DIVA TALK: Catching Up with Rooms' Leslie Kritzer Plus Sutton Foster's "Wish"

Diva Talk   DIVA TALK: Catching Up with Rooms' Leslie Kritzer Plus Sutton Foster's "Wish"
News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.
Leslie Kritzer
Leslie Kritzer

Leslie Kritzer, one of the most exciting musical theatre actresses to emerge in the past decade, is back onstage in the new Off-Broadway musical Rooms: a rock romance, which is currently in previews at Off-Broadway's New World Stages/Stage 2. Kritzer — who was a standout in another New World Stages production, The Great American Trailer Park Musical — plays ambitious singer/songwriter Monica in the two-hander, which co-stars Doug Kreeger as a reclusive rocker named Ian. The musical — penned by Bright Lights, Big City's Paul Scott Goodman with direction by Scott Schwartz — will officially open Off-Broadway March 16. During Rooms rehearsals, I had the pleasure of chatting with the multi-talented Kritzer — who boasts a thrilling, rangy belt and terrific comic timing — about her current stage role as well as her recent Broadway outing in A Catered Affair and her participation in the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts' Broadway: Three Generations concerts. My brief interview with Kritzer, whose honors include a Clarence Derwent Award (for her performance as Serena in Legally Blonde the Musical) and a Special Achievement MAC Award (for Leslie Kritzer Is Patti LuPone at Les Mouches), follows:

Question: How are rehearsals going?
Kritzer: They're going amazing. I started rehearsing by myself first, and then Doug [Kreeger] came in on Monday because he's done the show before. So it's just been amazing — especially to have him now — it's just flying. I think it's going to be incredible.

Question: It's a two-character piece, right?
Kritzer: Yes.

Question: Is it one act?
Kritzer: One act, straight through.

Question: Is it all sung?
Kritzer: Mostly through-sung, but there are actual book scenes. They're just not very long — not as much as Catered Affair had. Catered Affair had more book scenes than this show. There's just enough that it feels like a play as well as a rock musical. I think it has a nice balance, but it's mostly sung-through.

Leslie Kritzer and Doug Kreeger in Rooms
photo by Andrea Fischman

Question: How did this role come about? How did you become involved in the show?
Kritzer: I had started working on this show four or five years ago and had done some small readings of it with [director] Scott Schwartz and [composer-lyricist] Paul Scott Goodman. But through various scheduling things, the show has had its own incarnations out of town, and I was doing other things, and then it all kind of came full circle. So I'm lucky enough to be able to do it! Question: Tell me about the character you play.
Kritzer: I play the character of Monica P. Miller, who is basically a young Scottish Jewish girl who lives in the suburbs of Glasgow, Scotland. She's a university student but mostly wants to become a star — a rock star, any kind of star, she just wants to be famous. She is talented, and she's a great singer. She's an actress, she's a singer — she's kind of a Bette Midler type. She can do anything, so she kind of wants to break out. She really wants to aspire to get out of Glasgow and see bigger things and see the world and become famous. She meets Ian, Doug's character, and though a series of events they have this relationship together as writing partners and then it develops from there.

Question: Have you ever written music?
Kritzer: Yes, I have actually. I'm a pianist, so I have written music — not that I show anybody, really, but for myself.

Question: What's the score to Rooms like?
Kritzer: Well, I'm obviously biased because I'm in it, but it's a real rock score. It combines different genres of rock: It has a little punk, a little grunge, a little hard-edge. You hear Pat Benatar, you hear Joni Mitchell, you hear Sid Vicious. You hear a lot of the music from that time period, which is basically '76 through '80 or 1981. . . . Paul has done an incredible job, as well as Jesse Vargas, who did the arrangements, and Matt Hinkley, our musical director, of really crafting this music to combine the perfect combination of theatrical rock music. It has a good combination that also furthers the story, and I just think it's brilliant. I really do. I love singing it. Every time I go into rehearsal, I just get more excited every day. . . . In Trailer Park and Godspell I got to sing kind of a rock score, but it was very comedy-esque, of the comedy world. In this, I get to be funny, but I get to really sing in this, so it's kinda cool. I didn't get to do Rent like a lot of my friends, so this is like my little Rent! [Laughs.]

Question: Tell me about working with Scott Schwartz as a director.
Kritzer: Well, I did Bat Boy, [which Scott also directed]. I was a swing on Bat Boy when it closed, right after 9/11. I didn't really get a chance to work with him that much, but we did a reading of [Rooms] together a couple of years ago and became very friendly, and he was always wonderful. In working with him now, he's really an actor's director. He's so efficient with his time, he's so open. Especially with this experience, me coming in new, he just wants me to bring anything I want to the table. He's very supportive. He really knows this piece inside and out and has made this process incredibly enjoyable for me and not stressful at all. They always say that the tone of the show trickles down from the top, the top being our director, and he has just been incredible in every sense of the word. He's just amazing, and he's one of my new favorite directors who I ever worked with. [Laughs.]

Doug Kreeger, Leslie Kritzer and Rooms director Scott Schwartz
photo by Andrea Fischman

Question: Who do you think is the audience for the show? Who do you think it will appeal to?
Kritzer: Obviously, I think people who are fans of Spring Awakening and Rent, because it's that kind of music, and even Wicked. The music is so good. But it's not just for young people — people my generation, younger than my generation — I think everyone will enjoy it. The music is really good. I'll even go as far to say that if I heard this music, I'd want to buy the album. That's how I felt about Spring Awakening. I don't think there's one audience. I think my mom's going to come to this and love it. Even though she loves me doing Funny Girl and On the Town, I think this is a different kind of thing, and she'd love it. It'd be easy to say, "Well, the young people will like it," but I think it's a show for everybody, and it has a lot of heart. It's not just about singing rock music — there's a really good story. It's about relationships and love and how career gets in the way and all that stuff.

Leslie Kritzer with Faith Prince in A Catered Affair
photo by Jim Cox

Question: The last time we spoke, you were out of town with A Catered Affair. I know the Broadway run was short, but what was the experience like for you?
Kritzer: It was amazing. I got to originate a role in the company of Harvey Fierstein, Faith Prince and Tom Wopat, and there's nothing more you can ask. And, of course, to work with [director] John Doyle: I have been very lucky. It was an incredible experience. I got to play a role that, I think, normally I would never have gotten to play. I wish it would have run longer and we would have had more come out of it, but it did wonderful things for all of us involved. I'll never forget it. It was just a joy: a great family of people. Question: And, now Faith Prince is coming back to Broadway in The Little Mermaid.
Kritzer: I know! I have to call her. She's going to be incredible!

Question: What was it like sharing the stage with her?
Kritzer: I have never worked with a more generous actress onstage than Faith Prince. I've never really been in a show — that I can remember — where I played someone's daughter. That can be, depending on the actress, a tricky thing. I grew up idolizing her. I grew up listening to Guys and Dolls. I went to the same college as Faith because I knew she went there. So I was already coming from that place. Then to work with her, she was just so giving and wonderful. We both cried in rehearsals. We both gave a lot. Every show was different and, depending on how we were feeling by the day, it always changed, and we always were accepting of each other. It was a lifetime opportunity for me to play opposite her, so I'll never forget that.

Question: Earlier this season you were also part of your first Encores! production, On the Town. What was that process like?
Kritzer: I have to say, I walked into it going, "Oh, this isn't going to be so difficult. This is gonna be easy!" I think I walked in a little too cocky as far as, "Well, I know the music." And then I was like, "Oh wait, we're doing this in a week! Like really doing it, not just a run through." I was a little stressed at first, but I had a blast. Talk about family: That whole creative team and cast was just incredible, and we would stand in the wings and watch the big ballets every night. That orchestra! To work with that orchestra, you don't get that [experience very often]. And, Andrea Martin, who I just love — my favorite memory is doing pratfalls for her backstage and just making her laugh. Everyone was just incredible. I would do another Encores! in a second. I just loved it. All the audiences were amazing. It was a blast. I had a great time, I just don't think I was really prepared for how fast it was going to happen, but it all comes together as it always does.

Question: Was there any talk of On the Town moving to Broadway?
Kritzer: I don't know. Since it was my first one, I didn't really know what to expect. From what I've heard, there's always interest when they do these shows, but I don't really know how it works. The audiences certainly loved it. I'm sure, if it were to move, it would be wonderful.

Question: You were also in the Kennedy Center's Three Generations concerts.
Kritzer: D.C. is one of my favorite towns, so to go down there for a couple of months and work was amazing. That was another great group of people. I got to play Rosie against Brooks Ashmanskas [in Bye Bye Birdie], and I love him. It was great to be able to go down there and be in D.C. I, of course, was there during the whole bailout situation. I was glued to the Washington Post everyday. It was a very crazy time to be down there. I worked at the Kennedy Center, and I love it there. That was another gift. I've been very lucky this year. [Laughs.] Question: Any chance of doing anymore cabaret work?
Kritzer: Yeah. I'm slowly developing something else, which has been in the works for a little while, but I'm just trying to get [Rooms] up on its feet and in the groove. This show is very demanding: a two-person musical, 90 minutes. The singing is on par, difficult-wise, as Wicked or Funny Girl or Evita. It's that kind of stuff — it's nonstop. So any extracurricular things in my schedule if this show, knock on wood, runs, is going to be very little. [Laughs.] But I am developing something on the side right now with some people that I'm very excited about, but that's going to take some time. I don't just go out and do something — I kind of like to do things that are special. I'm kind of picky about doing just any old show. I want to do something that I really believe in or think is different, like the Patti [LuPone] show. So I'm developing something slowly but am trying to save up all my energy for Rooms.

[Tickets for Rooms: a rock romance, priced $10-$69.50, are available by calling (212) 239-6200 or by visiting www.telecharge.com. New World Stages/Stage 2 is located at 340 West 50th Street, between 8th and 9th Avenues.]

FOR THE RECORD: Sutton Foster's "Wish" (Ghostlight Records) Although she had already appeared on Broadway in Les Misérables, Grease, Annie and The Scarlet Pimpernel, it was her comical and quirkily charming performance in the title role of Thoroughly Modern Millie that brought the multi-talented Sutton Foster to the attention of the theatre-going public. Since that time there has been rarely a season when the young singing actress with the soaring belt has not originated a role in a Broadway musical: Jo in the musical version of Little Women (2005), Janet Van De Graaf in the joyous original musical The Drowsy Chaperone (2006), Inga in Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein (2007) and, currently, Princess Fiona in Shrek the Musical at the Broadway Theatre.

And, just recently, the Tony-winning performer released her debut solo recording, "Wish," on the Ghostlight Records label. The 15-track disc — featuring orchestrations by Doug Besterman and arrangements by Michael Rafter — boasts an eclectic array of material, with songs by famed Broadway composers (Frank Loesser; Charles Strouse and Lee Adams; Rodgers and Hart), pop songwriters (Carole King, John Denver) and lesser-known New York tunesmiths (Craig Carnelia, Jeff Blumenkrantz). Yet, Foster invests whatever she's singing with a lyrical intelligence and a sunny alto that can caress notes or belt them to the rafters with equal ease.

The Shrek star begins her recital with an upbeat take on Duke Ellington's "I'm Beginning to See the Light." She brings a gentle ease to Carole King and Gerald Goffin's "Up on the Roof," which is followed by the disc's most poignant offering, a medley of Rodgers and Hart's "My Romance" and the truly moving Maury Yeston ballad "Danglin'."

Other highlights include the comical "Air Conditioner" by Christine Lavin; a gorgeous reading of John Denver, Richard Kniss and Michael Taylor's "Sunshine on My Shoulders"; Jeff Blumenkrantz's touching "My Heart Was Set on You"; and two little-heard gems — Charles Strouse and Lee Adams' "Once Upon a Time" and Noel Coward's "Come the Wild, Wild Weather."

Foster concludes her debut disc with the toe-tapping "On My Way"—penned by Brian Crawley and Thoroughly Modern Millie and Shrek's Jeanine Tesori; a full-voiced version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Oklahoma!" is included as a bonus.

The best track, however, may just be Foster's recording of Craig Carnelia's "Flight" with another musical theatre actress, her Little Women co-star Megan McGinnis. "Flight," which is usually performed as a solo, has been rearranged as a duet, and the two women's voices blend beautifully. Foster and McGinnis truly soar as they sing Carnelia's touching ballad about the longings we often feel.

Christine Ebersole
photo by Aubrey Reuben

The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts' 2009-2010 season will kick off in the Terrace Theater with the return of Barbara Cook's Spotlight series, which shines a concert light on some of Broadway's favorite performers. The series will feature concerts by Cheyenne Jackson (Oct. 9), Christine Ebersole (Nov. 14), Karen Akers (Dec. 12), Sunday in the Park with George's Daniel Evans and Jenna Russell (April 30, 2010) and Jessica Molaskey and John Pizzarelli (June 4, 2010). For more information visit www.kennedy-center.org. Emmy and Tony Award winner Tyne Daly, most recently on Broadway in the Pulitzer Prize-winning Rabbit Hole, will make her debut at Feinstein's at Loews Regency in May. The posh nightclub, which is currently offering Betty Buckley's Broadway By Request through March 7, will present former Gypsy star Daly May 12-16. Feinstein's at Loews Regency is located at 540 Park Avenue at 61st Street in New York City. For ticket reservations call (212) 339-4095 or visit feinsteinsatloewsregency.com and TicketWeb.com.

Songwriters Marcy Heisler and Zina Goldrich, currently represented Off-Broadway with the family-friendly musical Dear Edwina, will present an evening of their tunes March 19 at the Catalina Jazz Club in Hollywood. In addition to Heisler and Goldrich, the 8 PM concert will also boast the talents of Susan Egan, Adam Hunter, Dave Barrus, David Goldsmith, Mike Croiter and Sarah O'Brien. The Catalina Jazz Club (Bar & Grill) is located at 6725 Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, CA. For tickets, priced $20 (plus food/drink minimum), call (323) 466-2210 or visit www.catalinajazzclub.com.

Tony Award winners Jeremy Irons, now on Broadway in Impressionism, and Cynthia Nixon, currently Off-Broadway in Distracted, will co-host the 75th Annual Drama League Awards Ceremony and Luncheon. The annual ceremony will be held May 15 at noon at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in Times Square. Nominations for the awards will be announced April 21. Tickets are now available by calling (212) 244-9494, ext. 5. Visit www.DramaLeague.org for more information.

Carried Away (with the Lyrics of Comden & Green) is the title of the New York Festival of Song's (NYFOS) upcoming celebration of the late musical comedy writers Betty Comden and Adolph Green. NYFOS's 21st-season gala performance will be presented April 14 at 7 PM at Carnegie Hall's Weill Recital Hall. The evening will include the vocals of Tyne Daly, Amanda Green, Walter Bobbie, Darius de Haas and Jason Danieley. NYFOS directors Steven Blier and Michael Barrett will be the pianists and hosts for Carried Away, which will also feature soprano Meredith Lustig, tenor Alex Mansoori and baritone David Krohn. The concert will be followed by dinner at the Rainbow Room's Pegasus Suite. Gala tickets, including performance and dinner, are priced $750-$1,000. For more information visit www.nyfos.org or call (646) 230-8380. Weill Recital Hall is located at 154 West 57th Street, and the Rainbow Room is located at 30 Rockefeller Plaza.

A one-night-only concert version of Lewis Black and the late Rusty Magee's The Czar of Rock and Roll will be presented April 6 at Joe's Pub, the intimate cabaret located within the Public Theater. Directed by Evan Cabnet, the evening will star Steven Rosen (Guys and Dolls) and Sarah Saltzberg (The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee). Additional casting will be announced; show time is 7 PM. Allison Leyton-Brown will be the evening's musical director. Tickets, priced $20, are available by visiting www.joespub.com. Joe's Pub is located within the Public Theater at 425 Lafayette Street.

Hope Trumps Fear is the title of a March 12 storytelling event that will be presented in the Penthouse at Barney's NY. The intimate evening of comedy and hope will feature Tony winners Matthew Broderick and Elaine Stritch as well as comedian Jim Breuer and FOX TV star Sue Costello. Conceived and hosted by Costello, the evening, according to press notes, is the first in a series that will "re-create the intimacy and feeling of an old fashioned artists salon but with the emphasis on comedy and fun. Actors, writers, and comedians will tell stories from their own lives and recall times when hope helped them to overcome their fears." The evening will begin with mingling and cocktails at 7 PM followed by the 8 PM show. The Penthouse at Barney's is located at 61st Street and Madison Avenue. For more information and to purchase tickets go to www.suecostello.com.

Patty Duke, who won an Academy Award for her performance as Helen Keller in the 1962 film "The Miracle Worker," will step into the role of Madame Morrible in the San Francisco production of Wicked, which is currently playing the Orpheum Theatre. Duke will succeed Carol Kane, who concludes her limited engagement March 22. Duke's first performance is scheduled for March 24. For more information visit www.wickedthemusical.com.

A host of theatre favorites will be part of the Cabaret at the Castle series, which is presented at Castle on the Hudson in Tarrytown, NY. The Sunday night series will comprise Emily Skinner (Side Show, The Full Monty) on March 8, Tony Desare on March 15, Stacia Fernandez (The Drowsy Chaperone, Swing!) on March 22, John Treacy Egan (The Little Mermaid, The Producers) on March 29 and Liz McCartney (South Pacific, Mamma Mia!) on April 5. Show time is 8 PM. Dinner is also available beginning at 6 PM. Dinner and show cost $100; show only is $55. Castle on the Hudson is located at 400 Benedict Avenue in Tarrytown, NY. For reservations call (914) 631-3646 or visit www.castleonthehudson.com.

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

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