Bebe Neuwirth on Dancing, Marriage and "Fame"

She’s got a new husband, a new movie and a new outlook on life.

By Brooke Hauser
Photograph: Photo by: Dean Isidro

Bebe Neuwirth was born to dance.

"According to Neuwirth legend, the doctor pulled me from my mother and said, ‘She’s a dancer,’ " the star says, sipping Diet Coke at a favorite restaurant in Greenwich Village. "Before I even took my first breath."

She defines herself as "just a chorus girl for hire," but a more accurate assessment might be "triple threat." Best known for her Emmy-winning role as Lilith on Cheers, Neuwirth, 50, has also sung in cabarets and hoofed it on Broadway, earning Tonys for Chicago and Sweet Charity. Now she’s playing a ballet and tap teacher in this month’s movie remake of Fame. "I was pleased that they asked a real dancer to play a dancer, because boy, they don’t always do that," says Neuwirth, who is also set to star on Broadway next spring as Morticia to Nathan Lane’s Gomez in a musical based on the Addams Family cartoons.

Neuwirth exudes diamond-cut self-clarity, at least when it comes to her career. Hasn’t she ever struggled with uncertainty? "Um, that’s the rest of my life," she deadpans. But there, too, she has seen happy developments recently: She wed her second husband, winemaker Chris Calkins, in a Zen Buddhist ceremony in May. "It was funny to my friends that I was dating a vintner, because I never was attracted to alcohol," she says, adding that she was arrested at 13 for smoking pot. "Now I know what really good wine tastes like, and I love it."

For Neuwirth, who says she was "pretty much asleep" until she was 32, turning 50 had real weight to it. "I think we get more conscious as we get older," she says.

View a slideshow of Bebe in fall’s knockout neon fashions.

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