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Becki Newton Goes Crazy

The Ugly Betty star makes her musical debut in the City Center Encores! production of Girl Crazy. logo
Becki Newton
(© Joseph Marzullo/WENN)
For the past four years, Becki Newton has been delighting television audiences as ditzy receptionist Amanda Tanen on the hit ABC series Ugly Betty. This week, in a decided change of pace, Newton makes her official stage debut as Molly Gray in the City Center Encores! production of the Gershwin musical Girl Crazy opposite real-life husband Chris Diamantopoulous (as well as Ana Gasteyer, Marc Kudisch, and Wayne Knight). TheaterMania sat down with Newton during a rehearsal break to discuss this amazing opportunity, her work on Ugly Betty, and her plans to return to the stage with co-star Michael Urie.

THEATERMANIA: When we first met two years ago, you were telling me how much you wanted to do a musical. What was your first professional audition?
BECKI NEWTON: This is awesomely embarrassing and I'm going to admit it right now. Do you remember when Sweet Smell of Success opened? Well, clearly I didn't know what the musical was about, and I didn't know enough to ask. I was just out of college and I'd just come to New York and I didn't think you were supposed to know what time period it was from or what the characters are like. So I sang "Mama Will Provide" from Once on This Island, complete with the rap in the beginning. I think I scared everyone and I think that's why it's taken me so long to get back on stage.

TM: When did you change your audition song?
BN: Last week -- when this one came up. I thought, maybe it's time to start a new approach. I sang "Someone to Watch Over Me." It worked a lot better this time.

TM: Do you think Molly is a funny character?
BN: I do. She's not trying to be funny. Molly is a cowgirl who meets this guy in a funny outfit and doesn't really know what to do with him and there's a lot of humor in putting those characters together. In a very strange way, Chris and I are similar to our characters in that when we met he was this guy that was on Broadway who was sharply dressed and so articulate. And I think the most romantic date I'd ever been on before I met him was to have chicken fingers and French fries at some tavern in Philadelphia. There's something that's so charming and cosmopolitan about Chris, and at first I was taken aback about how refined he was.

Chris Diamantopoulous and Becki Newton
(© Carol Rosegg)
TM: Now did you two audition as a tag team for this show?
BN: I sort of tricked him into the audition, because he hasn't done theater since he was in The Full Monty, on Broadway over five years ago and I've always said I wanted to see him on stage again. We have the same agent and she said to me one day, Encores is doing Girl Crazy, and these are the parts, and I have an audition time for you, and do you think Chris would want to do it? And I said, absolutely sign him up, even though I know he wouldn't say yes on his own in a million years. So I went home that night, after having called the vocal coaches and all those armies of people you have to call when you have a musical theater audition, I said "Chris, you have no choice, you're going to do this," and he said ok. I don't think either of us thought we were actually going to get the parts.

TM: Vanessa Williams, your Ugly Betty co-star, is actually an Encores veteran. Did you ask her about doing this?
BN: I've talked with Vanessa about this. Actually, I ask her about everything, like what should I eat for breakfast? Vanessa gives advice to all of us. I did call Michael Urie [who plays Marc St. James] yesterday, who trained at Julliard. I can ask him questions I might feel silly asking anyone else, like how do I project my voice without seeming like I've screaming in someone's face. And I'm sure he said five funny things before he gave me a great tip on what he does. I have such great people around me on that show that have so much experience with theater, and everyone has their own tricks or a different way of explaining things, so I usually find the more I ask and the more I gather, the more it makes sense to me.

TM: Would you and Michael like to do a show together?
BN: We're already planning one that we're going to premiere at Feinstein's at Loews Regency in February. Michael and I play these two supporting characters who desperately want to be on Broadway. Michael and I have never been on Broadway, but any time there's some sort of Broadway-oriented benefit, we show up and perform, and we decided that it's semi-pathetic and semi-amazing that we've been able to get away with it. So we thought it would be really cool to make an entire show about these two idiots that keep showing up even though no one invites them. We're tentatively calling it Broadway, Please!

TM How has it been switching from Amanda to Molly?
BN: With Molly, everything comes from a place of logic, and Amanda has no logic, so it's been really interesting. For Molly, I think if I was Amanda, what would be the worst, most inappropriate thing to do -- and then just do the opposite.

TM: Are you pleased with the Amanda we're seeing this season on Ugly Betty?
BN: Yeah. What I love about this season is that she's finally realizing there's more to life than being the receptionist. She's growing and she wants to be taken seriously, or as seriously as Amanda can be taken. I like that the writers are taking these challenges and they're not making it so easy. She's not going to suddenly be running the company tomorrow, and she's not going to suddenly take the moral high ground, but she is going to try and figure out what that is.

TM: And when does everyone get to sing on Ugly Betty?
BN: We were supposed to have a musical episode and I don't know if there's another one planned. I sang a few times last year. You might remember "Gene Simmons is My Daddy," which I very proudly sang with Gene Simmons, even if it wasn't real singing. Amanda is not a good singer, which really upset my grandmother. She said to me "Why can't anyone hear that you actually have a good voice," and I said, "Well, Amanda doesn't have a good voice." She didn't like that very much. But she will be in the front row every night for Girl Crazy.


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