Beetlejuice, based on the classic Tim Burton film of the same name, marks Leslie Rodriguez Kritzer’s seventh Broadway musical, following acclaimed performances in Something Rotten!, Elf, Sondheim on Sondheim, A Catered Affair, Legally Blonde, and Hairspray. The new musical, which continues at the Winter Garden Theatre through June 6, casts the Drama Desk-nominated actor as life coach/stepmom-to-be Delia, a role that allows the New Jersey native to dazzle with her impressive array of comedic gifts. And then there is Miss Argentina, the Netherworld character that offers Rodriguez Kritzer a chance to thrillingly belt out a power ballad entitled “What I Know Now.”
We recently asked the Clarence Derwent Award winner to pen a list of her most memorable nights in the theatre; her responses follow.
In 2001 I was cast as Fanny Brice in the Paper Mill Playhouse production of Funny Girl. I was newly out of college, and this was a huge break for me and a dream role. One of my favorite memories from doing that show was meeting Liza Minnelli after a performance and going out to drinks with her. We sat and talked in depth about the show, and she gave me notes about stage technique with confidence and love. I will never forget her looking into my eyes and saying, “You’re one of us now.” It was a highlight moment of my career.
I was cast as a replacement in Hairspray in 2004, and it was my Broadway debut. I was in the ensemble, but I covered three principal roles. The first time I went on as Tracy Turnblad was an amazing experience. Bruce Vilanch was playing Edna at the time, and when I went to take my bow, he told the audience this was my first time playing the part ever. The audience went nuts, and I will never forget it. It was quite a moment.
Sondheim on Sondheim
I have two memorable experiences working on this show.
I had always dreamed of working with Stephen Sondheim. It’s something you hope will happen in your career, but it seems like a long shot. When I was cast in the show, I didn’t really have many solos but, late into our preview performances, James Lapine decided I needed one. He asked me what I wanted to sing and to be honest, I had already made a list in my mind as I was hoping maybe this day would come. One of my favorite songs is “Now You Know” from Merrily We Roll Along. James thought it was a great idea. The next day in rehearsal Stephen calls me over and says, “Leslie, I’m going to rewrite some of the lyrics for you, so I promise I’ll get them to you by tomorrow.” I didn’t even know what to say except, “Sure, great, I’ll be ready, yup.” I was in shock. To have the God of musical theatre say that to you is a once-in-a-lifetime moment.
When you’re in a rehearsal room with Barbara Cook, and she opens her mouth to sing, time seems to stop. The first time I heard her sing “Beautiful” from Sunday in the Park With George alongside Euan Morton, that is exactly what happened. I truly have never heard two people sing together like they did on that song. Euan and her were magic together. Watching the two of them and seeing everyone’s faces across the room was a moment I will never forget. It’s a reminder for me that the power of music and singing is beyond words. I feel so grateful to have witnessed it.
Barbara was a special kind of person, and she didn’t suffer fools, but she sang like her heart was breaking right in front of you. I once went to her dressing room after having a bad day and asked her if she ever felt like quitting because the business is so hard. She was doing her makeup at her dressing table and looked at me in the mirror and said, “Leslie...y’know...sometimes it’s just about paying the bills.” She was right. The business is tough, but we keep on going. I truly miss her, and feel blessed that I was able to get to know her.
A Catered Affair
I have looked up to Faith Prince for years. When I was cast in A Catered Affair and found out she would be playing my mother, I couldn’t believe it. We bonded immensely because we were both going through similar feelings during our rehearsal process. Faith and I are both comedic actresses. We are both really good at it. This show required something completely different, and John Doyle guided us together to do as little as possible. No makeup, barely any props, and certainly no over-the-top comedy. The show has heavy themes and wasn't easy to do. I remember breaking down at rehearsal. John Doyle made me a better actress by working with him, and sharing that experience with Faith was a cathartic and spiritual experience.