For a woman known for her belt, Beth Leavel’s It’s Not About Me will be pretty loose. Performing a string of concerts at Feinstein’s/54 Below January 14–20, the star opts for an unstructured evening far from from her eight-shows-a-week routine on Broadway.
The Tony Award winner for The Drowsy Chaperone (and nominee for Baby, It's You! and The Prom) says the goal is to make each show feel fresh. “It’s scripted, but it’s also improvisational and organic,” she says. To achieve that, the Tony winner plans to open up the floor for a Q&A and encourage audience members to shout requests throughout the evening.
“People have great questions,” the star says. “Sometimes I’ll learn something or share a story I haven’t before.” In addition, her music director Phil Reno brings everything the Broadway alum has ever sung, just in case someone requests a song like “There Is a Santa Claus” from Elf, “Sunnyside to Every Situation” from 42nd Street, or “Mama Said” from Baby, It’s You.
“God knows what will happen!” she teases. In addition to taking requests, the star says random people could even end up on stage with her.
Not that everything is unplanned: Each night, Leavel will weave her illustrious career through song, including future roles. “I might possibly debut a number from The Devil Wears Prada—thank you, Sir Elton and Shaina Taub!”
The star says with every role on the Main Stem, she has more material to work with that was written specifically for her, which creates a lot of room for setlist variations. Leavel pays attention to reactions when running ideas, too. “If I suggest a song and people go ‘Ooooh!’ I’m like.., ‘OK, he clutched pearls and gasped.’ That’s a sure sign that something’s working.” The mention of doing something from Gypsy resulted in shrieks of delight by Leavel’s friends.
She knew she’d also have to include fan favorites like The Prom’s “The Lady’s Improving” and Drowsy’s “As We Stumble Along,” too—they threatened to revolt if she didn’t include them. Still, there has to be a functionality behind the song choices audiences will hear. “I can't do a catalog. I have to have a reason to sing it and tell a story through the song. I love making that journey.”
In her last solo show, Leavel sang a song by David Friedman that morphed into a song from Hello, Dolly! that felt incredible to sing. More recently, the star sang “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” to a dog named Myrtle at Best in Shows, so who knows what will happen this time around?