THE LEADING MEN: Arcelus and Morrison

The Leading Men   THE LEADING MEN: Arcelus and Morrison
 
It Might As Well Be Spring . . . If April showers bring what they are supposed to, it should be a beautiful May on Broadway, because it was a rather rain-soaked fourth month here in NYC. While you wait for those May flowers to bloom, check out a couple tête-à-têtes with Sebastian Arcelus of Wicked, and Matthew Morrison of the upcoming 10 Million Miles.
Sebastian Arcelus and Julia Murney in Wicked.
Sebastian Arcelus and Julia Murney in Wicked. Photo by Joan Marcus

THE MAN IN THE WHITE PANTS
Pressed for a tale of embarrassing backstage hijinks at Wicked, Sebastian Arcelus says, "We're not that dramatic. The only thing embarrassing for me is [wearing] those white pants every night." Everyone knows white is okay until after Labor Day, so nothing to be ashamed of (for now). Arcelus can be equally unashamed of having played bewitched love-interest Fiyero in Wicked's first national tour and currently on the Broadway stage. The one-time Williams College political science major (with a concentration on U.S. involvement in Latin America) is now wowing audiences of the Broadway blockbuster. He's not sure if he'll ever make it back to politics, but he claims watching "Meet the Press" is still a big part of his Sunday morning regimen. Time to turn the media spotlight on him.

Question:You've been Fiyero on tour and now on Broadway. Is there a difference in your Fiyeros?
Sebastian Arcelus: My approach is similar. What's different is the audiences. Because Wicked has become so popular, when you are bringing that show to people's hometowns, there is this sort of excitement in the air, like we've come to them, so they are very grateful. It is a really exciting energy on the road. Here in New York, it's a different sort of crowd, equally excited about the show — as you know the show is always sold out, which is a great way to go to work — but people are also checking out other shows while they are in town, so they are like, "Alright, show us what you got," which keeps you fresh and on your game.

Q:What is it like to be the romantic male lead in a show built around its ladies?
Arcelus: I do appreciate the fact that you're considering me a "Leading Man" in the column. It is definitely the ladies' show. First of all, it is exciting to be a part of a show that celebrates female power and strength and soul. That's the politically correct answer! [Laughs.] I can't complain — to be in the middle of these two loves is a great position to be in. It's a really rewarding role because I get to experience the show from two different perspectives through these two women, not to mention it is an absolute joy to work with Julia Murney [Elphaba] and Kendra Kassebaum [Glinda], who I've had the chance to work with on tour. We've brought our rapport into the show here. It's been fun to experience it from taking what we had on the road and adjusting it to here. But you know, David Garrison [The Wizard], Logan Lipton [Boq], Steve Skybell [Dr. Dillamond], and I, we represent! We have some male power in there, but it is certainly the ladies' show.

Q: How did you come to acting? Was it something always burning in you?
Arcelus: It really was. My big break was back in the third grade playing the third monkey in Horton Hears a Who. I was always singing in high school and college, doing plays and musicals. It was one of those things where I never let myself think I could have that as a career, and I did have this real interest in politics, so I was kind of torn between two worlds. It's kind of one of those cheesy, coming-of-age stories. The summer before my senior year in college I went with two of my buddies to Europe, and we spent our savings on a ten-week, ten-country backpacking trip, which, of course, was totally enlightening on so many different levels and cemented that creative and artistic pulse that was beating pretty hard in me. I came out of that thinking, "Let me just give it a shot." The first professional show I did out of college sealed the deal for me. Even though it was a tiny regional theatre, it was amazing to know I could do this as a career.

Q: Did your poli-sci background come in handy?
Arcelus: From a business perspective, I had to develop a book and learn a monologue. I wasn't coming to New York with a sort of reservoir of material, audition material. I had to go to the library and basically listen to every musical there ever was and sort of build up my knowledge of what was out there so I could then go forward. My business and political science training sort of helped in that regard because I was my own little business manager. Q: I understand you have a very large family…
Arcelus: Large and far-reaching. All over the globe! My dad is from Uruguay, and my mom's Italian. Despite the fact that there were a few marriages here and there — my dad actually is on his third marriage and my mom her second — my mom actually happened to marry two Uruguayan men, which is hilarious because I don't know anybody that even knows two Uruguayan men. So there are a lot of half brothers and sisters and stepbrothers as it goes around, but I grew up in New York with my two brothers from my mom's marriage to my father, and my stepfather. We have family in New York; Miami; Montevideo, Uruguay; and all over Europe.

Q: Does that make it tough satisfying ticket demands?
Arcelus: [Laughs.] You know, my stepdad, who is just now learning e-mail, is definitely taking the lead on that. He sends me an e-mail a day looking for tickets both for family and for business clients and such. It is a real treat when the family is all over the world as they are, when they do come to town and check out the show.

Q: Wicked is an incredible machine of success. Is it nice to follow a show that had, maybe, not as much…
Arcelus: Ahh. You're going there! [Laughs.]

Q: Good Vibrations. What do you take from that experience?
Arcelus: Good Vibrations was very positive in a lot of ways. On the surface, it's great to be able to follow up Good Vibrations with a massive blockbuster hit like Wicked, and job security is always wonderful for actors, but you know, I actually really enjoyed my experience with Good Vibrations. The thing with Vibrations is we, as a cast, always felt it was a little better than it was being given credit for, but at the same time, we knew what the problems were; we knew that the little time we were going to get to work on it we should really appreciate. It was something new and original. I'd been doing Rent for a couple years, and Good Vibrations afforded me the opportunity to spread my wings and try something new.

Q: Tell us about some of the work you do on cartoons.
Arcelus: It comes in waves. I do some bilingual cartoon work for "Dora the Explorer" and "Go Diego, Go!" which is great fun. They don't roll out new episodes all that much, so the work is here and there, but it's great to be able to work bilingually. I play Diego's father in "Go Diego, Go!" which is basically a rip-off of my stepdad. And, I play every animal you can imagine. I've sung birds; I've been underwater animals, whales, penguins, marching ants, bees. It's pretty fun to go in there and just sing some tunes. And you're reaching 2.5 million kids across the country. I do "Winx Club," which is an Italian-based cartoon that we're dubbing in English. It's a cross between Wicked and "Harry Potter" because it is a magic school for girls, so once again, I'm playing a token guy amidst this massive girl power.

Q: Any other side projects going on?
Arcelus: If you consider buying an apartment and getting married a side project. That's definitely on the docket for the next six months. Stephanie Block [currently starring in The Pirate Queen], is my fiancé. We are very happy, and life is good. Also, a fun thing that my two best friends from college and I have created and worked on is an interactive internet series that I am currently acting on with them. It's called "I," and it's located at youtube.com/ichannel. It's a show about a guy who wakes up and is magically and ironically part of a video blog against his own will, and it tracks his life as he is being watched. We've rolled out 15 episodes.

Q: Congratulations. Sounds like you have an amazing year ahead. Anything else to relate?
Arcelus: Just this story that ties together my family and Wicked. My dad: Uruguayan Latin American man, shirt open to his belly button, thick accent, no hair, the greatest guy ever. Thick Spanish accent. He lives in Miami, comes to see the show in Tampa with my stepmom. He'd never seen it. I don't think he'd ever seen "The Wizard of Oz" to be honest with you. After the show, we're at dinner and we're talking in English and Spanish, mostly Spanish. And 20 minutes into the conversation, we've been talking about the show and saying la verde and la rubia, which is "the green one" and "the blonde one." And my dad says, "Excuse me. Why do you keep talking about la verde?" And we're like, "It's the green one. Like the green witch." And he's like, "What? I do not understand." And I said, "The green one. She's green." And he kind of shrugs his shoulders and says, "I did not notice." And I said, "What do you mean you didn't notice? The whole show is about her being green!" And he's like, "I am colorblind." [Laughs.] I think he is probably the only person ever to watch Wicked and not realize that the green witch is actually green!

Q: Why did he think Elphaba was so ostracized?
Arcelus: You know what? He probably wasn't paying attention to anything except the fact that, "Why is my boy wearing those white pants for crying out loud?"

[Wicked plays the Gershwin Theatre, 222 West 51st Street. For tickets call (212) 307-4100.]

RETURN OF THE MATT
The All-American Road Trip has been the source material for many a film, but precious few musicals. The Atlantic Theater Company hits the road, so to speak, in a beat-up pick-up truck beginning May 11 when their new off-Broadway musical 10 Million Miles starts previews at the Linda Gross Theater. We caught up with Matthew Morrison, who'll star opposite Irene Molloy in the show that features songs by the wonderful Patty Griffin. Morrison's last musical turn on Broadway netted him a Tony nomination in A Light in the Piazza. Prior to that, he was the original Link Larkin in Hairspray.

Q: Can you give a sense of what 10 Million Miles is like?
Matthew Morrison: The way I feel like I can describe it is this musical is like the independent film of musicals. It's really raw and really honest. There are no flashy musical numbers to hide behind, and I feel like we're touching on issues that aren't commonplace in musical theatre. It is exciting to be in a musical but not be an overly animated person. [In] a lot of musicals, the couple gets together towards the end of the play, and they get married or something. Our love story starts from lights up, and we go through a lot of [stuff]. You really get to pick sides as to who you are rooting for.

Question: How'd you get involved in the show?
Morrison: I was looking for something to come back to that would be exciting and challenging, and this was definitely it. It is so nice to be in a rehearsal room, really getting to work with actors, instead of going on set and seeing what happens in a TV gig.

Q: Is it fun working with such a small cast?
Morrison: Yeah! Especially because we get along so well. There are only four of us, so it's kind of like the bonds get tighter, and it's exciting.

Q: Do you feel pressure being one of so few onstage?
Morrison: I do in a sense! This is also the first part I've done where I don't have anything to fall back on. Sometimes I've been the lead in shows, but more often secondary leads, so this is about me and this girl, and we're kind of running the whole show.

Q: What can one expect from Patty Griffin's songs?
Morrison: The music really stands on its own in this show. I mean, Keith Bunin wrote a great book for it. I was never a big Patty Griffin fan — I'd never actually heard of her before I did the first reading of this musical last year, and we all went as a cast last week to see her perform at the Beacon Theater, and it was just so inspiring. Her lyrics are just out of this world, and it is just really honest and truthful and real. It's a different kind of thing for me too because I never really sang kind of "folk" before, so I always enjoy going off. I had to learn how to sing opera, kind of, for A Light in the Piazza. So this is another cool thing to try. Q: What about your co-star, Irene Molloy?
Morrison: She is going to blow everyone's socks off. She is so talented. I didn't know her before this, but my agent was like, "Oh my gosh, you should have seen this girl in The Civil War." She's really, really talented. She's been away from theatre for awhile doing her own music. This is right up her alley, and Mare [Winningham, who plays The Women] — working with her is fantastic. And Skipp [Sudduth, who plays The Men]. I'm very lucky, very lucky.

Q: Have you ever gone on a road trip?
Morrison: Just a couple years ago I took a road trip with my dad. I was going to L.A., and he just decided to come to New York. It was right after I did Hairspray, and we rented a car here and just went the southern route. We went through New Orleans before everything happened there with Katrina. It was a great bonding experience. It's also that thing where you can talk to someone, but you don't really have to look at them. There's something about that. You start saying a lot of stuff.

Q: What drew you to the acting profession?
Morrison: I went to Arizona for a summer in fifth grade. My aunt and my grandma kind of didn't want to deal with me and my cousin for the summer, so they threw us in this little children's theatre production, and I ended up loving it and had a good time and came home to southern California and told my parents I wanted to do more of it. I always wanted to be a soccer player when I was growing up. That was going to be what I was going to do.

Q: There's still time!
Morrison: No, I don't think so. [Laughs.] Oh man, I've kind of given up on that idea. I played with a lot of the guys who are on the Olympic team right now, so it is exciting to watch them and think where I could have been right now. I'm happy with the choice I've made though.

Q: Are you the sort of actor who takes roles as they come or looks to build a career?
Morrison: I completely am all about building a career. I started out as a chorus boy, a dancer. And then Hairspray was kind of my big break, and I had a lot of opportunities afterwards to do replacements and everything, but I'm really all about originating new works. There's nothing more exciting. If there was ever a financial problem where I was really struggling, I might consider replacing someone in a show, but right now I'm just having so much freedom and growth as an actor being able to become this character with no one to hold my hand into it and just explore it all on my own.

Q: How was the Piazza Tony experience? Completely surreal?
Morrison: It was really surreal. It was always a goal of mine to be nominated. Actually, it is always a goal of mine, and has been, to win a Tony. I'm really actually happy I didn't win because I felt like it would have come too easily. I still have that hunger and that drive to really feel like I have to prove myself.

[10 Million Miles will begin previews at the Atlantic Theater Company at The Linda Gross Theater, 336 W. 20th Street, May 11. For tickets visit www.atlantictheater.com.]

HITHER AND YON
Cellist to the Broadway stars, Peter Sachon, currently in the orchestra of Legally Blonde, has, over recent years, commissioned the work of dozens of Broadway composers, challenging them to write songs specifically for the cello. Further results of this fresh idea can be heard at Sachon's Cello Project III on May 17 at 7 PM at the Leonard Nimoy Thalia at Peter Norton Symphony Space (2537 Broadway at 95th Street). Cello Projects I and II featured pieces by Stephen Flaherty, Michael John La Chiusa, and Stephen Schwartz. CP III features works by Schwartz, Michael Arden, Maury Yeston and others. . . . Christopher Scott, who once played The Boy in over 1,000 performances of The Fantasticks, is directing Sprang Thang for Amas Musical Theatre Academy at the Players Theatre, 115 MacDougal Street from May 11-20. . . . Peter Gallagher is heading back to the OC: The Ol' Cabaret, from May 15-June 2 at Feinstein's at the Regency. See www.feinsteinsattheregency.com for more information. . . . Kudos to one of the great voices and a guy who knows how to sell a showtune, Jack Jones, celebrating 50 years in show business this year. He was honored in southern California on April 16 for his contributions on behalf of multiple sclerosis (www.jackjones.org).

Tom Nondorf is a publications editor for Playbill Classic Arts. He can be reached by e-mail at tnondorf@playbill.com.

Matthew Morrison
Matthew Morrison
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