Few performers are as generous onstage as Leslie Kritzer. With a larger than life personality and the pipes to match (damn, she can sing!), she effortlessly steals every show she's in. After her iconic performances as Patti LuPone in Leslie Kritzer is Patti LuPone at Les Mouches and Fanny Brice in Funny Girl, she's recently been unforgettable in The Memory Show (opposite the wonderful Catherine Cox) and the ensemble comedy Nobody Loves You. Now she's back in Piece of My Heart (read our review here)where she plays Jessie, a young woman trying to reconnect to the legacy of her late father, songwriter/composer Bert Berns (Zak Resnick) who wrote hits like "Twist and Shout" and the title track.
The show is a great showcase for Kritzer, who displays enviable dramatic chops and turns in a moving performance, which is surprising because her character doesn't get to interact much with the rest of the company, Jessie being more of the dramatic device that propels the plot. Watching her move onstage like a ghost, in scenes where her character visualizes her father's story, often feels like a punch in the gut as she displays a combination of longing and wonder...and then she sings and all bets are off. We spoke to the talented Kritzer about her work in Piece of My Heart, her favorite Berns' songs and what character she'd play in a movie musical.
Were you aware of how brilliant Bert Berns was before doing this show?
Actually no, I wasn’t. I didn’t really know much about him, I knew his songs but not him at all.
I mean the man was a genius, just the show’s setlist is an embarrassment of riches…
Yeah I know, it’s amazing! He was a real hit-maker and a real visionary. It’s really sad he didn’t live longer.
Were there any Bert songs that you wish you could have performed in the show?
Not really because the ones that I’m supposed to do, I do and the other ones seem perfect for the people who do them in the show, they fit everyone so beautifully. There’s one song that is not in the show called “You Forgot How to Love”, and I believe he wrote that, that I would looove to do.
Many people are very critical of jukebox musicals, blaming them for the lack of original musical theater. How important do you think they are to helping musical theater thrive and what would you say to people who look down on them?
People are gonna be critical in general in life, they have their taste and opinion and they’re entitled to that. I think that if the story is told uniquely with integrity and some kind of vision, everything is possible. The songs are not original in the musical theater world, but they’re original because someone created them, they created something out of nothing. The problem that I understand with people who don’t like jukebox musicals is that the songs were not written for the dramatic scene that they’re supposed to be part of. So they’re harder for the book writer, director and cast because they actually have to mold their show to something that’s pre-existing, which in fact is very challenging. But again, if it’s done right, it’s magical. Theater is a subjective art form, if people don’t like it, they don’t have to come and see it (laughs).
One of my favorite things about the show is that you leave and you’re humming the songs all the way home. Why do you think Berns’ music has remained so popular?
It’s just timeless, the lyrics mean something, some are fun like “Show Me Your Monkey”, but others are so meaningful, they were written with such soul and it comes through and that’s universal.
In The Memory Show you played a character who was trying to get to know her mom as she faded away due to Alzheimer’s, in Piece of My Heart you play a daughter trying to get to know a father who is already gone. What attracted you to these parts?
First of all I love the people involved. Secondly I really believed in the piece and that’s what’s most important to me when I’m working in a new show. With Bern for example, I love the story and the fact that he knew he was going to die, made him someone who was driven beyond human force to write the music he wanted to leave behind. I loved that story and really wanted to be a part of that.
How do you approach a character like Jessie who is made out of fragments of real life people? Did you meet with Berns’ children to discuss the part?
Brett and Cassie, his children, have been involved since day one, every step of the way, my character is actually based on the two of them and it’s been amazing having them around because this is their story.
In the past, you’ve famously played Patti Lupone and Fanny Brice onstage. What other real life people would you like to play?
Onstage, nothing comes to mind. Not right at this moment (laughs).
You don’t really get to play opposite Zak Resnick in the show because he plays your dad, but do you work with him backstage?
Yes, we knew each other before this and we’ve always had a great comradery. We talk a lot, we support each other, so in that way we are in the show together because we have that bond, we don’t really have to say anything. And we’re friends, so it’s been awesome to share this experience with him.
Even though your character is like a sort of ghost in the flashbacks, you always seem to be interested in what’s going on and having so much fun. How do you keep this up?
I try to give as much as I can to the people that I’m with onstage because they need my support and that’s a big part of what we do. It also helps me to stay in my story, if I’m not engaged it looks like I don’t care, cause also my character is seeing all of this for the first time, so if I look like I don’t care the audience will think “look at this little spoiled brat, she doesn’t give a shit”.
Being a fashion lover, did you wish you could wear all the vintage costumes as well, because your character doesn’t really have exciting clothes…
Yeah, my character isn’t really a dresser. I love the 60’s clothes in the show though.
You’re also a movie lover, why do you think modern movie musicals keep failing so much?
You know what, I have no idea. But that’s a good question.
Cast yourself in the perfect movie musical. What would it be?
How about doing Funny Girl?
A remake would be awesome! I’ll take it.
Any word on whether we’ll get a Cast Recording of Piece of My Heart?
I hope so, fingers crossed on that one.
Piece of My Heart is playing through August 31 at the Signature Theatre. For tickets and more click here.