By Sandi Durell . . .
Robbie Rozelle will be returning to 54 Below June 24 and July 14, almost a year to the date of the release of his debut album (Songs From Inside My Locker), with a completely new show for Pride. You know him, his razor-sharp wit and after reading Theater Pizzazz’ Q & A, you’ll know lots more and will be rarin’ to celebrate with him!
SD: Here we are almost at the end of a pandemic and you’re finally getting back on stage. What has this past year been like for you?
RR: It’s been so fascinating – I feel like I went through all five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance), while also trying to figure out who I was by myself. I’m such an extrovert, it was so hard to… not see people. And for a while, a Zoom watch party of RuPaul’s Drag Race was fine, but not for over a year. I realize now that I had been wishing for some time off, and I should have been more specific. We did release my album during the pandemic, which was also a challenge. But what I’ve learned is how adaptable and resourceful we as a collective community are – we can create art in so many ways.
SD: Did you spend a lot, or all of your time in quarantine formulating this show slated for June 24 and July 14 at 54 Below (Back in the Basement) and thinking about what you’ll do when you get back on stage?
RR: I have to say, I didn’t. Every so often I would hear a song and go to my little notes app in my iPhone, and add it as a “maybe,” but I didn’t expect us to be back this soon – I had figured September at earliest, January maybe. So when the offer came out of nowhere (and I had 24 hours to decide), I decided to make THAT the hook of the show – how do you create a show out of nothing. And it’s all brand new (to me), because I figure that most people have already binged EVERYTHING, they don’t need me to rehash something. So I’m excited to gather up my pals and some new songs and stories to feed a very hungry crowd. And to be doing it in back in my artistic home is a dream. They offered me a few dates, I chose to be there on the 8th night, so that gives them a week to work out anything they need.
SD: Let’s talk about your podcast GAY CARD REVOKED with you and Rob Schneider, how did you come up with the idea for the show?
RR: Gay Card Revoked was all Rob’s idea. With the shutdown, suddenly his wonderful theatre company J2 Spotlight Theatre was on hiatus, and he and I both needed a project. We just love talking to each other and making each other laugh. It was all born out of us having dinner at Maison Pickle (on the UWS) – this adorable waiter had seen one of the shows in my residency at 54, and Rob laughed and asked if I was having a “Soapdish moment.” The aforementioned adorable waiter had no idea what we were talking about, and Rob decided that it was our job to pass down these gay totems. Every time I get to record with Rob, it’s automatically the highlight of my week, because I know I am going to laugh really hard.
SD: In one episode with Patrick Bristow from ELLEN, you both were able to list the prominent gay characters on television on one hand, meaning, there were so few when you were growing up . . . talk more about that.
RR: Yeah, we really had so little representation when I was a kid. I was born in ‘76, and the only three people I really remember from that era are Paul Lynde, Charles Nelson Reilly and Waylon Flowers (and Madam). I talk about it a lot on my album “Songs From Inside My Locker – Live at Feinstein’s/54 Below”, how little representation there was, and for a lot of people, I was their Ellen or Will & Grace – I was “the gay.” Which is a lonely thing, but these fabulous creatures are what I get to become? Sign me up! I’d rather be Paul Lynde than just about any straight actor in the world.
SD: Aside from performing and podcasting, you’re also an amazing Cabaret director and writer with people like Melissa Errico and Kate Baldwin. How did you get started directing and writing for these celebs?
RR: My writing and directing “career” began when my friend Elena Shaddow was putting together her first major solo show. I didn’t direct it, I just gave her some material for it, but doing it I met Jessica Vosk. She and I were very similar in how we approach things, how comedy happens. We did three major concerts together, that became the bulk of her album that I went on to create with her. Melissa and I knew each other as “show biz friends” and for awhile she was sort of like a ship in a storm in need of a port. I was so thrilled to be that for her, and the shows we did together have been done all over the world. Kate Baldwin likes to call me “the diva whisperer” (though I think anyone who works with great ladies gets called that now), but I like to say that I give sopranos jokes and pace their shows. I happen to be funny, and think on my feet quickly, so I am able to throw a one-liner of something that happened that day into a show. Like a super-poor Bruce Vilanch.
SD: A lot of famous actors and celebrities come to Broadway but rarely do Broadway people find a niche in mainstream film and TV, but your pal, Cynthia Erivo did exactly that. Why do you think Broadway people fail to penetrate Hollywood?
RR: Oh my goodness – Cynthia is just the real deal, right? I remember meeting her when she was over here for the announcement of The Color Purple and thinking, “she’s gonna win everything.” I think Broadway is so specialized, and the people who love it do it because they love it – it has nothing to do with trying to break thru to the other side, really. They are trained to do that 8 show a week performance, with instant gratification of applauding audiences. And Hollywood certainly calls some of them – Josh Gad and Ben Platt come to mind, and Sutton Foster’s TV show. But they are creatures of the theatre. I think of theatre like baking – it’s a very precise skill set that not everyone can do. A lot of people can cook, but not everyone can bake. (Yes, I’m aware this isn’t a perfect analogy, but what is?)
You can see Robbie Rozelle’s new show Back in the Basement at 54 Below on June 24 at 9:45 pm (it may be sold out) but a second show has been added for July 14 at 9:45 pm and may just have a few seats available.