Leavel Best: Beth Leavel ‘80 MA
By Mike Harris ’93 MA
The 2019 Tony’s telecast begins. The full casts of the nominated musicals hit the stage. One actress cheekily plops a hat on the host’s head.
Only one of Broadway’s brightest stars could do that. That was Beth Leavel ‘80 MA.
Beth premiered on Broadway in “42nd Street” in 1980.
Her Manhattan cabaret shows are legendary. Her next one, “Thirteen Shows and Counting” will debut soon. And she has appeared of dozens in television shows, including the final episode of “ER.”
Every few years, she returns to UNCG to speak with UNCG Theatre classes and have a public Q&A.
“Coming back, it’s like coming home,” she said in her 2016 visit.
UNCG’s 1978 production of “Hello Dolly,” with Beth in the title role, is part of her legend.
Leavel attended Meredith for her undergraduate degree. She called her selection of UNCG’s MFA program for actors “a really, really smart choice.”
She said, “Being here validated my passion.”
Beth was surrounded by “like minds and supportive teachers,” she explained. “I felt so privileged to be here.”
She was terrified of moving to New York City and trying to break into the theater world there, she told the students. Soon, after being noticed in a musical based on the Nancy Drew series, she had booked “42nd Street” and she was on her way. Her other Broadway credits include “Baby It’s You,” “Elf,” “Mamma Mia!,” “Young Frankenstein,” and “Show Boat.”
• Tony Award for starring role in “The Drowsy Chaperone” (2006)
• Tony nomination for starring role in “Baby It’s You” (2011)
• Tony nomination for starring role in “The Prom” (2019)
• Other honors include Drama Desk, NY Outer Critics Circle and LA
• Drama Critics awards
With each UNCG visit, she gives real-world advice.
“Know your strengths,” she says. “Are you a strong singer? A great dancer?”
She wishes she’d taken more dance. “I’m not a dancer. I can sing really well.” She tells students of her quietly walking out of the audition space for “Cats” — but then how she succeeded in auditions for “42nd Street” and also for “Crazy for You,” her first two major shows.
“Keep going. You see the path. It’d be a shame not to explore.”— Beth Leavel ‘80 MA
Originating a role is so much better than taking over a role from a star, she tells them. She replaced Andrea Martin in “Young Frankenstein.” You have less leeway in finding your character – and in the case of “Young Frankenstein,” the doors were not constructed for someone as tall as she is. She had to bend.
Have a good, trusting relationship with the stage manager. Some fans may think she’s a diva. But she’s down to earth.
Finally, be ready for whatever’s next. “Keep going. You see the path. It’d be a shame not to explore,” she says. “Just do it. Even if doesn’t work out, what’s the worst? You’ll have amazing experiences. Just go for it.”
Photos of “The Prom” by Deen Van Meer; photos of UNCG’s “Hello Dolly” and clipping courtesy of UNCG Archives.
See related stories:
Beth Leavel receives Tony Award nomination for “The Prom”
“London Calling: Dominick Amendum”