10:20am is a little early for a phone interview, and it's not surprising that the answering machine picks up upon the first attempt to reach three-time Tony Award nominee Sherie Rene Scott to talk about the return of her theatrical concert, Piece of Meat, at 54 Below, June 17-24. She calls back a few minutes later explaining she was on another line.
From there we're off on a wide-ranging and animated discussion about the creation of this acclaimed show, which is inspired by her conversion from vegetarian to carnivore. She is equally excited to talk about the upcoming big screen version of The Last Five Years, the first feature film venture of Sh-K-Boom Records, the label she cofounded with her husband, Kurt Deutsch. This breathless conversation comes with Scott's signature wit and self-lacerating humor.
Hi, sorry. I'm on a time schedule today. It's my son's first day off of school and I promised to take him to a secret magic shop. I'm still in the magician's union [after Everyday Rapture], so I can still go to magic shops and I'm turning him on to some magic today. I just want him to remember I tried as a mother when he's in therapy.
You had to join a magician's union?
You don't. I made it up. My son thinks it's real. He [took an oath and] swore on a dictionary instead of a bible [to keep the secrets]. In our family, there's a magician's union.
I'd like to think Neil Patrick Harris is a member of a magician's union.
He's a real magician! That is the f**kin' hardest job, emceeing a lot of things. He's like the new Bob Hope.
Did you watch the Tonys the other night? He did a great job.
No. I was busy working on this project I had people waiting [on for] for the next day. I came to watch a few people, like my friends Danny Burstein and Richard Kind were up for the same award, so I got called into the room. I heard [the show] was fun.
It was! A lot more fun than other recent Tony broadcasts.
God, we need to make that happen. And here we are onto another un-Tony-eligible show.
[Laughs] How does it feel to have Piece of Meat brought back by popular demand?
It feels good. Last time, I knew the show was a departure and also was odd, and I knew I feared being intimate. I don't like being intimate even in real life. I got used to being close to people by being twenty feet away from them on a Broadway stage, the safety zone. That was getting really comfortable for me, so I had to do what I feared, which was being around people. I went in last time with the trepidation that it was an odd piece and chances were, it wouldn't be understood, and had to do it for two weeks up close in people's faces, so that was daunting.
With that in mind, what was the first night of performing like?
The first night I did it, I loved doing it, and loved being a part of something that I created with Todd Almond. I found out, subsequently, from the run selling out and after the reviews, that people did get the piece and at least appreciated what I was attempting to do. It was a big relief. It feels nice to come back and not have that weighing over my head. And, to get deeper into the piece and make some adjustments…I know it's really annoying, [but] I just keep thinking of ways to improve, it's like a compulsion. But that's why the piece was written; I was compelled and had the same feelings of this desire, the struggle with lust and hunger. At the same time, obviously I will sacrifice any fact for the truth, and that's what's fun about performing the piece. Because it's truthful without being weighed down by any facts. The essence of truth is there, but I'll subvert any fact to make it entertaining.
Can you talk a bit about the creation process? Did the story come first? The music?
After Everyday Rapture, I knew I wanted to not do a theater piece. I really wanted to do a piece where I was in a more intimate environment, with people drinking and eating. Something about that felt right, and I was afraid of it. Todd and I started with music, and that's why I was drawn to him, by his ability to create beautiful music. He was the first person I brought material to that has been part of my inner soundtrack for my whole life. He was the first person to say "let's try it." A lot of people would say "This isn't performable. People really want to hear you sing and belt."
That's why I didn't do this for so long. People say no to everything. Todd was the first one to say yes. And no. He was drawn to the same music I was drawn to. I was going through this vast, all-encompassing struggle that I had been keeping private, and slowly was unable to keep private. I was writing about it and I began talking to him about it. I went for help. I went online. How do people go from being a vegetarian for twenty-eight years? There are tons of things about becoming one. This base, carnal lust was taking over and Todd was really open to exploring it. It wasn't until I realized that at forty-five years old — whatever age I am, I don't know how old I am now — that this base desire for meat was a desire for flesh…I was thinking thoughts I had never thought…and having hungers I never had. I realized I identified with meat, as a woman, who has a human body, and then I realized how many times I had treated others like pieces of meat and was able to investigate that in a fun way.
After it became a hit here, you took it to London. How were the audiences there, comparatively? We always hear London audiences are far more demure.
I was prepared for that. I really wanted to go away. I knew it might have been a fluke; looking at the reviews, you couldn't have asked for more. I was so happy, but now let's go torture yourself again and go to London. I'm such an Anglophile. I care about their taste. I wanted it to be intimate; I didn't want to have the pressure of selling out with no one knowing who I am. I was really surprised with how engaged they became. I was really surprised how they got the humor there. We had to do it for the piece, in order to improve it. We put a new number in. It was a dream come true to go there again, after having been there earlier in my life, with something I created and am proud of.
Speaking of which, filming must begin on the film version of The Last Five Years soon, right?
Monday [June 17]. It's very exciting. It's something Kurt and I thought of while we were doing the original cast album. Everyone's like "No way," but we were like "This would make an incredible film." And Kurt's been trying, actively, for five years, for the last five years, working with Richard LaGravenese on the script and casting and everything. It's unlike anything that's ever been made on film. It's small and independent and that's how it should be. I'm excited for the label to be branching out.
The cast is very exciting.
The tracks sound amazing already on the first go. I think Anna Kendrick is great. I think Jeremy Jordan is just perfect. It needs to have this heat between them and I think they really have that. Jeremy is so lovely and beautiful and perfect. It's gonna be hard work and fun. I'm really glad for Jason [Robert Brown]. I loved the [recent] off-Broadway production [at Second Stage Theatre].
I did, too!
Betsy Wolfe is just one of the most talented people I know. She sang it ten times better than I was ever able to and came up with so much funny stuff that I know is from her crazy brain. Adam Kantor was wonderful, also. It was the first time I ever saw it, actually. I was so happy it was at Second Stage [where Everyday Rapture originally played].
You've played a lot of great venues like that. And now 54 Below again.
Everybody digs playing this space. The performers are really happy to exercise their craft and get closer to people in a way that we can't in a Broadway house. I really hope this venue is being supported and encouraged. It's a great place to experiment and try things.