This intense, quirky, multi-talented actor-singer-dancer, who after achieving Broadway success (including a Tony) as a tough-talking dancer in the 1986 revival of “Sweet Charity”, enjoyed similar award-winning popularity for her deadpan portrayal of the brittle, astringent yet sexually smoldering Dr. Lilith Sternin-Crane on NBC’s long-running sitcom, “Cheers”. Bebe Neuwirth’s parents were a mathematician and an artist, which pretty much sums up her appeal: she seems to have a fiercely analytical approach to her acting.
After schooling at Juilliard, she got her start touring in “A Chorus Line” (1978-81), playing various roles including the tough-talking Sheila and the more vulnerable Cassie, and on Broadway in such productions as “Little Me” and Bob Fosse’s “Dancin'” (both 1982), “The Road to Hollywood” (1984) and “Just So” (1985) before hitting the big time (and winning a Tony Award) in Fosse’s “Sweet Charity” (1986-87).
By this time, her sharp, dark beauty had brought her to the attention of Hollywood. Neuwirth began doing cameos as Frasier Crane’s repressed siren wife on “Cheers” (NBC). She continued as a semi-regular character through 1992, and has reprised the role from time to time on the spin-off “Frasier” (NBC, 1993-2004). Her other TV work has been spotty. Neuwirth had supporting roles in the 1990 dramas “Without Her Consent” (NBC), as famed attorney Gloria Allred, and “Unspeakable Acts” (ABC). She also appeared on the short-lived dark fantasy series “Wild Palms” (ABC, 1993). “Dear Diary”, a failed ABC sitcom pilot in which Neuwirth portrayed an editor and diarist, was released in 1996 as a short film and won an Oscar as Best Short Subject.
Neuwirth has appeared in a handful of films, few of which have exploited her peculiar, dry talents. She debuted as a guidance counselor in “Say Anything” (1989) and had supporting roles in “Green Card” (1990), as Andie MacDowell’s best friend, and in “Bugsy” (1991), as the real-life socialite Countess di Frasso. In the effective thriller “Malice” (1993), Neuwirth was the detective trailing Alec Baldwin while in “Jumanji” (1995), she was the aunt of the children who begin playing a mysterious board game. She had perhaps her best role to date in a distinct change of pace as a sexy yuppie in “The Associate” (1996). Additionally, she has also loaned her talents to the kiddie films “All Dogs Go to Heaven 2” (as a voice-over) and “The Adventures of Pinocchio” (both 1996).
But it is onstage that Neuwirth has always been happiest and most effectively utilized. Her combined skills as actor, dancer and singer have been seen in the musical revue “Showing Off” (New York, 1989), as Lola in the 1994 revival of “Damn Yankees” and in the 1996 revival of “Chicago” on Broadway. In the latter, her portrayal of celebrity murderess Velma Kelly (originated by Chita Rivera in 1975) earned her rave reviews and she all but overshadowed co-stars Ann Reinking, James Naughton and Joel Gray. Neuwirth picked up a second Tony Award for her efforts.
Neuwirth had memorable roles in several feature films over the next five years, including playing a hooker in Woody Allen’s film “Celebrity” (1998). Neuwirth had leading roles in two well-received television movies as well, 1999’s “Dash and Lilly” and 2000’s “Cupid & Cate.”
The actress continued to foray back to the small screen, with a recurring role on the short-lived cabbie drama “Hack” (CBS, 2003), an especially amusing stint playing herself on a 2004 episode of “Will & Grace,” and her eventual return to regular series work playing assistant district attorney Tracey Kibre in yet another spin-off of NBC’s legal crime drama franchise, “Law & Order: Trail By Jury” (2005 – ), just to name a few.
What they are saying about “Bebe”:
Send in the cheers with Bebe Neuwirth
Bebe Neuwirth’s performance at the Bardavon on Saturday, March 3 is being billed as “Bebe Neuwirth in Songs with Piano.” But the Tony and Emmy Award-winning singer, dancer and actor – she recently starred as Morticia in The Addams Family on Broadway and played Lilith in Cheers and Frasier on TV – characterized the songs that she will be singing as much more than a nice collection of tunes. “They cover a range of different situations in people’s lives,” she said in a recent phone interview. “They’re very rich and deep and contain a great depth of emotion, which could be elation and joy, or heartbreak, or nostalgia and longing. In all of them, the lyrics enhance the music and vice versa.”
Neuwirth added that she doesn’t so much sing the songs as inhabit them: “They really take me with them. This won’t be some girl standing on the stage at a microphone.” She will be accompanied by Scott Cady on the piano; she refers to him as her “musical partner,” given his accomplished artistry. The selection will be wide-ranging, from Edith Piaf to Kurt Weill to Tom Waits to Stephen Sondheim. The Weill songs in particular might surprise people who associate the German songsmith with a certain hard edge: “I find them soulful and romantic and lyrical,” commented Neuwirth.
She first launched her “Songs with Piano” show four years ago – it has been brought back to the stage, with a fresh selection, after a long hiatus – and has performed it in a variety of venues, from a little boîte to a 2,000-seat theater. There really is no difference, when it comes to the emotional intensity of her performance: “These songs can inhabit all these venues.”
Neuwirth also just released her first solo album, Bebe Neuwirth Porcelain, a title that hints at the dichotomy of fragility and strength exemplified by many of the songs. The album will for sale at the Bardavon. The New York-based performer has also been busy with other projects: She just finished shooting an episode for The Good Wife, and next week she starts rehearsals for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in a production by the Classic Stage Company, in the East Village. The play will premiere at the end of March.
Neuwirth has performed in numerous Broadway shows, including Chicago – for which she won three awards, including a Tony – Sweet Charity, Fosse, Damn Yankees and A Chorus Line. She is an honorary Ziegfeld Girl who has also played the lead in many regional theater productions and appeared in Liberty Heights, Summer of Sam, Bugsy and other films. She was nominated for an Emmy for her portrayal of Dorothy Parker in the television film Dash and Lily, and had guest appearances on Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Does she have a favorite role? “You always have to fall in love with every job you do, or convince yourself that you are, because it’s not fair to the audience otherwise,” she said. “In some roles I find aspects of myself; some are nothing like me; and some are like me in a way the audience isn’t aware of.” What about Morticia? “There’s nothing of myself in her, although there are things in her I aspire to. She has an elegance and a great calm and composure. I’ve had moments of elegance.”