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EVERYDAY RAPTURE raved for in NY Times

April 30, 2010

A Semi-Star Torn Between Two Superstars


Just as the Broadway theater season is drawing to its close, a smashing little show has arrived to remind us of why so many of us keep going back to Broadway, even though it’s broken our heart so many times.

“Everyday Rapture,” which opened on Thursday night at the American Airlines Theater, is by no means a conventional Broadway musical. Yet I can’t think of another production in recent years that captures and explains so affectingly the essence and allure of musicals, and why they’re such an indispensable part of the New York landscape.

First seen Off Broadway last spring at the Second Stage Theater, “Everyday Rapture” tells the ostensibly familiar story of a girl from the American heartland who falls in love with showbiz — and its capital city, Manhattan — from a distance, breaks away from a confining hometown that has never understood her and becomes a big star of big hit musicals in New York. All right, let’s qualify that. She becomes, in her own words, “a semi-semi-semi star” of “semi-hit” shows. And it’s those “semis” that make her such fabulous company here.

The girl is named Sherie Rene Scott, and she is portrayed by Sherie Rene Scott in what you could safely say is the role of a lifetime. Of course there appears to be a significant overlap between the character and the actress, who has indeed created high-profile roles on Broadway in two Disney extravaganzas (“Aida” and “Disney’s ‘The Little Mermaid’ ”) and “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.” But in telling the story of Sherie, Ms. Scott embellishes, overstates, understates, bends and weaves the complexities and inconsistencies of one life into the whole-making harmonies of a musical fable. In so doing, she has created a beautiful, funny fiction that is both utterly removed from and utterly true to real life. Which is what I, at least, always hope a musical will do.

Written by Dick Scanlan and Ms. Scott, and directed with virtuoso efficiency and wit by Michael Mayer, “Everyday Rapture” might have found an alternative title from a song in “A Chorus Line,” which Ms. Scott probably listened to when she was growing up: “What I Did for Love.” Except that might be a little too sappy. Ms. Scott manages to be sentimental and sardonic in the same breath.

Her wide-eyed manner, equal parts sexiness and sincerity, could be said to be faux-naïf. But know that there’s nothing cynical about the faux part; it’s a style choice that lets Ms. Scott perform with the sophistication that a New York audience (or rather an audience of New Yorkers) demands. And there’s no denying that when she sings, from a wildly diverse song list, she’s as polished and inventive as the worldliest cabaret artist. Having spent many nights on Broadway stages, she has no difficulty scaling up cabaret intimacy for a house as large as the American Airlines Theater; Ms. Scott naturally translates life size into bigger than life.

In creating this persona, Sherie had one heck of a role model: Judy Garland, to whose music she was introduced by her cousin Jerome, a closet lip-syncher and kindred soul. Loving Judy wasn’t easy in the world of Mennonite Kansas in which Sherie grew up. Early on, she detected a schism in her character. She was, she says, “torn between two lovers: Jesus and Judy.”

That divide is given delightful form when little Sherie sings “You Made Me Love You” to a montage of images of Jesus. Ms. Scott can do Judy (“No matter what God said, I was going to modulate!”), but when she does, she’s never merely a sound-alike. Sherie speaks of the ecstasy of living your life “inside a song,” and that means shaping the song to you.

So when Sherie does Garland, she’s doing Sherie hearing and responding to Garland even as she mimics her voice. And you really shouldn’t miss Sherie’s revelatory interpretation of the songs of Mr. Rogers, the children’s show host whose homiletic paeans to each person’s specialness helped steer Sherie through the shoals of adolescence. The choice of numbers and their presentation, to embody key moments in Sherie’s life, are never obvious. Yet they turn out to be the perfect vehicles for living out autobiographical chapters in song.


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