Kathy Najimy: Sister Act

Funny lady and gay rights advocate Kathy Najimy dusts off high school memories of singing Burt Bacharach and Hal David tunes with best gay Steve in her new musical tribute.

BY Brandon Voss

April 15 2009 12:00 AM ET

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We all know you can sing from the Sister Act films. Why aren't you performing in the show?
That's so nice, but I can't sing like these kids can sing. These are superstar singers. For each one of them, you and I would go, "What are you doing Saturday night? Let's go see their concert." I'm just there to add a little tongue in cheek, a little bit of funny, and a couple of times to make you cry. I'm excited to go every night, sit in the back with a Diet Coke, and listen to these songs.

Did you give the songs any queer interpretations?
A lot. Our gorgeous singer Tom Lowe sings "Anyone Who Had a Heart," but we don't change the pronouns; so he sings, "Anyone who had a heart would take me in his arms and love me too." I think it's appropriate for Tom to sing that. And Diana DeGarmo sings "What's New Pussycat?" as a very strong, androgynous, bisexual rock singer wearing a sexy leather dominatrix catsuit. I have an aversion to revues and tributes because they always seem very cruise ship-y to me. I'm interested in the music and the lyrics, but I'm also interested in skewing things while at the same time honoring them.

How has Back to Bacharach and David changed since you first staged the show off-Broadway in 1992?
The biggest difference is that we have more resources now than we did in New York. Burt did not see our run off-Broadway. In fact, he historically has not loved or supported any Bacharach-David musicals or revues. Then he saw a production of our show in Solana Beach, Calif., in 2006 and freaked out, loved the arrangements, and really wanted to meet the arrangers. Steve was actually in that production, so he met Steve, and his enthusiasm was so flattering and surprising. With his and Hal David's support, we got a whole new set of producers, and we're putting it on again.

With former contestants Diana DeGarmo and Tom Lowe in the cast, I'm guessing you're a big American Idol fan.
I really am. How often do you get to hear great singers that don't already have 10 records out? It's like we've already auditioned them because we got to hear them every week. I already knew Diana DeGarmo was cute, funny, and had one of the best voices I'd ever heard, so she's always been my top choice for the show.

There was a bit of controversy surrounding Lowe during the sixth season of Idol when he didn't make the top 24. Do you think his being openly gay affected his advancement in the competition because of the show's allegedly conservative producers?
Well, I'm not going to argue with that. After Tom walked into our audition and sang some obscure song, I asked, "How do you know that song?" He said, "My boyfriend found it." That was the first thing he said to me, so I was like, "Fantastic!" [Laughs] That's certainly not why he was cast, but someone who's authentic in all parts of his or her life is much better at almost everything than somebody who's not. It's hard to be a great artist if you don't live comfortably in your own skin.

Tags: film

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