Ma Sherie Amour
Sherie René Scott's role in The Last 5 Years hits close to home.
Since making her Broadway musical debut nearly a decade ago as Sally Simpson in Tommy, Scott's singing--and acting--have won her extraordinary acclaim. Theatergoers still talk about her thrilling work in Rent, where she replaced Idina Menzel as the performance artist Maureen; as Sabina in Over and Over, John Kander and Fred Ebb's musical adaptation of The Skin of Our Teeth, at the Signature Theatre in Virginia; and, most notably, in Disney's Aida as Amneris, the jealous Egyptian princess.
Her performance in Aida earned the coveted Clarence Derwent Award for the Kansas native, who arrived in New York at 18. It also gained her the visibility and clout to record her first album: Men I've Had, on the Sh-K-Boom label, is a stunning collection of pop songs by writers including Pete Townsend, Randy Newman, and Elton John. (Scott was incredibly poignant singing John's "Mona Lisa and Mad Hatters" at the Broadway Salutes Elton John benefit a couple of years ago; the song also appears on the album). But credits, awards, and record sales aside, Scott still doesn't consider herself a singer first and foremost. "It's hard for me to just sing as myself," she explains. "I am really much more comfortable singing in character; I have to be able to tell a story when I sing."
Lucky for us, Scott sings very much in character throughout The Last 5 Years. In this two-character musical by Brown--who won the 1999 Tony Award for Parade and whose song "Stars and the Moon" has already become something of a standard--Scott plays Cathy, a struggling gentile actress dealing with a rocky marriage to Jamie, a successful Jewish novelist. The show is notable for its unusual structure: Jamie (Norbert Leo Butz, who shone earlier this season as the consumptive Camille in the ill-fated Thou Shalt Not) tells his version of the relationship going forward from the day the couple met, while Cathy tells it backward from the day of the break up. Happy stuff, huh? "It is an unusually raw and intimate show," Scott admits. "It's very revealing, very naked feeling. But I also think every human being in that audience will find something on stage to identify with."
Just a few months ago, Scott had no idea she would be doing this part...and no one involved knew that the show would be at the Minetta Lane. The Last 5 Years was commissioned by Lincoln Center Theater and was scheduled to play the Mitzi Newhouse this spring until LCT abruptly relinquished the rights last fall. (Sources say LCT was concerned about possible legal action from Brown's ex-wife, who reportedly finds the material a bit too familiar.) The show had a very successful run at Chicago's Northlight Theatre with Butz as Jamie and Lauren Kennedy as Cathy; but, after the Northlight run ended, Kennedy went to London to star in South Pacific.
"I heard through the grapevine that the part would be available, although I wasn't sure I would be," Scott recalls. "Even though the show hadn't been officially recorded, someone sneaked me two tapes of it. The first time I heard the score, I just sat on my bed and cried. I had never heard anything like it. I cried from the very first song, it was so beautiful."
Beautiful and difficult, according to Scott. "I consider this score the most 'legit' singing I've ever done," she says. "Aida was more of a pop score, which meant that you could slide around it a lot more. You can't do that here; you have to nail the climaxes on each and every song." Clearly, Scott nailed the climaxes in her audition, and tears came again when she learned that she'd nabbed the part. "It's the first time I've ever cried when I got a job because it's the most excited I've ever been about a project," she tells me.
One reason for Scott's joy was the fact that she knew exactly what she was getting into. "The show was done, the songs were there, the story was there, and I could trust it all," she explains. That feeling of trust was very important to her in light of her apparently less-than-happy experience on Aida. "It's part of the business: You sign onto a show, you know the script you first see will change, and you hope it will change for the better," she says. "But the changes I hoped for in Aida didn't come. I knew Amneris's back story but it just wasn't supported in the final script. Still, I worked very hard in each and every performance to bring as much depth to the character as I could."