|Scene Magazine, February 2006
Scene & Heard: Bryan Batt
Broadway veteran Bryan Batt
and partner Tom Cianfichi relocated to Batt’s hometown of New Orleans two years
ago (keeping a small place in New York), opening the gift and home
furnishings store Hazelnut. If all goes according to plan, Batt will
soon begin filming a TV series right in New Orleans. All the better
to participate in the city’s revival.
SCENE: When did you open the shop?
Bryan Batt: Two years ago.
It quickly became one of the city’s favorite gift and home furnishing design shops.
For the shop I’ve designed a New Orleans toile fabric. Instead
of a regular French toile fabric, where they have country scenes or
sometimes they’re Asian scenes and drawings, ours has scenes
of New Orleans. It became very popular amongst natives. One thing
about New Orleans, it’s like New Yorkers too, we love the city.
New Orleanians really love their city. And for people who have moved
away, we still have it. That’s why I came back to open up my
shop, because I do love it here. In the wake of Katrina, it became
so much more important to other people. The New York Times did a little
piece on New Orleans toile, because a portion of all the profits goes
to different charities down here, like New Orleans Task Force and
Second Harvest of Greater New Orleans. We have all different products
made from the design. It comes in five different color waves. I’ve
always been drawn to design and home furnishings.
S: Tell us about your partner.
BB: He’s from Pennsylvania. We’ve
been together 16 years. We met doing Evita in Akron, Ohio, when we
were mere infants.
S: Did he always love New Orleans?
BB: He grew to love it. It
was quite a shock to him at first. He does love it. When we decided
to open a shop, he said, ‘Let’s do it in New Orleans. I think they really
can use what we can offer.’ That’s been the consensus.
People have been very pleased at the style and the uniqueness of what
we have here. We’re very, very happy that the New Orleanians
have embraced us.
S: Is he also an actor?
BB: I guess once an actor,
always an actor. He was in Forever Plaid forever. And did some other
things. Then he got into retail on Madison Avenue. He really runs
the show down here. I come in, I help buy, I help sell. Then I get
to do both. When I have a show, I go to New York or L.A. to do a show
or to film. It’s
the best of both worlds. I’ve got the Mississippi and the Hudson.
S: What is going on right now in New Orleans?
BB: What I think people don’t understand
is that all the historic districts, the French Quarter, the Garden
District, all along St. Charles, all through uptown, what people come
to New Orleans for, what everyone comes here to see, to hear, to eat,
is still here for the most part. I would say 90 to 95 percent of what
tourists come to see is standing and fine. Unfortunately, a lot of
residential areas have been devastated by the flood waters. Another
misconception is who received the damage. Everyone—from the
wealthiest to the poorest—all across the board everyone got
it. It showed no mercy and no prejudice in terms of flooding.
There’s a lot of residential that’s
fine. All of St. Charles and to the river.
S: Your last Broadway gig was La Cage aux Folles?
BB: I stood by for my friend
Gary Beach who played Albin. I didn’t want to stand by, but the director called
and wanted me to do it. Because Gary was filming the movie of The
Producers, they assured me I’d go on. I said yes, because I
would have at least 35 performances that I was going on guaranteed.
It’s a role I never thought in a million years that I would
have played. I’m 6'1", 185 lbs. I’m a big guy. You
put heels on, I look like a truck in a wig. But they worked some magic.
I must say, the makeup artist and William Ivey Long, the costume designer,
are geniuses. It really was a fun, fun production.
S: How has this changed you, reconnecting with
your roots and now being part of the rebirth of New Orleans?
BB: I think it’s an honor. It’s
something I look forward to. Nowhere in this country have we ever
had to do something like this on this scale. Although it’s daunting
and it can be a frightening thing, it’s also exciting. Thinking
that we can possibly make a difference. New Orleans had a lot of problems
before this happened. I would love to see a lot of those problems
I’m hoping a lot of
good can come out of this. Rebirth and rebuilding is definitely a
To keep up with Bryan Batt, log onto www.BryanBatt.com and www.HazelnutNewOrleans.com.