THE LEADING MEN: Bashoff, Bowen and Lopez

The Leading Men   THE LEADING MEN: Bashoff, Bowen and Lopez
 
It's that time of year when there's a good deal of coming and going on the Broadway stages of midtown Manhattan. A Chorus Line may be ending its run Aug. 17, but Mario Lopez is enjoying his time "stepping up to the line," as the posters say. Young Blake Bashoff is exiting Spring Awakening but only to head out on the national tour. And, [title of show] arrives on Broadway as the first musical of the new season, leaving co-star/co-creator Jeff Bowen pleased as proverbial punch.
Blake Bashoff in Spring Awakening.
Blake Bashoff in Spring Awakening. Photo by Joan Marcus

Blake on Broadway and Beyond
Moritz is hitting the highway. Blake Bashoff and his pal Melchior (Kyle Riabko) will be taking their roles on the road with the Spring Awakening national tour beginning in mid-August. The rest of America, beginning with San Diego, is in for a treat because they are both individually and in tandem continuing to capture and refine the spirit of the characters created by John Gallagher Jr. and Jonathan Groff. No easy feat. Bashoff, who has been acting since he was a child, came to Broadway a stage newcomer, fresh out of TV phenomenon "Lost," where — SPOILER ALERT— his character had a violent death at the hands of some mercenaries. Normally this would be a bad thing, but this demise dovetailed perfectly with a chance for Bashoff to join the cast of Spring and face the twin specters of repression and death on a nightly basis as Moritz.

Question: Congratulations on heading out on tour.
Blake Bashoff: Yes, it's finally official. I'm really excited. When I first auditioned at the end of October 2007, it was actually for the national tour or for the Broadway replacements. Then John Gallagher Jr. departed, and they were in need of a Moritz, and so I feel really lucky that I got to do these six or seven months on Broadway leading up to the tour. I'm excited because I'm from Los Angeles and the world of film and TV, so to be able to do it at home for six weeks in front of the film and TV industry is really exciting to me.

Q: This show is your first big-time theatrical experience, yes?
Bashoff: Yes, in fact, I sort of passed on the opportunity when it first came to my agent and manager because I felt like it was so far out of my comfort zone, but it ended up being a really great thing. I just needed a kick in the ass.

Q: Was it a big adjustment coming from TV to your Broadway debut?
Bashoff: I had no preconceptions. I knew going into the show, to replace a Tony Award winner is pretty daunting and intimidating, but luckily the cast is and was amazingly supportive from the get-go. It was a totally different ballgame for me. I remember from the first day of rehearsals I'd go onstage and notice that everyone around me had their props and their costumes on and I was like, "Oh! So we do that ourselves here!" Because, you know, in film and television there is somebody else responsible for everything.

Q: You mentioned replacing the acclaimed Gallagher. Did a part of you get caught up in the idea of, "Hey, I better bring something different to this"?
Bashoff: Absolutely, because he was so brilliant in his own way, and he was so specifically and uniquely him. So it was more about going back to the original source and re-creating from scratch rather than replacing. Luckily, the creative team was very open to me putting my spin on it, and of course I wanted to be true to the Moritz and the essence that Gallagher created because it's just so great, but also putting my own stamp on it. That's been a challenge but also really satisfying and exciting, too. When I entered the Broadway production, it was already an existing machine, which is a different ballgame from the tour, being able to create something new and organic from scratch with people who are just starting, so I am looking forward to that as well. Q: Did you consciously work to bring more humor to Moritz?
Bashoff: Well, I think Gallagher is innately a rock star, and I'm not. So just naturally he's a bit more rock star-ish and intense. It wasn't a conscious choice. I think there's humor on the page, and when you bring it to life, it just sort of lives there. It wasn't intentional — it's become this accidental great thing.

Q: What would you tell a friend of yours from L.A. about Broadway if they were thinking of coming out east to work onstage?
Bashoff: The hardest part, I would tell people, is the schedule. It's grueling, it's demanding. Film and TV, you have breaks here and there, you work, you go back to your trailer, but this is a grueling schedule, . . . and if you love it, it's really rewarding.

Q: So while you are doing the Broadway show, you have to be rehearsing with the tour cast as well?
Bashoff: Yeah, it's going to be intense. It's going to be almost a month of double duty. I'll pace myself, and I don't think I'll be needed every day because of Moritz's character track, but I am looking forward to spending my days rehearsing for the tour and my nights on Broadway. It's fun [laughs] and exhausting. I don't now how I'll feel.

Q: Do you get asked a lot about what is going on on "Lost"?
Bashoff: It's crazy how many questions I get! I always knew it was a worldwide phenomenon, but it's pretty intense how many die-hard fans there are.

Q: Of course, now I have to ask you if your character is really dead.
Bashoff: Well, it's "Lost," so, who knows? I mean, [the "Lost" producers] were really accommodating with Spring Awakening and vice-versa, because when I first started, I was here for two weeks rehearsing. I went to Hawaii for two weeks to film the death episode, then I came back and actually gained a week of rehearsals because of the stagehands strike. But if "Lost" needs me or wants me, I'm there; and it's "Lost," so hopefully there will be some flashbacks before the end of the series. I would love to return in some capacity.

Q: It is wild that you have been part of a phenomenon-type of TV show and now this musical with its own dedicated followers.
Bashoff: I know. It's really amazing. The fans of both are just really committed and impressive, and it's all for them. It's the people that we do this and for and our love of the craft, and luckily we have very amazing and supportive fans whose lives you touch through art. What's better than that?

[Spring Awakening is playing the Eugene O'Neill Theatre. Tickets are available by calling (212) 239-6200 or by visiting www.TeleCharge.com. The Eugene O'Neill Theatre is located at 230 West 49th Street in Manhattan. For information on tour dates and cities, go to springawakening.com.]

[title of Jeff Bowen interview]
With the self-referential and meta nature of [title of show], the temptation is to write an interview with the songwriter/lyricist/co-star Jeff Bowen in the style in which the show was written. That would mean an interview about an interview about an interview. But heck, Bowen's been spending his life in that mode since the show began Off-Broadway (it arrives on Broadway July 5 at the Lyceum). I gave him a break and just chatted like normal folk. It was expedient, if far less clever than the infinitely clever [title].

Question: Are you extremely excited about [title of show] opening on Broadway?
Jeff Bowen: This is so beyond the gold medal for us. The fact that we got into the New York Musical Theatre Festival and got to do the show that we created with our friends was like winning, so everything beyond that has just been an adventure, the fun adventure of new things. We all have felt successful for a long time now. This doesn't necessarily feel like, "Now, we finally did it. Now we're successful." We've always had this feeling of contentment and happiness, so it's great — it's just another layer of icing on the cake for us. It's delicious icing, God knows.

Jeff Bowen (seated) with [title of show] co-creator Hunter Bell
photo by Carol Rosegg

Q: Does it blow your mind to have taken this idea so far?
Bowen: On one side it is kind of mind-boggling, but on the other it kind of makes sense because the journey sort of dictated where the show wanted to go, so there is a part of me that feels like it is sort of a natural progression to have the show try to make its way to the Great White Way. There's something fun about that. But yeah, as far as meta goes, it is pretty amazing that it has indeed followed this journey. Q: How did you and your co-star and collaborator Hunter Bell get together?
Bowen: Hunter and I met as actors in 1995 doing a production of Good News in Virginia Beach, Virginia. I was in the chorus, and he was one of the big equity stars. We became friends. We didn't really start collaborating as writers till about five or six years after that. We started working with Susan Blackwell who is in the show. I was working for a talent management company, and she was one of their clients, and I started writing music for her boyfriend, who is now her husband. He was doing Blue Man Group at the time, and I got involved doing music for this downtown art scene, P.S. 122, Dixon Place and that kind of avant-garde world. All of us really liked each other and became close friends and were very creative. We loved to write, and from that collaboration, we got the email about the New York Musical Theatre Festival, and [title of show] was born in the midst of that.

Q: Can folks who saw the Off-Broadway production expect a lot of changes?
Bowen: Not a lot of changes, but it is hard to tell. Because I'm so up inside of it, it's kind of like you don't notice your puppy growing up — you're watching it grow up every day. I'm sure there is evolution there, I'm just not sure how much or how little or how the outside world will perceive it.

Q: You studied theatre and music at Stetson University in Florida. What was your very first foray into show business?
Bowen: When I was in middle school, the school was throwing a party for the cafeteria ladies, and at the time, I was doing Ed Grimley impersonations because I was really into Martin Short, and somehow the librarian knew that I did this, and they asked if I would come and do an Ed Grimley sketch for these women. I did it, and they laughed, and that was it. I was like, "Performing's fun! People laugh at you." Q: Who are your influences as a songwriter?
Bowen: My dad is a guitarist, and I was raised listening mostly to fifties and sixties pop, a lot of Elvis, a lot of Ricky Nelson. Most of my influences at a very young age came from the pop music world. My parents weren't into musical theatre. We didn't have any cast albums when I was growing up. I didn't really get into that till I was in high school. Then I developed a deep passion for musicals.

Q: Who is the coolest person you've gotten to meet because of the show?
Bowen: We get to meet a lot of great people. I think that what's been really interesting is that some people have kind of become peers. Like when I was in high school I was obsessed with Joanna Gleason because Into the Woods was happening. In a roundabout way, because my boyfriend was doing The Light in the Piazza with her husband, they came to see [title of show] at the Vineyard. Two years later, I'm getting emails from Joanna trying to set up a game night at her house. If I'd have known in high school that I'd be trying to plan a game night with Joanna Gleason, I couldn't imagine what journey I'd have to take to get to this day. Those kind of opportunities have been crazy, like we were backstage at the Drama Desk, and Patti LuPone came up to Hunter and I and introduced herself to us. She actually approached us and said, "Hi, Jeff and Hunter, I'm Patti LuPone." And that was crazy. We were like, "This happened all wrong. We were supposed to meet you, not you meet us."

Q: [title of show] has been embraced by young people. How did that come about?
Bowen: Somewhere along the line — I think it was before the end of the Vineyard run — we started realizing that the show was really speaking to high school and college students because they were at that time in their lives where they were trying to figure out how to take risks, how to be themselves, how to define what their art is —especially young people trying to be writers. And, we were getting this fan mail, these letters from people who were moved and inspired and supportive and believing. That stuff was blowing our minds. This very specific world we'd created was reaching out to these people in a way that we didn't know would happen. By inspiring them, they continue to inspire us. The inspiration chain we call it.

[[title of show] opens at the Lyceum Theatre (149 West 45th Street) on July 17. Previews begin July 5. Tickets are available by calling (212) 239-6200 or by visiting www.TeleCharge.com. Also check out the "[title of show] show" on youtube for further Broadway insider meta-hijinks.]

Mario Lopez in rehearsal
photo by Aubrey Reuben

The Music and the Mario
Mario Lopez: tabloid figure, fitness-book author, dance-show contestant and host, People Magazine's hottest bachelor, and Broadway actor. Not in that order, he would tell you. A Chorus Line, which will play its final performance at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre Aug. 17, currently features Lopez in the role of Zach. As Zach, Lopez has gone from being judged on "Dancing With the Stars" to playing one of the ultimate arbiters of talent in Broadway history. "Pretty ironic," he admits. Lopez is having so much fun in the role, he's trying to figure out a way to stay here. "I'm not in any hurry to get back to L.A.," he says. "It's such an honor to be in such an iconic play. It's unbelievable. I love New York, too." Q: I was curious about that. You are a West Coast kind of fellow. Has it been crazy adjusting to East Coast life?
Lopez: I'm totally West Coast, but yeah, it's a trip. I thought that it would be. I was a little reluctant just because I've been on the West Coast my whole life, but once I got here, I realized New Yorkers get a bad rap as far as with the attitude and everything. Everybody's really cool, and I find people down-to-earth. It's just the best city in the world. So many places to eat. It's always alive, so I love it. I hope to stick around.

Q: How helpful and supportive was everyone in the show when you came on board in April?
Lopez: I walked in, and I said to them, "Listen, honestly, I've seen the show. You guys are extremely talented. I'm honored to be here. I have nothing but respect for you, and I hope I earn your respect, and please, any suggestions you have, shout 'em out. I'm going to try real hard not to suck." So they were very helpful. Very cool, really.

Q: Did the creative team change the show for you at all?
Lopez: They incorporated a lot more stuff. I get to dance more, and I have a scene where I go back on stage, so they really changed it around for me, which I'm honored about. I try to mix it up and have fun out there. I can't do too much improvising because they get mad at me, but the cast is great. I couldn't ask for a better cast.

Q: Was coming to Broadway something always in the back of your mind that you wanted to do?
Lopez: Yeah, I think it's something that every actor always dreams of, but obviously it doesn't always become a reality. I'm really glad it became one for me. I think it's a great show that I got to dive into. I get to dance, sing a little, act, the whole thing.

Q: Do you think there's been a dance renaissance lately, with the TV dance shows you've been involved with and others you haven't?
Lopez: Yes, a total dance renaissance, which is great, because dance was kind of dead for a little while, and now that it's back, it's back in a big way, and I love it.

Q: Could you relate to this show in terms of a Chorus Line-type moment you had auditioning for something in your younger days?
Lopez: I think everyone can relate. I don't think you necessarily have to be in the business. Anyone who has ever had to compete for anything can relate. The rejection, putting yourself on the line… In the audience, you see kids, you see people from every walk of life, and it has had impact on everyone who comes to see it.

Q: What message do you hope people take from the show?
Lopez: I think the message is you go for your dreams and not to be cheated. You leave it all on the table, and you have to be passionate about what you want to do with your life, and if it works out, great, and if it doesn't, you have no regrets. The more vulnerable and open you are, the more the process is therapeutic. Whether it works out or not, you're going to be a better person at the end of the day, or a stronger person, if anything.

Q: People named you "Hottest Bachelor." What does one do with such an honor?
Lopez: It's funny. I laughed. I was like, "Who got sick, or who canceled?" [Laughs]. But you know, I'm flattered by that. It's funny because I'm so busy I don't have any time to do anything about it, but I guess that's why I'm going to continue being a bachelor.

[A Chorus Line is playing the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre. Tickets are available by calling (212) 239-6200 or by visiting www.TeleCharge.com. The Schoenfeld Theatre is located at 236 West 45th Street in Manhattan.]

HITHER AND YON
Anyone with more than a passing interest in the American tragedy that was the life of Montgomery Clift will savor Omar Prince's magnetic balance of extreme self-pity with the charm that made Clift a star in John Lisbon Wood's one man show, The Rarest of Birds. It has precious few more performances at Wings Theatre (July 1, 2 and 4 at 8 PM), but hopefully it will be given a further opportunity to shine. Wings Theatre is located at 154 Christopher Street. Call (212) 627-2961 for reservations. . . . On July 14 at 7 PM, Birdland features the songs of David Green in Mr. Green's Opus. Matthew Morrison, Sebastian Arcelus (and lovely wife Stephanie J. Block) are among those who will be singing. . . . Sam Harris will be at Birdland July 30-Aug. 2, performing songs from his new CD, and, one can hope, "Sugar Don't Bite" as well. Go to www.birdlandjazz.com for more details on these shows. . . . Remember in a more golden era for both Broadway and recorded music when albums would be released of instrumental music of the whole score of a Broadway show? "The Hollyridge Strings Perform the Songs from Skyscraper," for instance. Shoot me an email and let me know your favorite such LP. Will discuss next time. That is it for July. Whew!

Tom Nondorf can be reached at tnondorf@playbill.com

Mario Lopez in <i>A Chorus Line.</i>
Mario Lopez in A Chorus Line. Photo by Paul Kolnik
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