BWW Interview: Elizabeth Stanley Preps for Birdland Show, Fangirls Over Betty Comden, and More
Currently starring as Claire De Loone in ON THE TOWN, Stanley will be taking the Birdland stage tonight in "I Get Carried Away," her solo show in tribute to Comden. Stanley couldn't say enough about how much she truly admires the Broadway lyricist as a person and an artist as she spoke to BroadwayWorld recently. Below, read about Stanley's love for artistic collaboration, her love affair for Comden, and more!
I'm sure you're in the midst of preparing for your show at Birdland now, right?
I am! It's sort of like, it's kind of filling my mind, and every minute I'm trying to rest, I have lyrics or something racing through my head, but it's kind of nice to have something to think about.
How's that going?
Good! Part of me, with all the memorization and everything, was like, "Why did I choose a show celebrating lyricists?" because that's the one thing you really don't want to mess up. But it's so much fun to work on, and some of these songs I didn't know, I learned, and other songs that I've loved for a really long time, I'm getting to finally sing. And [Betty Comden and Adolph Green] collaborated with such fabulous musicians, that it's a really awesome song book to choose from. And my music director, Ted Firth, is a fantastic musician, so together, we've come up with, I think, some really great material.
Can you tell me the concept behind your show?
Because I'm doing ON THE TOWN, which was written, music and lyrics by Comden and Green, I've been really interested in them and especially in Betty, because she originated the role that I'm playing. But you can't celebrate Betty without celebrating Adolph, because he and Betty were such a great team. So my concept is really just celebrating them and my love for them. In my fantasy world, I like to imagine that Betty and I are kindred spirits. I have these delusions, and she's so much more accomplished and talented and all of that than I probably ever will be, but I admire her so much.
What similarities do you see between yourself and her?
Well, I think she was pretty witty and pretty fun-loving. I was reading her autobiography, and she grew up with a brother, I also had an older brother, and was sort of, very curious about things, like her stories about when she was a kid are endearing and funny, because she was always sort of a little actress and interested in that, and I think I can relate to that. And also, you know, I'm not quite there yet, because I'm not married, and I don't have kids, but those are things that I want, and I think she really was so ahead of her time in being a working mom and a working wife. In that era, hardly anyone did that, and I think it's hard for any modern family to kind of make it work with kids and work, but I think it's especially hard for artists, especially female artists, because it just requires so much, and they don't always make a ton of money doing it. So she really inspired me that way.
Awesome! So what's your story to go along with your songs?
I'm talking a little bit about my love affair for Betty. And then I talk about my experience with doing ON THE TOWN and becoming curious about her, and then I draw some comparisons between myself and Betty. Most of them are humorous. I say, "We both love words, and Betty was really poetic with words, and I like to abbreviate words as much as possible," so I give examples like, "totes," and "whatevs," and then I sing the song "If," that they wrote. It uses a lot of words that rhyme with "if," but are unfinished, so instead of "specific," they say, "specif," and instead of "terrific," they say, "terrif." And then there's a part where I say, "I really love to write, and obviously Betty was a writer," and then I read this lovely excerpt from her book that she wrote in the later part of her life where she's reflective of what her life was, and if she had it to do over, of course she would, and then I follow that by reading an excerpt from my journal when I was 8 that's really ridiculous. The opening line is like, "Dear Diary, do you like it better when I write you with pen or pencil?" So I just have some little things like that, and I end up doing this great jazz version that really features my band for this number called "Baby You Knock me Out," so I say this is really dedicated to Betty, and I just think that she's so wonderful.
So what's your favorite part about your show?
My favorite number? There are so many things I could say. But we just did an arrangement a couple days ago of "Lovely Town," and that's been really fun, so I guess that's sort of in my mind because it's the last thing we put together. Normally, during that song in a performance of ON THE TOWN, I'm getting my wig changed, and so it's nice to leave my hair alone and get to sing the song.
And of course you'll be joined by special guest Andrew Rannells...
Yeah! We just had our rehearsal yesterday, and I'm so excited. He's been a pal for a few years, that I met through other actors, and he's such an awesome guy. On top of really admiring his talents, I really admire him as a human being. He's so friendly and so game. Actually, he has a lot going on, so it was sort of a long shot, but I ran into him when he came to see ON THE TOWN, and he was so excited about my show, I was like, "Well, would you want to sing a song with me," and he said, "Of course!" and then I sent him this song, which is this really wacky duet that Comden and Green would perform themselves in their own show, and it's a little bit of singing, and a lot of different little comedic sketches to go in between it. So it wasn't like, "Come sing a power ballad with me, and I'll feature you in the show." It was more like, "Will you come and sing this crazy number with me?" and he was so on board. But I think we're gonna have a lot of fun. We just did it today, and it was really a blast.
So you're just doing the one song together?
Yes. Sorry to disappoint, but we're just doing one. [Laughs]
Are you going to have any other guests joining you?
Yes! Amy Spanger is also a guest. She did a show at Birdland a couple weeks ago, and I sang with her, and it happened to be a Comden and Green song. So the show we're doing is "Ohio." It's kind of fun. and I worked with Amy on a reading of a show called ROBIN IN THE 7 HOODS- she was so fabulous in it- So it's been fun to be able to collaborate with her a little bit on this.
That's something that's so awesome about the way these cabaret shows are done: you get to collaborate with other people in the industry. I know that must be fun.
Yeah! It's one of my favorite parts about putting something together like this, and I think the same thing about Broadway Cares benefits, like Broadway Backwards. Any time you can collaborate with other people, it's so much fun, and sometimes it's so hard, because you meet people that you love, and then you do one show together, and you never get to work together again, or you know people you've never worked with but think, "I would love to do a show together," and you can just cast it yourself.
All this collaboration! It's wonderful!
I know! I have to say, all these musicians I'm working with are so phenomenal, they're way, way far and above where I feel like I could ever be. So it's really nice to work with people who make me be better than I actually am, so I get to sort of fool everyone.
What else do you have coming up after this?
Well hopefully, ON THE TOWN will keep going for a while longer. And then I would love to do this show again, whether it be another night at Birdland, or, I know the last time I did a cabaret act, I ended up being able to do it in smaller venues around the region. I actually have plans to do this one at Barrington Stage this summer, at their smaller space, so I'm really looking forward to that. I would love it if it's something I can repeat again and again, because I think it's such great material, and it certainly would make me sad to only do it once.
Inspired by her current role as Claire De Loone in the Broadway revival of On the Town, leading lady Elizabeth Stanley pays homage to the witty and poignant songbook of the show's creators and original stars, Betty Comden and Adolph Green on April 6 (Monday) at 7:00PM. Ms. Stanley explores some of the legendary duo's unforgettable hits ("Just In Time," "Make Someone Happy") and celebrates their collaborations with the great American composers Leonard Bernstein, Cy Coleman, Morton Gould and Jule Styne. Elizabeth's very special guest will be Television/Broadway star Andrew Rannells. All tickets $30, $10 food/drink minimum.
Check out highlights from her previous cabaret below!