Sharon Wheatley graced the Great White Way in the Tony-winning musicals Avenue Q, The Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables and Cats; she has hosted a web series and authored the book Til the Fat Girl Sings. Now she brings her one-of-a-kind wit to 54 Below on May 15 with a new Bette Midler inspired show Bette On Me! The one-night-only event features Midler’s music interwoven with Wheatley’s personal narrative. Below, the actress/author talks about Midler’s profound influence, her up-tempo love and stealing Kander & Ebb from Liza Minnelli.
What record/album was your favorite growing up?
Easy. The double album: The Best of Judy Garland. I’d load it up on my Scooby Doo record player (the arm was a bone) and listen to it in its entirety. And by “listen to it,” I mean sing the entire thing full out with choreography and an audience of cheering stuffed animals. She is the most brilliant storyteller in song. Magic in an LP.
What concert most influenced you as a performer?
Bette Midler’s “Experience The Divine” concert tour in 1994. I saw it in Cleveland, Ohio, while doing summer stock. Her show was three hours long, she only left the stage once and when she did, her daughter came out and did the hula to “Ukulele Lady” while her Mom changed clothes. There was no big announcement that it was her daughter, she just did it. The moment I realized she was a mom who went on tour and took her kid, and the kid was having fun with her, that was a turning point for me as a woman. I thought, “You don’t really have to sacrifice your career to have kids. You just to be clever and make sure they feel loved and like they are a part of it.”
What is your go-to audition song?
Does anyone still sing a song at auditions of their own choosing? Aren’t we all just preparing 54 pages of sides for Telsey? Um, okay, I’ll tell you but you’ll want to steal it because it’s so original and such a good idea. “Meadowlark.” No, I’m kidding. Okay, I sing all of “A Quiet Thing” in my belt voice as loudly as I can. Now you think I’m kidding, but I’m not.
What song are you most excited to perform in your show?
I start the show with the first three cuts off of side B of Bette Midler’s self-titled second album, in the original keys and with the entire Barry Manilow arrangements intact. I’ve been practicing them since I was 12 years old and seriously, I can’t wait. I can die happy.
What musical theater track is the most played on your iPod?
I looked and in the 25 most played tracks list there is not one musical. So that says something about me, I suppose.
If you could invite any performer onstage for a duet at 54 Below, who would it be?
I like to work with my husband, music director Rob Meffe, a lot, and honestly with our schedules we don’t get nearly enough time together. I told him I was scheduling this show as our “date night” so I would get to see him. He’s going to be onstage with me and that is pretty much as happy as I get.
What musical theater performer from the past do you wish you could collaborate with?
Performer? Can I name a composing team instead? If I could make one musical theater wish come true it would be to live in Kander and Ebb’s heyday and have them write shows for me. Not Liza. Me.
What album was the soundtrack to your 20s?
The Commitments; those arrangements kick ass.
What’s your favorite love song?
Listen, my husband and I are pretty happily in love, so to me, a love song should be an up-tempo. It should make you want to skip with joy. So, forgive me for the most trite, romantic-comedy-end-of-movie choice, but my favorite love song is Natalie Cole’s “This Will Be (An Everlasting Love).” I really tried to pick something less obvious, but I would have been lying.
What song makes you feel sexy?
Prince’s song “Kiss.” That is an unbelievably sexy song.
What is your favorite workout track?
I am a big runner (I just finished my first half marathon), and I run for sometimes two hours at a time, if I am training. My two go-to albums are Spring Awakening and Violet. I need to listen to something that has a story to it so I can picture it as I run, run, run, run, run. Also big for me are The Moth storytelling competitions podcasts.
What’s the best hidden gem in on your iPod?
I have a picture of my husband from about the seventh grade and he looks exactly like Harry Potter. He will not let me show anyone, but I threaten to post it on Facebook all the time.
Favorite break-up song?
When I was 16, I was dating a really nice guy named Dan but I broke up with him because, you know, he was a really nice guy and I wasn’t ready to get married at 16. While I was breaking up with him the Phil Collins song “Against All Odds” came on the radio. The irony of it gave me the giggles and he got furious, got out and slammed the door. Every time I hear that song I think of poor nice-guy Dan dating petulant-bratty me. I hope he found someone...oh, I don’t know, nicer, I guess.
What song most makes you smile?
The Billy Joel song “She’s Got a Way.” It reminds me of how I felt when my daughters were born.
“She's got a light around her
And everywhere she goes
A million dreams of love surround her
When this song plays, I can’t help but dance:
The song is “It’s Raining Men,” and I can’t help dancing because my five-year-old, Beatrix, makes me dance to it on Just Dance Wii.
Catch Sharon Wheatley take on the music of Bette Midler in Bette on Me! at 54 Below on May 15.