The Batt-Man Begins: An Interview with Bryan Batt
He has made a highly respected name for himself on and off Broadway, starring and standing by in shows ranging from Shakespeare to rock musicals to musical comedies. He owns an interior design company in New Orleans, and his decor has been featured on television style programs. But tonight at Town Hall, when he takes the helm of the final Broadway by the Year concert of the season, Bryan Batt will take a new step on his already impressive career path as he makes his directorial debut.
"It's wild!" Mr. Batt says of this new experience on the other side of the curtain. "Part of the time, I think 'Who do you think you are, Bryan?' And then... when something really works and really clicks, and it's really funny and wonderful, I think, 'It's really great!'" Not everything has been easy or fun, however: a recent accident on the street landed Mr. Batt in the hospital with a badly bruised sternum, and made it impossible for him to perform in his directorial debut. "I'm in a lot of pain," he admits, but jokingly blames his discomfort on the cast. "They're making me laugh, and it hurts when I laugh!" he says with no small amount of affection in his voice.
This season finale of the Broadway by the Year series offered Mr. Batt, a performance veteran of the series many times over, many creative options as a director. The featured year is 1962, which gave us such hits as Sondheim's A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Anthony Newley and Leslie Brucusse's Stop the World I Want to Get Off, Harold Rome's I Can Get It For You Wholesale, and Cy Coleman, Neil Simon, and Carolyn Leigh Little Me. "I wanted something from almost every show that opened, even if it wasn't a hit," Mr. Batt says, and points out an unknown song, "Moral Re-Armament," from the 28-performance flop New Faces of 1962 as his favorite of the selections. "Some great songs that we discovered are just wonderful. I think that people will be pleasantly surprised. There's quite a variety."
Mr. Batt describes his Broadway by the Year cast as "one of the best groups of performers assembled for anything.... They're just so talented. They bring so much to the table, and everyone's so prepared and liking it that it makes my work joy. And it's a great thing that there's not a lot of egos and everyone's laid back, so it's been a very, very pleasurable experience.... Besides being talented, they're great people" As is the custom with Broadway by the Year concerts, the performers are chosen from the very best of the theatre and cabaret worlds. "It's the perfect blending of all different types of people," Batt says with increasing enthusiasm, and happily sings the praises of his cast. "You've got Liz Callaway oh, my God! You just give her a stool and a mike and you're in heaven!" he laughs. "There's nothing better than her gorgeous voice. Christine [Pedi] sounds great on her songs, and she's just innately funny she does not have to try to be. Danny [Gurwin] does a ballad that I hope is going to make the audience cry as much as it made me! It's so touching... Brad Oscar is hysterical, and Scott Coulter has a beautiful voice, this really high killer tenor. Felicia Finley is amazing! She's just amazing. I would love to work with all these people again. They're just terrific."
A true triple threat performer, Mr. Batt has an understandably lengthy and diverse list of theatre credits that span many genres. Still, his favorite role may be the one for which he is best known. "The best experience ever was Jeffrey," he says easily, and describes his time with the show as "blessed." "I loved doing Forbidden Broadway, although it was hardest, hardest physically and vocally thing I've ever done. I mean, I thought Starlight Express was hard! It's just as hard to do Forbidden Broadway. It takes every fibre of your being!" While he has earned much praise from fans and critics alike for his starring work in off-Broadway plays, concerts, and supporting roles on Broadway, Mr. Batt may be best known on the stem as one of the most reliable and versatile "stand-bys" in the business. He is currently standing by for Gary Beach in La Cage Aux Folles, and has performed the role of Albin many times while Mr. Beach was filming the movie version of The Producers. "It's a bittersweet thing when you would like to have a role of your own," he admits, but hastens to add that he has performed many great roles in many shows. "I think I've learned that, just for me, [standing by is] not going to make me happy. It's not what I got into this business for. And I have so many other things going on! If a great role is not available at this time, I do have my wonderful [interior design] store in New Orleans, I just finished a design TV show, and who knows? There might be another one in the wings. There's a whole world out there." He points out recent Tony winner Victoria Clark as an inspiration: she went from being a replacement to performing supporting roles to teaching before she received the rewards she had long deserved. "She was always great, she was always talented, and she was finally rewarded. So you never know, with this business, what can happen next week, or overnight."
He amends, "I try never to say never, but... I don't really want to stand by anymore, because I love playing the parts so much." His voice builds with impassioned enthusiasm as he continues, "I think there's nothing better than a great musical comedy. It's great to be able to do other things I can, and I've had the privilege of doing them but there's just nothing that beats that feeling when the overture starts and you're doing a great scene in a musical or a great musical number. I just love it."
Many thanks to Nancy Rosati for all her help!
Bottom photograph courtesy of Tess Steinkolk.
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