DIVA TALK: A Chat with Scoundrels' Sherie Rene Scott Plus Tonys '05 and Kitt at the Carlyle

By Andrew Gans
June 3, 2005

News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.

SHERIE RENE SCOTT

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 "Shόffhausen," 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.

Q: You mentioned about the old way of creating a cast album. How is it different with Sh-K-Boom?
Scott: Before, you would get a big label to be interested and come in and basically own the cast album. . . . If the show's a success, the cast album sells itself, the record label doesn't put any money into it. And if the show's not a success, the record label shelves it. . . . Now, Kurt talks to the producers from the beginning of the show. It includes the cast album in the beginning process rather than giving it over to a label. [Also], certain cast albums can be done for a lot less money and eventually make more money because you're not paying back a big record label. So the producers and our label [own] the show. Now there's Amazon.com, there's our website [and] we have a major distributor so it's in all the record stores, so there's no reason to go outside our community.

Q: On the Scoundrels recording, you have a great bonus track with Bill Charlap on piano. How did that come about?
Scott: Bill Charlap is probably the greatest living jazz pianist right now, and he's a friend of ours. Joel Moss, who won the Grammy last year for the Ray Charles album, has been our partner in Sh-K-Boom and has produced a lot of stuff. And, we were fans of Bill and [were] actually talking about a project with Bill, and Bill was a fan of the label and what we were doing. His father [was] Moose Charlap, who wrote Peter Pan, so he came to jazz through musical theatre. . . [Joel] hooked Kurt up with Bill for the Frankie and Johnny production, where he did "Claire de Lune" for the show, and since then Bill's been a friend . . . He doesn't accompany people, but he loved David Yazbek's music, and Kurt said, "I think we should do a jazz version of 'Nothing Is Too Wonderful,'" and Bill came up with the arrangement, and after an eight-show week, we went in on a Sunday for half-an-hour, and we knocked it out.

Q: How has it been combining motherhood and doing eight shows a week?
Scott: [Baby crying in the background.] You can hear! [Laughs.] There's no saving my voice during the day. There's no, "Let me sleep and rest until the show starts." The show is the most-known quantity of my day. We are all really in love with each other. I'm just blessed with this kid because he makes this really easy. Other people said, "I don't know how you're going to do this." It's hard to do eight shows a week anyway, let alone with a two month old baby when I started back to work. But Kurt is also the most gloriously beautiful father, and he understands what I do for a living, so he understands how we have to team up. That's the only reason I can do this. It's not the easiest thing I've ever done, but it's certainly the best thing I've ever, ever done. Eight shows a week were hard for me before, but somehow I'm having more of a ball doing it now than I ever had before.

Q: Are you excited for Tony night?
Scott: The reason why it's fun for me is — it sounds corny, but it's really true — I don't get to see anybody because I have a baby who's not sleeping through the night yet. And, one of the main reasons I do what I do is because of the people, just to be able to hang out with them and laugh with them. So, just to have an excuse that I have to go out, I have to get dressed up, and, "I'm sorry I have to stay out late. It's just my job." [Laughs.] That's really what I'm looking forward to.

[Dirty Rotten Scoundrels plays the Imperial Theatre, 249 West 45th Street. For tickets call (212) 239-6200.]

TONYS 2005

Well, it's that time of the year again. The Broadway theatre's biggest night is upon us. On June 5, the 2005 Tony Awards will be presented at Radio City Music Hall with CBS-TV broadcasting the three-hour event live from 8-11 PM ET. In addition to the nominated musicals and musical revivals, the evening will also boast performances from Tony Award winner Bernadette Peters, Grammy Award winner Aretha Franklin and original Rent star Jesse Martin. The Boy From Oz, Tony winner Hugh Jackman, returns as host for the third consecutive year.

Nominees in the Leading Actress in a Musical Category include Christina Applegate in Sweet Charity, Victoria Clark in The Light in the Piazza, Erin Dilly in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Sutton Foster in Little Women and Sherie Rene Scott in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. The Featured Actress in a Musical nominees are Joanna Gleason in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Celia Keenan-Bolger in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Jan Maxwell in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Kelli O'Hara in The Light in the Piazza and Sara Ramirez in Monty Python's Spamalot.

Last year's winners in the Leading and Featured Actress in a Musical categories were, respectively, Idina Menzel and Anika Noni Rose. Rose, who won for her heartwarming performance in Caroline, or Change, could barely control her tears during her acceptance speech, when she explained, "[Co-star] Chandra Wilson told me to write a speech. I didn't do it! My middle name, Noni, means 'gift of God,' and I just want to thank God so much for the gifts I have been given — my voice, the cast of this amazing, amazing show, this opportunity to be here today, the fact that my grandmother is here for me and with me and my brother is sitting there, next to me, and I'm so thankful for all of that. . . I would like to breathe, I would like to do that. . . Thank you so much, for my cast, for everyone. God bless, and thank you."

The most exciting speech of the 2004 Tonys was, perhaps, delivered by Menzel, who nabbed a surprise victory for her performance as Elphaba, the green-faced witch of Stephen Schwartz and Winnie Holzman's Wicked. Menzel breathlessly paid tribute to the four other women in her category, including co-star Kristin Chenoweth, who she said was "the grace and the light" each night on the Gershwin stage. Menzel, whose husband (Taye Diggs) adoringly wiped away tears during her acceptance speech, also gave thanks to director Joe Mantello, composer Schwartz and book writer Holzman for "giving the green girl a heart." She finished by thanking her parents for "taking me to see Dreamgirls and Annie . . . and my beautiful, beautiful husband who tells me he loves me every time I feel like the biggest loser."

If three hours of Broadway aren't enough this Sunday, there are a slew of Tony-related programs also set for June 5. "Breakfast with the Arts" (A&E, 8-10 AM) will feature interviews with Edward Albee, John Lithgow, Sutton Foster, Marc Kudish and Elizabeth Ashley as well as a remembrance of the late John Raitt. "On the Aisle at the Tonys" (CBS2, noon-1 PM) will include chats with Billy Crystal, Whoopi Goldberg, John Lithgow, Alan Alda, Kathleen Turner and James Earl Jones. Roma Torre and Patrick Pacheco will lead NY1's 90-minute pre-Tony special from 6:30-8 PM, and from 7-8 PM the TV Guide Channel will offer exclusive coverage of the Tony Awards red-carpet arrivals on "TV Guide LIVE at the Tony Awards."

DIVA TIDBITS
Eartha Kitt may be the most unique presence on the concert/cabaret circuit today. Certainly, she possesses the most unique voice, one that can purr gently on "You've Got That Thing" or growl fiercely on the Piaf classic "Hymn L'Amour (If You Love Me)." And, at the Carlyle, Kitt is currently purring and growling — not to mention belting, flirting and simply having a grand old time. It's been a few years since the 78-year-old Kitt has graced the intimate boite, and her return is a reason to celebrate. In a generous, 70-minute set, the star of Broadway's The Wild Party performs an eclectic mix of tunes, which climaxes with a tribute to the late songstress Edith Piaf that includes an emotional medley of "La Vie En Rose," "Lilac Wine," "What Is This Thing Called Love," "If You Go Away" and "Hymn L'Amour." Kitt also scores with Portia Nelson's wonderful "Hate/Love New York," a Japanese translation of the Rosemary Clooney signature "Come On-a My House" and one of her own signatures, "Just an Old Fashioned Girl." Backed by Daryl Waters on piano, Calvin Jones on bass, Brian Grice on drums and Tony Clinton on percussion, Kitt concludes her evening with another string of songs that she has polished into gems: Johnny Mercer's "When the World Was Young," Ervin Drake's "It Was a Very Good Year," Kurt Weill's "September Song" and Butler and Molinary's "Here's to Life." Here's to Eartha, who'll be playing the Carlyle through July 2; call (212) 744-1600 for reservations.

A Tribute to Stephen Sondheim will be presented June 16-18 at Symphony Hall in Boston, MA. Celebrating the famed composer's 75th birthday, the weekend of concerts will feature the Boston Pops under the direction of Keith Lockhart. Guest vocalists will include Broadway favorites Gregg Edelman, Marin Mazzie and Faith Prince as well as Tanglewood Music Center fellows Abby Fischer, Chris Herbert, Lawrence Jones, Charles Temkey and Chanel Wood. Show time is 8 PM. For tickets, call (888) 266-1200. Visit www.bso.org for more information.

Although the new musical Little Women ended its Broadway run May 22, members of the cast will assemble June 20 for the latest installment of the Monday Nights, New Voices series at the Duplex Cabaret Theater. Tony winner Sutton Foster, who starred as Jo March, will host the 7 PM evening, which will also feature the talents of Jenny Powers (Meg March) and Amy McAlexander (Amy) as well as Little Women standbys Anne Kanengeiser, Larissa Shukis and Andrew Varela. Produced by composer Scott Alan, the concert will feature musical direction by Barbara Anselmi. The series, created to spotlight lesser-known talents working in the city, will continue with two other celebrations of this season's new musicals: On July 25 Cheyenne Jackson will host an evening featuring members of the All Shook Up cast, and on Aug. 19 Sara Gettelfinger will welcome members of the Dirty Rotten Scoundrels company. The Duplex is located in Manhattan at 61 Christopher Street. There is a $12 cover charge and a two-drink minimum; call (212) 255-5438 for reservations. Visit www.theduplex.com for more information.

Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.