When you think of Bebe Neuwirth you dont think creepy, kooky, mysterious, and spooky. OK, maybe Lilith Stern, her beloved role on Cheers and Frasier was a little like that, but not Bebe, the 54'' dark-haired dancer from Princeton, N.J.
But now Neuwirth is slipping into a form-fitting black gown and tapping into her ghoulish side, playing Morticia Addams in the new Broadway musical The Addams Family, based on the cartoons originally published in The New Yorker.
Out caught up with Neuwirth in her dressing room recently where she opened up about the show and her new marriage and addressed the rumors circling that shes a prima donna.
Out: How did you get involved in this show?
Bebe Neuwirth: I was thrilled when Marshall Brickman [cowriter of the book] called me up and said he and Rick [Elice] had written a musical of The Addams Family and they had written Morticia with me in mind and wanted to know if I would do a reading. I mean, thats a good phone call.
They actually wrote it for you?
Thats what theyve told me, and I believe them.
How did you prepare for the role?
I was very familiar with the cartoons -- The New Yorker cartoons. I have a big book of them that my brother had given me for a birthday many years ago. I watched the show when I was a little girl in the '60s. What I did to prepare was go back to the cartoons. I looked at not only what she said, but how she stood, how she sat and all her physicality. I do like to work from the outside in whenever possible. As a dancer, I think that makes really good sense to me. When you look at people, you can sort of judge a book by its cover. A lot of times the way we are psychically has a lot to do with whats going on inside.
What did you learn about Morticia? Who is she?
She has an elegance. Shes very feminine. Shes an archetype of a certain kind of femininity. I think thats why so many women and little girls responded to her.
And Morticia dances ...
She does. They found a very interesting way to get her to dance. Its very true to her character and Sergio Trujillo, our choreographer, found a way for her to move within the confines of that dress. Hes quite familiar with the [Bob] Fosse choreography, and he was in the original company of Fosse. So, we have a shared vocabulary there.
Recently some publications have written that youve been acting like a diva around the cast and crew. One even said tantrums can be heard emanating from your dressing room. How do you respond when negative things are written about you?
It hurts my feelings. I feel really bad, especially if the things they are saying are not true. I have this fantasy of getting my own blog that says, Fuck you, heres what really happened. I cant go there, and I wouldnt go there, and I hesitate to even tell you that. But when I say something like that, its just because my feelings are hurt. Anytime a person lashes out its because their feelings are hurt. So, if I say, Fuck you, heres what really happened, its because Ive spent some time crying earlier and now Im finding a way to make a joke about it.
But they write what they want anyway.
Youre right, and I dont understand why. I dont understand the appetite for reading that. Its a little depressing when you think about it because the answer is that people often write these things because thats what people want to read. Why? Isnt there enough really horrifying news in the world? Wouldnt you rather read about how Nathan and I make each other laugh in rehearsal?
Whats it like working with Nathan?
Hes really funny! Hes really nice, and we get along really well. I joked to him that we should go to some restaurant where all those people [gossip columnists] go and get a booth and make out. Then they can start calling us Bethan!
You are about to celebrate your first wedding anniversary to Chris Calkins, the founder of Napa Valleys Destino Vineyard. Whats Chris like?
Hes wonderful. Hes such a good guy.
What attracted you to him?
On our first day I saw a quality in him that was so unusual, and its one of the things that I fell in love with him. Hes completely open. Hes curious. Hes seen a lot. Hes not some ingenue with sparking eyes. Hes seen a lot and his eyes are still sparkling and open.
Is he living in New York with you?
Yes. Hes with his wife [laughs].
Earlier this year the Human Rights Campaign honored you with its Ally for Equality Award. What did that mean to you?
It was a huge, huge honor. I got to learn a lot more about the HRC. I was so inspired. I was just filled with awe. My husband too. Both of our jaws just dropped at the work that they do and the people they drew. I dont know how many politicians made sure that they were there. It just inspires me to do more.
Was there ever a moment when you thought, I have a gay following?
I guess it sort of crept up on me. It wasnt anything that seemed...
Were there ever Bebe Neuwirth drag queens running around?
No. It didnt seem unusual in any way. It was like, Oh, right. I think somebody pointed it out to me. Maybe when I did Outs fifth anniversary cover when I was in Chicago. I was like, Oh really? Great.
On April 20 you will reunite with Kelsey Grammer to present the Drama League Award nominations. Hes also back on Broadway in the revival of La Cage aux Folles. When was the last time you saw him?
He came to the show at one of our first previews, so we had a brief visit backstage after the show.
You played Lilith on Cheers and Frasier. What do you think Lilith would be up to today?
I guess her son would be in college or maybe just graduating.
What was his name?
And somebody once called him Freddie, and Lilith goes, Fredrick.
But you think shed be tied up with his life?
Hed probably be in college, and she would be caught up in that and sever those ties with her son. That was such an interesting relationship that Lilith and Frasier had. What Kelsey and I both acknowledged was that after the characters had gotten divorced and as their relationship continued, you saw how they truly loved each other but couldnt be married to each other.
You made your nightclub debut two years ago. Do you have any plans on releasing a CD?
Yes, we actually recorded a concert at the Napa Valley Opera House. Were fooling around with it. Its on hold right now, but I would like to do that. I also have plans to do a recording of all Kurt Weill music. I just love that music so much. Im so comfortable singing it.
What are you the most proud of?
Im thinking of things that Im proud of, but I dont like to say them because then it sounds like bragging.
But youre proud of them, so you can say them.
I am blessed to have been able to partake in certain jobs and works and activities. There are jobs that I feel really good about the work that I did -- Sweet Charity and Chicago. This performance isnt fully formed yet, so I dont want to say this. Im very happy and blessed to have been able to work with the Actors' Fund to start a program specifically for dancers -- theres something there called the Dancers Resource.
What is that programs intent?
Because I had my hips replaced, and it was an emotionally traumatic event, I thought, there are things that Ive been able to afford and have access to that other dancers dont. They need this. One thing would be emotional support. I wanted group therapy for injured dancers -- dancers who want to continue dancing, not people who want to switch careers. We want to keep dancing, but were suffering deeply. Its a private suffering because as dancers, we are so replaceable. We cant tell people that we are injured because well be replaced. Dancers are most likely to be underinsured or uninsured. It gives me great pleasure to serve on a board where theyve said, Yes, that is a good idea and then they made it happen.
Beyond The Addams Family becoming a hit, what is your mission for this show?
Have fun. This cast -- there are some fascinating and deeply good people here. I just want to keep having a good time and giving the audience as much pleasure as they seem to be having. I think thats what this is. Its just pure joyful.
The Addams Family opens on April 8 at The Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, 205 West 46th St.(between Broadway and 8th Ave), New York City. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.theaddamsfamilymusical.com. To learn more about the Dancers Resource, visit their official website here.