Divalicious Leigh Barrett sings with Gay Men’s Chorus
If anyone is a diva of the Boston theater scene, it’s Leigh Barrett, who is now starring in The Great American Trailer Park Musical at the Boston Center for the Arts--a smash success that has been extended as far as possible, to june 20. The two-time Elliot Norton Award winner and IRNE award recipient has also starred in area productions of Souvenir, Adding Machine, Back to Bacharach and David, Elegies, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, The Wild Party, Side by Side by Sondheim, Into the Woods, Grey Gardens, and Sweeney Todd, among others.
Barrett will also be appearing June 10, 11, and 13 with the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus for this year’s Pride concert--a presentation fittingly titled DIVAS, in which she will perform two solos ("The Girl in 14G" and "Losing My Mind") as well as perform in other numbers with the chorus, "Le Jazz Hot" (from Victor/Victoria) and "Get Happy/Happy Days are Here Again."
At the moment, however, EDGE and Barrett are discussing the success of the SpeakEasy Stage Company’s production of The Great American Trailer Park Musical, in which Barrett plays agoraphobic housewife Jeannie Garstecki, whose husband Norbert (David Benoit) despairs of ever getting to set foot outside their small mobile home. When a stripper moves in next door, however, Jeannie needs to step into the wider world once again in order to defend her home. Meantime, the trailer park’s other residents are struggling with all of life’s big issues: one woman has a husband on death row, while another contends with a hysterical pregnancy. Meanwhile, a villain is closing in on the trailer park, gun in his jeans waistband, to take revenge. It’s a hilarious musical that takes aim at everything from flan to TV talk shows.
Was Barrett surprised at the play’s success and its extended run?
"Yes and no, I guess," Barrett tells EDGE. "Certainly, I am incredibly happy and grateful , especially for SpeakEasy, that they have such a critical and audience success. And certainly [I’m] grateful for the work and to be able to keep doing this with my playmates."
Asked what drew her to the role of Jeannie, Barrett says, "I liked the heart of those two characters, Norbert and Jeannie. I liked that in the midst of the crazy stuff that goes on there’s a kernel of hope for the two of them. Yes, it’s a comedy, and we’re in a trailer park, and I’m an agoraphobic, and crazy things happen. That’s our accepted reality." Even so, "I try to make her as believable as I can. That always appeals to me."
EDGE owns up to the fact that the interviewer with whom Barrett is speaking this afternoon is a member of the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus, himself, and asks how Barrett ended up being featured in this year’s Pride concert.
"I went to college with [BGMC executive director] Steve Smith," Barrett reveals. "We had sort of talked a little bit off and on over the years--I have lots of friends who have performed with your guys, and I thought, How can I get involved in that? Finally, our schedules meshed. I will be one diva among many--you guys are all divas, in the best sense of the word!"
Reflecting on her currently busy schedule, Barrett notes, "It seems like everything is happening in these next few weeks, with Trailer Park being extended. Which is fantastic, but I have the Divas concert coming up, and so those two things are crashing into each other. SpeakEasy is working around that next week, but I have been grabbing my shoes and running over right after the show to rehearse with Michelle (Chasse, the show’s choreographer) and the boys. Everything happens at once.
"Also, I have two sons and all of their school things are ending in the next two weeks, so I have all of that to do as well," Barrett adds. "My sons go away to camp--boo hoo, note that she’s crying," Barrett instructs EDGE with a laugh. "I am! I like having my kids around! This summer will be the first time I don’t have something to keep me busy. The only thing I have coming up this summer is I am covering for Judy Kaye, who is coming to town to do Bon Appétit!" Barrett tells EDGE that the Tony Award-winning Kaye "is playing Julia Child in essentially an opera. It’s an episode from Julia’s television show where she’s making a chocolate cake, and Lee Hoiby, the composer, has put that episode to music. It’s 18 minutes long, it’s a one-act thing, and she literally will make a chocolate cake as she sings. So maybe I’ll get to go on? I doubt it..." Leigh chortles. "That will keep me a little bit busy, but that’s it. I’ll be... lonely." (Bon Appétit!, meantime, is slated for three performances, July 28 and 30, and August 1, at Boston University’s Tsai Performance Center.)
Given all the roles she’s had in which she sings, does Barrett find that she misses singing when cast in non-musical roles? "I find now that I kind of look forward to roles where I don’t sing," Barrett confesses. "It seems that even when I do get a role where I don’t sing, someone wants to make me sing."
EDGE asks whether Barrett means that opportunities are created specifically to take advantage of her vocal talents. "Sometimes! Souvenir was actually a play, but it was with music," Barrett says. "I played Florence Foster Jenkins, who was a socialite from the 1940s who couldn’t match a pitch. You can YouTube her, she’s amazing. She really couldn’t match a pitch, but she thought she had perfect pitch! I had to sing the entire thing out of tune," Barrett continues, "but I got to come back and sing in tune at the end. That was fantastic!
"I did Steel Magnolias; nobody made me sing in that one," Barrett recounts. "I just did Indulgences at the New Rep. I had a big mole on my face that kept moving around, because moles are funny." But she wasn’t called upon to sing.
Don’t get the wrong impression, though: "I do a lot of musicals," Barrett says. "I love musicals. That’s sort of where I came from; I was an opera major in school. The acting came second. Now I feel that my call for the two are similar. I love to sing--I feel at home doing it."
What would be Barrett’s dream role--or has she already played it?
"I’ve played roles that have become dream roles," Barrett says. "Florence Foster Jenkins in Souvenir was certainly a total delight. It was like a perfect storm--a great production and a great cast. It was such a great piece. And then I got to play Little Edie in Grey Gardens. I didn’t even know how badly I wanted to do that until I did it! That was an extraordinary gift.
"I want to do good work with good people, and keep doing the best that I can," Barrett tells EDGE. "I want to play interesting, great women."
Once Barrett gets through her currently overbooked schedule and the relatively restful summer, she’ll be at the Lyric Stage in a production of The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, a play so long that it has to be presented in three-hour segments. Not only is it a long play, but Barrett is booked for a long contract--"September through December, so that takes up the majority of the season. That’ll be a big event!" And then? "There are still things out there," Barrett tells EDGE. "I just don’t know what they are yet."
The Great American Trailer Park Musical will continue until June 20 at the Boston Center for the Arts, located at 539 Tremont Street in Boston’s South End. Tickets cost $30-$51, and can be obtained online at www.BostonTheatreScene.com or via phone at 617-933-8600.
DIVAS will be presented Thursday, June 10 at 8:00 p.m., Friday, June 11, at 8:00 p.m., and Sunday, June 13, at 7:00 p.m. at the Cutler Majestic Theatre, located at 219 Tremont Street in Boston’s Theater District. Tickets cost $15-$45 and can be obtained online at www.bgmc.org or via phone at 800-233-3123, or at the Cutler Majestic Box Office.