Batt applies industrial strength lip liner in star Gary Beach's
dressing room as he prepares to go on for Beach in the starring
role of Albin/Zaza in the Broadway revival of 'La Cage aux
BY STUART RAMSON/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES-PICAYUNE
The worst thing about
playing the glamorous drag star ZaZa in the Broadway revival of Jerry
Herman's musical "La Cage aux Folles" is the shaving and
the shoes, said Bryan Batt.
"I have some low-cut gowns, so I have to shave my chest,
and my legs," Batt said by phone from New York. "They've
plucked my eyebrows and since I've had two knee surgeries, I have to
be very careful wearing heels. But believe it or not, these heels are
not as high as the '70s platforms I wore playing Monty the DJ in 'Saturday
Night Fever,' and I don't have to keep them on as long. The Cagelles,
the chorus girls who are all men this time around, have been giving
me pointers and Ochsner gave me something that's like WD-40 for the
Batt is the standby for
star Gary Beach in "La Cage" and thus
far has had to go on in the part six times, when Beach became ill or his
shooting schedule on the movie musical remake of "The Producers" conflicted
with the show. Batt has been told he may go on for Beach a good deal between
March 19 and April 22, "but film shooting schedules aren't written
in stone. Every time we have a confirmed date, we'll post it on my Web
'Zaza is here!' announces Bryan Batt in 'I Put
a Little More Mascara On,' the first number he performs in 'La Cage
aux Folles.' Behind him: one of the Cagelle showgirls, who are all
played by men in the revival.
Batt and Beach (a Tony Award nominee for his Lumiere
in "Beauty and the Beast" and a Tony winner as Roger Debris
in "The Producers") are friends. In fact, Batt succeeded Beach
on Broadway as Lumiere and Beach came to
"He told me that I was the only person he'd
want to see doing Lumiere," Batt said. "As Gary's standby,
I am contracted to understudy only his role. If Gary's not going to be
able to do it, he calls and tells me. And during the show, I'm supposed
to stay within a five-block radius of the Marquis Theater between 8 and
10 p.m. But listen, if Gary starts the show, Gary's going to finish the
show. He is the consummate professional."
He didn't think he would be hired to understudy
and once he was, Batt said, "I never thought it would get to the
point of actually going on. Let's face it, I'm not ideal casting. At
41, I'm too young for the part, I'm 6-foot-1 -- 6-foot-4 with the wig
and heels -- barrel-chested, a 44 long; physically, I'm a big ol' man.
I was afraid once they got the costumes and everything on, I might look
like a truck float.
who's had two knee surgeries and wears high heels in the show,
does some leg stretches backstage to limber up prior to performing.
"A few weeks ago, I had 60 people from New
Orleans come up to see me do the show and their reactions were interesting.
Some thought I looked like Rosemary Clooney, or Joan Rivers on steroids.
I think I look like Bea Benaderet, the mother on 'Petticoat Junction,'
or maybe my own mother with a glandular condition.
"But it's been so much fun getting to do this
show and this role. The director, Jerry Zaks, actually came to my 'put
in,' my rehearsal with the cast. He's just about the most particular
director I've ever worked with, and I had some new stuff I wanted to
add. The biggest compliment I received was from him. He said, 'I saw
no one trying to imitate anyone on that stage. You created your own character.'
"The costume designer, William Ivey Long, the
best on Broadway, fitted my costumes. I've got padding to give me curves
on my hips and a bigger butt and a waist cincher like Miz Scarlett in
'Gone With the Wind' that's a killer, but 'Fiddle-dee-dee,' that which
does not kill us makes us stronger, right?"
Batt said that sometimes he'll watch the show from
the back of the house or the box seats, "and every night, when the
overture starts, the audience lights up, en masse. Their toes start tapping,
they sing along, they start grinning; these people love Jerry Herman's
style of pure Broadway show music. They don't want to stop applauding
numbers like the cancan. It's just wonderful entertainment.
"My favorite moment, of course, is to stand
stage center, my feet apart, and belt out 'I Am What I Am,' this great,
soaring, affirmative anthem; such an important song, and such a privilege
to be singing it."
The flowers arrive every time he goes on and so
do hometown and celebrity well-wishers: Joan Rivers (with whom Batt's
working on a project), Rosie O'Donnell, Tony Award-winning friend and
Batt's "idol" Harriet Harris ("Frasier's" agent Bebe), "Dracula" star
Tom Hewitt. Harvey Fierstein, who wrote the book for the show, "sent
a note saying, 'Wish I could be there, but I'm playing the Jew across
the street' " (Tevye in "Fiddler on the Roof").
If there's a downside to all this, it's that Batt
had to turn down a part in "The Producers" movie.
"It was a scene with Gary Beach," he said, "and
the producers couldn't take the chance of us both filming at once."
Theater writer David Cuthbert can be reached at email@example.com or
at (504) 826-3468.