BRYAN’S A NEW ORLEANS SAINT
In La Cage aux Folles, Bryan Batt stood by for Gary Beach and brilliantly made the role of Albin his own. But "standing by" is the last thing that this lovable actor from Louisiana is doing these days. He has become Broadway’s ambassador to New Orleans, and he’s been a one-man tornado raising money for his hometown. At the Sept. 25 Broadway Celebrity Benefit for Hurricane Relief, organized by the cast of Wicked, Batt opened the star-studded evening at the Gershwin by singing the most moving and memorable version of "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?" He said, "I grew up on the lakefront and rode my bike on those levees. About two years ago, my partner [Tom Cianfichi] and I opened a business in New Orleans and we loved every moment of it. And we will do it again. We are a very resilient people. We are a very optimistic people. We rooted for the Saints for 35 years!"
Batt’s Broadway credits include Cats, Saturday Night Fever and The Scarlet Pimpernel, and he created the role of the delightful Darius in Jeffrey onstage and onscreen. But he said, "That song probably was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to get through, emotionally, to perform. Liza [Minnelli] told me: "I loved how you sang that," and when Liza says something like that, you grow another inch or two."
This month, Batt will appear in HeartSong: The Concert for New Orleans, which also includes Karen Akers, Brent Barrett, Ann Hampton Callaway, Judy Kaye and Donna Murphy, on Oct. 16 at 7 p.m. at Symphony Space. And he will host With Love, From Broadway to the Bayou, a benefit starring Matt Cavenaugh, Melissa Errico, Judy Gold and Patrick Wilson, on Oct. 23 at 9:30 p.m. at Joe’s Pub.
Question: How did Hurricane Katrina affect you and your family?
Bryan Batt: My partner Tom and I were on vacation in California at the time it hit, and my mom lived across the canal that broke, in Metairie, and her place was high and dry. But she’s terrified of hurricanes, so she’d been evacuated to Houston. Now she’s staying with us in New York. Our store [Hazelnut] and our carriage house sustained minimal damage; we have some mold but no flooding. I was just there this past week. We don’t have power or water, but we’re hoping to reopen in November. And the French Quarter and the Garden District did not flood. But my brother’s house is ruined; the water had been eight feet high there. When I visited it, I inhaled fumes and toxic mold. I burst into tears when I saw this area that had been so green and lush, and now it was covered in this black death. Some of the media said the wealthy were spared, but that’s not true. Parts of the lakefront area, where they lived, were devastated, too.
Q: At the Broadway Celebrity Benefit for Hurricane Relief, the cast of Spelling Bee did a hilarious skit that satirized the Bush administration’s slow response to this disaster. Who’s to blame?
Batt: I think everyone’s to blame. The funding for the levee system has been cut and cut and cut. Now President Bush has taken responsibility— and it’s one of the first times—and it speaks volumes. So many people died and suffered who didn’t need to. It’s mind-boggling that this happened in America. And the media got it. Some of the coverage was sensational, but I loved what Anderson Cooper did [on CNN]. He was on my plane and I sent him a note thanking him for all his work.
Q: How did you and Tom come to open your store, Hazelnut?
Batt: Tom’s been in retail on Madison Avenue for years, and I had always wanted to have a store that sold beautiful home furnishings, so we opened in October 2003. One of our specialty items was New Orleans toile. It’s a linen-cotton blend fabric that features beautiful vignettes of New Orleans—like the St. Charles streetcar and the steamboat Natchez. Sonia O’Mara drew them, based on my sketches. It’s sold like crazy. We still take Web orders for it, and part of the proceeds go to Katrina relief.
Q: How long have you and Tom been together?
Batt: It’s been 16 years plus. He’s great. We met doing Evita in Akron, Ohio. I was Che, and he was the understudy for Magaldi. Growing up, I never knew any gay people until I started doing theater in the French Quarter. Then I met Tom. He was the first person I dated and that was it. I’ve been very lucky.
Q: When did you know that you were gay?
Batt: When I was little. Anytime a "Hercules" movie would come on TV, I was all over it. When I was caught playing with my mom’s hoop skirt, [my parents] sent me to a child psychologist. It was always in me, but I tried to deny it. I had girlfriends all through high school and college, and they were beautiful, wonderful women. But I always hankered for something else. Finally, my brother asked: "Are you gay?" I said "yes." He said, "Thank God. I thought you weren’t getting any!"
Q: You’ve played leading men on Broadway; was it ever an issue?
Batt: When I played the lead in Sunset Blvd., the movie of Jeffrey was coming out, and I was petrified. Back then, every agent told you that if you want to play a straight role, you don’t come out. This was before Ellen [DeGeneres] came out. But now I couldn't give a rat’s ass. It’s normal to be gay.
Q: What was it like to play Albin in La Cage aux Folles?
Batt: It was a blast! I almost didn’t take it because I didn’t want to stand by again. But Jerry Zaks wanted me and the producers were so nice. And I never thought I’d get to play Albin. I’m 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds. I’m a big boy. But then I thought: George Hearn played it originally and he’s no waif. I love Gary’s performance, but it was so much fun to put my own twist on Albin. Getting to sing "I Am What I Am" is my best memory of Broadway so far. What an honor. Jerry Herman came a couple times to see me and arrived at my dressing room after Act I, beaming and clapping. He was so supportive. It was a great company. When my mom, Tom and I got back from New Orleans, Gary and his partner, Jeff, were the first people to have us over for dinner. They’re the best. Meantime, I could use a nice new Broadway gig.
Q: Got any projects on the horizon?
Batt: This is ironic, but I was cast in a TV series that was supposed to start shooting in New Orleans in late October, called "Christopher Street." Danny Gurwin’s in it, too. It’s set in a bar in the French Quarter. I play Josh, and it’s my life if I’d stayed in New Orleans: I would’ve been married, gotten a regular job and realized later on that I’m gay. It’s a drama and the script is fantastic. They’re gonna try to shoot in February instead and hope to pitch it to HBO or Showtime. It’s very exciting.
Q: Thanks for everything you’ve done for New Orleans.
Batt: It’s given so much to this country: it’s the birthplace of jazz and all this incredible food. I’ll do whatever I can to make sure that city comes back.
For info, visit www.bryanbatt.com and www.hazelnutneworleans.com.
ANDY GETS RANDY FOR ‘SLUT’
In Altar Boyz, Andy Karl was a blessing and a blast as Luke, the break-dancing bad boy of a Christian boy band. He left audiences busting a gut as he busted his moves. But now the 6-foot-1 actor from Baltimore is starring as another biblically named character, Adam, in Slut, the new musical by Ben H. Winters and Stephen Sislen, at the American Theatre of Actors. However, the womanizing Adam is no Altar Boy. Karl, 32, says, "Luke wants to save the world, one soul at a time, and Adam wants to sleep with it, one girl at a time. He never lies to chicks. He tells them: ‘You can give me your number, but I’m probably not gonna call, ’cause I’m moving on to the next girl.’ That’s so great to play. You have to walk that line of not being sleazy. Jim Stanek plays my best friend who wants to find Miss Right, but I show him how to party and that’s where the conflicts come up. Everyone’s so talented and funny. Throw [former Altar Boy] David Josefsberg into a rehearsal and he’s hilarious 24 hours a day."
Asked to name the sluttiest thing he’s ever done, Karl says, "If getting naked is slutty, when I played Danny Zuko in Grease at Paper Mill Playhouse, I got naked in the wings during ‘Rock ‘’N’ Roll Party Queen.’ I danced around and wore nothing but a sock—and it wasn’t on my foot." He also posed nude, except for a strategically placed string of chili pepper lights, for a poster of Slut, which sold for $20 at the Broadway Flea Market and raised $1,200 for Broadway Cares. Jenn Colella, his leading lady in Slut, says, "Andy’s one of the hottest guys around, but he’s so grateful to practice his craft that seeing him expose himself for the show is the sexiest thing ever. When he was cast in Slut, I thought: ‘Yay! I get to make out with him.’"
In real life, Karl is no slut. He’s happily hitched to Orfeh, who’s starring in another Off-Broadway show, The Great American Trailer Park Musical. "I can count on two hands all the girls I’ve slept with in my life. Adam is into the double and triple digits. I’ve never had a one-night stand. I’ve always been into relationships. I’ve always dated women with strong personalities and I’m married to one now."
Karl and Orfeh met during Saturday Night Fever; he understudied Tony and she played Annette. And there’s no question "how deep is their love." Orfeh says, "It was love at first sight and I mean in that silly, Hollywood bull**** way. We started dating in July, got engaged in December and eloped in January. And this Jan. 10, it’ll be five years. He’s probably the nicest man I’ve ever met." And how’d Karl propose? Orfeh says, "We had ordered [takeout] from our favorite Mexican-Chinese fusion place, so we had enchiladas and pork fried rice. Anyway, he hid the engagement ring in a Cartier’s box in one of the cartons. I opened it and flipped out. I threw the box at him." Karl adds, "She hit me in the head with the box, and then I got down on one knee."
Each night after their shows, they walk home together to the East Side where they live with their cats, Bugzy and Worm. Karl says, "We genuinely get along and we’re best friends. We love performing together and maybe I’ll write a musical for us someday. I’m still one of her biggest fans. We play make-believe and I do my work [as an actor], but my real life is when I come home with Orfeh. Everything else is pretend."
For more information, visit www.andykarl.com.
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