Beth Leavel (Photo: Keith Sherman and Associates)
For those anxiously awaiting Beth Leavel’s eventual turn as Miranda Priestly — and who among us isn’t — you can now whet your appetite with a virtual performance from the iconic Tony Award winner May 10 through 12. Before diving into the contemporary work of The Devil Wears Prada, Leavel will sing songs from two musical classics as part of Town Hall’s “Broadway By The Year” concert series, which celebrates the works of beloved composers through the decades.
Leavel, a Tony Award winner for The Drowsy Chaperone and a recent nominee for The Prom, will sing numbers from Cabaret and Steel Pier. Here, she dishes about the first time she sang Sally Bowles, how she was hand-picked to play Miranda Priestly, and the need for our industry to evolve and respond to calls for social justice.
The Broadway Blog: You’re participating in Town Hall’s “Broadway By The Year” concert series, appearing in the Kander and Ebb section. Can you tell us what you’ll be performing?
Beth Leavel: Yes, anticipating hearing one of your favorites songs is half the fun! I’m singing “Maybe this Time” from Cabaret, the movie. I’ve never sung the song before. It’s been so nice just to get the creative juices going again with a new song, even though it’s one we all know. I’ll also be doing “Everybody’s Girl” from Steel Pier, which, you know, is a celebration of being a slut, which is no big deal — and it’s funny!
You did Cabaret in college. What do you recall from that experience?
I’ve done Cabaret twice, once in college, Meredith College, where I played Sally Bowles and was also the choreographer, which was kind of horrifying, and the second time I did it was when I was in grad school getting my MFA at UNC Greensboro, and in that production, I played Frauline Schneider, which was much more satisfying than playing Sally. What I remember about the college production is they didn’t have any budget for the costumes. So, are you ready for this: my assistant dance captain was a majorette, so she went home and got all her majorette costumes. In “Don’t Tell Mama” I could have been in a majorette costume. I had not thought about that until you mentioned it, so (laughs) thanks a lot!
How was it recording your songs at home?
My filming is tomorrow. I’ve never in my life sung so much in my bedroom; it’s this whole new world. So we’re trying to find two different locations in my apartment where we can film each song and navigate filming them. My fiancé Adam Heller has become such a wonderful tech director! We’re exploring locations and locales today, plus the wardrobe. It’s kind of nice, I just go to the next room, change clothes, and sing in my bedroom or the office, it’s part of this pandemic life we’re living, trying to keep our artistic heartbeat going. And I don’t really have a green screen, so it’s part of my learning curve.
I’m sure it will look and sound fantastic.
Well, bless you. It’ll certainly be singular. You know they’re such great songs; I just need to stay truthful to the script and sing them. And there’s a plus to not doing it live: if the cat jumps on my shirt we can say, “Can we do it again?”
That’s right. For now, we have Zoom as the world anxiously awaits the return of live theater, but I’d say many of us are specifically awaiting the debut of The Devil Wears Prada musical.
You and me both!
Have you been working on that in any fashion during quarantine?
Right when the pandemic hit, we did a cold reading on Zoom. Now, I was not really familiar with the Zoom world at all. So sitting here doing a cold reading in that Brady Bunch format for the first time, not having even met my co-storytellers, was quite the experience. They just needed to hear it, and I know that the producers, the director Anna Shapiro, the writers have all been work, work, working. I think it is definitely going to happen, I’m just patiently waiting, and with great anticipation. And what a great musical to have, this light at the end of the tunnel. It’s such a beloved film. I think people can’t wait to see how it’s going to be musicalized — including me!
Have you seen what the wig might look like?
No, and I’m kind of divided: should I wear that same wig? My Miranda Priestly is a different one, she’s one who is being musicalized, but it’s such an iconic, fabulous wig. Will people be disappointed if I didn’t come out with that silver thing that Meryl had, or should I (singing) “go my own way”? I’ll let you know. Maybe she should be a deep auburn or black, oh I don’t know.
On that Zoom read-through, were you singing Sir Elton John and Shaina Taub’s score?
We did not sing it, we read the lyrics like a monologue, which is always strange, but they just needed to hear the flow of it. I did sing one song for the producers, and that song has already been changed, so it’s all going to be one big surprise.
So was this an offered role?
It was, but it’s very interesting: Anna Shapiro, the director and who’s artistic director of the Steppenwolf in Chicago, wanted to come to see musicals. So she immersed herself. Shaina said, “Let’s go see The Prom.” Apparently, according to Anna, she started watching the show, and about halfway through, she looked at Shaina, and said, “There she is.”
Oh, that’s magical!
I know, I know. So she set up a meeting, and we went to Open Jar Studios and just talked for two hours. Then the next morning she said let’s work on a song and see how it feels. (Laughing.) I was at the piano singing, and then it was mine. I had seen the movie three times, but then I did rewatch it after knowing that I was cast. It’s such a great movie, and it’s going to be a great musical.
There’s been a lot of upheaval in the industry: racial justice, fights for inclusion, more equitable workspaces devoid of abuse. I just want to pause and give you the chance to comment on this time if you have any thoughts.
It’s so interesting, I just filled out a questionnaire with kind of that same question. My initial response is during this time, I know I now have to number one, be a better listener, number two, be a better advocate, and number three, always vote. Once we get back into this, let’s just be available and aware and sensitive to the changes that need to occur. So, here we go.
Don’t miss Beth Leavel as part of Town Hall’s Broadway by the Year: The Kander and Ebb Years, streaming May 10-12.