An alumnus of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats, Sunset Boulevard, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Starlight Express, Bryan Batt is back on Broadway -- but in a slightly different role and at a very different space.
He's featured in Forbidden Broadway Strikes Back!, which moves June 25 into a new home in the Stardust Theatre, downstairs at Ellen's Stardust Diner at Broadway and 51st Street in New York.
Along with his fellow FBSBcast members Donna English, Christine Pedi, and Tom Plotkin, Batt's biting the hand that fed him.
For some time, Batt's talents have been disguised behind theatrical facades in several of his above-mentioned roles. Even in Jeffrey, the Off-Broadway show that brought him extraorindary notice after several Broadway forays, Batt (as the doomed Darius, a role he was fortunate to repeat in the film adaption) was still in the shadow of an Andrew Lloyd Webber show -- Cats.
"When I read for Paul (Rudnick, the playwright), Darius was an actor in Grand Hotel. At my callback, he looked at my resume and said, 'Are you really in Cats'? I replied, 'Now and forever,' never realizing that that would actually come true. When I got the job, I noticed Darius was now in Cats. I was literally playing myself. From the first script read-through at downtown's WPA Theatre to the Minetta Lane Theatre in Greenwich Village through the wrap of the movie and its opening, it was one of the most wonderful and fulfilling experiences." FBSB and his numerous personas in the show provide Batt with the perfect vehicle to allow his many talents to explode.
"The greatest fun," related Batt, "is when you do the show and they're in the audience." "They" being the Who's Who of show business that are spoofed so mercilessly in Gerard Alessandrini's revue.
"In such a small house, you can't help seeing the audience. But I don't like to know in advance if someone we skewer is in the house. But I soon spot them. We've been blessed with the presence of Carol Channing, a perennial target since Gerad began the series, Angela Lansbury, Stephen Sondheim, and Harold Prince. The hardest thing is not [to] let them being there change your performance."
Batt explained the revue is the most exhausting thing he's done. "It's more physically demanding than Starlight and Cats. The show is famous for how fast it moves, so we have to move with great speed. Sometimes I feel like I'm back on rollerskates in Starlight. We have one dresser, the incredible Joe McFate, who assisted on costumes (designed by Alvin Colt), who snatches things off and helps us slap things on."
Batt has become accustomed to moving fast. When Sunset Boulvevard's Alan Campbell, portraying Joe Gillis, "who would never take a day off, finally took a vacation, I was summoned to go on." Batt was Campbell's understudy but was back home in New Orleans on vacation and sick as a dog. "But I got on the next plane to New York, arrived, and went to the doctor for a shot. When I got to the theater, I was in Alan's dressing room getting ready and Betty Buckley shows up with a huge bouquet of flowers. I said, 'You might want to wait until you see what happens before you give me flowers!' and she said, 'Bryan, you'll do fine!'"
His favorite moment in FBSB is the number spoofing the short-lived musical Big. "Sometimes we're out there, going, going, going with those wide, gaping, unnatural smiles of Jon Benet adolescents gone wrong and we don't even know what's going to happen next, which makes it fun for us and the audience."
As far as parodying shows he's been in -- in the case of Sunset, even parodying a role he's played, Batt says "It's all done in fun and almost everyone -- even Andrew Lloyd Webber -- now -- feels it's a great compliment to be featured in Forbidden Broadway. It's gotten to the point where they're insulted if they're not lampooned. Thankfully, the stars do have a sense of humor. The night Alan Campbell caught me doing him, he was laughing as hard as anyone in the audience, ditto Zoe Caldwell, also Patti LuPone. Patti even sent flowers to Christine Pedi after the reviews came out with a note saying, 'Thanks for my fabulous reviews!' "
Batt's loved show business since childhood, when in New Orleans he put on neighborhood shows, including a Fourth of July parade. At 10, he added two years to his age to get a job in the chorus of a local amateur production.
"Then came that period where it wasn't cool to not be doing that guy thing, sports," said Batt. "And, like a little dweeb, I did it, and was quite pathetic. Since I was tall, I was expected to play basketball but I was totally uncoordinated and couldn't dribble to save my life. I had a bad puberty!"
He studied theater at Tulane University and "did any kind of show I could get into."
Helen Hayes attended a benefit show he was in and met his mother, who told Hayes, "Bryan just won't listen. He wants to go into theatre and we've done everything we can to discourage him. It's such a competitive business."
According to Batt family legend, the actress replied, "But, my dear, so is life. You really ought to encourage him. He's quite good."
"And with that," exclaimed Batt, "I was literally was on the next plane to New York." Not long after, he got a job at Circle in the Square where he met Hayes again and was invited to her Nyack, NY home for tea. "Imagine that!" he said, smiling.
Batt's love for theater extends to the other side of the footlights now. He has produced revivals of several musicals in New Orleans.
The original cast CD and tape of Forbidden Broadway Strikes Back! is on DRG Records.