Sherie Rene Scott to the rescue.
Scott and "Everyday Rapture," her deliciously entertaining mini-musical, have arrived on Broadway, an emergency, end-of-season replacement for the Roundabout Theatre Company's revival of "Lips Together, Teeth Apart" which imploded during rehearsals.
"Rapture," which opened Thursday at the Roundabout's American Airlines Theatre, fits just fine into a large space, much bigger that off-Broadway's Second Stage Theatre where the production had a successful run last year. But then the bubbly, blond, multitalented Scott has one of those quirky, expansive theater personalities that can really fill a stage.
The 90-minute musical, largely a one-woman show, is a story of self and selflessness: the quest by a woman (also named Sherie Rene) for semi-stardom and spiritual rejuvenation, all at the same time. It's a conflict that follows her from a Kansas upbringing (mostly religious) to the bright lights of Broadway (not so religious).
Two different philosophies, written on pieces of paper are carried by the woman. One paper says, "I am a speck of dust"; the other, "The world was created for me."
And her story, concocted by Scott and Dick Scanlan, is funny, touching and more than a little melodic.
Along the way, Scott, who possesses a bold, brassy voice, sings some dozen songs, many with the able assistance of two sassy backup singers, Lindsay Mendez and Betsy Wolfe. The songwriters are an eclectic bunch, ranging from Elton John to Harold Arlen to Harry Nilsson to Fred Rogers to Harry Warren and more.
That Fred Rogers is Mr. Rogers of public television's "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," a seminal influence on our stage Sherie Rene. A second was her gay cousin, Jerome, who died of AIDS and who introduced her to another cultural icon - Judy Garland.
In Scott's vaguely autobiographical tale, Sherie Rene finds her way to New York and eventually roles in Broadway shows, where she becomes a minor celebrity, worthy of YouTube adoration. That segment features a giddy, hilarious turn by young Eamon Foley as a Sherie Rene-obsessed teenager, capable of copying her every stage move on video.
Director Michael Mayer speedily moves things along on the colorfully lighted stage where a five-piece band provides strong support. But it's Scott herself who does all the heavy lifting in this entertaining show. After "Everyday Rapture" completes its Roundabout run, what's needed for this unique performer is a big new musical comedy.
She's starred in big, popular Broadway shows like "Aida," "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" and "The Little Mermaid." She's been nominated for Tony and Drama Desk awards. She's a blue-eyed blonde with great comic timing, and her singing could melt the polar ice cap.
Yet few outside of musical-theater circles are familiar with Sherie Rene Scott. It's one of those head-scratching cosmic ironies, like Gerard Butler's career: As good as Scott is, she's not the kind of star producers build shows around.
So she took the matter into her own hands and did it herself.
The result -- the mostly solo, mostly autobiographical "Everyday Rapture" -- had a well-received run last year at Second Stage. Now it's on Broadway, the last-minute replacement for the Roundabout's canceled "Lips Together, Teeth Apart."
Under the direction of Michael Mayer ("Spring Awakening") and with Dick Scanlan's help on the book, Scott recounts her trajectory from Topeka, Kan., to Broadway through anecdotes, musings and well-chosen pop songs. But it's a rather fanciful version of herself that Scott plays with wide-eyed, mock earnestness. And the "real Sherie" versus "stage Sherie" pairing is only one of the several on which the show is cleverly built.
Another binary is Jesus versus Judy (Garland), the two major influences over young Sherie, who grew up half-Mennonite. In a hilarious scene, Scott sings "You Made Me Love You" with tender devotion while a gallery of increasingly tacky Jesus paintings flashes on a screen.
And then there's Kansas versus New York, which Sherie discovers during a trip in the summer of 1983. She wonderfully evokes the awakening she experienced through a fervent rendition of Harry Nilsson's "I Guess the Lord Must Be in New York City," but she doesn't shy from the sojourn's less-inspiring aftermath.
Sherie also pays the price of semi-fame when she recklessly starts trading e-mails with a flamboyant teenage fan (Eamon Foley).
The musical interludes are uniformly splendid. Backed by her two Mennonettes (Lindsay Mendez, Betsy Wolfe), Scott is a stylist in full control of her instrument. The low-key arrangements by Tom Kitt ("Next to Normal") only enhance her amalgam of precision and warmth.
And yet the show sometimes feels out of joint. In a smaller setting, "Everyday Rapture" achieved a near-miraculous balance between narcissistic bravado, self-mocking and sentimentality. But the last weighs heavier here, and the inspirational tidbits take over.
If there's a lesson in this, it's that corn should stay in Kansas.
Just as the Broadway theater season is drawing to its close, a smashing little show has arrived to remind us of why so many of us keep going back to Broadway, even though it’s broken our heart so many times.
“Everyday Rapture,” which opened on Thursday night at the American Airlines Theater, is by no means a conventional Broadway musical. Yet I can’t think of another production in recent years that captures and explains so affectingly the essence and allure of musicals, and why they’re such an indispensable part of the New York landscape.
First seen Off Broadway last spring at the Second Stage Theater, “Everyday Rapture” tells the ostensibly familiar story of a girl from the American heartland who falls in love with showbiz — and its capital city, Manhattan — from a distance, breaks away from a confining hometown that has never understood her and becomes a big star of big hit musicals in New York. All right, let’s qualify that. She becomes, in her own words, “a semi-semi-semi star” of “semi-hit” shows. And it’s those “semis” that make her such fabulous company here.
The girl is named Sherie Rene Scott, and she is portrayed by Sherie Rene Scott in what you could safely say is the role of a lifetime. Of course there appears to be a significant overlap between the character and the actress, who has indeed created high-profile roles on Broadway in two Disney extravaganzas (“Aida” and “Disney’s ‘The Little Mermaid’ ”) and “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.” But in telling the story of Sherie, Ms. Scott embellishes, overstates, understates, bends and weaves the complexities and inconsistencies of one life into the whole-making harmonies of a musical fable. In so doing, she has created a beautiful, funny fiction that is both utterly removed from and utterly true to real life. Which is what I, at least, always hope a musical will do.
Written by Dick Scanlan and Ms. Scott, and directed with virtuoso efficiency and wit by Michael Mayer, “Everyday Rapture” might have found an alternative title from a song in “A Chorus Line,” which Ms. Scott probably listened to when she was growing up: “What I Did for Love.” Except that might be a little too sappy. Ms. Scott manages to be sentimental and sardonic in the same breath.
Her wide-eyed manner, equal parts sexiness and sincerity, could be said to be faux-naïf. But know that there’s nothing cynical about the faux part; it’s a style choice that lets Ms. Scott perform with the sophistication that a New York audience (or rather an audience of New Yorkers) demands. And there’s no denying that when she sings, from a wildly diverse song list, she’s as polished and inventive as the worldliest cabaret artist. Having spent many nights on Broadway stages, she has no difficulty scaling up cabaret intimacy for a house as large as the American Airlines Theater; Ms. Scott naturally translates life size into bigger than life.
In creating this persona, Sherie had one heck of a role model: Judy Garland, to whose music she was introduced by her cousin Jerome, a closet lip-syncher and kindred soul. Loving Judy wasn’t easy in the world of Mennonite Kansas in which Sherie grew up. Early on, she detected a schism in her character. She was, she says, “torn between two lovers: Jesus and Judy.”
That divide is given delightful form when little Sherie sings “You Made Me Love You” to a montage of images of Jesus. Ms. Scott can do Judy (“No matter what God said, I was going to modulate!”), but when she does, she’s never merely a sound-alike. Sherie speaks of the ecstasy of living your life “inside a song,” and that means shaping the song to you.
So when Sherie does Garland, she’s doing Sherie hearing and responding to Garland even as she mimics her voice. And you really shouldn’t miss Sherie’s revelatory interpretation of the songs of Mr. Rogers, the children’s show host whose homiletic paeans to each person’s specialness helped steer Sherie through the shoals of adolescence. The choice of numbers and their presentation, to embody key moments in Sherie’s life, are never obvious. Yet they turn out to be the perfect vehicles for living out autobiographical chapters in song.
Those chapters include the inevitable first visit to Gotham (leading to a gently awe-struck interpretation of Harry Nilsson’s “I Guess the Lord Must Be in New York City”), the first lover (described in ways that allow Ms. Scott to make piquant use of some classic magic tricks) and an afternoon of cosmic introspection inspired by her 3-year-old son’s finding a four-leaf clover (the cue for a meditative rendition of David Byrne’s “Why”).
There are none of the expected backstage Broadway vignettes or awards ceremonies scenes. They would be too easy for a show that so insists on making its own kind of music. Instead there is a blissful, achingly funny segment about Sherie’s on-line relationship with a 15-year-old fan (a marvelous Eamon Foley) that speaks megabytes about stardom and its discontents in the age of the Internet. Sherie is chastened by her encounter with Broadwayislove09@earthlink.net (Mr. Foley’s character) and emerges from it with her ego shrunk to a speck of dust.
The image of a speck of dust figures prominently in “Everyday Rapture.” It’s the flip side of the belief that the world has been created just for you. I doubt there’s a performer — no, make that a person — alive who hasn’t known the high-low seesaw effect of that dichotomy. And it seems appropriate that “Rapture” has been given a set (by Christine Jones) and lighting (by Kevin Adams) that evoke both honky-tonk dazzle and the infinite darkness of the cosmos. Even Michele Lynch’s choreography is double edged, mixing showbiz slickness with the awkwardness of the terminally introspective.
In excavating her own ego, Ms. Scott has been given deluxe support all the way. As her backup singers, the Mennonettes (Lindsay Mendez and Betsy Wolfe), seem to have emanated directly from Ms. Scott’s fantasies. (Don’t you have your own team of fantasy backup singers?) The orchestrations and arrangements for the first-rate onstage band are by Tom Kitt (the composer of “Next to Normal”). And her director is, remember, Mr. Mayer, the man who staged “Spring Awakening” and this season’s “American Idiot.”
“Rapture” is itself, I guess, a speck, by the standards of a Broadway blockbuster, at least in size. But what Ms. Scott and her team summon here is that strange alchemy of ego, hunger, desperation and mysticism that infuses every great Broadway performance.
That’s what turns human specks of dust into starlight. In breaking down the chemistry of that transformation, Ms. Scott has never shined brighter or more illuminatingly.
Many of us have fond memories of watching Mister Rogers' Neighborhood as preschoolers. But did you know that, for some viewers, Fred Rogers' neighborly lessons held messages of social and sexual empowerment — that he was, in fact, "the father of free love"?
This is one of the more intriguing revelations in Everyday Rapture (* * * out of four), the slight but charming revue that opened Thursday at Broadway's American Airlines Theatre.
Inspired by the life and imagination of its star and co-writer, the bubbly, blond musical-theater veteran Sherie Rene Scott, Rapture traces its heroine's journey from a socially conservative community in Kansas to the Big Apple. There she pursues earthier rewards and becomes, as Scott cheekily identifies herself, "one of Broadway's biggest, brightest semi-stars."
The production, an off-Broadway transfer, boasts its own Cinderella story as an eleventh-hour replacement for the Roundabout Theatre Company's canceled staging of Lips Together, Teeth Apart. Under Michael Mayer's affectionate direction, Rapture sometimes has the air of a little engine still trying to prove that it can.
Luckily, that vibe suits its lean structure and impish spirit, and its leading lady's personality. The sweetly brassy voice and breezy wit Scott has lent to musicals such as Dirty Rotten Scoundrelsand Aida are offset by a sense of girlish wonder and yearning as she recalls youthful challenges and reflects, with graceful humor, on enduring spiritual questions.
That mix of tenderness and sass also informs the musical numbers, which nod to childhood heroes such as Rogers and Judy Garland. Several songs team Scott with two robust-voiced backup singers, Lindsay Mendez and Betsy Wolfe, called the Mennonettes, in reference to the leading lady's part-Mennonite heritage. It's a joke, of course, but Scott's irreverent, sexy gospel of liberation can be moving stuff.