By Andy Smith
During Monday night’s benefit performance of her (almost) one-woman show “You May Now Worship Me,” The Little Mermaid’s Sherie Rene Scott emerged as a modern diva-with-a-difference, capable of belting a show tune and winning big laughs.
Presented at the Eugene O’Neill Theater as a benefit for Broadway Cares and its on-going support for Phyllis Newman Women’s Health Initiative of the Actors Fund, “You May Now Worship Me” – described as “the truth…only better,” took an informal tour through the life and philosophy of a little “half Mennonite” girl from Topeka, Kansas who grew up worshipping Jesus and Judy Garland.
Backed by an eight-piece band, led by musical director Tom Kitt on piano, Scott reflected on her journey from the heart of the conservative Midwest to Broadway (Aida, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) through monologues, show tunes, classic rock, well-remembered jingles from children’s television and a lot of laugh-getting lines delivered with dry, perfect timing.
Conceived and written by Scott and collaborator Dick Scanlan, with choreography by Dan Knechtges and directed by Michael Mayer, “You May Now Worship Me” featured a very special appearance by Tyler Maynard as well as backup by three singers/dancers: “The Mennonettes” (Megan Osterhaus, Chauntee Schuler, Jessica Wu).
A Fabulous Place to Dig for Potatoes
Throughout the evening, Scott touched on her often intensely religious upbringing in Topeka (translated from the Chickapoo for “a fabulous place to dig for potatoes”) during the 1970s and 80s, including a reference to her chiropractor father, a religious nomad who constantly changed churches, searching for an “ergonomic pew.”
A brief family stint with the deeply conservative Mennonite faith didn’t sit well with Mr. Scott: “Raise your own ‘eff—ing’ barn, my dad used to say,” his daughter deadpanned.
Describing Topeka as “population 117,000…churches,” Scott recalled her pre-teen experience in the congregation of the now notorious Rev. Fred “God Hates Fags” Phelps, who told his followers that every minute “another soul burns in hell.” Reverend Fred taught young Sherie about the future eternal damnation of “sodomites” like Liberace, Johnny Mathis and Sesame Street’s Big Bird. “I wasn’t sure what a sodomite was, but I knew it had something to do with show business.”
From Mennonites to Menningers
Situated on handsomely landscaped grounds and surrounded by a “beautiful 12-foot electrified fence,” is Topeka’s other claim to fame, The Menninger Clinic, a psychiatric facility where celebrities like Elizabeth Taylor and Judy Garland went to dry out or recover from various breakdowns.
Sherie’s cousin Jerome worked there as “the only male candy striper.”
When Jerome asked her to sing for the patients in the clinic’s common room, Scott searched her soul and asked her own variation of what she had heard at countless churches all her life: “What would Jesus do?” Well, in this case, Sherie and Cousin Jerome also wondered “What would Judy do?” A moving rendition of “Get Happy” followed.
YouTube Valentine Gone Awry
Some of the highlights of the evening were provided by Scott’s three backup singers/dancers: “The Mennonettes” (Megan Osterhaus, Chauntee Schuler, Jessica Wu), while perhaps the biggest laughs came during a sequence featuring Maynard (Altar Boyz), Scott’s Little Mermaid costar. Following a moving rendition of Roberta Flacks’ “Killing Me Softly,” Scott pulled Maynard from the audience and they recreated an actual YouTube video featuring a teenager lip synching to Scott’s number “My Strongest Suit” from Aida.
Throughout the sequence, the star reaches out by email to her fan but is repeatedly rebuffed by the doubtful, sometimes snarky teen who counters with requests like “If you’re really Sherie Rene, can you take a picture of yourself with Idina Menzel?”
The Tony Award® nominee’s outreach effort ended with the wannabee labeling her a stalker and threatening to tell his parents.
The evening’s last sequence took place in the very recent past, with Scott sitting beside her two-year old son on the “grassy knoll” outside her country home, purchased with “my husband’s family’s money.” After explaining the rarity and significance of a four-leaf clover to her toddler, he proceeds to find one on his first try, a magical moment ruined minutes later when Scott’s cat swallows the fourth leaf.
For A Powerful Cause
Though her performance cast a critical, darkly humorous eye on Christianity as its sometimes practiced in the Bible Belt, Scott concluded the evening with a powerful rendition of George Harrison’s “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth),” which included the lyrics “My Lord . . . Please take hold of my hand, that I might understand you.”
After receiving a standing ovation, Scott welcomed Tony winner and PNWHI founder Phyllis Newman, Producer and BC/EFA board member Maria Di Dia and Actors Fund President Brian Stokes Mitchell to the stage for a check presentation of $200,000 from BC/EFA to Newman’s Initiative.
“What a show! What a woman,” said Newman, looking sharp in black with a bright orange scarf. She added that since the initiative was founded in 1996, Broadway Cares has given PNWHI more than $4 million.
“You May Now Worship Me” was followed by a star-filled party at John’s Pizzeria where VIP guests and friendsdined on a swell Italian buffet and toasted Ms. Scott’s success.