There is this amazing moment during Everyday Rapture, Sherie Rene Scott’s one-woman show that opened last night at the American Airlines Theatre, when it’s hard to believe what’s happening onstage.
In that moment, Scott sits onstage alone and proceeds to tell the audience about how she had an abortion. And how she doesn’t regret it. And then she sings a song about it. The moment is both heartbreaking and affirming—it’s moving theater. But then you remember who Scott is, and where you are, and what in hell is actually happening around you.
Because Scott is not famous. She is, by her own admission, only a semi-star on Broadway—a place where even very big stars are not really stars—but here she is with her own show. Not only does she have her own show. It’s about her life. And she wrote it. And it’s playing a massive Broadway house at the tail end of a spotty Broadway season. The same season in which the New York Times ran a whole story about how Broadway shows need to cast famous people to succeed, where apparently actors like Abigail Breslin and Valerie Harper just weren’t quite famous enough.
So, in case you’re keeping track. We have a not-famous actress talking (and singing!) about her own not-famous life, and the details of it are not exactly prettied-up for the stage, or designed to appeal to a conservative out-of-town audience. And it’s all done up in a Broadway production in this great big theater that seems aptly named; it really does feel like an airplane hanger. It seems like a miracle that it happened at all. An even bigger miracle—or maybe a much, much smaller one? It’s awesome.
In Everyday Rapture, Scott tells the abbreviated, vaguely fictionalized, song-and-dance version of her life story, including tales of her Mennonite roots and her childhood friendship with Becky Phelps, daughter of Westboro Baptist Church founder Fred Phelps. There are also songs by Mr. Rogers, a funny sequence where Scott spoofs her attitudes about her own fame (or… semi-fame), and a sweet anecdote about her 3-year-old son. But of course, the show is not really about those things. If it were, it’s unlikely that Broadway—or its notoriously fickle audiences, critics, and producers—would be much interested. All of these anecdotes are Scott’s way of presenting her personal search for meaning—religious, spiritual, and philosophical. She asks herself a question, and presents it to the audience: Is she, as an actress, allowed to be ambitious and self-assured and humble and deferring to a greater power? At the same time? A show about Scott’s semi-famous life could have ended up a show about nothing. Instead, this is a show about everything.
It helps that Scott is amazingly likable, that she sings with such power and ease, and that the songs are good peppy fun. A show about the search for spiritual meaning could get laborious pretty quickly. This never does. Nor do the songs make things seem fluffy or understated.
Another reassuring thing about Everyday Rapture? It’s about a woman. And it’s about a woman having some very uniquely female experiences. And it was written by the woman who had those experiences. Broadway is not the testosterone-sodden place that is Hollywood, so it’s not exactly out-of-the-ordinary to see something like this. Carrie Fisher had a show this year, too. But there is something special about a show, and an industry, that values a story like Scott’s, and that sees it as important enough to put on a great big stage. Television, in most cases, would do us no such honor, not without endless in-line disclaimers about Scott’s age, weight, and romantic and reproductive prospects. A film would have reduced Scott to the quirky best friend. And yet here she is—the star of her own show. Well, she’s the semi-star. The real star is the show itself, and it burns bright and big—much bigger than Scott herself. But something tells me she doesn’t mind much.