did it for me.
When Gigantic sadly ended a bit prematurely, you began collaborating with Alex Timbers on The Robber Bridegroom in the role of Salome, earning you your second Lortel nomination… and a win.
LK: I had heard about the show in college, but I really didn’t know what it was about. I took a look at the script, and I still didn’t fully understand what was happening! [Director] Alex Timbers talked about it with me, and I said, “Wow, this sounds right up my alley.” He wanted to do a different version with a Mumford and Sons feel, very bluegrass. What it became was a total surprise. I think a lot of people came to see the show and were like, “Whenever we came to the show before, Salome wasn’t that big a part.” I don’t know that happened, it just sort of worked out that way. I just kind of did my thing, and we created this amazing show together. To then get two nominations in the same category against myself for two different shows that I loved was insane. Then I got a Drama League nomination and a Fred Astaire nomination for Robber Bridegroom. Holy crap! It was unbelievable. I was just really lucky. I’ve done a lot of really good shows before, equally as good, and they either closed early or they didn’t get much recognition. You just never know.
No one will ever forget your backwoods twang and physicality as Salome. How did you develop this new version of her?
LK: I modeled her after an evil stepmother character prototype, but also made her a little sassy. She has a lot of swagger, so it wasn’t a prim and proper version of an evil stepmother. She was more modern in that way, too. She was also a little trashy and sexual, but no one thought she was attractive. She thinks she’s the hottest thing ever. Alex was my partner in crime in developing her. We joked about how I could make myself uglier, and that I needed something that would be representative of that ugliness besides a lot of make-up. Ahna O’Reilly was like, “Why don’t you put in a gold tooth?” I did it, and the performance was never the same. All of a sudden my mouth moved differently. It was fabulous. I miss that cast. I did keep the gold tooth by the way. I know it’s kind of weird. I’ll use it at Halloween.
It was during The Robber Bridegroom that Casey Nicholaw called you about joining Something Rotten!
LK: I didn’t hesitate when he asked me to do the show. So here I am, now I’m playing a really great part. Heidi Blickenstaff is wonderful and was great in the show. It has definitely been a whirlwind. I have the pleasure of working with some great people that totally get me and get what I do and are open to trying a bunch of things. I’m also open to trying a bunch of things, so when you have that kind of recipe you’re more apt to be successful.
How are you going to take the character of Bea and make her your own?
LK: I am going to do it with the three guys that Bea pretends to be. I’m playing with them a lot. I love playing guys, and I’ve started taking them on more often. It’s more challenging for myself than trying to change what Heidi did. She played Bea with such heart, and I think that I want to follow in her footsteps. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Maybe I’ll bring back the gold tooth!
As one of the men, Bea has to shovel manure. What’s the worst job that Leslie Kritzer has ever had?
LK: Working in Times Square giving out fliers. It was stressful trying to sell people on going to see the shows you’re supposed to be promoting, when all they want to see is Cats or Phantom. I wasn’t shoveling manure, but that was probably the hardest job. You’re on your feet in the heat all day.
In between all of these projects you were also working on Broadway’s upcoming The Honeymooners musical. How has the television show been a part of your life?
LK: I’ve been working on [the musical] for a couple of years now. We did our third lab recently. I grew up watching it on basic cable during the holidays, so I didn’t take too much notice. Right after high school I started watching episodes because I had a friend who was really into it, and she got me into it. It was classical-you can’t not laugh. They never get old. The comedy is so amazing. Years later I auditioned for the workshop of the musical, and I got it. I’ve been working on it until now. It’s Mike McGrath, myself, Hank Azaria and Laura Bell Bundy. I think we have something really special. I get to make Alice my own; she’s different, as I also sing—as you do in a musical. People that love the TV show will love the musical, and I think people that are not even familiar with the TV show will love it because the characters are so great, and it’s about real, working-class people.
You even do stand-up when you have the opportunity! When did you know that you were comedically gifted?
LK: It started when I was a kid. I’m always doing stand-up in a weird way on people when I want to try out jokes. My family is kind of comedic without being actors. It’s just the way we talk, we’re always joking around. I’ve also always had a fascination with the art of comedy. I grew up watching people that I admire. Martin Short is one of my favorite comedians, he’s really physical. I love making people laugh. To be able to turn around and make them feel something on another level with drama is very special. However, comedy is really where I live.
As you look forward to your next ventures with Something Rotten! and The Honeymooners, what would you like to see yourself doing in five years?
LK: I want to be in a great TV show that I love, and I’d love to do some films. As for stage, my dream role is that I’m going to be in a new show. The best work that I do is when I create something new. The Honeymooners would be a big one, so I have my fingers crossed [that it gets here soon]. I’d love to create a new dream role that would be someone else’s new dream role in the future. However, if Funny Girl ever came along and it was the right time, I’d be there. I also write, I’d love to produce my own work. I want to do it all. I’ve been around for a long time, so I feel like one of the things that is hard sometimes is to keep going. I try to stay in the moment as much as I can, enjoy what comes, and not give up, keep stretching myself. Our world is crazy. You just never know anymore what’s going to happen. It’s a gift to be able to do what actors do.
Iris Wiener is an entertainment journalist. Her work appears on Playbill.com and in TheaterMania, Long Island Woman and Long Island Herald, among other publications. Follow her on Twitter at @Iris_Wiener or visit her at IrisWiener.com.