PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Norm Lewis

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Actor Norm Lewis has been laying down the law a lot lately.
Norm Lewis in The Little Mermaid.
Norm Lewis in The Little Mermaid. Photo by Joan Marcus

In the recent Broadway resurrection of Les Miserables, he played Inspector Javert, tracking down bread-thief Jean Valjean across the years with undying zeal. In his new show, the Disney extravaganza The Little Mermaid, his is King Triton, the underwater ruler whose word is law to all watery creatures. It's the latest musical for a man who made a career as a Broadway music man, beginning with The Who's Tommy, and continuing through such shows as Chicago, Amour, Side Show and The Wild Party. Lewis talked to Playbill.com about the Life Aquatic and the Life Theatrical.

Playbill.com: So, as an actor, how do you bring the proper size to a role like Triton? He is the lord of the sea, after all.
Norm Lewis: (Laughs) How do I bring the size to this? Well, it's easy working for Disney. They kind of go into that mode of heightened reality. Basically, that's what I do. I try to see the audience as part of my kingdom, especially at the beginning. Without making them less than who they are, I try to make myself bigger. I make myself a ruler of the stage and of the audience.

Playbill.com: Have there been any changes in the physical production?
NL: We had a different ending in Denver than we do now. We tried to make that work. The other ending was interesting, but it just didn't gel right. And once we saw how it didn't work through our time off after Denver, we did a lot of work, really touching on the heart and soul of the father-daughter situation, which they wanted to promote a little bit more. It's very heartwarming.

Playbill.com: Is it a very different experience working for a Disney production than it is working for another Broadway production?
NL: Yeah. There is more attention to detail, and I think that is probably why Disney is who they are. They are so involved in every little bit of production. [Disney Theatricals president] Tom Schumacher was there in Denver, and he's there now. He's very hands-on, so we can go to him and ask him questions and tell him our concerns. It was great to have that sort of input. We had meetings with him at dinner and drinks and could say "Well, at least consider this…"

Playbill.com: You're playing opposite Sherie Rene Scott, who plays sea witch Ursula. You two worked on Tommy way back when.
NL: Yes, that was our first show, both of us. We get to play brother and sister now. That Tommy cast was very close. Like any friendship, you have people go away from time to time, you get busy. But over the years, we've seen each other a lot, because she and her husband have their record company, Sh-k-Boom!, and I've been in a couple of shows where they've produced the cast album. Playbill.com: You have a wonderful voice. Have you had vocal training?
NL: I grew up in the church, I sang in church. I didn't know I really had a voice. I just did it because I had friends in the choir. Over the years, I started getting more involved in the choir in high school and college, but business was always my background and I worked in advertising for five years down in Florida. I didn't really start taking vocals lessons until I moved to New York. I think my biggest vocal coaching is just being in so many different shows and being around people who are so gifted.

Playbill.com: Do you have any interest in appearing in a non-musical play?
NL: Absolutely. I tell people that all the time. I'm dying to do a play. I guess because of my singing, a lot of the opportunities that come up are more for musicals than plays. After the next couple years, I would love to be in a play on Broadway, a really good play. I love comedy, I love drama. It could be anything. My friend, Michael Cerveris, he goes back and forth. He's someone I totally admire. I want to be part of that fraternity.

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