Bryan Batt: Mad man comes to town

Fabulous and flamboyant Bryan Batt is bringing his cabaret show to Auckland, and promises a mixed bag.

He's best known in New Zealand for his role as Salvatore Romano in Mad Men (the Italian-American closeted gay artist, who was fired after he rebuffed the advances of a Lucky Strike head honcho, and was then required to be removed), but Bryan Batt has a few more strings to his bow, it turns out.

He's been a Broadway star for decades and, as well as being an actor, designer, and civic activist, has written two books. He has also toured the world with his one-man cabaret show Batt On A Hot Tin Roof, and now he's bringing it to Auckland, for one night, on Sunday, June 22 at the Auckland Town Hall Concert Chamber.

Speaking to TimeOut from a Chicago airport, on his way home to New Orleans, he sounded just as fabulous and flamboyant as Salvatore, and keen to bring his all-singing-dancing-comedy skills to New Zealand.

"The show really came about because of Hurricane Katrina. A friend of mine owns a wonderful club in New Orleans, and while I was evacuated to New York - where I live part-time anyway - she called me, and asked if I would put together a one-man show as a benefit for displaced actors, and of course I said yes, I wanted to do everything I could to help, as everyone should.

Except immediately when I hopped off the phone with her, I realised I'd never done anything like that before. Although I'd done Broadway shows and musicals and acting, it'd never just been me alone with a piano, telling stories and singing songs, so I went 'Oh my God, I can't do that', and I called her back to try and come up with something else, but she talked me into it," he laughs.

It turned out he had such a good time crafting the show and performing it, that since 2005 he's been doing it on and off, in between other roles, and over that time it has morphed and changed to become Batt On A Hot Tin Roof.

"I call it a mixed bag of nuts kinda night" he explains. "It's all different kinds of songs, with stories from my life and show business, and growing up in New Orleans and living in New York, and Mad Men, all that stuff. It's everything from Billy Joel to Cole Porter to Petula Clark, and there's also Burt Bacharach, and some good Broadway showtunes.

"But what I really love is introducing songs that people might never have heard before, too, so I'm always looking to discover new music. I love it when I talk to people after the show and they say, 'Oh my God, that song had me in hysterics,' or 'It really moved me! Where did it come from?"'

He enjoys the challenge of being alone, with nothing to back him up except a pianist.

"Either you sink or swim. There's no sets or costumes, or any other people to hide behind, no character to hide behind either, you just have to be yourself and try and tear down that fourth wall."

It's largely autobiographical, without it being a tale of his life - he mixes up stories about his mother ("she was a wonderful Steel Magnolia") and father, with bits about life in New Orleans, on Broadway, and of course his Mad Men experiences.

"They're just stories that are fun and touching, and even though they're particular to me, I think a lot of people can identify with them."

Of course he credits Mad Men with having a huge impact on his life. "It's crazy really, people still ask for autographs. You forget that even though the show has moved forward, people will be watching those episodes forever. I feel very lucky that I got to play a character that people mostly loved. The second thing people always ask is "Are you coming back? It was so horrible that he got fired" which is great, it was such a wonderful part and great storyline, and it was a thrill to be a part of."

But he's been keeping plenty busy since with roles in 12 Years A Slave, and upcoming releases The Last Of Robin Hood and Parkland, and of course all the experiences add wonderful stories to his show.

"I promise people will have a good time. It's about entertainment and variety, and it's me, exposed, in a good way," he hoots.

Who: Bryan Batt, the artist formerly known as Salatore Romano of Mad Men
What: His show Batt on Hot Tin Roof
Where: Auckland Town Hall Concert Chamber
When: Sunday June 22

- TimeOut

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