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Stars & the City: Actress Bebe Neuwirth

Category Broadway

|by Jeryl Brunner |

The award-winning actress shares her long connection to musical theater and New York City

Bebe Neuwirth is a Broadway veteran, having appeared in numerous shows, including A Chorus Line, Dancin’, Little Me, Sweet Charity, Damn Yankees, The Addams Family, Fosse and Chicago. Neuwirth also received two Emmy Awards playing Lilith on the beloved TV show Cheers, and has an extensive film career that includes Say Anything, Green Card and Bugsy.  

In Spring 2018, Neuwirth performed at Feinstein’s/54 Below. She presented her show Bebe Neuwirth’s Stories with Piano, #1, featuring an evening of well-curated songs from Kurt Weill, Kander and Ebb, Stephen Sondheim, Edith Piaf and Tom Waits. 

Broadway mainstay and Emmy winner Bebe Neuwirth discusses her decades-long career (Photo: Walter McBride/Getty Images)

Broadway mainstay and Emmy winner Bebe Neuwirth discusses her decades-long career (Photo: Walter McBride/Getty Images)

What inspired your show, Bebe Neuwirth’s Stories with Piano, #1
Bebe Neuwirth: 
Years ago some trusted friends said to me, “You are very good with story songs. You really tell a story well.”  I thought, well, that’s interesting. I hadn’t thought of that before. Scott Cady, my music director and my good friend/arranger is the other artist on stage. We are really doing a duet. I said, “I’d like to do a show with just piano and voice.” So we put together all these ideas of songs that I loved, that he loved and thought would be good for me. 

There were a lot of songs. My first criteria was: Does it speak to me on an emotional level? Or does it resonate in some way? Does it make me laugh? Does it make me cry? With some of them it was, that’s a nice song, I appreciate it. But it’s just not my aesthetic. Then we looked at the galvanizing theme. Do they work together? Is there a place for it? The order is very, very important so they all make sense, emotionally, in a row.

What do you love about performing at Feinstein’s/54 Below? 
Bebe Neuwirth:
It’s a beautiful club. The waitstaff is wonderful and they are brilliant professionals. They’re not just slingin’ hash.  The audience is wonderful. The lights and sound are pristine. It’s a really good physical venue to play. I’m very happy to finally come back. 

Tell us about the first Broadway show you saw.
Bebe Neuwirth:
The very first Broadway show I saw was Hair. I was 11 and it didn’t make much of an impression on me. I was just too young and didn’t really know what was going on. I had been seeing ballet since I was very, very little, and that was really what I knew theater to be. 

I grew up in New Jersey. I remember when there was a play at the theater in our town, the McCarter Theater, which is part of Princeton University. I thought, they do plays here! I had only seen dance companies, like Alvin Ailey, perform there. That was the first stage I was on when I was seven and dancing. I didn’t even know what else was going on in theater other than pure dance. 

What did you see after Hair
Bebe Neuwirth:
The next show I saw was Pippin when I was 13. And that actually changed my life. That was when I thought, OK, I’m going to dance on Broadway and do that guy’s choreography. I felt like I was recognizing myself on the stage. But I have to say, I was 13. I had no idea who Bob Fosse was. I had no idea that I was talking about God. It was not an ego statement. It was just that his art resonated so deeply to me. It was a non-verbal response of deep recognition. It was a visceral recognition and catalyst. It ignited something.

When you are not working, what do you like to do? 
Bebe Neuwirth: 
Everybody has creative energy. For some people, it’s very important to express all the time and manifest that creative energy. What I do is I throw pottery. I go to pottery studios and make things out of clay. It’s not as good as being able to get on stage, or listen to music and dance. But it’s something that is creative and visceral. It’s interesting – there are a lot of performing artists who are also painters, ceramicists, photographers and craftspeople in some way in the fine arts. It’s another way to express. 

What do you love to do in New York City? 
Bebe Neuwirth:
I love to walk. I love to walk in neighborhoods that I don’t know very well. It’s a pretty city. It doesn’t matter where you walk. In New York City, there’s a photograph to be taken. Down in Battery Park there is a beautiful monument in the water for the merchant marine. There’s a man in the water and he’s being helped up by another another man. It’s beautiful and haunting and provocative. There are all kinds of things to discover if you just walk and look around. 

For more great New York theater, check out our list of Top Shows in July.


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