Beth Leavel and Bob Martin Stumble Along Into Their Third Collaboration, The Prom
...and hint at a Drowsy Chaperone sequel, too.
Bob Martin and Beth Leavel first worked together in 2006 on the musical The Drowsy Chaperone. Martin, who cowrote the show with Don McKeller, Lisa Lambert, and Greg Morrison, starred as Man in Chair, a musical-theater fanatic chasing the blues away by listening to his favorite cast recording, which then comes to life around him. Leavel took on the scene-stealing title role, whose rousing anthem to alcoholism, "As We Stumble Along," stopped the show nightly. She won the 2006 Tony for Best Featured Actress; he received that year's Tony for Best Book.
What neither of them knew was that it was the beginning of a collaboration that has now spanned longer than a decade and yielded two additional productions. In Elf, which Martin wrote with Thomas Meehan, Chad Beguelin, and Matthew Sklar, Leavel played Buddy the Elf's stepmother. Now, in Martin, Beguelin, and Sklar's The Prom, Leavel plays Dee Dee Allen, a narcissistic Broadway star who joins several of her larger-than-life theater pals in trying to help a high school student that's been sidelined from her prom because she's gay.
Following a recent matinee, writer and muse sat down to discuss their work together, looking back on how it all began and even stumbling along into the future.
This conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Beth, how did you get involved with The Drowsy Chaperone?
Beth Leavel: I auditioned. I got the sides for the Beatrice Stockwell part and there wasn't a whole lot to mine there. I think they were just waiting for someone to do…something.
Bob Martin: We knew that Man in Chair had a special affection for this character, and we knew what the role did in terms of the mechanics of the show, but we didn't have the personality until Beth came along.
Beth: I got a callback, and then I didn't get it. Three or four weeks later, I got a call from my agent offering the role. I told them there was an error. Literally, I waited on the phone for my agent to call whomever, and they said, "No, you're being offered the role; you leave in three weeks for a two-and-a-half-month stay at the Ahmanson Theatre" for what we hoped would be the pre-Broadway tryout.
What was interesting, going into the room not knowing who this person was, we did a lot of improv. I remember we did a game called Hot Seat, where they would introduce you as your character, and the cast and creative team would fire questions at you. We did that for a couple of days and nothing clicked. The last day, Casey went "Ladies and gentleman, Dame Beatrice Stockwell," and I walked in and everyone stood up and started applauding like I was Lady Gaga. I remember bowing, and getting lower and lower until I hit the floor. And I remember going, "There she is." That was my starting place.
Was the Drowsy experience similar to building Elf and The Prom?
Bob: To a certain extent, even though everything was sort of an interpretation of the source material in Elf. But we were writing with Beth in mind from day one with Elf, and particularly with The Prom.
Beth is so skilled as a comedian that she can make the worst garbage work, so we have to watch her. If we see her really bending over backwards to make something work, we go, "We have to change that line." She shouldn't have to work that hard.
Beth: Thank you. [laughs] I was trying to explain the other day how The Prom is so much work, but it's not any work at all. Physically, it's a lot for us to do, but it's so well written that all I have to do is just get in the swimming pool and swim. The songs I'm singing are absolutely amazing. This is my favorite thing Matt and Chad have written. And then the book writers, Bob and Chad, do such a beautiful job creating two different points of view that are very valid.
Bob: This is the most political thing I've ever written, but it's not a political show. There's a certain demographic that obviously reacts positively to the material, and then there's a certain demographic that's challenged my by material. But they come around because, speaking slightly objectively as a Canadian, this country is in such pain right now that a message that acknowledges the division of the country, but is still positive in the end, I think is welcomed by both sides.
If Drowsy was about the process of being healed by theater, The Prom, I hope, actually heals people.
Beth: There are people who have been back five times already. People my age.
Bob: Are they just coming back because they forgot they saw it?
Beth: I'm not that old.
Bob: I'm older than Beth Leavel, for the record.
Beth: I don't think you are. We'll talk later.
Do you have any future projects together in mind? Would you do The Drowsy Chaperone again somewhere down the line?
Beth: In a heartbeat.
Bob: I would do it in a second. But we're working on another one.
Beth: Well, this is news to me!
Bob: Am I supposed to say this?
Beth: Sure you are. Drowsy 2?
Bob: Look. Time has passed, and we thought it was time for a revival. But what we said is…It's an unusual show. Why revisit the show when we can revisit the Man in a different point in his life?
Beth: That's fabulous.
Bob: With perhaps a different record and the same company of actors, if that's possible.
Beth: Oh, my gosh.
Bob: I would absolutely love to play that character again at this point in history, and at this age, and Beth would be great, of course. I don't think there's any way, legally, that you couldn't be involved with it. There would be a lawsuit if you weren't.