From Kean University:
Broadway and television star Bebe Neuwirth is set to open Kean Stage’s 2018/19 season with performances at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, September 15, and 3 p.m. on Sunday, September 16, at Enlow Recital Hall.
Although the Princeton, N.J., native may be best known for her Emmy Award-winning role as Lilith Sternin Crane on the popular television show Cheers, she has also conquered Broadway, winning a Tony Award for her role in Sweet Charity, and starring in Damn Yankees, Fosse and A Chorus Line. She received her second Tony Award for her portrayal of Velma in Chicago. A few years later, she played Roxie in the show, making her the only triple threat to have played both parts on Broadway. This multi-talented performer has played everything from Anita in West Side Story at the Cleveland Opera to Katherine in The Taming of the Shrew at the Williamstown Theatre Festival.
At Kean Stage, Neuwirth will perform her cabaret act, Stories with Piano. This intimate show consists of songs by a wide range of songwriters, including Kander and Ebb, Tom Waits, Edith Piaf and German composer Kurt Weill.
“This isn’t the kind of show where I tell stories about my life,” she said. “I much more enjoy playing characters. I sing songs about joy and delight, heartbreak and sadness, anger and nostalgia. We find a way to have all of them hang together nicely. They’re probably not the songs people expect to hear from me.”
Neuwirth said she takes an unusual approach to some of the songs in her show.
“I like the audience to be open to the unexpected,” she said.
This Jersey girl can barely remember a time in her life when she wasn’t performing.
“I was born with an interest in dance,” she said. “I saw my first ballet when I was four years old. I asked my mother for classes and she made me wait until I was five because five-year-olds have a longer attention span. She loved ballet and she wanted to make sure I wouldn’t quit too soon.”
Once she hit the dance floor, Neuwirth never considered any other career path.
“I danced with the Princeton Ballet Society and did community musicals at the McCarter Theatre,” she said. “Many of the directors and choreographers were Broadway folks. These performances were very formative and important to me.”
After graduating Princeton High School, Neuwirth was accepted into the dance program at The Juilliard School, where she spent a year perfecting her skills.
“All I wanted was to be in New York City and dance,” she said.
In 1978, she landed her first job with the touring company of A Chorus Line and eventually joined the Broadway cast.
“It was thrilling and exciting and profound, but it was also more than that,” she said. “It was beyond the cliché of a dream come true.”
Neuwirth toured with the musical Sweet Charity in California and had a four-month break before heading to Broadway, so she decided to audition for a few television shows. She was offered a small part on Cheers, filming one scene for one episode, and headed back to Broadway.
“I went on with my life,” she said.
Before long, the producers called and asked her to film another episode, and eventually she landed a recurring role.
“I had to think long and hard about it because I never considered working in television or film,” she said. “I just wanted to be on stage, but the part was so great and the show was so brilliant. I worked with the greatest ensemble of actors and comedy writers in the business. To be able to be part of that was very gratifying.”
Neuwirth, who was named an Honorary Ziegfeld Girl, has done voice and film work as well as countless television shows, including Law and Order, Madam Secretary, Blue Bloods and most recently, The Good Fight. She is also an advocate for animal adoption and serves as vice chair of The Actors Fund, where she founded the Dancers’ Resource Advisory Council, a program aimed at relieving the emotional and physical challenges faced by dancers.
But her first love will always be the stage, and for now she’s sharing it with accompanist Scott Cady.
“He’s a brilliant artist,” she said. “He’s not just a pianist; his musicianship is remarkable. Our show is really a duet.”
Enlow Recital Hall is located at 215 North Ave., Hillside, on Kean University’s East Campus. Tickets can be purchased at the Kean Stage Box Office in Wilkins Theatre on Kean’s Main Campus, 1000 Morris Ave., Union, N.J., by phone at (908) 737-7469 or online at www.keanstage.com.