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Elf - Broadway

A musical version of the popular film returns to Broadway for the holiday season.

Elf's Beth Leavel on How Getting Drowsy Changed Her Career & Other Favorite Musical Roles

Elf's Beth Leavel on How Getting Drowsy Changed Her Career & Other Favorite Musical Roles
Beth Leavel
Beth Leavel looks back on two decades of delightful musical performances.

When Beth Leavel is leading a show, the rest of the cast can relax in the knowledge that she will make them look good while nailing her own songs, dances, comic moments, love scenes and anything else she is asked to do. No wonder the audience at the 2006 Tony Awards cheered especially loudly when this 20-year Broadway veteran won for her inspired comic performance as the drunken title character in The Drowsy Chaperone: Leavel deserved it, and she is one of their own. Currently “having a blast” as down-to-earth mom Emily in the holiday musical Elf, the vivacious actress chose Drowsy and five other musicals for her Role Call.

Role That Transformed My Career
“I had been working forever when I got The Drowsy Chaperone [2006, as Beatrice Stockwell/Drowsy; Best Featured Actress Tony Award], but that role—and winning a Tony—was life-changing. The whole thing was totally unexpected. I had auditioned, and Casey Nicholaw, the director, called me two weeks later to say that I didn’t get the part. I said, ‘I completely understand—I don’t think I’m the right voice to bring this role to life.’ They auditioned everyone over the next few months, and finally I got a call from my agent saying, ‘You have an offer to play the Drowsy Chaperone. You leave for Los Angeles in 10 days.’ It was a whirlwind that became this wonderful moment in my life. I was able to personalize the role around my singing and my comedy, and it was so much fun because I had permission to interact with the audience and 'comment' on the action. No two performances were the same. The show had great heart, and I was so lucky to be part of giving birth to it.”

Role That Was the Most Challenging
Baby It’s You [2011, as Florence Greenberg; Best Actress Tony nomination] was the most complicated show I’ve done in so many ways. First of all, I had 25 costume changes, which is pretty unheard of! The script changed a lot during previews; they kept throwing in new scenes to the point where my dresser, Kay, became like my co-star. She would write down the first line I was about to say and read it to me as I was changing my 25 costumes. Often, I had no idea what was next! It’s one of those shows that I wish had run longer because it got better and better; we really owned it by the end. I loved the fact that Florence was a real woman who reinvented herself [to become a successful record producer], and not when she was 19 years old. She had an affair with an African-American singer in the ’60s, so she was way ahead of her time.”

Role I Wish More People Had Seen
“This past summer, I did a production of Call Me Madam [as Sally Adams] at the Lyric Theater of Oklahoma, and I loved it. It’s a problematic show that is almost never done because it’s very locked up in the ’50s; there are lots of references to the politics of that era, so it’s like doing a period piece. The character is based on [celebrated Washington hostess] Perle Mesta, who was a native of Oklahoma, and it’s one of those tour-de-force roles Ethel Merman did. Irving Berlin's tunes are wonderful. For some reason, it felt very personal for me. I had a fantastic time, and I wish more people could see it.”

Role That Was the Most Fun
“For people who love ABBA, Mamma Mia! [2009, as Donna Sheridan] is like church. They’re singing along and literally dancing in the aisles, and that doesn’t happen a lot on Broadway. It’s not an easy show: The stage has a severe rake and you’re running around barefoot, so that takes a toll on your body. And you have to have stamina because you’re singing the whole time—it’s like you’re shot out of a cannon. In Act Two, you sing three songs in a row, then pop on that lime green Spandex for “Dancing Queen.” My Donna was a little funnier than other Donnas because everything that filters through Beth is a little funny. I love playing strong women who have vulnerability and a sense of humor.  And I was tan for a year and a half, which was awesome, but my sheets are still a little orange.”

Role That Was the Most Like Me
Crazy for You [1992, as Tess] was one of those shows that came together seamlessly, but when we were on the bus to the Kennedy Center for our out-of-town tryout, they announced that Act Two was gone—they started over and made something completely different! My role didn’t even exist in the beginning. I had seven auditions for Polly [the leading lady played by Jodi Benson], and by the end, I think they said, ‘Bless her heart, let’s give her the role of Tess.’ They made up a funny sidekick/best friend who works on Broadway. The lines are mine and [librettist] Ken Ludwig’s together; Tess was really Beth. Wasn’t it a great show?”

Role That I Wish Would Come to Broadway
“I had such a good time doing Lucille in No, No Nanette [2008] at Encores! with Sandy Duncan and Rosie O’Donnell. It was goood, and I worked my butt off; it really challenged me dance-wise. I played the put-upon wife who thinks her husband is having an affair, the role Helen Gallagher played on Broadway. It’s just a fluffy show with a story that is strung together to connect delicious tap numbers. I’m sure it’s an expensive show because there are a lot of sets and costumes, but it’s a delightful audience-pleaser, and I’ve never looked more beautiful than in Gregg Barnes’ costumes. I just think it’s a show that needs to be seen again.”

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