Published in KPBS On Air Magazine December 1999
You could call it luck, pluck and virtue. Along with her prodigious talent and moxie, singer/actor/dancer/director/choreographer/composer/playwright Leigh Scarritt has often been in the right place at the right time. And she puts a lot of stock in her faith.
Scarritt was born in New London, Connecticut; as a military brat, she lived in the Northeast, the South, the far West, the Far East and even Down Under. Wherever her family alit, they hooked into the church. One day, when little Leigh was singing a hymn, a producer picked her out to audition for a one-year tour of “The Sound of Music.” She was four years old.
“We didn’t understand what we were getting into,” recalls the trim, sexy blonde 38 year old. “We showed up at this packed audition. I sang, and then I said, ‘Okay, we can go now. I got that part.’ And I did.
After her first break, she continued her busy schedule of ballet, French lessons, drama class, home piano instruction, AAU gymnastics competition and the occasional Junior Miss pageant (she won at age 15). Her family became so performance oriented that when her younger brother went out for sports, their mother kept referring to his practice as ‘rehearsal’ and his uniform as a ‘costume.’
By the time the family moved to Coronado, Scarritt was 16, and ready for dinner theaters, appearing in everything from “Gypsy” (as Baby June, who else?) to “Babes in Arms.” Two years after she went to Arizona State on a full scholarship, she was set to go to the Conservatory in Cincinnati, but she was offered the role of Val in the national tour of “A Chorus Line.”
“In the Bible Belt,” she laughs, “they wanted me to sing “Boobs and Buns” instead of “Tits and Ass!”
Then she moved to L.A., did commercials, modeling and TV work, and toured as Anybody’s in “West Side Story.” During that show, she took a major fall.
“The bottom half of my right leg landed at a 90 degree angle. They told me I’d never be able to dance again. I was devastated. This man I was dating said, ‘What’d you do, fall off your pumps?'” (Scarritt is still known for wearing impossibly high heels).
” I got married in a cast up to my hip. I was 26. When I was 27, Tiffany was born. Two years later, we were gone; he was a great courter, not a great husband.”
Scarritt came back to her family in Coronado, and she’s never stopped working (unlike many other local Equity actors). “I’m just super, super lucky.”
It’s more than luck. Scarritt is tireless. When she’s not performing, she’s choreographing, coaching voice, being a personal trainer, and directing Kids Chords of Coronado, a children’s singing/performing group she founded for Tiffany, now 10, also a little star (in “The Grinch” at the Globe and “Jane Eyre” at La Jolla Playhouse).
Scarritt went from lead roles at Lamb’s Players to Starlight Musical Theatre, where she was recently an outrageous Queen in “Once Upon a Mattress” and a terrifying Witch in “Into the Woods.” This month, she reprises the role of Grandma Who in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and she’s written, composed and directed a new musical, “Angels Among Us,” premiering at Coronado Playhouse (through 12/19).
She still makes time to sing at church functions. But last year, after she played the Porn Star in “The Dyke and the Porn Star” at 6@Penn Studio, a church group canceled her gig.
“If you do that,’ they said, ‘you can’t work for us. It’s a conflict of interest.’ I said, ‘I played a grandmother; that doesn’t make me a grandmother. I’m an actor; that’s what I’m supposed to do.’ It was unfortunate. But I’d make the same choice again.”
There have been a few dark moments in Scarritt’s sparkling career. Last year, during a show, she “popped a blood vessel on my vocal cord. The ENT found two tumors. It was surreal. I was worried about a biopsy; if they took something off, they’d damage the cord. I thought it was the end. But because I have spiritual belief, death didn’t scare me. I just wasn’t done raising Tiffany. I wanted to write down how I felt about her, how much I believed in her. I started a letter, then it became a song, and it finally took on a life of its own.”
Ultimately, the thoughts took shape as a musical, “Angels Among Us,” with a cast of 45, Tiffany among them.
The show opens on Christmas eve. A little girl gets a much-coveted new bike, and racing out to try it, she gets killed. The rest of the play is about her humorous entry to heaven and her family’s serious attempt to stay connected with her but also to move on.
“I know, intuitively, that if I went to heaven, I would always be connected to Tiffany. So really, it’s a love story about a mother and child. Even death can’t separate them.”
The post-script to the story is that Scarritt’s tumors have disappeared. “I feel enormous relief,” she says, “about being well and about having written this show. Now I can go on. I really needed something concrete to leave Tiffany. There are no words to tell her how I feel about her. This piece will always be there.”
©1999 Patté Productions Inc.