PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Aaron Tveit

News   PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Aaron Tveit
 
Aaron Tveit, so vivid as Gabe in Broadway's Next to Normal, is now prepping to play Roger in Rent at the Hollywood Bowl. Catch him if you can.
Aaron Tveit
Aaron Tveit

*

Rising star Aaron Tveit, who burst onto the Broadway scene by creating the role of Gabe (singing "I'm Alive") in Broadway's Next to Normal, left the show in early 2010, but counts his Big Song from the Pulitzer Prize-winning score as one of the three show tunes that has most thrilled him in his young career. Another favorite is "One Song Glory," which he got to sing when he went on as Roger in the non-Equity tour of Rent (another Pulitzer winner). He left college to do the show and never looked back. Tveit (rhymes with "eight," he says) was a replacement actor in Broadway's Wicked and Hairspray, and has appeared in regional theatre productions. (And, yes, that was him singing a mashup of "I'm Alive" and "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" with Stockard Channing on the 2009 Tony Awards.) The Middletown, NY, native is poised for greater exposure in 2011, when he'll be above the title in the new Broadway musical Catch Me If You Can, inspired by the film of the same name. He played the show's lost-boy con-man Frank Abagnale, Jr. in the 2009 Seattle tryout of the show. He spoke in the weeks leading up to the Aug. 6-8 Hollywood Bowl concert production of Rent, to be directed by Neil Patrick Harris. (For information, visit HollywoodBowl.com.)

I'd love to see this Rent that you're doing — outdoors at the Hollywood Bowl.
Aaron Tveit: I'm really excited. I think it's gonna be pretty fantastic, you know. I mean, the show is just so great, always, but I'm so excited to hear the music in the Hollywood Bowl. It's one of these venues — Paul McCartney was just there! It's this place that all these amazing people play. I can't wait. This is also gonna be my first outside [amphitheatre] venture, playing like this. I've only seen pictures of the Hollywood Bowl, I've never been inside, so I'm sure walking onstage when we start rehearsing onstage is gonna be quite a trip.

Have you acted in Rent before?
AT: I have, actually. Rent was my first professional job, ever. [Laughs]. I was cast in a national tour of it, one of the non-Eq tours, as Steve, who does the "Will I?" solo and Squeegee Man, and understudied Mark and Roger. I had only been going to theatre school for about a year when I got cast, and I went and did that for a year on the road. And I understudied these parts. I had literally only seen the show probably three years earlier, when I was in high school, and fell in love with it then. So it's such a trip and such an amazing thing that it was my first professional job and I have such a connection to it.

I went on as Roger a bunch during that time, and I was 19, 20 years old — doing this part that I had just seen on Broadway a couple years before. It was such an amazing good time, and then to have the opportunity to go back and look at it as a different person and a different actor. It's just a thrill. It's kind of, really, full circle. How did this gig come about? I wonder if Michael Greif — the original Rent director, as well as the director of Next to Normal — might have had something to do with it.
AT: You know, Michael didn't. He cast me in that Rent company years ago, but I became really good friends with Tim Weil, who's the music supervisor of Rent and he's actually music-directing this. And I met Neil Patrick Harris 'cause he hosted the Tony Awards last year, and he came and saw all the shows, and he was a big fan of Next to Normal. And at the Tonys, I had rehearsal and stuff and he was hosting, and then I think it just kinda came up. …I was just beyond thrilled that they were interested in me to do this. It was really thrilling.

You have a little bit of a clean-cut image. Is it fun getting a little edgy, a little downtown, or is there a part of Roger in you?
AT: You know, I think there is a part of Roger in me. I think that, sure, it's a little grittier than people have maybe seen me play, but I think that's the beauty of what we do. We get to transform ourselves and kind of shatter people's thinking of us. You have to kind of do that in every role anyway, but I think the guy is just a person struggling with regret, and I think all of us deal with that in some way in our lives. Maybe not to the extremes that he's having to deal with it, but I think if you can tap into that and connect to that in life, I think, for me, that may be the opening door to this character. So, yeah, I'm really excited to go a little darker and into these pits of despair than maybe people have seen before, so I think it'll be a really exciting challenge.

Tveit with Jennifer Damiano in Next to Normal
photo by Joan Marcus

It occurs to me that Rent and Next to Normal are kind of sister shows, in that they are rock shows and try to go deep — they do explore some darker sides of human experience. Did librettist-lyricist Brian Yorkey or Michael Greif, or even composer Tom Kitt, reference Rent when you explored Next to Normal?
AT: Really, it never came up in the process of finding out what Next to Normal was, or in describing the show. But I think a lot of connections have been made to [Rent] because it came at such a time where rock music really hadn't — I don't want to say "hadn't worked," but it changed the face of rock music on Broadway. And I think, naturally, because Next to Normal was such an amazing, raging rock show, that the connections were there. I think what you said about the deeper material and the human experience [is] really what [linked] the shows together. The thing that I find similar between two shows is the direct contact that both shows make with their audiences. We came across these kids that felt like they didn't have any avenue to express themselves in a way or to deal with, specifically, the material of Rent, in their own lives and in their hometowns, in smaller towns, and so they rallied around the show as kind of an outlet — to breathe a sigh of relief and say that it's O.K. to talk about this stuff, it's O.K. to experience this stuff. I didn't feel that again until I did Normal — then it became about mental illness, these people struggling with mental illness and how prevalent [it is] in our society and how people don't want to talk about it. They came to the show and they were able to say, "Yes. Thank you." Do you have a favorite moment when you're playing Roger? Do you have a favorite aspect or song?
AT: I've always said this — there have been a couple of [memorable] moments in my young career. Singing "I'm Alive" on stage, on Broadway, that was one, in Next to Normal; singing "Goodbye" in Catch Me If You Can, that's coming up, that's another one; and singing "One Song Glory" on stage, as a young actor — hearing that music and singing this amazing song that has so much meaning to it. I remember, every time I got to do it, it was hard not to hear something in the back of my head saying, "You're singing this song right now with a full rock band." And I look forward to the moment of getting to do that for 18,000 people at the Hollywood Bowl.

Where'd you grow up?
AT: I grew up about 60 miles northwest of New York, in Middletown, NY. It's in Orange County.

Did you come into the city to see theatre as a kid? Did your folks take you to the theatre?
AT: I did. I came a few times with my parents, but actually, [I also came with] different school groups that I was involved in. So, with my high school chorus, we saw at least a show a year, and as I got older, my sophomore, junior, senior year of high school, I came in with a bunch of different groups. And we saw 10 to 15 different shows… It was really kind of amazing to be so exposed to this. You know, I have friends from all over the country who have to fly in once a year and it's a big thing, and I was really so lucky to be exposed to it. And not only Broadway shows — ballet and opera and a lot of different abstract things, too, all the museums. So I really benefited from living so close to New York City. I still do, and I still go home all the time and get out of here. I can just jump on the train and get home, so I'm very, very lucky.

Did you know when you were a kid that you wanted to be an actor?
AT: I was very unsure about what I wanted to do in high school. It kind of just got solidified when I went away to college and, really, when I started working. I just realized that this was the only thing I could see myself doing… I didn't grow up a theatre kid, going to theatre camps. I played sports, and that was my main direction. But luckily, I never had to choose between sports and theatre.

And you do it all. You want to do plays and musicals. You're not just a musical actor.
AT: Oh, no, absolutely not. I relish the opportunity to do a play, and I've been very lucky the last couple years being successful in three different mediums — stuff from Broadway and television and film work. I really want that to continue. I'm not a person who's trying to jump to television or jump to movies and get out of theatre. I really hope that this crossover that I've been able to do will continue for the rest of my career. I want to do stuff here in New York, do plays and do musicals and I also want to be able to work in film. I hope that I can just have no boundaries. Wherever great stuff is, that's where I want to be.

Tveit in Catch Me If You Can
photo by Chris Bennion

What's next for Catch Me If You Can?
AT: We're kind of still waiting on specifics, but they announced a little while back that we're gonna start rehearsals [for Broadway] in January, and I think that's still on track. Just waiting for dates and a theatre, but we just had a reading a couple of weeks ago that was extremely successful. They've done some great work on the show. And your Next to Normal librettist, Brian Yorkey, is now working on it.
AT: Yes, Brian came in and did some work for the book, and he really did some fantastic, fantastic work. It was really great to be back in rehearsals with Brian. We were back in there and we said, "Wow, we've been in rehearsals about two-and-half years together, haven't we?"

Did you ever meet the real Frank Abagnale, Jr., the real-life main character of the story?
AT: I did, yeah. At a workshop of the show — it must have been in 2007, one of the workshops that we did — he came and watched one of our run-throughs. Meeting him was one of those incredible things. We were in one of those huge rehearsal studios near 42nd Street. You know, they're huge and there were probably 50 people in the room, but literally, when he walked in the room…you could not look at anybody else. He just has one of those presences, and he's not forcing it. He just has this aura around [him], and he just has this smile that lights up the room. We all went up to him, and he told us stories about all these things that had happened. He was just one of those people that you meet and you're like, "Wow." You can't believe that that's a real person. They're just larger than life in a way, and he was so awesome and generous to us.

What was the joy of playing that role in Seattle?
AT: Oh! It really is the role of a lifetime for a young, male theatre performer. There's just so much there. It's just something you dream about. … And it's with these amazing people, everyone at the top of their profession on the creative team — I mean, Jack [O'Brien] and Jerry [Mitchell] and Marc [Shaiman] and Scott [Wittman] and Terrence McNally. It's a dream to be working with people that are just so passionate, so talented, so down-to-earth and humble and brilliant. And being onstage with Norbert [Leo Butz] and all the rest of the people in the show, it's just — it's crazy to think about, that I got to do that and I'm gonna get to do it again.

Frank is something of a lost boy, isn't he? So he creates new identities for himself.
AT: Yes, he's a lost boy looking for a father. He's just a lost kid looking for somebody to tell him, "No," once in his life. [Laughs.] He's looking for somebody to say, "No, you can't do that," or just be a father for him. And that's what's amazing about the show — sure, there's this great score and there's gonna be great dance numbers…but the basis of it [is] just these two men. It's about a boy looking for a father and a man looking for a son. It's not necessarily about the family that we have, but the family that we choose.

Nobody writes muscular show music quite like Marc Shaiman. Does Frank get an 11 o'clock number? Do you get a big number at the end?
AT: Yeah, that's what I was saying before when I referenced doing "Goodbye" at the end of the show. I remember the first time I heard it, I was just like, "Wow!" It's just [an] unbelievable song and, I mean, singing that every night in Seattle was just — God, I get goose bumps right now thinking about it.

(Kenneth Jones is managing editor of Playbill.com. Write him at kjones@playbill.com.)

Aaron Tveit and dancers
Aaron Tveit and dancers
Today’s Most Popular News: