Beth Leavel is a Tony Award-winning actress currently starring in the Broadway musical “The Prom.” She sat down to chat with GMA about the smash hit, show business, and the ups and downs of being an actress. Check out the conversation here.
GMA: Was this sort of the plan growing up? Was it out of the womb, “I want to be in a Broadway show"?
Beth Leavel: Not at all. I had no opportunities, believe it or not. Growing up in Raleigh, there’s so much art and theater there now. But there just weren't things to see and my parents weren’t really interested in it. I remember seeing the move, “[The] Music Man,” and thinking, “I want to live in that world.”
But I didn’t do a musical until my senior year in high school. And I had that light bulb that goes off that’s like, “Oh, I’m so curious about why this feels so satisfying. And why I’m in a room full of people that are just like me. And how do I keep going with that?” But I had no idea.
GMA: You talked about being scared of New York, right?
Leavel: Well, yeah, I’d only been there, like, twice. So, it’s terrifying. It’s a big city. And not having the experience of knowing what it was going to be like. Where do I live? Am I going to be mugged? What am I going to do if I can’t find work? But that fear dissipated quickly. I love this city.
GMA: As an actor, how do you cope with the unpredictability of show business?
Leavel: I find it thrilling and terrifying. Thrilling in that you never know what the next day brings. Terrifying: You never know what the next day brings. I was literally sitting in my house when I lived in New Jersey and I got a phone call from my agent saying I was being offered “The Drowsy Chaperone” in Los Angeles. And I was like, “What?” because I didn’t get the part initially. And then in three weeks, I went and left, and it changed my life.
GMA: And then you won a Tony Award for it.
Leavel: But that’s the thrilling part of it. The terrifying part of it is, “How am I going to pay rent this week? OK, maybe I need to teach or is there a concert I could do. Is there anything where I could put my gifts and talents and get paid?”
GMA: You’re with your tribe right now working on “The Prom.” These are folks that you know super well. Casey Nicholaw, Bob Martin.
Leavel: Yeah, they’re my tribe.
GMA: Coming to that show, of course, it was written for you because it’s your friends, but is there that shorthand when you kind of get in a room together?
Leavel: Completely. And the shorthand also means that I trust them enough. If it’s wrong, they go, “Beth, cut it.” And it’s like, “OK.” There’s such a sense of trust that it’s safe and joy and humor and love, that it’s just one of the best rooms to be in. I will go anywhere they ask. You know, anything, whether it was written for me or not. But this one was and I’m just having the time of my life.
GMA: It’s phenomenal. And I know, having followed the show for so long, even not just the uncertainty of our careers, a show’s uncertainty, too, because “The Prom” is a show we’ve been hearing about, all of us in the community, for a long time. And it was like, “Are they going to get a theater? Are they going to go out of town?”
Leavel: Show business. Such a business … Just with me in the room, “The Prom” has taken seven years. And not counting how long Bob [Martin] and Chad [Beguelin] and Casey [Nicholaw] and Matt [Sklar] have been working on it. So it takes a while. And you have to have a theater and you have to have money. And you have to have producers and blah, blah, blah. And you have to have your cast be available. But we’re finding that it all worked out this year, November 15, during a snowstorm we opened.
GMA: Yes! That is an incredible story, the snowstorm story, because so many people were trapped coming into the city, not just ticket holders, but you didn’t have a band for a half hour.
Leavel: Nope. We didn’t have a sound mixer and two of the crew were stuck in the Lincoln Tunnel. Woo-hoo! But we did it. We had to hold the curtain for one hour.
GMA: And I heard you guys brought in musicians from other pits, from other shows.
Leavel: I heard that, too. They were sight-reading for the first time on opening night.
GMA: A brand new Broadway musical.
Leavel: How about that?
GMA: That is as Broadway as it gets.
Leavel: The show must go on.
GMA: Has there ever been a time where you go, “No, I’m done. I can’t. I can’t do this anymore,” because journeys are ups and downs, and this business does get hard, and it does test you as a human being and as an artist. Have you ever had that moment?
Leavel: I never had that thought. Only because I don’t know what else I would do. We were tired the other day at the show, and Brooks Ashmanskas and I were going, “I got to work at Macy’s.” Or maybe I could do something like that because sometimes — what else could I possibly do?
There’s just nothing that I can or want to do. Have I been disappointed? Yes. Have my feelings been hurt? Yes. Have I felt like I’m never going to work again? Yes. Have I had to find ways to pay the rent that has nothing to do with theater? Absolutely. Would I ever change anything? No, whether it’s good or bad.
GMA: We know working on a musical, there are many songs that get passed your way. So your big showstopping number, “The Lady’s Improving,” was that the first song Dee Dee had in the show? Or were there other versions?
Leavel: Believe it or not, that was one of the first ones written. But the tone of it was completely different. And then Casey [Nicholaw], he’s so smart. He said it needed to be elevated. He said he wanted it to sound more [Stephen] Sondheim, more “Anyone Can Whistle.” So now if you listen to it, the tone has completely changed and we made it really clear, storytelling-wise, what was supposed to happen during the song.
GMA: It’s a great song. Not only is it musically show-stopping, but it serves such a great purpose too.
Leavel: I was explaining to someone that “Prom” is one of the easiest-hard work I’ve ever had to do, because it’s so well-crafted I don’t have to shine anything up. I just have to be present and truthful.