Interview – Brent Barrett
Bruce Kimmel: Hello, Brent Barrett, handsome leading man, and welcome to haineshisway.com and our Unseemly Interview. Let’s begin at the beginning, when you were a wee sprig of a twig of a lad of a tad of a youth. When did you first get bitten by the performing bug?
Brent Barrett: I think I got bitten when I saw THE FIRST NUDIE MUSICAL. I was about 5 years old, and being exposed to all of those breasts, I knew I would never go hungry again! Then my cousin Victoria, who was the head cheerleader, made me the mascot for the cheerleading squad. I was in the middle of all of those cheering people, and I was hooked.
BK: Tell us a bit about where you grew up?
BB: In the small town of Quinter, Kansas population, 900. Well 899 since I left. My family thought I was from outer space, dancing around and singing all the time. There was very little to do, so I learned to play the guitar and sang John Denver and Jim Croche songs.
The sunsets are some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. You can see for miles because it’s so flat.
BK: Where did you go to college? Did you take theater?
BB: I began college at Ft. Hays State University in Hays, Kansas. I was a voice major, but decided I was too much of a hypochondriac to be an Opera Singer. So I went into musical theater……….like that made a difference. 🙂 I transferred to Carnegie-Melon University and was there for three years before going to New York.
BK: So, there you are, Brent Barrett, handsome leading man – ready to take on the world. Tell us about your first professional performing job.
BB: You mean after Show World? Just kidding. Actually my first Equity job was with the Civic Light Opera in Pittsburgh. I did two seasons. The second season, the producer came up with the idea of having a celebrity host, to introduce each show. So why not Elke Summer? Since she had such a connection to American Musical Theater, it was a natural choice, don’t you think?
BK: Did you have any “real” jobs between performing gigs?
BB: I have been very lucky since I came to New York. Other than working 42nd street before Disney moved in and ruined it, I haven’t had to take a job outside of theater.
BK: When and how did you get your handsome leading man self to New York, New York?
BB: In my little gold Chevette, piece of sh–. My dad was a Chevy dealer in Quinter. What was I thinking? I could have had a Corvette! No, I had to be a practical actor, thinking ahead about gas mileage and how big the cargo section was.
BK: Did you start working in New York right away, or was it a struggle?
BB: When I was performing at CLO in Pittsburgh, the casting director, Barry Moss, came out to audition for the Broadway revival of WEST SIDE STORY. I came to NY for a follow up audition with Jerome Robbins and got the role of Diesel. Then I went on to play Tony for the last three months of the run.
BK: Let’s talk about Closer Than Ever, shall we? Tell us how you came to be cast in the show. Did you have to go through a lot of auditions? How was it to work with Richard and David? It was a wonderful cast – did you all get along or were there times you wanted to throw hot flaming acid in each other’s faces. Hold nothing back.
BB: Ok………..Steven Scott Smith, the original conceiver and director, who I met at the Eugene O’Niell Theatre Festival, asked me to do a cabaret evening of Richard and David’s songs. It was called NEXT TIME NOW, which played at 88’s in the Village. We then went to the Williamstown Theatre Festival, added an act, and moved it back to the Cherry Lane Theater. It’s a good thing the acid was locked up during PMS……that’s all I’m saying.
BK: Now let’s talk about Grand Hotel. Were you with the show from the beginning or did you join it later? It was a fascinating one-off kind of show with wonderful direction and choreography by Tommy Tune. Tell us a bit about the process of working with him.
BB: I joined the show 6 months after it opened on Broadway. I was hired to cover David Carol, who was ailing at the time. I worked with Tommy very little. I was put in the show by the stage manager and Jack Lee, the musical director. Tommy has a wonderful eye and can make some dazzling stage pictures.
BK: Grand Hotel also had a brilliant set by our very own Tony Walton. Does the cast have much interaction with the designers, or is that pretty much another world? It is always fascinating to know how different musical directors work with actors. So, tell us a bit about the mad and lovely Jack Lee. I worked with him once and he seemed very very precise.
BB: Love Mr. Walton! Very kind and sweet man and so talented. Married to Julie Andrews at one time you know. Two years ago I did a tribute to Tony in the Hamptons and actually got to meet Julie. What a treat, since as a small boy in Kansas, she was the only “Maria” there was. Mary Martin, who? What did I know? Jack Lee is like a terrier. Intense and fantastic. I think he helped me with the character more than anyone when I was being put in the show.
BK: Grand Hotel went through a lot of changes. Can you tell us all about that craziness? How long was it until you took over the role of the Baron? Did you enjoy playing him? How many different leading ladies did you have? Was it fun to work with our very own divoon Lynnette Perry?
BB: Joining the company 6 months after it opened, I stayed on Broadway for 6 months, and then took out the tour. Lynette Perry is totally delicious. We opened the show in London together.
As for leading ladies, Lilian Montevecchi and I traveled the world together and had an unbelievable time. She is a unique creation and I was so lucky to get to know her.
BK: So, what did you do after Grand Hotel? Fill us in on your other Broadway jobs.
BB: Right after I came back to the states from London, I was on the road again starring opposite Cathy Rigby in ANNIE GET YOU GUN. Also a wonderful experience. She is so talented and such a hard worker. One night at intermission I heard one of her children, was in the show, knocking on her door across the hall. “Mommie!”. I got to go back to my dressing room and rest. She got to go back and mom. She has boundless energy.
Then came Busker Alley. The wonderful Richard and Bob Sherman and A.J. Crothers. It started out with so much promise, but slowly it kept changing eventually and fell apart. Then Tommy broke his foot the week before we were to open in New York, and bye, bye Buskers.
BK: Now, you’ve done several Encores! shows. How does it work – how much rehearsal do you get? It seems with each passing season that they get more “staged” and more elaborate. Did you prefer when they were just concert presentations, or do you like the mini-productions that they’ve evolved into?
BB: I much prefer them to be staged concerts rather than full blown productions. With a week and a half rehearsal, it takes the pressure off. You don’t have to use the book, but it¹s there if you need it. When you add costumes and take away the book, I call that summer stock!
BK: You, Brent Barrett, handsome leading man, are part of a group called The Broadway Tenors. Can you tell us about that?
BB: It¹s a group I started a couple of years ago with my friend Betsy Friday, who passed away this past year. The idea was to put together an evening of Broadway tunes performed by leading men currently performing on Broadway. Using the prototype of the 3 Tenors, we would use three men in the evening. Because of people’s schedules, we needed a group of men so we could adjust according to availability. Because we wanted actors who were currently working we had to be flexible. We have a gig coming up in Denver in March.
BK: You did Sondheim’s Marry Me a Little with our very own Sally Mayes. How was that? Have you done other Sondheim? Is doing his music and lyrics more demanding?
BB: I did A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC at the Williamstown Theater Festival and SIDE BY SIDE BY SONDHEIM IN KENTUCKY. His lyrics are more intricate than most. Not Cole Porters of course. They make perfect since dramatically, but are not always the easiest to remember. Have always dreamed of doing a new show of his on Broadway.
BK: So, you seem to have really come into your own in the last few years. You did the tour of Chicago (playing Billy Flynn) and then you took over the role on Broadway and played it for quite some time. You were marvelous, Brent Barrett – was it fun? Tell us who your favorite two Roxy and Velmas were. Hold nothing back. Also, tell us how it is to work for the legendary Weisslers. Hold nothing back.
BB: Now how can I possible answer that? I worked with Karen Ziemba, Sandy Duncan, Charlotte D’Amboise, three fantastic ladies. Velma, I had very little to do with. So Now Fran and Barry. As Velma says in the show, “it’s nothing personal.” And you have to know what you need, get it, and let the rest go.
BK: Can you recall how we first met, Brent Barrett? I know you’d approached me about doing an album, and we’d tested the waters on some compilations of mine. But I believe we finally decided to move forward when you were here in Los Angeles doing Chicago. By the way (BTW, in Internet lingo) have you ever been in Chicago doing Los Angeles? We did the Kander and Ebb album. Can you tell our dear readers about the process we went through getting to the point where we were ready to record.
BB: I don’t believe I am familiar with that show-“Los Angeles.” Well, after I convinced you it should be a solo album and not a duet endeavor, we set about deciding on the selections. Some were naturals and some we had to find. Chris Denny and I would make tapes of the arrangements we came up with, send them to you and then you gave your constructive comments, we made changes and then handed them over to Larry to orchestrate. Sometimes we would call you and play changes over the phone.
BK: Now, Brent Barrett, handsome leading man, you got to do Annie Get Your Gun with Miss Reba McIntyre. Tell us all about that experience. Before you do, I will only say that wild horses couldn’t have made me see that revival after seeing it with Miss Bernadette Peters – and yet you and Reba made it a whole new show. Tell us.
BB: I really didn¹t know what to expect. Reba had never done a musical before. The day we met at the theatre for our first rehearsal, she couldn¹t have been nicer. Then we sang through Falling In Love Is Wonderful and I knew this was going to be a special experience. She was so perfectly suited to the role, all we had to do was go out there and tell the story. I had no idea what a fan base she has. There were hundreds of people outside the stage door every night. It was like being in a rock band. Quite a time. I hope we can do something together in the future.
BK: We then did your second album, The Alan Jay Lerner Album. Tell us how that came about (I know, but our readers don’t). Our dear readers think it’s the best album of last year. Many of our dear readers wonder how I work with excellent singer/actors in the studio. So, can you give them some details?
BB: I had just done a concert version of On A Clear Day You Can See Forever at City Center Encores! And then I get a call from Bruce. He asks if I would be interested in doing a recording dedicated to the works of Alan Jay, and I jump at the chance. Since I was in Alan’s last show, DANCE A LITTLE CLOSER it seemed a natural fit.
Already familiar with Bruce’s process this was much more fun to put together.
I love working with Bruce in the studio. We had a wonderful time working on both recordings. He has great ears and is very helpful getting a performance that I¹m happy with.
BK: Okay, as if Annie Get Your Gun wasn’t heady enough, you then got to open Kiss Me Kate in London with Miss Marin Mazzie. How did that come about? Was it grand fun?
BB: I am one lucky boy, alright. I have had the opportunity to work with some of the best actresses around. Marian and I had a wonderful and special time. The show is so demanding and requires a very strong partner to toss the “so called, ball” back to you, and Marin was that person. Gracious and giving.
I was on vacation between ANNIE and going back into CHICAGO, and I get a call from my agent with an offer to go to London with KISS ME, KATE. The director Michael Blakemore saw me in ANNIE and decided I was the one to take his show to the West End. I will be forever thankful to him for that offer. I absolutely adore him, and would do anything with him in the future. He is fantastic!
BK: As if that weren’t heady enough, you then got to film Kiss Me Kate for PBS. First of all, how come Marin didn’t get to do the taping? Secondly, can you tell us about the process of filming a big Broadway show for television. Take us through the steps.
BB: After the show opened in London to unbelievable reviews, there was talk about filming it for television. The talk was about doing it sometime in January. Marin left the production to return to the state after 7 months. When the producers decided to close the show when the American contracts were up and not recast, the television producers quickly put a deal together to film the show the last week. Rachel York was doing Kate at that time, and that is how she came to do the film version.
They filmed 5 live shows the last week. The other two afternoons we came in to do some close up work without an audience. The rest was done in the editing room. There was a problem with one of the cameras and I was on hold for a couple of months incase they needed to re shoot some of the dressing room scenes. That is one of the reasons I still have my goatee, but now I think I¹ll keep it.
BK: You’ve gotten to do all these great revivals – are you yearning to do something new? Tell us who you like of the current crop of new writers. Hold nothing back
BB: I would love for Adam Guettel to write something for me. I fell in love with Floyd Collins the first time I heard it. I was doing a reading of a new piece by Andrew Lippa, that I hope goes in the fall.
BK: If you, Mr. Brent Barrett, could have any revival in the world produced for you, what would it be and what role would you most want to play?
BB: How about Pajama Game. Karen and I had such a fun time at Encores, I would love for that to happen.
BK: Tell us a bit about your upcoming stint in Camelot at Papermill. Now, normally one would assume you are playing the If Ever I Would Leave You role, but you are, in fact, playing Arthur. Is that daunting?
BB: No, I’m very excited about it. Arthur has a much more interesting and difficult journey in the show. Plus I will be able to have that extra glass of red wine at night.
BK: Well, Brent Barrett, handsome leading man, you have been an absolutely sparkling guest. We salute you with our haineshisway.com beverage of Diet Coke. Do you have any final words for our dear readers?
BB: Enjoy Kiss Me, Kate on PBS the two recordings Bruce and I did and let me know what you think. Bruce, I can’t thank you enough for the two CDs. I wish you much success on your upcoming projects.
For more information about Brent Barrett, visit him online at www.brentbarrett.com.