What's It Like When Katy Perry Visits Your Musical? Broadway Stars Share Their Favorite Celebrity Guest Stories

Alex Brightman, Katy Perry and Sophia Anne Caruso
Bruce Glikas/WireImage

Alex Brightman as "Beetlejuice", Katy Perry and Sophia Anne Caruso as "Lydia" pose backstage at the hit musical based on the film "Beetlejuice" on Broadway at The Winter Garden Theater on May 7, 2019 in New York City. 

When Rihanna attended a recent performance of the much-discussed Broadway production of Slave Play, she attracted a great deal of attention for texting during the performance (playwright Jeremy O. Harris later revealed that she was sending him praise for his work, and defended his "queen" in the process).  But if the superstar's behavior was noteworthy, her presence in the audience was much less so: she was the latest in a long list of cultural luminaries who give Broadway shows an extra boost of publicity -- and an implicit endorsement -- when they attend.

Should highly Instagrammable selfies occur backstage afterwards -- well, that's just an added bonus for the hard-working actors involved, as the below Broadway stars attest from their own experiences with famous visitors. 

Jawan M. Jackson (Melvin Franklin in Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations)

Celeb guest: Oprah Winfrey

Jackson first heard Oprah was in the audience when a former college professor, in town to give him an Outstanding Alumni award, sent Jackson a text. “It was already a very special day, but then during intermission, we discovered that both Oprah and Gayle [King] were there,” says Jackson, a longtime fan of Oprah's. “She is a prime example of what giving freely of yourself and thriving looks like.”

Once the show was over, the cast waited patiently backstage to say hello. “Once we laid eyes on each other, Oprah grabbed me and said, ‘You were fantastic,’ and then she hugged and embraced me,” Jackson remembers.” It was one of the best hugs I have ever received! She was everything that I imagined her to be.” He immediately called his friends and aunt: “I just had to tell them everything that just happened. They told me how proud they were of me.”


Sophia Anne Caruso (Lydia Deetz in Beetlejuice)

Celeb guests: Katy Perry and Marc Anthony

It stands to reason that the zany extravaganza that is Beetlejuice — a musical based on one of the most cultishly-beloved films of the modern era — would attract a who's who of big pop culture names. For Caruso, two stand out: Marc Anthony and Katy Perry. “Marc Anthony gave me a huge hug right off the bat,” she recalls. “I was pleasantly surprised because often celebrities can be skittish with touch, and understandably so. Katy is such an icon, and to meet people as successful as both of them is inspiring.”

That said, Caruso admits that she's not particularly fazed by seeing famous faces in the audience. “It’s the same show for me every night,” she says, noting that her perspective softened after becoming well-known herself. “I don’t see celebrities as aliens. Sometimes I feel like people see me as an alien or something, and it makes me feel uncomfortable and isolated. So I try to just be myself and make them feel comfortable.”

Patrick Vaill (Jud Fry in Oklahoma!)

Celeb guest: Isabelle Huppert

While Vaill notes that the Tony-winning Oklahoma! revival has hosted some “staggering guests,” it was a visit from French actress Huppert that made the most impact on him. “She is my favorite artist in any medium, and a huge influence on me,” he says. “In terms of building a performance on her own terms, without concern for likability or transparency and with total un-showy commitment, she's peerless. She reveals truths about human behavior that no one else dares to do. If there was ever someone who I wanted to like what I was doing, it's her.”

Vaill, who knew ahead of time that Huppert was in attendance, saw her during much of the show: “The house lights stay up for much of Oklahoma!, so there she was in plain sight, right in front of me.” Post-performance, Vaill says they managed to have a “real” conversation. “She's smart, insightful, funny, kind, and very, very warm," he recalls. "People often say that you shouldn't meet your heroes because you'll be disappointed. In this instance, I was not.”


LaChanze (Celie in the 2005 production of The Color Purple)

Celeb guest: Alice Walker

For LaChanze, who's starring this holiday season in the revamped version of A Christmas Carol at the Lyceum Theater, it was a major literary name that made the biggest impression on the actress. At the very first reading of The Color Purple, "We were in an average rehearsal room, jam packed with actors, musicians, production staff, creatives and guests," and Alice Walker, the author of the 1982 novel on which the show is based, was in attendance too. “It was her first time witnessing her brilliant book being transformed into a musical. She gave birth to these incredible characters, and her wisdom and beauty enters the room before she does," LaChanze remembers. "To say I was nervous is an understatement. The weight of the success was palpable and Ms. Walker chose to sit directly in front of me!"

The experience became even more memborable once the reading ended. “She stood up and walked three feet directly to me. She said nothing, and her expression was unreadable," LaChanze says. "Then she took a silver ring with a gorgeous purple stone in the center off of her finger and took my hand and put it on mine. I will never forget that moment.” Later, LaChanze spent more time with Walker as they awaited a CNN interview in a van together: “She shared some of her life lessons with me that I still live by. I don’t think I ever told my family about that experience with her. Now they know!”


Steven Skybell (Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish)

Celeb guest: Carol Burnett

Skybell, who plays the iconic lead character in the acclaimed and long-running Yiddish production of Fiddler on the Roof, notes that he’s seen more celebrities at this production than any previous show in which he's acted. In fact, the show has a system notifying cast members if someone famous is in the audience. “Some performers choose not to know,” explains Skybell. “So there’s a laminated flap. If the date is written on the flap, then you know you could look beneath and see the name of the celebrity audience member. If you choose not to lift the flap, then at least you know there’s somebody out there. These days I prefer not to lift the flap and simply tell the story as best I can.”

So far, those names have included everyone from Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg to Jake Gyllenhaal to the late Harold Prince — but the person who most captivated Skybell was a childhood hero. “Carol Burnett had such a profound effect on me as a kid; teaching me through her television show what was funny, what can be moving and funny, and how to have that all happen in a song, so I was surprisingly very moved to get to meet her after our show," he says, adding: “She may not be Jewish, but she’s a fellow Texan and I was so honored to perform for her.”


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