For many people, high school sucks. It was some of the worst years of my life from the teasing to my head being hit into a metal poll in the gym locker room, I couldn't wait to get out of dodge. The best part about adulthood is looking back to see how far you've come and for Robbie Rozelle, he has come a long way! He has directed & written or co-written sold-out shows for Tony nominees Kate Baldwin (Finian's Rainbow) & Melissa Errico (Amour), Elena Shaddow (The Visit), Nikka Graff Lanzarone (Women on the Verge), RuPaul's Drag Race season 7 contestant Mrs. Kasha Davis and frequent collaborator Jessica Vosk ("Elephaba" on the Wicked tour), and this September 9, Robbie will be directing my comedic cabaret debut called Dates of Discontent at The Laurie Beechman Theatre!
But before that happens, Robbie will be making his solo cabaret debut with Songs From Inside My Locker this Friday, June 9 at Feinstein's/54 Below (254 West 54th Street) at 9:30pm! Wandering his high school hallways, Robbie would often find himself shoved in a locker for singing from The Rink too loudly. With his signature wit and style, Robbie grabs the tiger by the tail in a hilarious romp of the songs that got him through a blistering high school experience, featuring a treasure trove of songs ranging from Kander & Ebb to Carrie. Songs From Inside My Locker is the balm to the chaos of these crazy times. Click here for tickets!
1. This June you are making your debut solo show at Feinstein's/54 Below with Songs From Inside My Locker. After directing shows for Jessica Vosk, Melissa Errico, Kate Baldwin and Nikka Graff Lanzarone, what made now the right time to make your solo debut? It seems that the shows I wrote/co-wrote for them (in addition to directing) all had my fingerprints on them, specifically the jokes. After this past election, I just decided that I wasn’t going to let anything scare me, including getting up in front of a crowded room of 150 people, who have all paid a great deal to get in, and sing 15 songs.
2. Who or what inspired you to become a performer? Honestly, it was seeing all those movie musicals – The Wizard of Oz had a profound effect on me. I miss those yearly airings where you gathered with your family around the TV for an event. I guess the closest things to that now are the live musicals like The Wiz and Grease. And with social media, the family has grown rather large.
3. Your musical direction is by Josh D. Smith. As a director/writer yourself, do you find it difficult to let someone else direct your own show? Do you ever try to give your "director" input? I’ve known Josh for over 20 years. He’s just so wonderful. He’s also taken my rudimentary ideas and made them real things – that’s really great since I don’t read music. I wrote and directed the thing myself, but his input is invaluable. Wait until you hear his incredible arrangements!
4. This show is called Songs From Inside My Locker. What songs would we find in high school Robbie's locker and what songs would we find in adult Robbie of today? High school was a weird time for me – I sang a lot of hybrids of movie musicals (The Sound of Music, Funny Girl, The Wizard of Oz) and the popular musicals of the time were Phantom of the Opera and Les Miz. The first two cassette tapes I ever bought were Dionne Warwick’s Greatest Hits (1972-1990), because "That’s What Friends Are For" was the first song, and the Beaches soundtrack, for the obvious reasons.
Nowadays, I listen to mostly show tunes (both for my job and because I love them), a lot of Ella Fitzgerald, and a lot of acoustic pop like Jason Mraz. Shout-out to whoever created the "Acoustic Covers" and "Your Favorite Coffeehouse" playlists on Spotify, because that gets a lot of love in my house.
5. You describe Songs From Inside My Locker as being the balm to the chaos of wandering your high school hallways, and finding yourself often shoved in a locker for singing from The Rink too loudly. Let's see how well you did in math...If there are 4 years in high school, 180 days in the school year, 5 days in the week, and 8 hours in the day, how many times do you think you were shoved in a locker during your high school years? I…was terrible in math. Legitimately terrible. Also, I had three lockers (my main one, my choir one, and gym), so suffice it to say, I was in one more than I was in a classroom.
6. Why did you want this show about this particular time in your life, be your debut show? I really loathe the cabaret trope of "I moved to NYC to become an actress, and had my heart broken," so I needed to find a hook for it. I think the answer became clearer when I realized that the high school bully was in the highest office in the land. So I just want to have a joy explosion all over Feinstein’s/54 Below of all the songs I was bullied for singing, with people paying a lot of money for the privilege.
7. Being so far (you're welcome for hinting at your age) out of high school, what was it like to go back to this time in your life now? Did old emotions come up? What did you learn about yourself from writing this show that you didi not know about yourself going through this rough time? Looking at that time of my life through the prism of time, it’s a bit weird. I was looking at some old photos, and there I am in overalls with one strap hanging, and bad mushroom haircuts, and thinking "man, I was so skinny!" I’ve always had the gift of bounce and laughter, so while things really sucked in high school, I’m able to laugh at most of it. Weirdly, since this show was announced, a lot of my high school peeps (some I don’t even remember) have reached out – some to apologize for their high school behavior, some to congratulate me about the show, some to say they would be there. I was openly gay in high school, in a pre-Ellen, pre-Will & Grace era, so I realize that my visibility was really important. That knowledge has had a profound impact on me.
8. While writing this show, what part made you cry? What part made laugh? What part made you go, "I'm so much stronger now"? My first day of high school, four seniors grabbed me, wrapped me in the mat that was in front of the main doors, and dropped me next to the dumpster. I was all of maybe 130 pounds. That was terrifying, but it also told me that I better pull myself up by my bootstraps, because it wasn’t going to be amazing all the time. But I also gravitated to a group of senior girls, who took me under their wing and took care of me. Those ladies made sure that I wasn’t thoroughly terrorized. They were probably my first audience, people who would laugh at my jokes, and became my tribe. I have no doubt in my mind that I would not be alive but for those strong women and the musical theatre. So, that’s the dark. But with dark stuff, there’s light, right? Someone asked me what I would tell 16 year old me, and I gotta say, I’d tell him to do exactly the same thing. I’m just fine. I’m doing things I love with people I love, and I can’t think of honestly anything better (except maybe a woman President).
9. Besides this hilarious romp through high school, what other romps have these songs you are presenting accompanied you through? Literally every thing in my life. They were my playlist to accompany my life from start to finish. We have a Charles Nelson Reilly/Paul Lynde medley in the show, because those guys were my heroes – quippy funny men who weren’t ashamed of who they were.
10. On "Call Me Adam" I have a section called One Percent Better, where through my own fitness commitment, I try to encourage people to improve their own life by one percent every day. What is something in your life that you want to improve by one percent better every day? I’d love to give up carbonated beverages and biting my nails. I don’t know how to do that by one percent daily, but that’s the goal! (Told you I was terrible at math!)
Robbie Rozelle does jokes. He has also directed and written or co-written sold-out cabaret shows for Tony Award nominee Melissa Errico (Amour), Tony nominee Kate Baldwin (Finian's Rainbow), Elena Shaddow (The Visit), Nikka Graff Lanzarone (Women on the Verge), Steven Ferezy, Jonathan Demar, Rachel Levy, RuPaul's Drag Race season 7 contestant Mrs. Kasha Davis and frequent collaborator Jessica Vosk ("Elephaba" on the Wicked tour).
As a former actor who once played "Charlie Brown" and "Dr. Frank 'n' Furter" in the same year, Robbie is the recipient of the NEPTA award for Best Supporting Actor in a Musical for his tongue-twisting turn as "Trevor Grayden" in Thoroughly Modern Millie. He has also appeared in Sondheimas at 54 Below and several shows at The Duplex. He co-produced the album Cynthia Erivo and Oliver Tompsett Sing Scott Alan [Deluxe Edition], executive produced Astoria Boulevard's debut album and was an associate producer of Jonathan Reid Gealt's Whatever I Want It To Be. Robbie is a Grammy voting member. For three years, Robbie served as the graphic designer and creative director for Playbill, culminating in the design he is most proud of, the branding of #PlaybillPride, a 30-day initiative of the LGBT movement in the theatre that included a redesign of their historic logo for the month of June 2014. Playbill Pride returned for a second year in 2015, where Robbie art directed the magazine. Playbill Pride returned again in 2016, again with Robbie's work. He currently serves as the in-house designer for Grammy-winning record label Broadway Records, where he designed the iconic "What the World Needs Now is Love" in response to Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando. He also runs Ghostlight Design. When not designing, he can usually be found tweeting jokes and random musings at @divarobbie.