In Bea Arthur: Astral Dame, Jason B. Schmidt stars as the Tony and Emmy Award-winning star of Maude, Mame and The Golden Girls performing some of Bea's signature numbers along with a few surprises as only Bea can deliver, including a special duet of "Bosom Buddies" with award winning comedian Marti Gould Cummngs. Bea Arthur: Astral Dame will be returning to The Laurie Beechman Theatre on Saturday, January 30 at 7pm (407 West 42nd Street, between 9th & 10th Avenue, inside West Bank Cafe). Click here for tickets!
1. You are returning to The Laurie Beechman Theatre with Bea Arthur: Astral Dame in which you perform some of Bea's signature numbers. When did you become a fan of Bea Arthur? I've had a general respect for her for as long as I can remember - watching The Golden Girls as a kid/teen/adult. My true fanatic status came in the early 2000's when a friend gave me the recording of Bea's one woman show On Broadway, Just Between Friends. I fell madly in love with her story-telling...and her.
2. What was the moment that made you go, "I want to create a show paying homage to Bea Arthur?" In 2010, I was doing Thank You for Being a Friend: The Musical with SpinCycle, playing the Dorothy-type role. We were asked to do a promo event at Therapy, and the host, Lavinia Draper (aka Susan Campanaro...who played our Sophia-type) asked us to bring a solo number. I knew I HAD to do something from Bea's Broadway show. So I found a track for "It Never Was You" (one of my absolute favorites). Now, I can't say that exactly killed the Therapy crowd, but it certainly sparked the idea in my mind, "What if Bea got to come back one more time?" On that show (Thank You For Being A Friend) I also met my dear friend Amy Anders Corcoran who was our choreographer. And I knew I wanted to work with her again. We've stayed close over the years since, and she really pushed me to write this show, then agreed to direct, and brought on our first big producer, Robert W. Schneider.
3. Bea had quite an extensive career between Broadway and Television. How did you decide which numbers you wanted to include in this show? Like all good things in my life, it came from a list. I wrote out the must-haves, the probably's and then the hmmm-mayybes. I culled most of it from her Broadway show, but filled in from the internet, interviews, etc.
4. Bea Arthur is very well known and revered, especially in the gay community. When you decided to create a show about Bea and play her, did you have any hesitancy in doing so? If so, how did you overcome the hesitancy? There certainly was a voice saying, "well, they'll expect to see A, Bea, and C," but I allowed that to guide me rather than hold me back. I set out to write a show about Bea that I would want to see, and Amy and Rob guided and pushed me when I felt doubt. Thank goodness.
5. Where do you draw line between playing Bea Arthur as everyone knows her and making Bea your own? I feel that my portrayal of the Bea-type in Thank You For Being A Friend was much MUCH more of a caricature because that's what the show called for - high camp - which I LOVE. I knew, though, that that was not what I would be creating for this show. I needed to dial that back, because I wanted this to be a loving homage, rather than an over-the-top send up. So I did my best to add mannerisms, vocal affectations and speech patterns that I learned from watching her, and then allowed those to meld with my own performance style. Amy was genius in helping me combine the two. And Rob pushed back when I got to be too Jason and not enough Bea. Honestly, that is still a challenge for me, and something I constantly work on, in preparing for the show. It's tinkering with a recipe until it tastes just right. Lamb, anyone? ;)
6. At this show, will be special guest Marti Gould Cummings. What is it about Marti's performance style that made you want him to be your special guest? I feel that a larger-than-life, big broad Broadway-type is the perfect accompaniment to Bea's grounded, dead pan style. All my guests have embodied this, and been friends of mine. I really trust and respect Marti and I know (hope) her fans will also enjoy what I have created, and likewise, I know Bea's fans, and my fans, either already love Marti, or will, once they see her in my show. We've known each other for years and years, so it was an easy call to make. Hey, if I can't get Liza, Marti's next on the list!
7. If Bea herself came to see this show, what do you think her reaction would be? A raised eyebrow and a knowing glance that would be emblazoned onto my corneas and heart for the rest of my life. I think she'd chortle...or cut me.
8. If "Maude" and "Dorothy" were to compete in Celebrity DeathMatch, who do you think would win and why? I think "Maude" is more cutthroat and would most likely wind up the victor, unless "Dorothy" could suffocate her with a tricked out cowl.
9. What is something about Bea Arthur that we might not know? The jury is still out for me, but I saw an interview where she flat out denies being in the Marines, but meanwhile, the Internet vehemently disagrees. There's pictures and everything. So, there's still a bit of mystery there. To her, at least in that interview, she went directly to dramatic school in NYC, and did not join the Marines. The pictures though. I want to believe her. I'm so torn.
Also, she had two adopted sons with Gene Saks. I love that they adopted.
Golden Girls: "Chicken Little," "The Rusty Anchor," "Chronic Fatigue."
Maude: Her 1st appearance on All in the Family. OMG. I want to LIVE in that episode! But I don't want to get the flu. "The Slumlords!" "Maude" and "Walter" are accused of being slumlords. Hilarious. And still relevant. "The Abortion." I know, I know, but the way she and "Walter" LOVE each other in that episode...I die. Falling asleep in church. "I'M UP I'M UP!"
Bea on Broadway: Just Between Friends, Mame, A Mother's Kisses (I should've put this under little known facts: this was to be her big LEAD starring vehicle by the guys who wrote Pajama Game, but it closed in Baltimore… but if you want to hear her big number from it, come to my show!!)
11. If you could star in a re-launch of The Golden Girls as "Dorothy Zbornak," how would you stylize "Dorothy" today...from personality to clothing? Interesting. Well, I certainly agree that she invented Resting Bitch Face, so we could start there. I think she'd have to take current isms and twist them, like "I'm just sayin." "Well, I'm just sayin...you're an imbecile." or "YOLO." "YOLO? How about HELL NO. Get out." Though I'd have to make nice with the next Norman Lear to get new jokes written. This speaks to personality though. I just read an article about basically not giving a f*ck but still being polite. That's what I would re-invigorate into "Dorothy," including her style (which would still have to be Fabulous Diva Librarian Glitter Marm-realness). I think there was always something beautiful about her no-nonsense attitude, and I think that's something today's audiences still connect with: HELL NO, but thank you very much for offering...GET OUT <eyebrow raise>.
Jason B. Schmidt is a NYC based actor, Bea Arthur aficionado, voice over talent and half of the musical comedy sensation The Parodivas! In addition to his extensive Off-Broadway, Off-Off and Regional credits, Jason B. has also traveled the US starring in numerous productions. Previously Jason B. starred in Dog Opera by Constance Congdon which he also co-produced at The Little Times Square theatre opposite his performing and producing partner Darlene Rae Heller. He is proud to have been one of the dynamic ensemble cast of Momentum Rep’s It’s Only Life, the theatrical revue of John Bucchino’s best musical numbers, featuring Mr. Bucchino at the piano. Other favorite credits include the German transvestite assassin "Friedrich" in Hit Girls: An Ass Kicking Musical in Heels as well as "Dorothea" in The Golden Girls Parody, Thank You For Being a Friend: The Musical at The Kraine Theater. He also flaunted his "perfect comic timing" Off-Broadway in The Gayest Christmas Pageant Ever! Jason’s voice over talents can be heard in The Red Dead Redemption by Rockstar Games. His comedy music duo The Parodivas have headlined Off-Broadway, in comedy clubs and all over NYC including The Triad, 54 Below, Gotham, The Chain and more! Jason B. has a BFA in Acting from Adelphi University.