InDepth InterView: Sherie Rene Scott On New 54 Below Show, PIECE OF MEAT, Plus A Career Retrospective & Much More
Today we are talking to one of Broadway's biggest homegrown stars who has appeared in the original New York productions of many memorable modern-day classics, among them THE WHO'S TOMMY, AIDA, THE LAST FIVE YEARS and DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS, in addition to highly-regarded turns in the first replacement cast of RENT, the Tommy Tune/Jeff Calhoun revival of GREASE, the Off-Broadway curiosity DEBBIE DOES DALLAS, the first (and only) LA mounting of Randy Newman's FAUST, as well as her starring role in the recent Lincoln Center Theater's production of WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN, and, of course, her own rapturously-received, award-winning solo showpiece, EVERYDAY RAPTURE in 2010 - the convivially mesmerizing, one-of-a-kind Sherie Rene Scott. Discussing the major transitions in her life, including her transformation from ingénue to leading lady to solo performer, Scott illustrates a unique and varied career as well as opens up about the themes, songs, stories, experiences and encounters that formed the basis for her new solo piece premiering at 54 Below this week, PIECE OF MEAT. Additionally, Scott touches upon her work as the co-owner of the revolutionary Sh-K-Boom Records with her husband, Kurt Deutsch, as well as her own studio work over the years, in addition to sharing stories related to the recording of many of their most celebrated titles and the composers whose work is prominently featured on their releases - Tom Kitt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Michael John LaChiusa and many more included. All of that, plus Mennonites, Paul McCartney, meat - and much, much more!
Sherie Rene Scott's PIECE OF MEAT is now playing at 54 Below, through October 27. More information is available here.
For even more information on Sherie Rene Scott visit her official site here.
Mona Lisas, Mad Hatters & Meat
PC: When John Kander did this column we discussed "This Life" and the show it is from, THE SKIN OF OUR TEETH. What can you tell me about your experience doing OVER & OVER, as it was then called?
SRS: Well, actually, as you probably know, Dorothy Loudon sang that song in the show - in OVER & OVER. There's another song in the show, though, that I actually sang, that I really love, too, and I just have to record someday - I'm just not heavy into recording things; you'd never think that I co-own a record label! [Laughs.]
PC: You've only done one solo album, really - but what a knock-out it is! What was the song?
SRS: "At The Rialto" - I just loved that song. Oh, I just loved that whole show. To me, it has such heart. I just love that kind of musical - a small musical with heart.
PC: Why so?
SRS: Well, heart is so hard to come by and, you know, big effects you can buy now, but you can't buy heart - and that show had so much of it.
PC: How did you come to replace Bebe Neuwirth in it as Sabina in the first place?
SRS: Well, we had just left doing AIDA out of town and they were retooling some things and moving it in, so I was literally on my way to the airport, on my way to Mexico for the first vacation I had had in two years, and, then, I got a phone call - I remember saying, "I'm going to Mexico for my first vacation in years and now you want me to stop and drop everything to do this audition?" and, then, they said, "This is for Kander & Ebb - they want you to fly to D.C. to do this audition." And, I am such a huge fan of Thornton Wilder, so it was in that moment at the airport that I decided I just had to do it.
PC: What happened next?
SRS: Well, I didn't have any music or anything, so I sang a capella and then John joined me on the piano on something. Actually, David Stone was in the room and I didn't even know it! Subsequently, he has become a friend and obviously he's this great producer, but I didn't even know he was in the room then - I was so naïve. I remember he said to me when we met again years later and he said, "Uh, you worked for me on OVER & OVER in D.C.," and I was like, "So that's where I know you from!" [Laughs.] You know, back then, I was one of those people who just cared about meeting the other actors and the director maybe and that was it - I just didn't feel like I had time for any of the rest of it.
PC: You had your eye on the goal.
SRS: I guess so - he told me later that after I left the room that day they all looked at each other and were like, "OK. Call her. She needs to come back from the airport!" [Laughs.]
PC: You sealed the deal.
SRS: "Get her down to D.C.!" So, I left the airport with Kurt and then I took a taxi back and got on a plane to D.C..
PC: Would you like to do the final version of the show someday if you had the chance?
SRS: Oh, absolutely - I'd love to do the show again and do a much better job. You know, I ain't no dancer, so doing the dancing wasn't my thing, really. I loved the people on it, though - it was a really great experience for me on that show.
PC: Apparently the Wilder estate won't allow it to be done.
SRS: Oh, that's why it hasn't been done! What a shame. That's too bad. I loved that show.
PC: What was working one-on-one with Kander & Ebb like for you?
SRS: Well, let me preface this by saying that, you know, there were people in the cast like Mario Cantone - he was somebody that was really close with Fred. So, I was new and I just wanted to do good work. You have to remember, too, that on my first day of rehearsal, they were already in tech.
PC: A true fish-out-of-water scenario!
SRS: Yeah, it was scary. I had just learned the script - no, I hadn't even learned the script! I just had the plane ride to read the script. So, I really had a lot of work to do and couldn't do much socializing at all with anyone, unfortunately. But, as far as I remember, Fred was just hysterical, you know?!
PC: A real personality.
SRS: Oh, totally - very quick, very bawdy, very personable. He had a dry wit, too, but mostly he was very, very kind in that old showbiz kind of way. You probably know yourself how kind John [Kander] is - the true country gentleman - and Fred was like the wild city guy - you, [Three Stooges Imitation.] "Why I oughta!" And, underneath that, he was just, you know, a total teddy bear.
PC: Were you a Liza Minnelli fan growing up?
SRS: Oh, Liza?! Of course, but mostly as I got older - given my background, I only was really exposed to her when I would see her on TV at a friend's house or something, you know?
PC: The Mennonite upbringing.
SRS: Yeah, so, I knew her mostly from, of course, hearing her sing "New York, New York" and snippets of other things. I recognized in her something I really, really loved that seemed like some distant, far away planet to me - I didn't really have access or an understanding even of that kind of stuff. But, whenever I could see a performance of hers at a friend's house on TV or something, I remember just being mesmerized. Since, it has turned out that one of my dear friends worked for her for many years and I know from his experience that she is a real all right lady.
PC: A real class act.
SRS: Totally. A great sense of humor. My friend loved working with her. You know, honestly, in my mind, I feel like she could be my buddy even though we don't really know each other! [Laughs.]
PC: You could totally kill in THE ACT. You would be perfect for a revival of that.
SRS: Really? I don't even know that show. It's terrible, but I don't know a lot of musical theatre like I should. I have heard of THE ACT, but I don't know it.
PC: Speaking of divas: what do you think of Barbra Streisand? Her new concert tour is flawless.
SRS: Oh, Barbra Streisand - I absolutely love her, of course. She can do anything - anything. You know, Kurt and I - we actually got married in Barbra Streisand's house.
PC: What's the story behind that?
SRS: Well, she had given her estate over to the Santa Monica Nature Conservatory - we were like the third wedding they ever had there and then they closed it for weddings after us because I guess our guests were so rowdy.
PC: That's crazy.
SRS: Yeah - yeah, that's the joke, though; we got married at Barbra Streisand's house. [Laughs.] She wasn't living there at the time, but we still got married there. It was hysterical. There was so much Barbra stuff still around the house, so that was so fascinating to me to see.
PC: One of my favorite performances of yours you did right around the same time as AIDA when it was coming in, around the turn of the new century - THIS IS YOUR SONG. Do you have any memories of that amazing Elton John BC/EFA benefit in particular?
SRS: Oh, yeah, yeah - that was a great night! I remember all the other performers were so amazing - and that band.
PC: Your performance of "Mona Lisas & Mad Hatters" was tremendously moving, as was the story you told.
SRS: [Sighs.] First, thank you for saying that. You know, that really was the raw first thing that Dick Scanlan and I ever discussed or did together - I remember I told him that story about Jerome and he said, "You have to write this down," and I said, "No. I can't talk about that." It felt too private - it was weird for me then to just talk like that in front of people. So, to do that evening and talk like that... I remember I was backstage and I kept trying to get messages to him out in the audience saying, you know, "I don't think I should speak. No one else is speaking." [Laughs.]
PC: Yet, you did it anyway - and thank goodness you did.
SRS: I did. I guess I sort of just got the nerve to do it - it was just like, "I have to do this." It was the first time I felt like I had to speak, even if no one else was speaking - you know, that's how I got into theatre, was writing my own stuff and telling a story and then singing a song. It seems natural to me. It seems unnatural to me to do it any other way. So, yeah, that concert was really the beginning of all of that.
PC: You studied at The Neighborhood Playhouse with Sanford Meisner, correct?
SRS: Yes, I did.
PC: Did he ever give you any insights you hold especially dear? Connie Britton had some great stories about him when she did this column.
SRS: Oh, I didn't know she went to The Neighborhood Playhouse, too! How great is that?! By the way, I read the script for her new show NASHVILLE - it's going to be really, really good. But, yeah - I guess I would have to say that we were all afraid of him in a way. He had one of those vocal boxes where he would talk through a hole in his throat, so he would always [Loud Monotone.] "Talk like this." So, even though he had this machine he would talk through, he was still really tough and really aggressive. So, it was always like, "Oh, my God, please don't make him call on me; it's just too much!" But, he was great. I remember he said something to me that just notched me up another level to the class - I think that the dudes always looked at the girls as not quite on the same level as them in general; you know, "They're not so great, those girls." They were a little sexist. So, I remember one day he said to me, [Meisner Voice.] "You're good. You're really good. You're not gonna do soap operas, are you?" And, I was like, "God, no!" I thought, "Why would he think I was going to do soap operas? Ugh!" But, basically, he was saying, "Because of how you look, people will want you to do certain things and play certain roles - you are better than that. Don't listen to them."
PC: How insightful - and enervating, I'm sure, as well.
SRS: Oh, yeah - totally. It was really great for him to say it - it meant a lot to me then and it still does. I remember thinking that he was really old and he had glasses, so that's probably why he even said it since I didn't look that great to begin with. [Laughs.] But, it was nice anyway.
PC: You were stunning - and still are.
SRS: Thank you - I'm sure you say that to everyone, but thank you anyway. [Laughs.] Seriously, though, it meant a lot that he would say that I had some talent like he did.
PC: Speaking of glamour shots, tell me about the photo shoot you did for MEN I'VE HAD.
SRS: Oh, yeah - on the bed! There were more potato chip bags and things strewn around than you can see, really, though. I sort of wanted it to be like the back side of the album was getting ready for the date and then the cover is what really happens two hours later where you really are just like, "Oh, thank God that's finally over. Whew! I have the TV on and some potato chips and I'm naked - alone; as opposed to being with all these other 'men I've had.'"
PC: A lot of thought went into it.
SRS: Yeah, I just wish you could see more potato chip bags. [Laughs.]
PC: Did any songs not make the cut for the album?
SRS: Oh, I don't even remember anymore. You have to put it in the context of, you know: we had just started the label; we had just come in with AIDA from out of town in Chicago; and, Adam Pascal and I both made our albums while we were in tech with AIDA on Broadway.
PC: How harrowing.
SRS: As anyone in theatre knows, technical rehearsals mean you are rehearsing twelve hour days - at least. I remember we would check in with the stage manager, Clifford, at dinner break and be like, "Clifford, do you really think they are going to need us back after break?" It was like, "We could just be sitting in our dressing rooms or we could be at this recording studio that's seven blocks away. If you need us to come back, we will." And, of course, there were snow storms all during this, too. So, Adam and I would race seven blocks and then go sing for three or four hours and work on stuff. We had like two weeks between the Chicago run and New York rehearsals, so we had worked out the arrangements we were going to be using for each of our albums then. I remember that I had most of the musicians from THE CONAN O'BRIAN SHOW band on that album, actually.
PC: What a trivia tidbit!
SRS: They were so great - they would just put tracks down for us and we really didn't know what we were doing; I would do it totally differently if I was doing it now, of course. But, again, we had just started the label a few months previously, so, basically, we were all like, "Well, if it's any good, maybe Disney will let us sell it in the front of the house and we'll be the first people to really break through that and be able to get it in our contracts that we can." We felt like, "We put in eight performances a week for sixteen hundred people - there's nothing foul or anything that will reflect poortly on the show on these album." So, luckily, the powers-that-be at Disney respected our entrepreneurial spirit and all of that and they said, "OK. You can sell your stuff in the front of the house." So, that allowed us to make our money back on those records and to make a good stand of showing other people how to do this and sort of reinvent how Broadway artists are seen and the work that they are allowed to do and how they can sell it. And, then, obviously, after that, Kurt reinvented how cast albums were done.
PC: Indeed, he did.
SRS: He really did. I mean, it was like, "Why are we giving this stuff to these record labels who really don't care?" If the show is a hit, the record sells itself - they don't have to promote it or invest in it or do anything; if the show is a flop, then they shelve it and you never can get it. So, we decided that it would be a smart idea to have producers consider it as part of the budget for a show from the get-go and producers then could be in charge of it themselves - make the album they want to make and promote it how they want to promote it and sell it the way that they want to sell it. And, now, it just seems like par for the course, but, you know, when you've worked hard on a show, you are going to give all of the record rights to some label who comes in and doesn't really have any interest in it? Someone who just came in a couple of times, maybe, and now is going to create the sound of the album and preserve the show?
PC: It seems ludicrous.
SRS: I mean, more people hear the album than ever hear the show and certainly because of Sh-K-Boom a lot of shows wouldn't have had a further life if not for the cast albums we did.
PC: Your label is the home of most major cast albums of this century, without question. That's quite an accomplishment in and of itself, I would certainly say.
SRS: What's most important to us is that people can hear these things and say, "Hey, let's produce this show here in our town." And they do!
PC: THE LAST FIVE YEARS is a true case-in-point of that, of course.
SRS: That was our first cast album, you know.
PC: Of course, and, also one of the most popular of our era.
SRS: Yeah - it really works! [Laughs.] That one just works.
PC: BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG CITY is absolutely phenomenal, too - one of my own favorite more obscure scores you preserved.
SRS: Oh, BRIGHT LIGHTS is so great - Paul Scott Goodman is so talented. I loved doing that.
PC: Plus BERNARDA ALBA and SEE WHAT I WANNA SEE, as well - two superb Michael John LaChiusa masterworks.
SRS: Oh, of course - Michael John is so wonderful. You know, there really is a lot of great working going on - like all those examples you just named - and these people deserve good recordings of their work; the new people coming up, too.
PC: What was the impetus for originally starting the label? Do you feel you can explore yourself creatively in that realm?
SRS: Well, I think that the impetus for starting the label - even though I was on the first cast album and my record was one of our first releases - was never that I wanted to be a recording artist. There are just so many other things I love to do! I mean, I had kind of lived two lives - I went to school to be an actor, and, for me, that sort of meant straight theatre; and, then, I knew I had this ability to sing, which I used to make money by doing back-up singing and demo recording and studio work at a time when you could make a lot of money doing that. Being 19, 20, 21, 22 back then you could make a lot of money doing back-up singing for stars and doing studio things for other artists. So, it was like being in two different worlds for me and all I knew was that theatre was for me - I knew that if I stayed in the recording industry I wouldn't live; I knew that something bad would happen to me. I mean, yeah, I wanted to have fun, but I didn't do drugs and I didn't sleep around and I just didn't want that whole kind of lifestyle - I would want to have fun, but just not all the time. So, I knew that if I pursued that career I would probably succumb to something sooner or later. I always have felt like I am the type of person to do something once and then die - I am just that kind of person; I know it. [Laughs.]
PC: So the choice was pretty clear-cut, then.
SRS: Yeah, I really felt like I should choose to live - to pursue this theatre thing. So, then, you know, I worked in a shoe store; I sold toys; I did a whole bunch of things so that I could do theatre for no money. I really kind of did a lot of things that I thought would probably cause my demise if I ever did them, but they actually didn't, strange as that may sound coming after what I just said. [Laughs.]
PC: I understand your point, though. What did you work on in your studio singer days that we might be familiar with? Did you ever demo any big hits or sing back-up on any?
SRS: Oh, God - I think I did do one or two things that ended up being pretty big, but I have forgotten what they were now. I worked up in Woodstock, N.Y. a lot, though - there was a lot of great recording going on up there back then. That's actually where I became a vegetarian, as a matter of fact.
PC: No way! To tie it all in with PIECE OF MEAT…
SRS: [Laughs.] It was, though! It really was. There were a lot of musicians working up there, so I worked on so, so much stuff. You know, you sometimes just record parts of things for songs and fill-ins while people are writing things, and, you know, you get paid really well and that's it - and sometimes it ends up on an album somewhere; in a back-up harmony or uncredited stuff or whatever. But, yeah, I did do a song that became a hit by someone in a genre of music I wasn't really familiar with, I think - I just don't remember what it was now. But, it was basically anyone who recorded in New York City or upstate that I would have worked with. You know, Kurt is the one who introduced me to musical theatre, more or less, and got me to love it - and I got a job doing it and it paid more than straight theatre and I loved doing it and so I started doing it more often after that.
PC: The plan worked!
SRS: It worked. But, again, I didn't grow up with musical theatre, so I didn't have any reference for it or any appreciation of it, really.
PC: Were you familiar with TOMMY prior to making your Broadway debut in it?
SRS: Oh, well, that's different - TOMMY wasn't a musical to me; that was rock n roll and jazz.
PC: So you knew it?
SRS: Oh, God, yes! I knew TOMMY. That was my first show, so I naively felt like, "Oh, this is how it is going to be! All my worlds colliding on Broadway - this is something I can do; I can act and sing rock music that I love." It was like a progression of events to me, in my mind, and I didn't anticipate that we would be inundated with revivals after that.
PC: Who could? It was a rough period for Broadway.
SRS: I didn't realize that Broadway was like the movies and that there were all different genres - there's action! There's romance! There's drama! There's comedy! So, I felt like it would be more like that and, subsequently, it just really wasn't. But, you know, Kurt and I met doing Randy Newman's FAUST…
PC: With a book by David Mamet! Talk about an unusual piece.
SRS: Yeah, yeah, yeah - I loved that I got to do unusual stuff like that, though, early on. So, we started the record label, and I said that I had an idea - I said that I am not interested in doing just songs, but I am interested in doing an album project with all these talented people. I thought we could use Adam [Pascal] and also Alice [Ripley] - I remember I was always like, "You have got to hear my friend Alice!" and I remember that's how we started, really, with that idea; that we would all gather around Alice and sing together in the dressing room backstage at TOMMY right when she first learned how to play guitar and how much fun it was. That's such a great memory for me.
PC: Michael Cerveris, of course, too - TOMMY himself - recorded with you.
SRS: Oh, of course, Michael! I love his stuff. I love him. It was really important to me and the most interesting part of it all to me was that we could create a hub for all of these talented people in musical theatre. Kurt's love of musical theatre was what was behind the label for him, I think, and I wanted to give the performers this outlet to create and a way for them to give their art to the world.
PC: Having played in TOMMY and replaced Idina Menzel in RENT, you also were the first to play Diana in NEXT TO NORMAL, another seminal rock musical of the last decade - then, at the time, preliminarily called FEELING ELECTRIC. Quite an accomplishment.
SRS: Oh, yeah - in that concert! Yes. FEELING ELECTRIC. With Norbert [Leo Butz] and Greg Naughton! That was so interesting to do. I guess I was the first.
PC: Would you ever want to play the role in NEXT TO NORMAL as it is now, in a full production?
SRS: Oh, God, no! Never. I'd never want to play that. [Laughs.]
PC: Why not?
SRS: I don't want to go through all of that eight times a week! I must not be that committed of an actor now, I guess - I mean, I love the music, of course, and I loved Alice doing it; I thought that it was just perfection and I was so happy that they all found each other. I love the piece and I loved it when it was FEELING ELECTRIC, too. Tom [Kitt] was our piano teacher, you know - that's how we first found him.
PC: No way! How did you meet?
SRS: Well, I asked my friend Adam, "I need a piano teacher and accompanist and I need a person to play these gigs for the Sh-K-Boom Room. Do you know anybody who could do that?" And, he said, "You've got to meet Tom." And, so, Tom came in and he played FEELING ELECTRIC for Kurt and Kurt loved it - Kurt immediately said, "I want this to be one of our Sh-K-Boom concerts."
PC: Was this even before DEBBIE DOES DALLAS, which Tom also worked on with you?
SRS: Oh, yeah - years before DEBBIE DOES DALLAS. It was like '02, I think.
PC: What was the first song you sang from the NEXT TO NORMAL score?
SRS: "I Miss The Mountains". I remember singing that. There was also another really great song called "Feeling Electric" that I loved.
PC: "Feeling Electric" is phenomenal - such a shame it was cut.
SRS: I know! I know. I know. But, you know, they worked on that piece for such a long time and I am so glad it turned out so well. You know, Michael Greif was someone we invited to that first concert and I remember, after, he said to Kurt, "Eh. I didn't get it." [Laughs.]
PC: What a hilarious memory given how things turned out.
SRS: Of course, much later, he said to Kurt, "Now I get it." [Laughs.] David Stone really took care of that show and Brian [Yorkey] and Tom really appreciated that he held on and didn't let it go and saw it through like he did.
PC: Have you been involved at all with the development of their new piece? Idina Menzel has been announced as the lead, I believe.
SRS: I think they are writing that especially for Idina - they are all working closely together with David Stone on that, too, as far as I know. To be honest, I am just happy when my friends are doing things - especially together. Honestly, for me, it's really all about working on my own stuff - if something else comes along, great, but I have got stuff to do that makes me happy and fulfilled. I love to do shows for my friends and that keeps me happy as well.
PC: I have to ask: has WICKED ever been on your radar given the David Stone connection?
SRS: No. Of course, I know all the people involved and everything, but it's just not my thing. You know, it's like, when you can see someone else doing something that you love and you love their work in it and not see yourself in it? That's usually how I feel. I mean, there's maybe been… like, THE LAST FIVE YEARS, that was one of the few times where I felt like, "They may cast somebody else in this, but no one will ever do this better than I can do it. I know it." It was one of those things - that clear sign that you feel inside. I felt it in my heart that I could do it and commit myself one hundred percent to it. Rarely does that ever, ever, ever happen to me and certainly it doesn't happen when I see other people's shows - usually I'm like, "Wow! I really love what they are doing! Thank God I don't have to do that eight times a week!" [Big Laugh.]
PC: That's so funny.
SRS: It's really that kind of thing for me, though - it's true. That's usually how I feel - usually my friends are girls for that reason, too, probably; you know, we have no competition between us for things like that. There are enough Broadway shows that I want to do that I think are interesting and that I have been lucky enough to do… [Pause.] And, you know, the ones that didn't turn out very well didn't last very long, so thank God for that! [Laughs.]
PC: That's even funnier. Speaking of roles for the foreseeable future: what about the Witch in INTO THE WOODS someday? You seem perfectly suited to the role and to Sondheim's sensibility in general, though I don't believe you have played any of his roles yet.
SRS: Oh, well, I'm flattered to be considered for Sondheim, but I have to be honest and say that Sondheim is something Kurt has introduced me to relatively recently - but, of course, I know the reverence and respect he is of course given by people in the theatre. I don't even know if I am worthy of it, of him, to be honest. I think that I have an appreciation for him that I am still to be more educated in, actually. I think that's definitely something interesting, though, now that you bring it up. [Pause.] I just feel like there's a lot of great work being done and if it's something with wonderful people and a wonderful story and I could contribute something significant, then who knows? I love rock and I love jazz and I love great storytelling in music, so I feel like there is a New Group of people coming to the theatre now and there are so many ways to tell stories through music now that I want to explore that most of all.
PC: IN THE HEIGHTS being a major album on your label - to cite yet another example of a modern classic. Lin-Manuel - what a talented, sharp guy.
SRS: I love him, too. Truly - I love that show so much, and, oh, what Lin-Manuel is doing is so amazing; and, you know, I love rap! A lot of people who come to the theatre like rap, I think. And, I think that the new people coming up respect so many forms of music and have a knowledge of the tradition, but, also, want to tell stories in ways that are appealing to all varieties of people. I think that that is so great that we have such a great base for those people - you know, Sondheim's work can inspire so many new young artists to write in their own voice, which I'm sure that's what he would want, too; and they are out there now doing it.
PC: Have you heard Lin-Manuel's ALEXANDER HAMILTON yet?
SRS: No, I haven't! You know, Kurt is the guy who is on the cutting edge with all of that stuff - I don't read news about theatre and I try to stay away from all of that stuff. I tend to know things the that come across the wall, I guess - I am just really not up-to-date on anything, theatre-wise. But, you know, I am a politics junkie and I love history of politics, too - I am so obsessed with Alexander Hamilton and when Kurt mentioned Lin-Manuel was working on it he was like, "Yeah, you know, that dude you were trying to tell me about years ago." And, now, a musical about him? I was like, "I told you this could be super-interesting!" And I'm sure it will be great. Just the act of it existing - or coming into existence - is exciting. It's an exciting time, I think, in some ways - it's sort of like "Let's constantly reinvigorate this community! Let's create something new" I wish there's was even more room for people to see this live talent we have, though, and see everything they could do. But, I think it's great people are singing more on TV now and people coming together to see a performance is something like nothing else, so I am so glad we have storytellers and producers willing to take chances and I hope we have more and expand the community even more in the future.
PC: Another tremendous modern score on your label is BLOODY, BLOODY Andrew Jackson - you must appreciate that from a historical perspective, yes?
SRS: Oh, I do! I do. I love that score and I think Ben [Walker] is just… [Pause. Sighs.] You know, I worked with him and he is just so savvy! These kids are so savvy coming up these days. They understand so many sides of the business - they are so astute in how they speak to the press and they have their own natural confidence to back up their skill; and, they have ease. They are not interested in being stars - Ben is a perfect example of someone who really digs into the work and goes wherever there is good work and that's what it's about for him. I think that that is so exciting - that so many actors out there are doing that now.
PC: Someday Sh-K-Boom and Ghostlight need to do the ultimate modern musical theatre celebration album or a special concert.
SRS: Oh, wouldn't that be so great? That's what we tried to do with the Super Friends - we started that and we want to continue on with it eventually, but it's about the idea of: we have this roster of amazing artists who would love to have a way to donate their services through some sort of performance machine that is set up to give them the place to do it where they could donate their talent to these worthy organizations and give performances for a paid audience. So, you know, I could name off a thousand worthy causes that could benefit from it, but we could be contributing to the community and to the city and also give an amazing concert - and, as a performer, there are few things more fun than singing five-part harmony live in concert with people who can sing their asses off! We just need to get the system set up to do it - I know so many Sh-K-Boom artists want to do it; want to do that type of thing. I'd really like to do that someday.
PC: That would be tremendous. On that note, you participated in a holiday concert event that is a great ASTEP benefit - Lynne Shankel's CHRISTMAS IN NEW YORK.
SRS: Oh, that's right! Of course. That was a lot of fun.
PC: Tell me about singing Darlene Love's iconic "Baby Please Come Home" - your performance of which, thankfully, made it on to YouTube.
SRS: Oh, it did? I guess I have to keep up more with what's on YouTube these days! [Laughs.]
PC: It's a fantastic performance.
SRS: Oh, that's so nice. But, yeah, the story with that is I sang "Baby, Please Come Home" at a Sh-K-Boom Christmas concert a few years ago and Betsy [Wolfe] and Lindsay [Mendez] said they were going to be doing that concert this year and they said "Please, please come," and so I did. I also told them that I wanted to do that Police song in the middle, and, so, I went to Lynne with Lindsay and I was like, "Ugh! I've done this song before, but I'm not sure if we can do it like this - can we stick this Police song in the middle here somehow?" And, two days later, Lynne had done it and made it all work beautifully. So, then, of course, we were like, "Oh, my God! We're really going to have to do this now!" [Laughs.]
PC: The pressure is on!
SRS: Right? But, we had a lot of fun doing it - it would be great to do a Christmas album with all of them.
PC: Lynne Shankel is so unbelievably talented.
SRS: Oh, my God, she is! I hear that from everybody who has ever worked with her and it's true. It was great to work with her on that Christmas show and I'd love to do it again.
PC: Now, your new show, PIECE OF MEAT, premiered at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival last year. How was it received? Why did you chose that particular path of trying it out?
SRS: Well, we kind of wanted to try it out out of town… [Laughs.]
PC: You definitely did!
SRS: It seemed like Australia was a nice, safe, really out of town out of town place. I knew that it was a little off the beaten path - the piece that I was compelled to write. And, I knew that the music that Todd [Almond] and I were drawn to be working on was all part of something else; you know, none of it was musical theatre stuff. [Pause. Sighs.] I know that people get irritated by that, but it just hasn't organically happened in the pieces that I have been writing - I mean, I did "Strongest Suit" in EVERYDAY RAPTURE, but that was it.
PC: It's about the music that moves you, not so much what moves them out there.
SRS: Yeah, and, I mean, I felt like in this case especially it would be best to do it like a work vacation and try out the show down there in Adelaide. It was all so great. I had heard that they take great care of you in Australia, and they really do!
PC: How wonderful to create in such a forgiving envrionment.
SRS: I had heard that their audiences were good and that their audiences were interested in theatre, and they were! They had no preconceptions of what something should be. We just had a blast. You know, the Australians love food and wine and laughing and theatre - all of the things I love! [Laughs.]
PC: A Dionysian combination!
SRS: They just love everything I love! They really do. And, they really appreciated that Todd and I were doing something different, too - and, so, Todd and I really, really, really enjoyed the experience. So, after doing it there, we were ready to say, "OK. This is the end of it," or, "There is something here that is worthy of being seen in New York." So, I have worked on it since then.
PC: What has changed?
SRS: Oh, well, I rewrote some stuff and took some people's advice to make certain changes.
SRS: Well, I wrote two new sections - two new whole scenes - and then we changed the beginning around.
PC: Was any musical material cut?
SRS: Well, we cut one song. And, we moved around a song that used to be the finale. There was a song that leads into an original song for the show called "This Is Why We Do This", but we moved that around to be the encore, if we do one.
PC: Who wrote the new material?
SRS: Well, that one is by Todd and Adam Boch - "This Is Why We Do This". We do it with a Kate Bush song called "Moments of Pleasure".
PC: You have such unique taste. I have to ask - will there be any Sting/Police material in PIECE OF MEAT? I know you are a big fan.
SRS: I am, I am! But, no, we couldn't fit him in! I love Sting - in many ways that aren't healthy! [Laughs.]
PC: We'll have to wait until the next show, I suppose, for more on that.
SRS: Todd is just such an amazing collaborator - we have done so much together for this and in the past together. He is so good about, you know, when I'm calling him with a song and him being like, "Sure, let's try it," and then we work on it and he does an amazing arrangement and work hours and hours and days and days on it and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't and we are totally OK with that. We worked on this Led Zeppelin arrangement with these amazing harmonies - it was a really beautiful thing; and, also, we worked on Sting stuff that we loved. He is really great about saying, "I'm not sure if this works in this piece that we are doing and I think I have a song that would work even better here and we're going to have to work harder but that's OK. That song was great, but it's for another piece - we'll use it for another piece, another day." And, so, for me, that's so important.
PC: You have very eclectic taste in song choices, as well.
SRS: I do. But, in this show, even though it's very eclectic, it all really flows together - it all really goes together. And, in the context of this show, all the music is re-invented anyway, by these songs being heard in the specific context of our storytelling.
PC: Of course.
SRS: So, Todd and I have been working on the music a lot and this personal struggle in my life that I was going through caused him to say to me one day, "You know, it's interesting that all of the songs that we are going to and returning to relate to this personal struggle that is going on with you in your life right noW. Maybe you should…" [Laughs.]
PC: Provoking you!
SRS: I know! I was like, "No, no, no - this is too personal." It was just so confusing and earth-shattering to me - this insatiable hunger for meat that suddenly happened and all the ramifications I felt that it would have in my life - that I felt like I couldn't possibly talk about it in front of others…
PC: Which meant that you probably should...
SRS: Which meant that I should. Right. So, during that time I was writing a lot and we were working on a lot of songs that happened to be by singers who didn't sing very well - you know, singers who are sort of monotone.
PC: For instance?
SRS: For instance, I was really interested in Lou Reed songs - songs with no discernible melodies, really. [Laughs.] And that's why I think they are so genius. Like a David Byrne or a Talking Heads song, there is a melody there, but it is like Tibetan chanting through the melody and so you just kind of listen and go with it and it's amazing. So, yeah, we do a Talking Heads song, a Lou Reed song, a Joni Mitchell song, a Paul McCartney and Wings song...
PC: Have you ever sung Joni Mitchell's "River"?
SRS: Oh, no. That's too well-known. That's hers - it's too iconic. I do a version of her "All I Know" in this that is interspersed with the articulation of the struggle that is presented at the beginning of the show, though - the struggle that is the story for the evening is all set into that song.
PC: What precisely is the story of PIECE OF MEAT, would you say, in a nutshell?
SRS: I would say that the story of the evening is about desires - overwhelming desires. And, on either end of the spectrum, the desire to remain an involved, enlightened being - at least as I see one - while dealing with an overwhelming animalistic, base desire at the same time. It was welling up inside of me and the struggle manifested itself in this piece - and, one of the ways it did is in this life-changing decision that I struggle with making. It's about my true-life struggle after being a healthy, happy vegetarian and never having been tempted in twenty-six years - in all that time I was never tempted to have meat. But, then, I hit an age when I had an insatiable, animal desire for meat. Why?
PC: Vegetarianism - and veganism - are very pertinent topics these days, particularly with the current generation.
SRS: Right! It is. They are. I know other people must struggle with this, too, and that's why I find this so interesting right now. Since we did it, I am totally shocked by how many people come up to me and say they have gone through the same thing. You know, I investigated this new desire a lot - I really loved being a vegetarian and it was something that I really believe in and not many people can say that they do something every day for that amount of time. I mean, you don't even necessarily have bodily functions every day for twenty-six years, you know what I mean?! [Laughs.]
PC: It's a more than quarter century.
SRS: There is very few things you are able to say you have been for that long - for twenty-six years; every single day. I mean, I've been a female every day for that amount of time, but that's it. So, being a vegetarian was part of my identity - part of my beingness. So, this base desire really shook the foundation of my entire life - to have this first-time-ever urges and desires. So, rather than succumb to them completely, I really tried to investigate, you know, "What is this? Is this about nourishment in some way - am I not being physically nourished or creatively nourished in some way?" Then, I asked myself, "OK. I want flesh. Do I want human flesh in some way or something? Is this something that crops up in women when they get to 45? What is this need for flesh?" I was trying everything to hang on to my vegetarianism, but…
PC: You didn't.
SRS: I didn't. That's what this piece is all about - someone coming to that point in their life where they realize that everything in their life comes down to three things: what do I hang on to; what do I let go of; and, when?
PC: Life in three questions! Wow.
SRS: It's about this struggle of how to hang on to an enlightened, compassionate way in life - my idea of an enlightened, compassionate way, at least. You know, we have to be these spiritual beings, and we are, but we have to be them inside these human bodies at the same time - that is what is so hard. I feel like, "Gosh, it's so hard sometimes!" And that's the journey of this piece - that's the story of this piece, really. So, in the show, I turn to other famous vegetarians in my life - we have Paul McCartney and we have the Dalai Lama…
PC: What other show in New York can boast that?
SRS: [Laughs.] I go through the struggle with them! I investigate whether it is really flesh. I investigate about myself - feeling like a piece of meat; being treated like a piece of meat; enjoying having been a piece of meat at certain times, definitely. You know, I identify with the meat. I identify with the prey - not the predator - and now to have to think of becoming a predator and go onto the other side was just mind-blowing to me. It really was. I had to investigate whether I was just a little fawn in the woods or not myself, really - I mean, there were people in my life that I used as a piece of meat; because our human desires bonded so well together, you know? It wasn't a heightened, spiritual relationship, it was a base, animal-based relationship. And that was great, too! [Laughs.]
PC: I bet!
SRS: I have been a predator to men - I know I have. So, yeah - I looked at all of that before I made the decision I ended up making and the decision that you will see me making in this piece.
PC: What about fish?
SRS: Well, fish has a part in the show, too…
PC: Considering you played one in THE LITTLE MERMAID… an octopus named Ursula, no less.
SRS: That's right! [Laughs.] Right. It's true, though - I have played roles of people who were predators, I have played roles of people who were meat eaters too, definitely. But, I do have to say that the most important thing with this piece is that, through the struggle, we realize that there is nothing funnier than people's pain and suffering, is there?! Certainly, I will be the first one to admit that! [Laughs.]
PC: Schadenfreude, especially.
SRS: I think that people will really see a lot of humor in it that goes along with their own thinking and the inner-struggle that is going on in their minds with these issues. It's very funny - in my mind, at least. [Laughs.] It's a good topic that makes for good absurdity - and I have a lot of absurdity in my life, certainly. It's heightened, of course, so it's not like a recounting of my life in how it is set up - it's not autobiographical in that sense. It's basically written to give people a good show and that's the main goal. I want to connect with the audience and lessen the space between myself and the audience - on Broadway, in one of those theaters, the space is much more vast between us. Even though it is new to me, I really want to try this where I am sharing and connecting in an intimate environment and experience that because I am so afraid of it - I think that's why I have to do it.
PC: It sounds like a confidence-building show to do.
SRS: It is! But, you know, it would be hard for me to get up and sing a few songs without playing a character though, too - it always is anymore. So, I feel really strong and I feel compelled to tell this story and to do it in a funny and entertaining way and to sing this music that enhances the story and just really give people a good show. I hope I can help them feel that we all are thinking as our higher selves and our base selves together and that's OK, you know? That's why I had to do this.
PC: Two questions, both about two female songwriters/performers: first, have you ever sung any Stevie Nicks stuff?
SRS: Oh, my God, I love Stevie Nicks! I would totally love to. We actually have this pre- and post- show playlist that I am making of all of the songs that we looked at singing for this show at some point - whether we have arrangements already worked out for it or if we just sang through it or just investigated it or whatever - and "Sara" is definitely on there.
PC: Second: Laura Nyro?
SRS: Are you kidding? I sang "Eli's Comin'" the night before my son was born! His name is Eli! It's weird you even ask. I'm impressed. [Laughs.]
PC: Last: What's next?
SRS: I'm being really choosey. I'm going to focus on my son now - you know, he's not going to want to hang out with me much longer! He's getting to that age. So, besides that, I'm creating and only doing things that I really, really, really love, so anytime you see me do anything now you can know that I will be doing something that I really love - whether I love the people I am working with or the people and the material I am doing; it's all about the true love from here on out. So, yeah - that's what I aim to do for the next several decades. [Laughs.]
PC: Incredible. This was absolutely awesome, Sherie. Thank you so much. I hope PIECE OF MEAT is a big success.
SRS: Oh, you've made my night, Pat! This was such a beautiful and such a nourishing conversation. Thank you, thank you. See you later.
Click below for a bonus video preview of Sherie Rene Scott's PIECE OF MEAT at 54 Below - "Life During Wartime". Enjoy!
Photo Credit: Walter McBride / Retna Ltd.
From This Author Pat Cerasaro