Bebe Neuwirth + Hal Rubenstein discuss Dancers for Good June 3rd Benefit in East Hampton

The celebrity journalist matches wits with the theater legend, who hosts the inaugural Dancers For Good event, an East Hampton benefit for Broadway’s dance community.
Bebe Neuwirth hosts Dancers for Good Benefit, June 3rd, in East Hampton

Hal Rubenstein: When did you first cry out, “Gotta Dance!” like Gene Kelly in Singin’ in the Rain?

Bebe Neuwirth: Actually, when I was born, the doctor pulled me from my mother and said, “She’s a dancer.” I saw my first ballet at 4, I started taking classes at 5 and I’ve really never left.

HR: But ballet didn’t turn out to be your true calling.

BN: It was clear to me when I was 13 that I didn’t have the chops for ballet. But when I saw Pippin, I was galvanized watching the great Ben Vereen and immediately saw myself on the Broadway stage.

HR: And it didn’t take long for you to get there.

BN: My first Broadway role was playing Cassie in A Chorus Line. I was 22. After that, I was cast in a revival of Little Me choreographed by Peter Gennaro. He decided to bring in the original choreographer to help, and that’s how I met “God”—Bob Fosse.

HR: Such praise isn’t blasphemy, considering the impact Fosse had on your career.

BN: From Little Me I went straight into Fosse’s Dancin’ and then the revival of his Sweet Charity, where Bob had his dances taught to me by the legendary Gwen Verdon.

HR: That’s when you won your first Tony. However, your dance career got a little sidetracked while rehearsing the show in Los Angeles by some caustically amusing creature named Lilith.

BN: Well, yeah, I got a little part in Cheers. Then we opened Sweet Charity and my agent got a call saying they wanted me to play that part again. And then again. It was a hard decision to take on Lilith because being in a Fosse show was my dream. But I took the counsel of four people—my parents, Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon. The consensus was it wouldn’t be a bad thing.

HR: People don’t realize the brevity of a dancer’s career, do they?

BN: Even as a dancer, I was so focused on the craft that I never considered being injured. It wasn’t until after my first hip replacement—it was successful, but the physical and emotional pain was so depressing—that I realized dancers needed help.

HR: Why did you turn to The Actors Fund?

BN: As a Fund board member, I knew we had great social programs but none specifically for dancers who are injured. So I went to Tom Viola, who is executive director of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, and that wonderful organization gave us the seed money to begin Dancers’ Resource as a place for emotional support.

HR: And now the organization has merged with Career Transition for Dancers, which helps dancers find their second act, so to speak.

BN: The combination is fantastic—it is bringing so many dancers back to The Actors Fund.

HR: Spoken like a true dancer.

BN: I may not go to class as often, but I am still waiting for someone to ask me to dance onstage again. And when they do, I will be ready.