The real, fun-loving Bryan Batt has finally been exposed in Forbidden Broadway Strikes Back, the smash new edition in Gerald Alessandrini's scathingly funny series. For some time, Batt's talents have been disguised behind theatrical facades (in Cats, Starlight Express, and Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat), and he had the disadvantage of coming into them after they'd been running a while. Even in Jeffrey, the first play that brought him notice, Batt (as "Darius") was still in the shadow of another Andrew Lloyd Webber show -- in a cat's costume [he repeated his role in the film adaption].

 

"When I read for Paul (Rudnick, the playwright), the character "Darius" was acting in Grand Hotel. At my callback, he said, 'Are you really in Cats'? I replied, 'Now and forever.' And when I got the job, I noticed I was literally playing myself. From the first read-through [of the script] at the WPA Theater through the wrap of the movie and its opening, it was one of the most wonderful and fulfilling experiences." When Sunset Boulevard's Tony nominee, Alan Campbell, portraying "Joe Gillis," took a vacation, understudy Batt was summoned from his vacation to go on. "I was sick as a dog, but got on the next plane, arrived, and went to the doctor for a shot. When I got to the theater, I was in Alan's dressing room getting ready, and Betty Buckley shows up with a huge bouquet of flowers. I said, "You might want to wait until you see what happens before you give me flowers!", and she said, "Bryan, you'll do fine!'" And he did. Word within Broadway's inner circle quickly spread that this was a performance to see. Batt's multi-talents are fully evident in his numerous personae of Forbidden Broadway Strikes Back, the vehicle that allows him to really explode on the scene. And explode he has. He's being seen by a Who's Who of show business, as well as the rest of us who just love having a good time, courtesy of Alessandrini's fondness for musical theater and his vicious wit. "It's such a small house," said Batt, "you can't help seeing the audience. I don't like to know in advance if someone famous, especially someone skewed in the show, is there. But I soon spot them: Angela Lansbury, Stephen Sondheim, Harold Prince, Carol Channing." When you know they're there, does that change your performance? "You must not let it."

 

Batt explained the revue "is the most exhausting thing I've done. It's more physically demanding than Starlight and Cats. In those shows and Sunset, at least I had a bit of wing space in which to stretch. We change on a postage stamp! The moments are fast and we move with great speed. We have one dresser, the incredible Joe McFate, who assisted on costumes (by Alvin Colt), snatching things off and helping us slap things on."

 

His favorite moment is the number spoofing Big. "Sometimes we don't know what's going to happen, which makes it fun for us and the audience." The company -- Batt, Donna English, Christine Pedi, Tom Plotkin -- magnificently captures that short-lived musical's "wide, gaping, unnatural smiles of Jon Benet adolescents gone wrong!" Batt's had the advantage of parodying shows he's been in -- in the case of Sunset, even parodying a role he's played -- with his star counterpart in the audience. "It's all done in fun and it's a great compliment to be featured in Forbidden Broadway. It's gotten to the point where they're insulted if they're not lampooned. Thankfully, the stars do have a sense of humor. Alan was laughing as hard as anyone in the audience, ditto Zoe Caldwell, also Patti LuPone. She sent flowers to Christine after the review came out with a note saying, 'Thanks for my fabulous reviews!'" Batt's love for theater extends to the other side of the curtain, and he has produced several musicals in New Orleans. The original cast CD and tape of Forbidden Broadway Strikes Back has just been released by DRG Records.

 

Batt has loved show business since childhood, when in New Orleans he put on shows, including a Fouth of July parade. At 10, he added two years to his age to get a job in the chorus. "Then came that period where it wasn't cool to not be doing that guy thing, sports. And like a little dweeb I did it and was quite pathetic. I was totally uncoordinated and couldn't dribble a basketball to save my life. I had a bad puberty!" A theater student at Tulane, Batt "did any kind of show I could get into." Helen Hayes attended a benefit show he was in and met his mother, who told Hayes, "Bryan wants to go into theater, and we're trying to discourage him because it's so competitive." The actress replied, "But, my dear, so is life. You really ought to encourage him. He's good." And with that, "I literally was on the next plane to New York and (while working at Circle in the Square) having tea at her home!"

[END]

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Key Subjects: 
Bryan Batt, Cats, Forbidden Broadway
Writer: 
Ellis Nassour
Writer Bio: 
Ellis Nassour contributes entertainment features here and abroad. He is the author of "Rock Opera: the Creation of Jesus Christ Superstar" and "Honky Tonk Angel: The Intimate Story of Patsy Cline," and an associate editor and a contributing writer (film, music, theater) to Oxford University Press' American National Biography (1999).
Date: 
1997
Subtitle: 
Bryan Batt Goes From Regular Broadway to <I>Forbidden Broadway</I>