Bebe Neuwirth 'honored' to kick off Caramoor music fest
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"The music is spectacular," says the former "Cheers" star, who will accompany the Orchestra of St. Luke's for the Caramoor International Music Festival's opening-night event. "I can only imagine that, in that setting, it'll be especially beautiful, given the subject matter. I hope to live up to the text, and I hope that I can pull my weight."
Running through Aug. 8, the 67th annual Caramoor International Music Festival specializes in jazz, classical, chamber, world, gospel and family music on the 90-acre campus in Katonah. Pat Metheny, David Bromberg and Dee Dee Bridgewater are among the musicians expected to make their festival debuts this season, while Emanuel Ax and Paquito D'Rivera are among those slated to return.
It all starts this Saturday with "A Midsummer Night's Dream," and Neuwirth says she's excited to visit Caramoor for the first time and participate in the event.
"I'm just really grateful that they asked," she says. "I'm really honored to be a part of this."
Known for her versatility, gravitas and deadpan humor on stage and on screen, Neuwirth admits she isn't sure why she was recruited to read excerpts from the Shakespearean play to enhance this orchestral version of "Dream." But it probably didn't hurt that she played Hippolyta and Titania in the Classic Stage Company's theatrical production of the show, whose off-Broadway run wrapped May 20.
Neuwirth says that theatrical experience is pretty easy to apply to the orchestral version, thanks to the source material.
"The beauty of Shakespeare is that no matter what happens -- no matter what the production looks like or how it's played, or how good you are or how bad you are, no matter what -- those words are always there," she said. "The text is the music of the piece."
The Orchestra of St. Luke's features conductor Roberto Abbado, violin virtuoso Gil Shaham, and vocalists Jessica Lennick and Megan Marino. In addition to performing selections from "A Midsummer Night's Dream" with Neuwirth, the orchestra will present Mendelssohn's "Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64."
"Maybe, I'll be thinking of [Shakespeare's] text as another instrument in the orchestration," Neuwirth mused.
The words in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" also satisfy Neuwirth's love of dance, which she showcased as part of her Tony-winning turns in "Sweet Charity" and "Chicago."
"There's a big monologue that Titania has in her first meeting with Oberon, when she talks about the seasons altering, which has to do with their being in an argument," Neuwirth says. "And I did feel, when I did that -- I don't know if it was the rhythm or the words or the sheer beauty of the poetry -- but I did feel as though I was engaged in physical choreography. It's kind of a spooky thing. It's kind of mystical. It's just thrilling."
For someone with so much Broadway success, Neuwirth has done very little Shakespeare. Her only other time performing a work by The Bard was when she played Katherina in the Williamstown Theatre Festival's 1999 production of "The Taming of the Shrew."
"When I did that, it really did change my life, as a person, in personal ways, and also as a performer," she said. "I thought, 'I want to do more of this, and much more of this, because I just love doing it.' It took until just this past spring to be able to do another one. It was a 13-year gap, and I hope not to have another 13-year gap before I do it again. Otherwise, I'll [play] the nurse."
Neuwirth proved to be anything but therapeutic when she played the hilariously bemused Lilith Crane on TV's "Cheers" and "Frasier." Playing wife, then ex-wife, to Kelsey Grammer's Frasier Crane on both hit comedy series, she scored two Emmys for her work on "Cheers."
When asked what she thinks Lilith is up to these days, Neuwirth laughs, defers to the series' "brilliant" writers, and waxes philosophical.
"Anybody's life can take any path at any moment," she says.
IF YOU GO
What: Mendelssohn's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," featuring Bebe Neuwirth
When: 8:30 p.m., Saturday, June 23
Info: Venetian Theater, Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts, 149 Girdle Ridge Rd., Katonah; 914-232-1492; www.caramoor.org; $20-$90; tickets for the pre-show gala, which includes cocktails, dinner and prime seats for the show, start at $600