All appearances to the contrary, Sherie Rene Scott—musical theatre star of Aida
, The Little Mermaid
and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
—is one of those who act out only when they’re acting.
Just ask Dick Scanlan, a co-writer with Scott on her unconventional new musical Everyday Rapture
, opening at the Second Stage May 3. The show essentially grew out of Scott’s need for the protective mask of a “role” in an unlikely setting: in her side career as a pop singer.
“I was asked to do liner notes for her album Men I’ve Had
,” recalls Scanlan, best known for penning the script of Thoroughly Modern Millie
. “She and her husband, Kurt Deutsch, had auditioned for me as actors, and they were lauching Sh-K-Boom records, so they asked me, ‘Would you do some liner notes?’ I said no. As I explained to Kurt, ‘I know so little about pop music, I wouldn’t do it justice.’ ”
Deutsch and Scott wouldn’t take no for an answer. They sent Scanlan an advance copy of the CD—a collection of songs, most written for the theatre but done in a pop/rock style—and though he was duly impressed, CD, Scanlan protested that his expertise lay in show music and he didn’t have “the vocabulary” for Scott’s approach to the material.
Then one day Deutsch called with a fresh angle.
“He said, ‘Sherie has an idea that has nothing to do with the music,’ ” Scanlan recalls. “She wanted to come up with faux diary entries about her supposed relationships with these composers; they were all narrative and sexually suggestive, as if to imply that, for instance, she’d had some kind of three-way encounter with Kander & Ebb.”
For a dramatist, this was catnip. So was Scott’s later request for a scripted context for an Elton John benefit.
“She said, ‘I hate doing these things. Why don’t we give you a context?’ ” Scanlan says. They had such fun concocting the character “Sherie Rene Scott”—a needy, tempestuous sexpot diva—that they started to discuss doing a whole show about her. They would use certain elements of Scott’s real life and invent others; it would resemble a confessional solo cabaret show in some ways without in fact being either confessional or solo.
“We both knew this would hard to pull off, and it could either turn out really great or really terrible, and we would a lot of time to put it together,” Scanlan says. “Then Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
closed prematurely, and we got a grant from the Gay and Lesbian Center and just locked ourselves in a room and started dreaming.”
One place they went: to Scott’s upbringing around a Mennonite community in Kansas. Mennonites comprise an Anabaptist religious sect stressing interdependence and pre-industrial technology; they may in fact be best known by a splinter sect that is even stricter, the Amish.
“Her mother was raised Mennonite, and my understanding was that by marrying her father, who wasn’t Mennonite, her mother broke the ties,” Scanlan says. “But every summer, she went to stay with her mother’s family and she had exposure to Mennonite culture, and she internalized a lot of the fundamental beliefs of Anabaptism, which aspires to a kin of asceticism, by removing every obstacle that would prevent you from being ready to receive Jesus when the end day comes.”
Given the strictures or Mennonite religious culture, it’s a wonder that Scott—who is routinely and accurately described as a blonde bombshell—ever gathered the self-possession to become an actress at all. As Scanlan says, “Photographs aren’t allowed because they breed vanity. And electricity is not allowed, because the Mennonites want labor to be hard so that you’re dependent on other people. They believe that reduces a tendency toward selfishness.”
A seemingly self-glorifying profession like the performing arts—with the inescapable need for photographs to be taken, not to mention electric lights—must have seemed like the height of folly for a young Mennonite girl, and surely bred its share of conflicting emotions.
“Especially if you’re someone who looks like Sherie Rene Scott, you have to ask yourself: How do you fulfill the gifts God gave you when to do so is to be ungodly? And if that’s not ungodly, who is God to you then?”
So Everyday Rapture
—the title of which refers to equanimity in the face of possible apocalypse, a state devoutly desired by Mennonites—follows these “conflicting impulses” with a series of scenes and songs performed by Scott and four other actor/singers. All the songs are pre-existing pop or theatre compositions, as opposed to having been written for the show, which means, as Scanlan put it, that “the songs carry mood and emotion without carrying a lot of narrative,” even though he characterizes the final result as “more a book show” than a cabaret.
Among the “found” material are some songs from a childhood favorite of Scott’s, Mr. Rogers—yes, he of the cardigan sweater and King Friday.
“I would say the character does not reject spirituality but tries instead to live with these seemingly contradictory impulses, because that’s what being human is,” Scanlan relates. “That’s why there’s some Mr. Rogers material in the show. He talked about a kind of tolerance, but not just of other people but of our own humanity. We’re not going to rid ourselves of the things about ourselves we don’t like. They’re all part and parcel of being human.”
Click here for more information about Everyday Rapture.