Self-professed “Broadway semi-star,” Sherie Rene Scott has one of the most distinctive voices in theatre today–a unique combination of brass and sweetness, it is a smooth, polished instrument with an alluringly husky undercurrent. Her new show, Everyday Rapture, is so wonderful because it shines the spotlight not only on the voice that her devoted fans have adored for so long but on the voice that we may not have been as aware of, her personal story of her emotional/spiritual journey from her Mennonite childhood to her current divadom. Part musical, part one-woman show (plus two female backup singers and a teenage boy, for one fantastic sequence), part Bette Midler-style concert with covers of songs both classic and obscure, heartfelt and campy, part performance art piece, part cabaret act, this mostly autobiographical work is the perfect showcase for Sherie Rene Scott and her enormous talent, allowing us a peek into the psyche of this remarkable performer and the opportunity to hear her fabulous interpretations of some fantastic music.
Everyday Rapture distinguishes itself from other similar shows for a number of reasons. Firstly, there are the aforementioned other performers who share the stage with her. Further, this play doesn’t present a point A to point B linear biography of its star. Instead, it is an assortment of moments–some from her life, some fictional or at least fictionalized–linked by the strong thematic thread of Scott’s lifelong quest to find fulfillment in her life. The book, penned by Scott and Dick Scanlan has been nominated for a Tony, along with Scott for Best Actress in a Musical, and both nominations are deeply deserved. Not only is the book phenomenally funny and sometimes profoundly moving but it rather ingeniously connects seemingly unconnected threads and images that all eventually reveal themselves to all be part of the same tapestry, often in surprising ways. The impeccably chosen songs from Judy Garland, Roberta Flack, The Supremes, Mr. Rogers of all people, and more also link to her story unpredictably and gracefully.
The main thrust of Everyday Rapture revolves around the spiritual tug-of-war in which Scott has lived her life between two seemingly incompatible philosophies–the Mennonite one instilled in her since childhood that, among other things, values humility and compels her to suppress, rather than indulge, the parts of herself that make her feel more special or unique than other people, and the more narcissistic one that originally nudged her along the yellow brick road to Broadway. As they are expressed in the show, the former is “I am a speck of dust,” the latter, “The world was created for me.” Over the course of the show’s ninety-minute running time, Scott takes us on a musical tour of her life, telling us about her much loved gay cousin, Jerome, who was a major inspiration to her in childhood, her memories of Pastor Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church and his daughter, Becky, the crush she developed in her teenage years on a different Pastor Fred, namely Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, the story of how she lost her virginity to a magician, an odd correspondence she started online with a teenage boy who lipsynched to her on YouTube, and more, with a few magic tricks thrown in for good measure.
In some ways, the message behind Scott’s show of finding one’s own bliss is a very simple, straightforward one. What makes it special is all in the telling. Beneath the jokes, Scott creates a subtly developing emotional arc through impeccable timing, both comedic and dramatic, and through her beautiful voice. By the end of the show, we feel as if we’ve taken a true journey. The Mr. Rogers section is particularly clever, profane, and moving all at once. Her medley of some of his most well-known songs accomplishes a number of things at once. It shows us how profound his seemingly simple messages to children were–songs about being kind, about loving oneself, about a child’s relationship with her parents, etc.–and just how much of an effect these words of acceptance and love could have on children. His lyrics demonstrate an unusually perceptive understanding of a child’s view of the world. At the same time, Scott also shows us how someone growing up in her background could find such words downright revolutionary. Mr. Rogers preaches that children shouldn’t be ashamed of their bodies, that they should revel in their own specialness, and that they can promote joy through music–concepts that are all anathema to her fundamentalist background.
Scott then mines an even more surprising layer to Mr Rogers’ music, namely a sexual one. Her version of “I Like to Be Told” starts off dramatic and bittersweet and then soon shifts into downright blue territory, as she reinterprets his innocent lyrics by adding sexual subtext, in a moment that might offend some but the more open-minded will understand is a testament to how human and relatable Rogers’ music can be, no matter the age. A horny teenage girl growing up in an environment that shunned any talk of sex, as Scott was when she was first introduced to him, might read something very different into the lyrics than a young child would.
All in all, Everyday Rapture is a glorious evening of theatre that allows us closer to one of Broadway’s most talented and unique performers than we have ever seen her in the past. Simultaneously, it is both intensely personal and universal, because while it is about her specific journey, she tells an unpreachily inspiring story about connecting with one’s own inner happiness–about living one’s life in a song, as she calls it, no matter what that song might be. And there are very few people who can sing with as unmistakable and individual a voice as Sherie Rene Scott. Brava!