PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With David Hyde Pierce

News   PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With David Hyde Pierce
 
All the critics admired David Hyde Pierce's performance in the John Kander-Fred Ebb-Rupert Holmes musical Curtains, but no one thought he was going to win a Tony Award for it. Not even Hyde Pierce.

Tony winner David Hyde Pierce
Tony winner David Hyde Pierce Photo by Aubrey Reuben

The "Frasier" actor's victory on Tony night came a shock, and secured the show its only Tony win. It also capped Hyde Pierce's return to the stage in a big way. He began his career in New York, executing comic and dramatic turns in plays like Christopher Durang's Beyond Therapy, Richard Greenberg's The Maderati and The Author's Voice, and Jules Feiffer's's Elliot Loves. The success of "Frasier" took him to Hollywood for 11 years, ending in 2004, when the series ended. It wasn't long after when Mike Nichols drafted him as one of the stars of the mammothly successful Spamalot — Hyde Pierce's first musical. He thought at the time that such a credit would be hard to top. Now, of course, he'll have to worry about how to top Curtains. Hyde Pierce talked to Playbill.com about his Tony triumph and his new, unexpected career as a musical comedy leading man.

Playbill.com: Your winning the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical was the major upset of this year's ceremony. You must have been surprised, since you yourself predicted in print that Raul Esparza of Company would win the prize.
David Hyde Piece: (Deadpan) I was surprised, but I was not upset. I was surprised that I got it, and I was surprised by what it meant to me.

Playbill.com: Yes. Reports from backstage in the Tony press room said you were quite emotional over the win.
DHP: Unexpectedly so, only because I've been up for a lot of awards in my career, and gotten them and not gotten them, and never experienced that kind of emotion. I think it is a combination of how much I didn't expect it, how much I care about the show and, I think, how much the theatre means to me, which is something I thought I knew, but I guess I didn't realize how much.

Playbill.com: I saw some of your early performances on the New York stage —
DHP: My God, you're old.

Playbill.com: Thank you very much. Anyway, you were mainly in plays back then in the '80s.
DHP: I was only in plays. I never did a musical in New York. Playbill.com: Then, of course, you did Spamalot, which was a musical. But I have to say that when I saw you in Curtains I was struck by the musical-comedy skills you seem to possess. You seem like and out-and-out song-and-dance man.
DHP: That's very kind of you to say. But that's an illusion. Fortunately, it's an illusion created not just by me, but by everyone on the show. Not only did I work on my own with coaches before the show, but our choreographer Rob Ashford and his assistants, and our musical director David Loud, and everyone in the show — they really stepped in and helped me. There's a lot about being on the stage that I do know. But being a song-and-dance man is very new to me. Spamalot was a big step for me, but still that was a context and kind of singing and dancing. It wasn't as scary for me. This is the show where I actually have to dance like a dancer and sing like a Broadway singer. If we fool people in that, then a lot of people get the credit besides me. (Laughs)

Playbill.com: Before Spamalot, had you had occasion to use your voice from time to time?
DHP: Yes. When I went to college, I did some Gilbert and Sullivan. When I was out in L.A., I did Boys From Syracuse at Reprise! That was a place where I definitely got bitten by the bug and thought, "Gee, this is fun." But also, "Ooh. I really need to work on this." Jason Graae and I played the twin slaves. We had a duet. Jason has a fantastic voice. The song struck very high in my range. It was through the intervention of the fates and a very good sound system that I was remotely able to do that. I thought, "I don't want to do musicals this way. I want to be able to really sing." That's when I vigorously pursued my voice lessons with my coach in L.A. His name is Calvin Remsberg. He took me from absolutely no vocal training to being able to sing eight shows a week comfortably without hurting my voice.

Playbill.com: Now that you've had two musical successes in a row, do you want to do more of this?
DHP: Time to retire. The funny thing is, after Spamalot, I remember having a conversation with [co-star] Hank [Azaria], saying "Man, this was our first musical. How do we follow this?" Hank said, very rightly, that Spamalot is not your ordinary musical. That was a very particular kind of event.

Playbill.com: How long are you in the show?
DHP: Right now, my contract is through the end of February. After that we'll have to see. A lot of it has to do with physical therapy.

Playbill.com: Uh, is that a joke?
DHP: It's both a joke and it's the truth. Doing eight shows a week at 48 — I positively should have started doing musicals at a younger age.

Playbill.com: What is your favorite part of the show? Is it the big fantasy number, "A Tough Act to Follow," where you and Jill Paice dance like Fred and Ginger?
DHP: I would have to say so, because it's such a new thing for me, and because Rob Ashford created what I consider to be one of the greatest dances on Broadway for me and Jill and the ensemble. And also what it does to an audience. This is a show where people frequently say, "Oh, it's fun" or "You can sing the tunes" or "It's light" or "It's old-fashioned" or whatever. That number, for some reason, makes people not only enthusiastic and happy, but they are moved by it. There's something they tap into, whether it's the amateur guys yearned to be up there onstage; or that kind of dancing, which you don't see that often. Whatever the combination of elements is, it makes it more than just a fun show. It touches people.

David Hyde Pierce (center) with Karen Ziemba, Debra Monk, Michael McCormick, and Edward Hibbert in <i>Curtains</i>.
David Hyde Pierce (center) with Karen Ziemba, Debra Monk, Michael McCormick, and Edward Hibbert in Curtains. Joan Marcus
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