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Bebe Neuwirth brings 'Stories with Piano' to Weinberg

February 01, 2012|By AMY DULEBOHN | amyc@herald-mail.com
  • Bebe Neuwirth has been a theater actress for more than 30 years. She will perform "Stories with Piano" at 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 10, at The Weinberg Center in downtown Frederick, Md.
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FREDERICK, Md. — She will bring her cabaret-style "Stories with Piano" show to the Weinberg Center in Frederick, Md., at 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 10.

While Neuwirth might be a household name mostly for her role as icy Dr. Lilith Sternin on the hit NBC TV series "Cheers" and its spinoff "Frasier," she cautions those coming to see her in Frederick not to expect to see the character.

 "I don't think an audience coming to see this show will see Lilith on stage. So if you're coming to see Lilith sing, you're going to be disappointed," she said during a telephone interview while cleaning up her kitchen after lunch in her New York home.

Instead, Neuwirth said, "Stories with Piano" is composed mostly of story songs.

"The focus is not really on the sound of my voice, but ... the emotion of the song and what it's trying to convey," she said. "That's where the attention is paid, and when my music partner (pianist) Scott Cady ... and I develop the show ... it is really about how we will best convey what this song is about. It's not about me or him, it's really about the song."

Neuwrith, who released her first solo album,  "Porcelain," late last year, focuses on the music.

"Some of the songs I sing are classics," she said. "There are a couple of them that I feel are really great pieces of art and great art is open to different interpretations. You know a lot of times you'll see Shakespeare done in all different periods and all different costumes."

While she is quick to separate her stage and screen personas, Neuwirth, 53, tells her story of becoming Dr. Lilith Sternin with fondness.

She was doing a revival of "Sweet Charity," having played San Francisco and Los Angeles, when she had a four-mouth hiatus.

"I was in Los Angeles, and I thought, ‘I might as well try to get a little (television) work while I'm out here,'" she said.

Her plan was successful. Her first role came when she nabbed a few lines on an episode of the CBS detective series, "Simon & Simon." She says she later did one scene as Lilith on "Cheers."

Afterward, she returned to New York to continue "Sweet Charity," when she got a call asking if she could return to California to play Lilith again. She did, and was offered a "‘seven out of 13,' which means doing about half the episodes in a season.

"I didn't plan it and there was no great strategy involved, it was just something that happened and came my way. I'm very, very lucky to have that happen," Neuwirth recalled.

The character was one that she played on and off on two sitcoms from 1986 to 2003, and still gets recognized as today. "We all have friends who can see a person for half a second and know who they are ... those people recognize me all the time. (With) no makeup, hat on, turtleneck, whatever," she chuckled.

Working with embattled actor Kelsey Grammer — who played her love interest, husband and finally, ex-husband, Frasier Crane on both sitcoms — is also something she recalls happily.

"I see (Grammer) every once in a while. Our paths will cross and it's always wonderful to see him. There's great affection between us."

An actress who's worked with not only Grammer, but such theater and movie heavyweights as Nathan Lane and Alec Baldwin, might be expected to have a favorite actor to work with.

But when asked to name one, she responded, "That's a question that I can't answer because I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings. I've worked with a lot of wonderful actors."

She lists Roger Rees, John Leguizamo and Bill Pullman as standouts, but said, "I wouldn't say these are my leading men because I wasn't the leading lady and I wasn't playing opposite them. I'm just talking about men I've worked with and done scenes with. Almost everybody (men and women) I've worked with, I've enjoyed."

Neuwirth has had the distinction of playing both Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart, both murderesses in the musical "Chicago." In 1997, she won her second Tony for the role of Velma. When asked to choose a favorite among the two characters, again she does not distinguish the two.

"I love them both and they both break my heart, and they're both such different experiences and I played them at different times in my life, so they have different meanings for me," she said. "There's a special place in my heart for both of them. They sit right next to each other and they get along just fine."

Neuwirth won her first Tony for her role as Nickie in "Sweet Charity." She also received two Emmys during her run on "Cheers." She has been on other TV shows including "Star Trek, the Next Generation," "Hack," and "Law and Order Trial By Jury." She has been in movies including "Malice," "Summer of Sam," "Celebrity" and "Jumanji."   

When asked if she aspires to win an Oscar (or two) to go with her two Tonys and two Emmys, Neuwirth laughed heartily and responded simply, "I don't plan my life."



If you go ...

WHAT: Bebe Neuwirth, "Stories with Piano"

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 10

WHERE: The Weinberg Center, 20 W. Patrick St., downtown Frederick, Md.

COST: Tickets cost $27.50 to $37.50

MORE: Tickets can be purchased by calling the Weinberg Center Box Office at 301-600-2828, or at www.weinbergcenter.org

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