Stephanie D'Abruzzo of Avenue Q fame discusses her appearance in a special musical episode of NBC-TV's Scrubs and opines about what's happening on and Off-Broadway.
Since leaving that hit show, D'Abruzzo has appeared Off-Broadway in the musical I Love You Because, which delighted audiences during its three-month run at the Village Theater last year; in the TheatreWorks/USA production of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie & Other Story Books; and in theAtrain plays. She's now in her 14th season as a Muppet performer on Sesame Street. And on Thursday, January 18, she'll be seen in the central role of "My Musical," a special episode of the NBC-TV sitcom Scrubs that includes songs by the Avenue Q team of Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx. In a recent conversation, D'Abruzzo shared her thoughts about that endeavor and the general state of theater in New York.
THEATERMANIA: How did you get such a great part on Scrubs?
STEPHANIE D'ABRUZZO: Debra Fordham, who wrote the episode, is a big musical theater fan. She's basically a Patti LuPone stalker -- but Patti knows, so it's okay. Patti even signed a program for her, saying "Stop stalking me." That's why my character in Scrubs is named Patti Miller.
TM: Well, if you're going to have a stalker, it may as well be a TV writer.
SD: Exactly! And Deb is pretty harmless as far as stalkers go. Anyway, she saw me in I Love You Because, and when she was writing this character for Scrubs, she thought of me. She saw the show twice, but I'd never met her; if I had, I would have gushed about what a huge Scrubs fan I am. I've watched it from the very beginning.
SD: Yes, and the strange thing is that their hiring and my hiring had nothing to do with each other. Deb had mentioned that maybe they should get some Broadway composers to do the songs; Zach Braff [the show's star] overheard her and said, "Maybe you should get those Avenue Q guys. Zach hadn't heard that I was up for the part, so that happened totally independently. It turns out that I have some other weird little connections with Scrubs. I went to high school in McMurray, Pennsylvania with the casting director, Brett Benner, though we didn't know each other then; he was a senior when I was a freshman. And Zach and I both went to Northwestern University.
TM: You play a woman who, after a fainting spell, develops a very odd medical condition in which it seems to her that the whole world is a musical.
SD: Yes. You know, Scrubs has a lot of theater people in it. Sarah Chalke, who plays one of my doctors, replaced Molly Ringwald in Modern Orthodox. John C. McGinley was in the original cast of Talk Radio, Judy Reyes did Some Girls this summer at the Lortel, Ken Jenkins was in the original cast of Big River -- and Zach Braff went to theater camp when he was a kid!
TM: I really enjoyed I Love You Because. Was that show as much fun to do as it seemed?
SD: It was fine. There are always frustrations when a production is struggling, so it was sort of rough going for a little while. But I was glad that we got a cast recording out of it, to help the show live on; I think they're making deals to do it regionally. I don't regret leaving Avenue Q for that show at all, and I'd feel the same even if it hadn't led to Scrubs. Right now, I kind of enjoy having my nights back for a little while. Also, with tourism at record levels, I'm happy that I haven't had to fight the foot traffic in Times Square. I think the hardest thing about doing a Broadway show is getting home!
TM: On the other hand, can't we assume that one major reason why I Love You Because didn't run longer was that it didn't play in the theater district?
SD: A lot of people suggested that, but I kind of disagree. If people want to see something, they'll go anywhere; look at Stomp and Blue Man Group. Unfortunately, a lot of people think Off-Broadway is somehow lesser in quality when, in reality, you have actors and plays that are just as good as Broadway. There has to be a way to get that word out. I also think that if the TKTS booth listed actual ticket prices rather than just the percentage off, it would be a big help to Off-Broadway shows.
TM: Do you have any other thoughts on the business of theater?
SD: Well, I think there's a lot of pressure for shows to run forever. I realize the economics are different than they used to be, but it's almost ludicrous that five of the top-10 longest running shows in Broadway history are running right now. Some of the new shows don't really get the chance to find an audience; I felt bad for High Fidelity, which was not the turkey everybody said it was. Of course, the same thing can happen in movies and TV. Scrubs is such an underrated show, though I do think more people are starting to catch it now that it's in syndication. I'm incredibly grateful that Deb wrote this character for me, and that she somehow managed to convince the powers that be to use me instead of some big star.