He isn't one of those actors who wears a T-shirt that says, "But what I really want to do is direct." Though he has staged a benefit or two in his native New Orleans, he hasn't spent his time wishing that he were in control of a great big Broadway show. Still, when Scott and Barbara Siegel needed a stager, they decided to "Look No Further" (to quote a song title from 1962) than the man who in previous editions of the series has sung such songs as "I Could Write a Book" and "Those Were the Good Old Days." Batt said yes, all the while hoping that he'd prove to be as accomplished as some of his favorite directors, who have ranged from Christopher Ashley to Jerry Zaks.
With a little help from the Siegels and musical director Ross Patterson, Batt has rounded up quite an ensemble -- including Liz Callaway, who played Grizabella to his Munkustrap in Cats, and Christine Pedi and Felicia Finley, with whom he cavorted in various editions of Forbidden Broadway. "And that's not all!" he exclaims. "We have a big mystery guest, and you're just going to have to come and see who it is. (Considering that the show will celebrate 1962, could we see someone who appeared on Broadway that year? Diahann Carroll? Michele Lee? Nanette Fabray?)
Batt has been performing in New York since he arrived in 1985. He played the role of Darius in Jeffrey "from the first reading of the play to the wrap-up in the movie version," he says. Ironically enough, Rudnick had originally written the character as an actor who was appearing in Grand Hotel, but when he saw that Batt was actually working as an Andrew Lloyd Webber cat, he decided to rewrite the role as a performer in that musical. One of the biggest laughs of the play came when Batt showed up to meet his friends, took off his coat, and we saw that he was still in his Cats suit.
Currently, he's covering the role of Albin (and has gone on quite a bit for star Gary Beach) in the Tony Award-winning revival of La Cage aux Folles. He's used to taking over at a moment's notice, dating back to his pre-teen years, when he was a Dogpatch citizen in L'il Abner and the kid playing Pappy Yokum simply didn't show up one night. Batt played the role on that occasion, and for the rest of the run. Since then, he has been in productions of such classic musicals as Annie Get Your Gun, Chicago, South Pacific, and Sunset Boulevard. But, ironically, he has never appeared in a production of any of the 11 musicals that opened on Broadway in 1962. So he had to become acquainted with them through their original cast albums -- "which was great," he says, his eyes widening with enthusiasm. Here are some of his comments on what we'll heard from the '62 shows, in the order in which they opened:
A Family Affair (January 27): "Now, here's an example of a wonderful score that nobody knows. It was John Kander's first. It's so obscure that, after listening to the album, I was afraid even Michael Lavine [unquestionably the guru of sheet music] wouldn't have selections from it. But he did."
New Faces of 1962 (February 1): No cast album was made of this quick flop, so whatever songs from it are heard at The Town Hall on Monday should be new to just about everyone. "You're going to swear that 'Moral Rearmament' was written the other day," Batt remarks. "It's about family values and how conservatives react to them. Then Felicia's doing a nice tune called 'In the Morning.' "
No Strings (March 15): "Here's a score I did know, because I saw the Encores! production of the show. Of course we're going to do 'The Sweetest Sounds,' but wait until you hear the very different arrangement we have for it."
All-American (March 19): "There I was, listening to the original cast album for the first time, and suddenly I heard the gorgeous ballad 'Once Upon a Time.' I'd known that song forever but didn't know it came from that show. I was glad to find it, because 1962 was a very comic year. There really weren't too many ballads."
I Can Get it for You Wholesale (March 22): "I heard one song from the score and said, 'That would be great for Brad Oscar!' And sure, we're going to include Barbra Streisand's breakout number 'Miss Marmelstein' -- done by Christine Pedi, of course." (Note: When I asked Batt if he could get travel back in time and see any show from 1962, he said this would be the one, just to see Streisand's performance. His close second was the following show, because of Zero Mostel:)
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (May 8): "I promise you that we won't start the show with 'Comedy Tonight.' I can't stand knocking on the door of the obvious and opening it up. Some people might want that, but come on -- how many revues have we've been to that start with that song? I tried to get Harvey Fierstein to sing 'Lovely,' but he was otherwise engaged."
Bravo, Giovanni (May 19): "Michele Lee had a great number in this show called 'I'm All I've Got,' but we think we'll get something new out of it by giving it to one of our men."
Stop the World -- I Want to Get Off (October 3): "You have to do the show's two big hits: 'What Kind of Fool Am I?' and 'Once in a Lifetime.' " Before I can tell Batt that the show was considered to have three hits when it opened, he adds, "And we'll do 'Gonna Build a Mountain,' too." (That's the one I was thinking of.) "We're giving Brad one of the ballads, so we can show what a great voice he has. Whenever Scott and Barbara have had me in these shows, they've given me a chance to sing a comedy song and a beautiful ballad. That's the way it should be. I'm a firm believer in 'and' instead of 'or.' "
Mr. President (October 20): "There's some great stuff in this show. 'The Secret Service (Makes Me Nervous)' tells about the president's daughter and how she's not allowed to kiss, drink, or smoke -- so I've made it a duet as if sung by the Bush girls. And I love 'I'm Gonna Get Him.' " (Batt was fascinated to hear me say that in the summer of '62, this song was recorded as a pop 45 by Vicki Belmonte, who would be the first Sister Mary Hubert in Nunsense 23 years later.)
Nowhere to Go but Up (November 10): Batt told me that he has chosen the title song, which I don't know. (Callaway and Coulter will sing it.) He also mentioned that he had noticed that the show's lyrics were written by a James Lipton and wondered if this could be the same James Lipton of Inside the Actors' Studio. Indeed it is!
Little Me (November 17): When Batt told me that he's instituted a sex change for "I've Got Your Number," I immediately saw the wisdom of it. After all, don't the lyrics, "Oh, yes, you brag a lot; wave you own flag a lot" sound more like something a man would be guilty of than a woman?
By the way, those who relish musical theater trivia will be happy to tell you that Oliver!, which opened on January 6, 1963, was originally scheduled to bow on December 27, 1962. Producer David Merrick wanted to ensure that each and every element was perfect in what he expected to be a huge hit, so he postponed the opening for 10 days. (Oliver! wound up being Merrick's fifth-longest running show.) "Thank God he postponed," says Batt. "I'd hate to have had that many more wonderful songs to have to choose from."
[To contact Peter Filichia directly, e-mail him at email@example.com]
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