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A Midsummer Night's Dream - Off-Broadway

Classic Stage Company presents a new production of Shakespeare's comedy.

A Midsummer Night's Dream Star Bebe Neuwirth on Bob Fosse, Michael Bennett & More Career Highlights

A Midsummer Night's Dream Star Bebe Neuwirth on Bob Fosse, Michael Bennett & More Career Highlights
Bebe Neuwirth
Bebe Neuwirth recalls favorite stage roles and explains how she is not like Lilith Crane.

Bebe Neuwirth ranks as one of the greatest dancers in Broadway history, but that’s only one of the reasons she has worked steadily for three decades. Neuwirth is also a stylish singer and an expert comic actress with a little-known penchant for Shakespeare. Thirteen years after collecting rave reviews as Kate in The Taming of the Shrew in Williamstown, she is starring as Titania and Hippolyta in Classic Stage Company’s revival of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Neuwirth is also celebrating the release of Porcelain, her first solo CD, which features songs by Sondheim, ABBA, Lennon & McCartney and more. For her Role Call feature, she warmly recalled famous co-stars and directors and lamented that more of her favorite shows (including Fosse, Dancin’ and Little Me) couldn’t make the cut.

Role That Was the Most Fun
“Nickie Pignatelli in Sweet Charity [1986; Tony Award for Best Featured Actress] was a great, great character. She cracked me up: She was a dance hall hostess who had spent time in an ‘upstate government hotel.’ She had spectacular things to say, spectacular songs and dances—just a wonderful character. It was the most fun because I was taught the choreography and coached by Gwen Verdon and directed by Bob Fosse. I loved them both. I always felt that the air changed as soon as Bob walked into a room, and the same thing with Gwen. These were two geniuses, and if you paid attention to what they said and did what they asked, you could do no wrong.”

Role I Looked the Best In
“I’m not a big fan of my looks, but I will say that I was in the best shape of my life when I played Velma Kelly in Chicago [1996; Tony Award for Best Actress]. And my costume—how can I say this?—let that shape be appreciated! Physically, I was in my prime. I did the role for almost two years the first time around, and I was having so much fun that I didn’t realize until about a year into it that Velma was a difficult role. I knew it was physically demanding, but it was so exhilarating to play, so well written and well choreographed and well directed, that I kind of didn’t notice how taxing it was.”

Role Fans Ask Me About Most
“People still ask me about Lilith [on Cheers, 1986-93; two Emmy Awards]. She started out as one scene in one episode, but the producers saw her as an interesting relationship for Frasier [Kelsey Grammer] to have. The word ‘amazing’ gets thrown around a lot, but that show really did have an amazing cast. Sometimes, as in Chicago and Cheers, there’s an alchemy: The sum becomes greater than the parts. You can’t know in advance whether that kind of chemistry is going to happen, and I’m so grateful to have been a part of it. What did get a little frustrating was when people assumed that I was buttoned-up and humorless and hard, like Lilith, because I’m not those things. And I’m not nearly as educated as Lilith! The way I am like her is that she’s not what she seems on the surface, and that’s true about me. I am a very complicated person. People make snap judgments about me that are frequently misguided.”

Role That Felt Most Comfortable
“Shakespeare feels very natural to me. Ever since I did The Taming of the Shrew [in 1999], I’ve wanted to do another Shakespeare play, and I’m so glad to be here [at CSC in A Midsummer Night’s Dream]. There’s something profound about working on a classical piece of theater. When I was a teenager, I danced in ballets to the beautiful music of Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky; ballet was my first love, and performing the poetry of Shakespeare reminds me of that. What feels most natural to me is dancing on a stage, and if I’m not dancing, then I’m in a play—and the plays of Shakespeare feel very, very natural.”

Role That Was My Big Break
“My very first part was in the tour of A Chorus Line as Lois, the ballerina who gets cut from the opening. After some months, I took over the role of Sheila and then Cassie. I came in to New York and played Lois again and then took over the role of Sheila on Broadway [in 1980] when I was 21 years old. A Chorus Line was a really stunning experience: I got my Equity card, I got to be directed by Michael Bennett and I was part of two historic moments on Broadway. The first was performing for the Iran hostages, who had been freed after 444 days in captivity. I was also part of the celebration when A Chorus Line became the longest running Broadway show. Michael Bennett staged this amazing production featuring everybody who had ever performed in the show. They had to brace the stage of the Shubert Theatre from underneath to hold everyone.”

Role I Wish More People Had Seen
Here Lies Jenny [2004] was a beautiful, unusual piece of theater. The music of Kurt Weill is so unflinchingly honest. I sing his music a lot, and I find it very fulfilling to perform. [Director] Roger Rees and Annie [Reinking, choreographer] found a really interesting way to set those pieces. The show played in the Japanese aesthetic Wabi-Sabi, which is a style I appreciate very deeply. There’s no direct translation, but it’s about the beauty of things as they age, embracing what’s painful in life as well as what’s joyful. Roger and I met on Cheers and we’ve worked together many times [including co-starring in The Addams Family and Weill’s Cabaret Verboten]. We’re very, very good friends. I’ve been very fortunate in my collaborators throughout my career.”

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