DIVA TALK: Chatting with A Catered Affair's Leslie Kritzer Plus News of Buckley, Ripley and York

News   DIVA TALK: Chatting with A Catered Affair's Leslie Kritzer Plus News of Buckley, Ripley and York
News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.
Leslie Kritzer
Leslie Kritzer

It's been some year for Leslie Kritzer, the young singing actress who is currently starring in the pre-Broadway tryout of A Catered Affair at San Diego's Old Globe Theatre. The new musical, which features a score by John Bucchino and a book by Tony Award winner Harvey Fierstein, casts Kritzer as Janey, the bride-to-be in a company that also boasts Faith Prince (as her mom), Tom Wopat (as her dad), Matt Cavenaugh (as her fiancé) and Fierstein (as her uncle). Prior to her current Affair, Kritzer was seen on the intimate stage of Joe's Pub, re-creating Patti LuPone's legendary concerts at the now-defunct Manhattan nightspot Les Mouches. For her critically acclaimed and much-extended engagement in Leslie Kritzer Is Patti LuPone at Les Mouches, Kritzer earned a special MAC Award. She also managed to score some great reviews with her relatively small role as Serena in the new musical Legally Blonde. In fact, in his New York Times review, Ben Brantley singled out Kritzer, saying she possesses "an original satiric vibrancy"; Variety agreed, adding that the show's Greek chorus is "captained with comic verve by the hilarious Leslie Kritzer." Kritzer was subsequently honored for her Blonde performance with the 62nd annual Clarence Derwent Award. That prize, which was also awarded to In the Heights' Lin-Manuel Miranda, is given to "the most promising female and male performers on the New York metropolitan scene." Last week I had the chance to chat with the up 'n' coming Kritzer, who boasts a rangy, thrilling belt, terrific coming timing and a galvanizing stage presence.

Kritzer offered some of the most exciting vocals of the year in Leslie Kritzer Is Patti LuPone at Les Mouches.
photo by Stacey Grabowski

Question: The last time we spoke, you and [director] Ben Rimalower were getting ready to present the LuPone concerts at Joe's Pub. What was that experience like for you?
Leslie Kritzer: Amazing! It's amazing what some friends can do when they put their heads together and try something different when they have some down time. It was just an incredible experience and really, really fun. [It was] incredibly rewarding and surprisingly successful. I didn't know it was going to be that successful . . . it was a wonderful surprise. Question: I saw the concert twice, and the audience seemed to really respond to you.
Kritzer: I didn't know what to expect, so therefore I didn't expect anything, and it kind of worked out in my favor. [Laughs.] When you don't plan, you just do it and see what happens. I'm so thrilled that I had the chance to do it.

Question: Did you find that the more you performed the concert, the more you could let loose with it?
Kritzer: Absolutely, [the more I performed], the more license I had to interpret. It was awesome to be able to spread my wings. The more you do something, it becomes so much more familiar and easy. It was a treat that we got to do it a bunch of different times.

Question: You won the MAC Award for that, and then you received the Clarence Derwent Award. What was your response when you heard that you were receiving an award for "the most promising female on the New York metropolitan scene"?
Kritzer: I was surprised! I thought Equity was calling me because I didn't pay my health insurance or I owed them money. [Laughs.] I was doing Legally Blonde and I [received a call from a woman at Equity]. She was like, "Hi, I'm from Equity," and I'm like, "Oh God, what did I do now?" [Laughs.] My mind just goes to that place: "Of course, I'm in trouble." And she's like, "No, actually you won the Clarence Derwent Award," and I was like, "Oh my God!" I just was shocked. I'm very rarely a person of few words. I really didn't know what to say. I was like, "Are you sure you've got the right person?" I just was really grateful and incredibly honored. I got paid, especially for Legally Blonde, to act crazy and to be silly. It was just really nice that the people that did recognize me wanted me to have something like that, which was really special.

Leslie Kritzer in Legally Blonde.
photo by Joan Marcus

Question: Tell me about your experience in Legally Blonde and working with Jerry Mitchell.
Kritzer: In high school I had to choose between being a cheerleader and being in the theatre department, and I chose to be in the theatre department. I always wanted to live out my cheerleading fantasy, and in Legally Blonde I got to do that. I got to have long hair like I did in high school, and I got to wear a short little outfit, and I got to be kind of a bitch and order people around and kind of feel like the hot girl. [Laughs.] That was really fun, and Jerry Mitchell supported me from the minute we walked into that rehearsal room. He let me try anything and always trusted me with trying new things and different things. That was awesome — to have somebody that lets you do your thing, especially if they know that you know what's funny. I grew up with girls like Serena, the character I played. I'm very, very well aware of girls like that, and it kind of was a celebration of them and kind of my send-off to them. Some of my closest friends are in Legally Blonde. They call me all the time; they want to come out here and visit. It was kind of like going back to college and high school. It was just a blast. It was so much fun. We had a great time in San Francisco [where Legally Blonde played prior to Broadway]. It's rare to have a big show like that and for everyone to get along. That's rare from what I understand. I haven't done a lot of Broadway shows, so I'm just grateful that I got a chance to work with those people and to make really great friends.

Question: Was there any problem leaving the show early to do A Catered Affair?
Kritzer: No, not at all. I wasn't on a real year contract, so my time was up. So it was time to go, time to move on!

Question: How did A Catered Affair come about?
Kritzer: I got an audition. I was told that I would be auditioning for John Doyle, who I absolutely think is a genius, and for Harvey Fierstein, who I worked with in Hairspray. I read the script and immediately got the character right away. It was like, "Okay, I think I know this girl." I have to say it was a pretty magical audition. I kind of walked in and kind of felt it from Day One. I walked in and just felt like I was her.

Question: What did they have you do at the audition?
Kritzer: I read both of the scenes a few times, and I sang something of my own choosing, and that was it. I didn't sing from the show. I sang a song from Yentl, "Where Is It Written?" I just felt a presence in the room. I kind of walked out thinking, "I could do this role." . . . They called my agent like an hour later to see if I could get out of Legally Blonde. So that's how it started, but it was an amazing audition. I was incredibly intimidated, but at the same time, very assured. . . . I'm a comedic actress, but it's not the only thing I want to do, so I kind of walked out going, "I think I did a really good job, but it's so emotional in there…" It was a very emotional audition, so when I got the call, I was like, "Oh my God!"

Question: Were you familiar with the film at all before this?
Kritzer: I watched the film prior to my audition, so I did my research. I loved the film, and I loved Bette Davis. She's just incredible. I watched it once and kind of got a feel, then went on my own.

Question: Everyone I've talked to who has worked with John Doyle raves about him. What makes him so special?
Kritzer: Well, we kind of started a theatre company as a joke, called The Non-Fundamentalist Theatre Company, and he voted me president since I'm an active member. Basically, he doesn't use a lot — he's been taking away stuff: props, clothes, sets. [It's a] very minimalist kind of theatre, as little as possible to work with. "No walls, no doors, no nothing" is the motto I came up with. You don't need all of that to tell a story. You don't need the big sets, you don't need the 25-piece orchestra, you don't need the bells and whistles to tell a simple story like A Catered Affair. It's all about the story, and it's about the people. That's, I think, what the point is — and the way, creatively, he uses the set that we have and the lighting and us, [the actors]. It's incredibly — I know, it sounds so cheesy — organic. It's incredibly organic and so simple and closer to the truth. . . . He's very, very all about being as real as possible. The process was incredibly inspiring and also difficult because it's not an easy show to do. This is a family that doesn't really communicate, and this is a different generation of people. . . . It's just not an easy topic. The characters all have struggles within them, so it's been interesting.

Question: How would you describe the character of Janey?
Kritzer: A tough, but sensitive, firecracker of a girl who is her mother's daughter and who wants to get out. She wants to get out of this house. It's time for her. Her brother just died in the war not too long ago, and she's determined. She's had to be in the shadow of her older sibling, so she's lived with that. That's just part of her life. . . . She didn't go to college. She stayed home and helped support the family when things got rough. The older brother got everything. It's her time to get out, and she asks her boyfriend to marry her. She's a ballsy chick, but at the same time, loves her parents. There's no communication. There's a lot of unspoken tension. Her sibling just died, and she's waltzing in the room and telling her parents she's getting married and leaving. It's not easy. And mother/daughter relationships — I think people are going to identify with the show a lot because it touches on things that are so present. It doesn't matter if it's 1953 or 1954 or 2007 — mothers and daughters have their relationship problems. They're planning a wedding, and [there is] all the craziness that goes into that with the family and his family and making everybody happy and doing things for other people to make them happy instead of yourself. And strange relationships between parents and children — real, real stuff that I really don't see dealt with a lot in theatre that I've seen recently, in this kind of way, in the way that John is doing it. I just really respect him and relate a lot to the story and think it's beautiful. And, I get to wear a beautiful white dress!

Leslie Kritzer in A Cattered Affair.
photo by Craig Schwartz

Question: How has audience reaction been so far?
Kritzer: Most people that I've talked to really love it, but I'm on the inside, so I'm just — more with this show than any other show I've done — trying really not to care, trying just to tell the story and to do my job. As a comedian, I'm always concerned about the laughs, and John knows that. Faith [Prince] and I are very similar. We're both comedians. That's what we do the best. From Day One we made our joke that, "Oh, they don't take our Comedic American Express Card in this show." That charge card doesn't work here. It's not a bah-dum-bump [kind of show]. Harvey can get away with it more than we can because of the nature of his character, but when we are funny in the show, it's coming from more of a real place, and therefore it is funny. There are definitely many funny moments. We always walk that fine line, and John keeps us in check to make sure that we're always being real and telling the story first and foremost and not trying to make bits or make things funny [in order to] please anybody in the audience because it's not about that. . . . There's going to be people that are going to love it, there's going to be people that are not going to love it. That's how it is with every show. All that matters at the end of the day, for me, is that I'm doing the best I can. I love the show, and I think a lot of people can identify with it. It's a very small, beautiful story. Ninety minutes. You can't beat that! [Laughs.] Question: What's John Bucchino's score like?
Kritzer: Very lyrical and touching. It's not a big number kind of show. It's really to-the-heart, touching and just beautiful.

Question: Were you familiar with his music before this?
Kritzer: I was. I had heard some things he had done before and loved his music. Across the board, it's just been a great experience.

Question: What is it like working with such a starry cast?
Kritzer: I grew up idolizing Faith. I went to the same school as she did because she went there.

Question: Which school?
Kritzer: Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. I saw her opening night of Guys and Dolls. . . . Now I'm playing her daughter. It's kind of surreal. And, she's an amazing teacher for me on many different levels. The other day I kind of had a hard day, and I went in her dressing room [and said], "I need a hug." We were talking, and it is a very mother and daughter [relationship] offstage as it is on — in a different way, in a more positive way offstage! It's really brought us very close together, and Faith Prince is really one of the most incredible women I've ever met. She's taught me a lot about a lot of things that have nothing to do with the business, which is probably the best part — about being happy in dealing with this business and having a life and a family and how that's so important and how that's really what makes you happy in the end. Those things are really invaluable lessons I'm learning. She's just an incredible woman. I pinch myself, I can't believe it.

And Harvey's amazing, too. Harvey and I click on a different level. We're both crazy Geminis. We're both wacky and talk in character voices a lot for no particular reason. He's an amazing writer and a great person, and I trust him. The whole cast is just amazing. Matt Cavenaugh couldn't be sweeter and more genuine. I mean, I have to be naked in bed with him every night. It's as if we've been doing [the show] forever and we're like brother and sister. It's the best. He's like, "Hey, how's your boyfriend?" and I'm like, "He's good. How's Jenny?" We talk about stuff. It's just like a family, it really is. . . . And, Tom Wopat is one of my best friends out here. He is incredible. . . . I just remind myself how grateful I am to be working and working with the best people.

Question: In this show, I take it the wedding is the centerpiece or a big part of what's driving the action. Is a big wedding something that is very important to you at some point?
Kritzer: I go back and forth. I think I drove my boyfriend crazy in developing this show because everyday I'm talking about a wedding, and then you start to want one, and then you start to want to get married. You just start to by osmosis. . . . Part of me says, "Yes, I would love a big wedding," but my family is all over the place. My friend Sarah got married in this simple wedding on the beach in Jamaica — just a beautiful, small ceremony with a bunch of friends. I think smaller [might be a good idea]… I mean, I want to look gorgeous! [Laughs.] That's fun. But do I need 200-300 people there? No. The way I see it, I get to be onstage and do that all the time. I think, for a lot of people, it's their day to be a star. For me, I like more of a spiritual feeling, a union and a celebration. I believe that whatever any particular person wants is great for them, but I think a spiritual ceremony, smaller, by the water is something [that I might like], just looking beautiful. I just like to look pretty and get my make-up done! That, to me, is a big deal. . . . I think the marriage thing is something that I've been thinking about a lot more lately, and I'm entertaining it more than I ever did before, now that I've turned [coughs] 30. [Laughs.] It's just something that is a possibility for the future. If it happens, great. If it doesn't, I can always put on a nice dress and do my make-up and go out. [Laughs.] A wedding, though, causes a lot of stress for people. That's why there are so many magazines to help you deal with it. . . . I love the wedding dress that Ann Hould-Ward made for me [for the show]. It's so beautiful. It is like a little princess dress. It's just stunning. One of my favorite numbers in the show is "Vision." It's one of Faith's big songs. Without giving it away, it's just stunning. I just can't wait for people to see it.

Question: Is there any talk about a recording of A Catered Affair?
Kritzer: Yeah, I think we're going to record the album on our break, but we're not sure yet.

Leslie Kritzer and Matt Cavenaugh in A Catered Affair.
photo by Craig Schwartz

Question: Do you have much singing in the show?
Kritzer: A friend of mine was like, "You know, everyone's gonna want to hear you be funny and belt your face off!" Well, if they want to hear me be hilarious like I was in Legally Blonde and belt my face off, this is not the show. I hope no one's disappointed when I'm not belting to the stratosphere. This is a different kind of show, so it's more beautiful singing and simple, character-driven singing. I have two numbers by myself, and then I sing in the opening number with Tom and Matt and Philip [Hoffman]. There may be people [who say], "She needs to do more," but I think I do just enough, and I'm very happy with that. Question: This is the first leading role that you'll be creating on Broadway.
Kritzer: First ever. I'm happy I even have a song! [Laughs.]

Question: It seems like this is a great time for you — that things have been steadily building over the last year or so.
Kritzer: I know, it's kind of crazy. It's been great. An old friend of mine said, "You know what? It's been gradual. Slow and steady." That's how I like it. People were like, "That Funny Girl you did [at Paper Mill] was so amazing. It should have moved to Broadway…" And I said, "You know what? I was 24 years old, and if that had moved to Broadway and I got everything I wanted exactly when I wanted it, I wouldn't be here where I am now." And, I feel so much better six or seven years later here where I am now than I think I ever would have been then. I'm happy. I'm kind of glad it didn't happen then. It was a crazy time, and it wasn't the time and it wasn't the place. If I ever were to do a big show like that where I would be starring and carrying the show, when that happens, I will be really ready for it. Now I get the business more, I get myself more, I'm more grown up. Then, I would have been crazy and all over the place and a mess and not stable. I'm way more stable now than I ever was then — to deal with that pressure. My idols are all people that have attained success later. Edie Falco was working 15 years before she got "The Sopranos." [I admire] those kinds of actresses that are character actresses and are slow and steady and work forever. . . . I just watched The Hours last night for the first time. Oh, Meryl Streep, you kill me! And Julianne Moore … And I'm not even a movie actress. They're the real deal, and you don't see them hanging out in clubs all night long and not showing up for work. They're real actors, they're incredible.

Question: What's it been like working at the Old Globe?
Kritzer: Oh, my goodness! First of all, let's discuss Southern California for just a second here. The most beautiful beaches and just palm trees everywhere. Gorgeous weather every day. It's just beautiful. And you're working in Balboa Park, which is this gorgeous, huge park with beautiful art museums and history museums, and the architecture is gorgeous. The people are wonderful. It's just a dream come true. And, we're living in a complex with these Shakespearean actors who are doing Shakespeare in rep, and we're getting to know them. I get to drive, which is awesome because I love driving. I don't like finding parking, but I love driving. [Laughs.] I drive to La Jolla everyday, and I take yoga in La Jolla. As I'm talking to you right now, I'm looking at La Jolla Cove, looking out into the ocean. It's a gift to be able to go out of town and to do this kind of work.

Question: Do you have any other projects in the works?
Kritzer: Well, I am going to be taking some time to do some of my own writing. We have a little break in between [the Old Globe and the Broadway run], and I'm in the process of writing some things. . . . Once we open A Catered Affair in New York, I'm going to probably do another late-night kind of crazy extravaganza of a show of some sort.

Question: What do you think it'll be?
Kritzer: I don't really know yet, [but] it'll be fun. [Laughs.] It'll be something wacky and out there, totally different from A Catered Affair — something a little crazy.

Question: What are you writing for yourself? Is it musical?
Kritzer: Yeah, it's musical. It's kind of like a one-person show, but I hate saying "one-person show." I don't like saying "cabaret" and I don't like "one-person show," so I will say, as my friend says, "Environmental Theatre." [Laughs.] I don't like putting it in a box, so I just put it in some weird term that doesn't mean anything at all! I don't know what it is. The Patti LuPone show was like performance art/cabaret — so many different things. I don't know exactly what it is, but I know it's going to be a lot of fun. . . . So I'll just say, "Stay tuned, and you'll see this spring. I'm going to whip out something crazy!"

[A Catered Affair recently extended its run at San Diego's Old Globe through Nov. 4. Tickets are available by calling (619) 23-GLOBE, by logging on to www.TheOldGlobe.org or by visiting the Globe box office at 1363 Old Globe Way in Balboa Park. The musical will arrive at New York's Walter Kerr Theatre March 25, 2008. Opening night on Broadway is scheduled for April 17.]

Three award-winning Broadway favorites will be part of the Ravinia Festival's 2008 Martinis at the Martin series. The popular cabaret series will celebrate the Great American Songbook next summer. Kicking off the series will be Tony Award winner Betty Buckley, who will play the intimate cabaret June 23, 2008. Another Tony winner, Barbara Cook, will perform July 7, and original West Side Story star Carol Lawrence will perform her evening of song Sept. 4. Tickets are now only available for the entire series, which is priced $180. Visit www.ravinia.org or call (847) 266-5100 for more information.

Two's Company – An All-Star Event Celebrating The Songs of Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz is the lengthy title of an upcoming benefit concert that will be presented Nov. 5 at the Alex Theatre in Glendale, CA. Produced and directed by Bruce Kimmel, the 7:30 PM concert will benefit the Los Angeles City College Theatre Alumni & Associates and the Los Angeles City College Theatre Academy. Cindy Williams will host the evening, which will boast performances by Misty Cotton, Rita McKenzie, Michelle Nicastro, Linda Purl, Alice Ripley, Julie Reiber, Emily Rozak, Sara Rue, Kevin Spirtas, Alet Taylor, Andy Taylor, Terry Trotter and Bruce Vilanch. Adam Cates will be the concert's choreographer with musical direction by Richard Berent. The one-night-only event will feature songs from such musicals as Wicked, Godspell, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Pippin, The Magic Show, Rags and Little Shop of Horrors as well as the films "Newsies," "Pocahontas," "Little Shop of Horrors," "Aladdin" and "The Hunchback of Notre Dame." The Alex Theatre is located at 216 N. Brand Boulevard in Glendale. Tickets, priced $20-$250, are available by calling (818) 243-7700, ext. 216 or visiting www.alextheatre.org.

A concert version of the new musical The Women of Brewster Place will be presented Oct. 12 at Strathmore in North Bethesda, MD. The 8 PM evening is presented in conjunction with Arena Stage, the Washington, DC, theatre that will stage the new musical beginning Oct. 19. Brewster Place, which is based on Gloria Naylor's best-selling novel, recently made its world premiere at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, GA. The concert, according to the official Strathmore website, will be directed by Molly Smith, who helmed the Alliance production. The cast will feature Tina Fabrique, Harriett D. Foy and Marva Hicks. Tim Acito penned the musical's book and score. For ticket information visit www.strathmore.org.

The 13th Annual Nothing Like a Dame concert — the annual fundraiser benefiting The Phyllis Newman Women's Health Initiative of The Actors Fund of America — is set for March 31, 2008. No theatre has been announced for the star-studded evening, which is presented by Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Those participating in the event will also be announced shortly. To date, the Dame benefits have raised over $3 million for the Health Initiative. Tickets for Nothing Like a Dame will be available by calling (212) 840-0770 or by visiting www.broadwaycares.org.

The multi-talented Rachel York, most recently on Broadway in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, will go it solo at Feinstein's at the Regency Oct. 14 and 15 at 8:30 PM. Backed my musical director Eugene Gwozdz on piano, York will offer such tunes as "Lost and Found," "I Dreamed a Dream," "Losing Track of Time," "My Funny Valentine," "Fly Me to the Moon," "Maybe This Time" and a medley of Burt Bacharach tunes. Feinstein's at the Regency is located in Manhattan at 540 Park Avenue at 61st Street. For reservations call (212) 339-4095 or visit www.feinsteinsattheregency.com.

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

Leslie Kritzer, Matt Cavenaugh, Lori Wilner, Harvey Fierstein, Tom Wopat and Philip Hoffman in The Old Globe's world-premiere production of <i>A Catered Affair</i>.
Leslie Kritzer, Matt Cavenaugh, Lori Wilner, Harvey Fierstein, Tom Wopat and Philip Hoffman in The Old Globe's world-premiere production of A Catered Affair. Photo by Craig Schwartz
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