Why Beth Leavel Was Convinced She Didn’t Get the Part in The Drowsy Chaperone

Seth Rudetsky   Why Beth Leavel Was Convinced She Didn’t Get the Part in The Drowsy Chaperone
 
This week in the life of Seth Rudetsky, Seth shares the famous sitcom he’s guesting on, plus stories from Beth Leavel’s time in 42nd Street, Drowsy, The Prom, and more.
Bob Martin and Beth Leavel
Bob Martin and Beth Leavel Joan Marcus

Greetings from the porch of the Anchor Inn in Provincetown! I have one more trip here on Labor Day weekend to do a show with Audra McDonald (then we go to Cotuit and Nantucket). Info at SethRudetsky.com.

I love it here but I’m also excited for my next trip: on Wednesday I fly to L.A. to film an episode of Will & Grace. So exciting! I am sworn to secrecy about my character and the plot, but I will say that it is very up my alley! Of course, I’m in a panic that it’s bad luck to announce it before we actually film and therefore I’ll be fired after a few days. But then I remember that that’s what happened to Lisa Kudrow when she was cast on Frasier and right after that she got Friends, so I guess either way “it’s all good.”

I’m in Provincetown doing a show with Beth Leavel, who just starred in Broadway’s The Prom. We first met when I was working my first summer stock gig after college. She directed Grease at the Candlewood Playhouse and I was the assistant music director. She was pregnant at the time and now her son is 29! Beth grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina, and never saw a live musical when she was a kid. However, she saw the film version of The Music Man and remembers wanting to crawl into the screen and be Zaneeta Shinn, the mayor’s daughter.

So many people remember the first time they became obsessed with musicals: Bebe Neuwirth saw the original run of Pippin. She remembers wanting to “do that.” She didn’t know what “that” was, but she wanted to do it! Liz Callaway, who just did a fantastic show here in Provincetown, saw her first Broadway show when she was 10, Company. Though she wasn’t—as she says—“the target audience,” she fell in love with Broadway via this musical by Sondheim, directed by Hal Prince, playing at the Alvin Theatre. Around 10 years later, she made her Broadway debut in Merrily We Roll Along, score by Stephen Sondheim, directed by Hal Prince and playing at the Alvin Theatre! Speaking of Liz and Sondheim, here’s her brilliant Sondheim parody!

Anyhoo, Beth went to college and majored in social work (mainly because her parents wouldn’t let her major in theatre and she checked and saw that her classes fulfilled most of the requirements for social work), got a graduate degree in theatre and moved to NYC. She chronicled how she got her first Broadway show here:

She did 42nd Street (replacing as Anytime Annie in the original production!) for years and then originated the role of Tess in Crazy For You. In the year, 2000 she heard they were reviving 42nd Street and went to the audition. She was now interested in playing either the sassy writer Maggie or the leading lady, Dorothy Brock. They told her she was right in the cracks between being right for Maggie and Dorothy. She was broke at the time and when they gingerly asked her if she was interested in covering the two roles, she immediately yelled “YES” before they finished the sentence. When I would play in the pit for the show, I would always see her backstage. I remember her telling me that she wasn’t just waiting to go on, she was constantly “lurking.” As a matter of fact, she and all the other understudies had T-shirts made for themselves that said “Lurkers” and they don’t even greet each other by their names anymore. They just say “Hey, Lurkey!”

The lurking paid off; she was eventually asked to take over the role of Dorothy Brock from Christine Ebersole (who won the Tony Award for that performance). Beth played the role for a while and then got a phone call telling her she was being replaced by Shirley Jones. She remembers being at Disneyland when she got the call and imitated herself yelling at her kids, “Put down that ice cream! We can’t afford it anymore!!!”

I asked her about The Drowsy Chaperone and she told us about auditioning for director-choreographer Casey Nicholaw (whom she knew when he was in the ensemble of Crazy For You). She said that the role of Beatrice Stockwell was just little snippets of jokes and she couldn’t figure out the character. A few days later Casey called her to tell her she didn’t get the part. She thought it was so great of him to call because normally you never hear whether you got something or not—until you see it advertised with someone else’s name. They then auditioned all over the country and still couldn’t find someone. Apparently, they offered it to a female star who turned it down because the character didn’t enter until page 34! (P.S. That wound up changing.) A few months after her first audition, she got a call from her agent telling her she had an offer for Drowsy Chaperone. She actually argued with him and told him it wasn’t true. She knew she didn’t get the role. He assured her that she indeed had the offer and she flew to California to do the out-of-town tryout.

Beth said she still didn’t know how to play the character because it wasn’t quite on the page yet. Casey decided to do “hot seat,” a theatre exercise where you stand in front of the cast and they fire of questions at you and you answer as your character. Well, near the end of the three days, Casey introduced her by saying, “Ladies and gentlemen; Dame…Beatrice…Stockwell.” The whole cast stood up applauding and Beth entered, doing a crazy bow that went all the way to the ground. It was at that moment that she knew how to play the character. A grand diva…with a heart of gold (and yes, similar to her character in The Prom). When she was nominated for the Tony Award, she went to the nominees luncheon where they told everyone that they would get 90 seconds to accept the Award if they won—starting from the time their name was called. She knew that meant she had no time to dilly dally if she won. She remembers jumping and not stopping to greet any well-wishers in the audience. It’s true! Look at the crazy running through the audience!!!

I have another show with Beth tonight so stay tuned for more stories next week….

And finally, I just did a brand-new deconstruction. It’s Ana Gasteyer, who’s known for being hilarious on shows like Saturday Night Live.

But holy cow, the belting!!!! Watch then peace out!

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