Tony nominee Isabel Keating, most recently on Broadway in Terrence McNally’s It's Only a Play, can currently be seen as Franny Block in the new Duncan Sheik–Nell Benjamin musical Because of Winn Dixie, which is currently making its world premiere at The Goodspeed in East Haddam, Connecticut, through September 1. Keating, who was nominated for a Tony and received Drama Desk and Theatre World awards for her remarkable performance as Judy Garland in the Hugh Jackman-led musical The Boy From Oz, has also been seen on Broadway in Hairspray, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, Enchanted April, and Wicked. The multi-talented performer also won the Helen Hayes Award for her work in Tom Stoppard’s Indian Ink.
We recently asked Keating to pen a list of her most memorable nights in the theatre; her responses follow.
The Boy From Oz
If I have to choose five of my most memorable onstage experiences, I have to put this one at the top. As we brought The Boy From Oz to life in its new incarnation for Broadway, we led knowing that we would have a limited run of one year, so we soaked up every moment. Every night was memorable with this show, onstage, backstage, and in the audience! I had the time of my life, I think we all did! So many indelible moments personally, from closing night when “Judy” got a drop of “bourbon” caught in her throat and the ever-valiant “Peter” went back to the Hong Kong bar to fetch her another until Isabel could make sure she could breathe, to gathering in the wings to watch Hugh [Jackman] as Peter Allen give Barbara Walters a lap dance!
Hugh is everything everyone says he is, all the things I have ever said, and more, and it is all authentic, he is generosity and cheer personified. And, the masses of visitors, you can imagine! Among my personal post-show favorites are chatting with dreamboat Alan Rickman, recalling Judy with Lauren Bacall and Liz Smith, crying softly with and embracing dear Joe Luft, and just being there every day with our BFO family. Not to mention lifelong friendships, and universes of laughter with Stephanie [J. Block] (Liza) and backstage poker with Mitchel David Federan (Young Peter)….
Playing Velma Von Tussle in this genius musical is such a gift. I was put in to this show and able to play with the most incredible ensemble of actors and singers—Nicole Powell, Theresa Redd, Judine Somerville, Carla Hargrove, and, yes, Andrew Rannells was as genius then as he still is—everyone in the cast, not to mention the orchestra playing that iconic music. I mean you really can't stop the beat! Every night was memorable here, and I love dear Jack O’Brien, and Marc [Shaiman] and Scott [Wittman], and I have such tender memories of my talks with dear Mark O’Donnell, he was a brilliant and caring and kind and funny man.
Our Hairspray family is huge and close, and I love them. Truly, there is nothing better than all these powerful women onstage singing “Big Dollhouse” together!
I like to say I came full circle back to Oz when I was given the gift of playing Madame Morrible, first in the Munchkinland tour for a glorious year with an incredible company, and then on Broadway, to celebrate Wicked’s 15th anniversary at the Gershwin. I love this story, this music, these people. And, it felt so right to tag team across the years with Stephanie from The Boy From Oz to Wicked, where early on she had played Elphaba so brilliantly. It was undeniably powerful to step into the role created by the great Carole Shelley and recreated by a long line of brilliant women. I savored exploring the intricacies of Morrible.
It is very satisfying to play someone so misguided and a press secretary, especially in this era of perpetual question marks. Very satisfying when you have a special nightly backstage ritual with your Elphaba, which my dear Jessica Vosk can tell you about in detail! I can say that even if that deeply devious wretch Morrible (whom I love) has not been, Isabel certainly has been, changed for good! (Shout out to the devoted Wicked fans who are so dear and loving!)
For as long as I can remember, I have had a crush on Sir Tom Stoppard (who doesn’t?!). I finally got to meet and hang out with my heartthrob after the show when he came to see us do his play Indian Ink at Washington, D.C.’s Studio Theatre, directed by the great Joy Zinoman. I had so many questions for him, and it was a thrill to bask over drinks in the sound of the brilliant words issuing forth from this great mind through his mouth, with customary wit, kindness, and sensuality. The process was a dream, as was the production, Russell Metheny’s scenic design transported us all, and the most wonderful group of actors remain dear to my heart.
Because of Winn Dixie
Can someone tell W.C. Fields I am working with children and animals and he was wrong, there is nothing better! Bill Berloni is everything, and so is our cast, people are gaga for our star, Bowdie, who plays the title role, the dog Winn Dixie. Duncan [Sheik] and Nell [Benjamin] have made something so special, and Bowdie is a such a great actor! I love how he listens—just look at that face and those expressive eyes! I am besotted.