Leslie Kritzer’s one-woman ‘Beautiful Disaster’ is both fiercely individual and universal

Leslie Kritzer.

Leslie Kritzer.

Actress Leslie Kritzer, who has been seen in shows like Legally Blonde and Elf, is back on the New York stage in both The Memory Show off-Broadway and her own one-woman show, Beautiful Disaster. With a performance at Joe’s Pub this Monday, Beautiful Disaster takes us back to Leslie’s high school years in the 90s. Portraying nearly every character herself, Leslie launches into a hilarious and moving journey the second she steps onstage. With a soundtrack of hit songs, she belts her way through teenage rebellion, comical encounters with classmates and an unwavering desire to pursue theatre in college.

Leslie’s unshakeable focus and magnetism in Beautiful Disaster makes it difficult to look away from the stage for even a second. Personal memoirs play out like a live-action pop-up book before the audience’s eyes as she re-enacts some of the funniest and most defining moments of her youth. Her coming-of-age tale is at once incredibly individual and very universal, as every audience member can relate to something within her empowering story.

In a city that has seen its fair share of solo shows, this one stands out from the pack. If such a thing as an “it factor” has ever existed, it can be found onstage with Leslie. She took a moment amidst her mile-a-minute schedule to share more about Beautiful Disaster, her off-Broadway work and the life of an actress.

The Memory Show is playing through May 17. Beautiful Disaster is on April 22, April 29, May 4 and May 13.

SDD: You must be super busy doing two shows at once right now!

LK: Yes, I’m definitely busy. Definitely that.

SDD: You’ve started performing in Beautiful Disaster, right? 

LK: Yeah, we started performing it and we have our next show this Monday.

SDD: I’ve heard it’s very autobiographical?

LK: Yes, it is autobiographical, and it’s all about my senior year of high school. It’s about how I almost didn’t graduate and almost didn’t do this with my life, and how I got through that and wound up pursuing musical theatre.

SDD: Senior year of high school, that’s the year of college musical theatre auditions. 

LK: Yes, and Beautiful Disaster is all about how I didn’t get the lead in the school play and I was devastated. I wanted to pursue musical theatre but I started turning into the Sad Girl because I was rebelling. It shows how I got my act together and said “I’m going to audition for schools, I’m going to do this,” and how I prevailed. All set to music behind me.

SDD: What inspired you to create the show?

LK: I wanted to tell the story of what I did. I do all these characters too, so I found that to be a lot of fun. I play all the characters in my school. I play my mother, the principal, my Spanish teacher, my friends, my ex-boyfriend, the hottest guy in school, the guy that I wanted – I play everyone, so it’s also kind of like a one-person character show as well.

SDD: It sounds like on a lot of levels it is a very universally relatable type of story.

LK: Exactly, so I’m really excited.

SDD: Have you done one-woman shows before? 

LK: I did a Patti LuPone show a couple years ago at Joe’s Pub as well. I did that in 2007, so this time I wanted to do something different, more original and closer to home, so that’s why I wrote [Beautiful Disaster].

SDD: How do you find that a one-woman show differs from being in a full-scale musical starring lots of people?

LK: I think that when doing a one-person show, everything falls on you. I wrote it, I conceived it, I’m producing it, I have a co-writer and co-director, but I have to basically be in charge of everything else. On a show, there’s a whole team of people. I have a couple of people helping me, but I do mostly everything on my own. So really, you’re kind of in charge of your own promoting of the show, and just everything. It’s just kind of a different beast. It’s a lot harder than doing a show where there’s a whole team in place to do all those things. But also, it’s very freeing and it’s very creative because you’re able to mold the show as you see fit, because it’s your material. And you’re writing for yourself. It’s wonderful and scary all at the same time.

SDD: You’re also in The Memory Show off-Broadway, correct?

LK: Yes, I’m doing that at the Duke Theatre. We’re really excited about that. That’s totally different than my own show. It’s a mother and daughter show, and it’s a 90-minute musical drama. It’s a beautiful little show. It’s about a mother and a daughter, and the daughter moves home to deal with the mother’s early onset of Alzheimer’s. It’s about their relationship and the things that are unearthed through them living together and it’s a beautiful show. I’ve been working on that for a number of years and so I’m really proud of that as well.

SDD: As an actor, is it a challenge to be performing in two shows at once that have such different tones?

LK: Yes, it’s quite difficult. It’s definitely been a challenge, I have to switch gears and take care of myself. The Memory Show is vocally demanding because of all the heightened speech and on my days off I’m doing my other show, so I’m just fried, to say the least. I’m just a little fried but that said, if I take care of myself, I’ll be fine. 

SDD: Do you have any routines that help you to stay energized and taken care of?

LK: Water, eating right, sleep, the usual. Not going out, not drinking, though sometimes I’ll have a glass of wine if I totally need it, but I’m not really a drinker. Just trying to stay positive and focused, which is not easy but you do what you need to do. You just do what you need to do, and you make it happen, and hope for the best and hope people will like it and respond.

SDD: Have you had moments when fans have come to you and said they really connected with the work you’ve done?

LK: Yes, I have. It’s hard when you do your own work because people come up to you and say “Oh, I really liked it!” and you wonder “are they just being nice because I’m their friend? Are they being sincere?” But people do genuinely like my work a lot, I think, I hope. And I’m just very happy that I can have the opportunity to do my own work more often than not. I’ve done three one-person shows in New York. The shows that I’ve done – people wait afterward and they say hi. They write me letters or they message me on Facebook or Twitter, and that means a lot to me. I always really appreciate that.

SDD: What has been your most gratifying moment as an artist? 

LK: Sondheim on Sondheim was a great experience because I got to work with Barbara Cook, Stephen Sondheim, Vanessa Williams, Tom Wopat and James Lapine. Working with John Doyle was an amazing experience in A Catered Affair. I think I’ve just been lucky to do a lot of different projects and I think meeting Sondheim and going to his house was pretty amazing. Being able to work with him was way up there.

SDD: I know you’ve done both Broadway and off-Broadway, do you prefer one to the other? Or are they that different after all?

LK: Besides the money, which is way different – as long as the piece is amazing, that’s always a plus. Broadway is great because it’s very prestigious, and there’s money and there’s all different things that go along with that. But I’ve done shows off-Broadway that have been just as incredible and amazing as the shows that I’ve done on Broadway. So both are equally as amazing, and a lot of Broadway shows are going off-Broadway so they can stay around longer. I think both are amazing and I love doing both, and I’ve done a lot of off-Broadway. So whatever work comes around that I want to do, I’m excited to do.

SDD: Do you have a set creative process or does it vary with each role that you take on?

LK: It varies with each different part, definitely. Each part is different and requires different things and different skills. The Memory Show is 90 minutes of me. That requires a lot of concentration. There are no breaks in rehearsal. There’s a five-minute break and then it’s me. It’s not like an ensemble piece, where there’s a five-minute break and then you’re not on for an hour or so because there are eight million other people in the cast. With this show it’s like “alright, you’re up!” My process changes from show to show, depending on the demands of that show and what it requires of me physically and voice-wise.

SDD: Do you have a favorite role that you’ve played?

LK: I loved playing Eva Peron. I played Eva Peron in summer stock a while ago and I loved doing that, it was fun.

SDD: On that note, do you have a favorite score to sing?

LK: I’d love to do Sunday in the Park with George. That’s beautiful.

SDD: Is there anything that people would be surprised to know about you?

LK: That I’m 50% Puerto Rican. Most people would never know that. And that I’m obsessed with a show called The First 48 on A&E, it’s all about crime-solving detectives and stuff like that. I actually found out that the executive producer lives in my town somewhere, and I want to meet him. I love that show. I always said that if I weren’t an actor I’d want to be in the FBI.

SDD: Lightning round! For these questions, just fire back with whatever comes to mind first

Stage or screen?: Screen.

If you could delete any song from existence, which one would you choose?: “Call Me Maybe.” Actually, I like that song, it’s just the first thing that came up in my mind because I can’t stop singing it.

What is your current obsession?: Teen Mom 2.

What is the last great show that you saw onstage?: Bette Midler’s I’ll Eat You Last.

Do you have a favorite word?: Well, something I say all the time is “literally.”

Who is the last person to make you feel star-struck?: Bette Midler.

Do you have a life motto?: That which doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.

If you could trade places with anybody on Broadway, who would you choose?: Bette Midler.

Which Broadway star would you most want to get a drink with?: Bette Midler. See where this is going?

Can you describe yourself in five words or less?: Complicated, loving, moody, ambitious, sweet.

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About Claire H.

Writer, performer, picture-taker, New Yorker. Find me on Twitter at @Claire_Hannum.

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