Lilith Fare: A Chat with Bebe Neuwirth

It was all I could do not to call her Lilith. Really. It’s that throaty voice and husky laugh. Actress Bebe Neuwirth called exactly at the appointed time to talk about starring in the fundraising Centerstage Gala June 2 at the Dallas Theater Center. If you have an extra $1,000 in your entertainment budget, that’s how much it costs to hear her sing an evening of Kander and Ebb tunes with a 45-piece orchestra.

Neuwirth replaced Martin Short, who was supposed to be the gala’s star. But he dropped out. (Maybe he’s busy making Jiminy Glick 2.) Neuwirth, incidentally, was last in Dallas in 1978 as an understudy for the roles of Cassie and Sheila in the road company of A Chorus Line. It was her first big acting job. She was 19. “And a quick 29 years later, I’m back,” she says.

For sheer talent, Neuwirth’s got it all over Jiminy. She’s won two Emmys, two Tonys and a bunch of Drama Desk Awards. She did 78 episodes of Cheers and 11 episodes of Frasier in the role of Dr. Lilith Sternin-Crane, the stiff-spined shrink with the crazy-wild sex drive (remember, she slept with Niles after her divorce from Frasier).

On Broadway Neuwirth is known as a Fosse specialist. She just wound up a long run as Roxie Hart in Chicago -- the best Roxie, said critics, since the original, Gwen Verdon. And she’d already won a Tony in 1997 in the other role, Velma Kelly, in an earlier Chicago revival.

At the fancy DTC thing she’ll sing some of Kander and Ebb’s songs from Chicago and from Kiss of the Spider Woman, in which Neuwirth starred in London’s West End. She won’t dance, however. Nothing to do with having had a hip replacement (all those years of Fosse wore it out, she said). It’s just a singing show.

Here’s some other stuff Lilith...I mean Bebe talked about with Unfair Park:

• Lots of people recognize her by her distinctive voice. “And sometimes they recognize my face even when I’m wearing a hat and sunglasses. I’m not hiding. I just like to wear hats and sunglasses.”

• That voice has been heard on quite a few cartoons. She was Anabelle the Dog Goddess in the animated film All Dogs Go to Heaven 2 and in the All Dogs TV series, plus other characters on some PBS ’toons. She likes doing voice jobs. “You don’t have to wear makeup or get dressed up,” she says. “But it’s different from acting with your whole body. You can’t rely on anything but your voice. When you think you’re doing too much, you’re really not.”

• She doesn’t have cable and only watches TV at night on the few broadcast stations she can pick up in her home in Greenwich Village. “I don’t like a TV on when the sun is up,” she says.

• The most “mortifying” experience of her life, Neuwirth says, was appearing on Celebrity Jeopardy. “I only did it because I felt strongly about the charity I was playing for, Broadway Cares. Someone else had also played for my charity and they won another round. They were doing just fine. But I had the biggest problem with that buzzer. I was playing against two other guys and at one point the producer came up to me and said, `You don’t play video games, do you?’ My reflexes are good, but hitting that buzzer is a niche skill I don’t have. I did well enough. But Neil Patrick Harris won. He was great at it. And he’s such a nice guy and so funny.” And the other player was…? “One of the guys [James Denton] from Desperate Housewives. I had no idea who he was. And I had never seen the show. It’s like when my friends ask if I’ve watched Grey’s Anatomy and I have to tell them, nope, my TV set doesn’t get Channel 7.”

To get tickets for the Dallas Theater Center’s Centerstage Gala on June 2 at the Kalita Humphreys Theater, shoot an e-mail here or call 214-252-3915. --Elaine Liner

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky