Her talented co-star won the Tony, but for me, the most exciting discovery in Disney's Aida was Sherie Rene Scott, who managed to shine in the difficult role of Amneris, the Egyptian princess caught in an ill-fated love triangle. Not only did Scott raise the rafters with her powerful, rangy belt, but she also offered the most nuanced, best-acted performance, a difficult feat considering she had to lead the campy fashion show in "My Strongest Suit."
Scott also shone in two vastly different Off-Broadway productions: the two-person musical The Last Five Years, which was penned by Parade's Jason Robert Brown, and the comedic romp that was Debbie Does Dallas, based on the classic porn film. In between her theatre adventures, Scott also found time to form — with husband Kurt Deutsch — Sh-K-Boom Records (Scott's debut solo disc, "Men I've Had," was the label's premiere offering), the Grammy-nominated independent record label that recently spawned Ghostlight Records, dedicated to preserving more traditional theatrical fare.
Now, the singing actress is back on Broadway, co-starring in the hit new musical Dirty Rotten Scoundrels at the Imperial Theatre. The David Yazbek-Jeffrey Lane musical once again pairs Scott with her Five Years co-star, Norbert Leo Butz, as well as Tony Award winners John Lithgow and Joanna Gleason. I recently had the chance to chat with the good-humored (and Tony-nominated) Scott, who is relishing her time back on Broadway as soap queen Christine Colgate as well as her role as new mom to baby boy Elijah, who cooed in the background; that interview follows.
Question: How did you originally become involved with Dirty Rotten Scoundrels?
Sherie Rene Scott: I think I heard about it from [composer David] Yazbek early on in the process. I love his work. I was thinking about [the show] in my head, and then they called me up, and I was like, "Oh, thank God. I can get a chance at this!" But I was six months pregnant, and I was hoping they'd see beyond that. I did the workshop, and that's how it all started. . . Then I did another workshop when I was eight months pregnant.
Q: Had you been a fan of the film of "Scoundrels"?
Scott: I'm a big fan of new musicals. Our business, Sh-K-Boom Records and Ghostlight Records, tries to encourage that, and I've done a series of new musicals, which is such an honor these days when there are so few being done. I wasn't a big proponent of musicals based on movies until it was this movie! [Laughs.] . . . I realize that, fortunately or unfortunately, movies are now the books of our time. All the big hit musicals, the popular musicals from before, were based on books, so if movies are now our books, why wouldn't we start basing some musicals on them? And, then, when I read the script for this, the book for Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is actually funnier than the movie. . . . That's always the test — if you find a movie that you really love and it's one of your top ten of all time, you don't want to do [the musical] unless it's at least as funny as that. And this actually takes it to another level, which is just a dream situation.
Q: Norbert probably has the showiest role in the musical, but I think you have the best part because you get to come in and shake things up a bit.
Scott: [Laughs.] I do — for where I am and who I am right now in my life, it is the best part for me, mainly because of Norbert and John and Joanna and Greg [Jbara] and Sara Gettelfinger. I get to be with them onstage, and it isn't showy, which is something that is uncomfortable for me anyway. And, then I get to watch all those other people be showy [laughs], which is just a master class every single show. It's pretty far out how much we love each other.
Q: Is it sometimes difficult not to laugh at what your co-stars are doing onstage?
Scott: Oh, of course. I'm in a different position where I don't really relate to the audience like John and Norbert can. They think that I'm a rock, [but] it's just because I don't have the luxury of being able to interact [with the audience] if something goes wrong. . . John's a poet anyway — when he goes up a little bit, he tends to find his way back by making up different rhymes that aren't really in the song. [Laughs.] Last night, it was during "Shüffhausen," the whipping song at the top of the second act. He went up, and then I was just so engaged by his new lyrics that I went up on my own lyrics, and we were all so impressed with each other's spontaneous rhyming abilities that we kind of lost it a little bit. Hopefully the audience is forgiving.
Q: Going back a few years — where were you born and raised?
Scott: I was born in Kentucky, but from four years old I lived in Kansas.
Q: When did you know that performing or acting would be your career?
Scott: At four. [Laughs.] No, maybe around seven. My parents both worked, and I was the youngest of three. [My parents] decided to put me into a community center program rather than get me a babysitter. The thing that was nearest to their office was this children's theatre program that was starting up for the summer . . . for some reason, because of my personality at home, they thought that would be a good alternative to a babysitter. . . It was a children's theatre program where you wrote your own plays based on your life. . . . [It was] a government funded community center, and after starting that, a few weeks later, I decided I was moving to New York to study acting!
Q: At seven?
Scott: Yeah, I don't really know where I got that idea, but I just knew I had to go to New York, and I knew I was interested in studying and learning as opposed to fame and fortune, and that was my dream. And my parents laughed about it for years and years until they realized I wasn't kidding. [Laughs.]
Q: When did you finally get to New York?
Scott: The first time I came was for a summer program. I drove myself illegally, without a driver's license, to Kansas City to audition for the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. I think I was 15, and I went there and stayed at the Martha Washington Hotel for women. That was my first time in New York. It was just for a month or so. . . . Kansas was great to grow up in, but it wasn't a place I [could live] for what I had to do.
Q: What was your first professional job in New York?
Scott: I went to the Neighborhood Playhouse. When I graduated from there, somehow the guys from Hair — Gerry [Ragni], Jim [Rado] and Galt [MacDermot] — saw me. And, honestly, I wasn't interested in singing [at the time]. It wasn't something that I had trained for. It was something that the Neighborhood Playhouse makes everyone do. Somehow, they saw me in a final production [at the Playhouse], and they had me do the 20th anniversary of Hair at the United Nations with all the original [stage] cast and the movie cast, and then they cast me in the 20th anniversary production of Hair up in Woodstock, NY, and that got me my Equity Card.
Q: Did you ever study singing?
Scott: At school, yeah. Everyone had to sing. At school they were like, "You're a singer." And I was like, "No, I'm an actor." [Laughs.] "Well, you need to work on singing," and I didn't really want to. And they said, "You have to work on this because this could be what gets you work. If you can sing, why not develop it and work on it?" Subsequently, I've worked on it. I used to work for lessons because I couldn't afford lessons, so I would do office work for teachers to help get me singing lessons because I was very, very poor. I knew I loved acting, but [singing] was something I didn't have any confidence in.
Q: Were there any singers who inspired you?
Scott: I wasn't exposed to musical theatre [as a child] because there was no theatre [in Kansas]. My interest in singing was really from rock-and-roll and jazz, and that was great because my first Broadway show was Tommy, and I thought that every show would be a rock-and-roll musical. Another time I came to New York I was involved in the rock-and-roll world for a little bit. But singer-wise, Sarah Vaughan, I idolized her and used to see her perform in the Village at the Blue Note before she died; also Linda Rondstadt, Ricky Lee Jones.
Q: Tell me about your part in creating Sh-K-Boom Records and what your involvement is at this point.
Scott: We came up with the idea for the label a few years ago, five years ago, when I was being approached by record companies. Kurt, my husband, was going to meetings with me and looking at stuff and he kept saying, "This is ridiculous. We could do a better job ourselves." I really had no interest in becoming a recording artist, but it was certainly a means of expression that I didn't want to not experience. After he kept saying we could do this better ourselves, that this is really a screwy deal for the artist, I said [that] I have a lot of other friends that are so talented that entered into the musical theatre world through more of a rock-and-roll or pop-music avenue who would want to record but wouldn't want to record show-tune albums, which is what was being offered.
So, Kurt came up with the idea that I'm performing for 16,000 people a week, and he saw that the record industry was changing, and why not — if it's a niche audience anyway — keep it within our own community and have more control over it than give it away to these big boys, who really have no interest in these kind of small sales that we're talking about in comparison to their other [projects]. So, we decided to do an album for me that would be done when Aida opened. We decided at that time that mine would be an experiment, that we would start creating a place for the community to come to, to also do the same thing — they could record, keep costs low and ideally it would be performers that would be doing theatre for years and years to come, so it wouldn't be about initial sales, like what big record labels do, but would be about long-term careers and people creating bodies of work. They would be doing shows, and if the albums were good — it was contingent upon the CDs being good and Disney being interested in letting us sell them in the front of house. And, fortunately, they were good enough [and] Disney is very cooperative with people who are enterprising.
So, we did Adam Pascal and Alice Ripley's [CDs], and as we were going along and my next few jobs started cropping up, we [also] saw the lack of interest in doing cast albums. And Kurt, having been a big musical theatre fan as a child, saw the importance of cast recordings for keeping the life of a show for years and years and also saw that cast recordings were being done ridiculously in terms of if producers own the entire show, why wouldn't they own the cast albums? So, The Last Five Years began a new way of doing cast albums in our community, and now I think we have 11 releases this year. . .
My involvement at this point is really purely just creative. [I'm] not involved in the day-to-day stuff. The company started in our second bedroom the entire time I was doing Aida. [Laughs.] I was heavily involved in it at the beginning; it's now a business, and Kurt's the president, and he just comes to me for ideas.
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