Putting It Together
A week into the run of Sunday in the Park with George, Daniel Evans is just learning how to pace himself, emotionally and physically for the demanding title role in the Stephen Sondheim-James Lapine musical. Though he has performed the show before, garnering great acclaim in London, he says every venue and production has its own challenges, but the challenge of Sunday — which he likens to a "big jigsaw puzzle" — is one he wouldn't trade for all the dots in a Seurat.
Question: So what are you up to for the next couple of months?
Daniel Evans: [Laughs.] Ah, just eight shows a week.
Q: Are you grateful to finally be up and running with Sunday?
Evans: Oh, I can't tell you how relieved I am. I haven't read the reviews, but people tell me they're okay, and that's nice to know as well. We're just getting on with doing the show and having our days free, which is really nice.
Q: Are you someone who likes doing the show more than rehearsing?
Evans: I actually like both, but what was different here from how we do things back home is you have this really extended preview period. We did 32 previews. In London, you're lucky if you get seven. The last week of previews here, all the critics come, while in London they all come on one night. It was a long time of suspense.
Q: You appeared once before on Broadway in A Midsummer Night's Dream. How do you compare your experience now versus then?
Evans: So much scarier now. So much scarier. The last time I was here, the only time I was here, I was here with the Royal Shakespeare Company, something that properly, us Brits feel quite territorial about because Shakespeare, we consider ours. But coming with a musical theatre piece… You guys invented the musical theatre. And, a piece that was written by two New Yorkers and was originally created here…It was nerve-wracking. Probably the scariest thing I've ever done in my life. But probably also the most exciting thing! And getting to play this part that was created by Mandy Patinkin, such a vocal gymnast and someone I admire so much. The show has a lot to live up to because the original production was so iconic. Q: With this production it's not like you just have to know your lines and lyrics. There are a lot of technical things required of you as well.
Evans: That's like half of it for me, being in the right place. Especially in something like "Putting it Together" where I have to interact with projected images of myself and have to pour myself a glass of champagne at exactly the right height and get the nozzle of the bottle in just the right amount. It's very, very technical. Even in Act One, when I'm painting in the second number, "Color and Light," painting to music! It's a really, really, technical show, yeah, but I love that.
Q: What happens in the event that they use your understudy? What do they do with the video-projected images of you?
Evans: We filmed it with my understudy. We did it the same day, and all that gets changed is the digital file for that night.
Q: Has it been difficult to balance those technical aspects with the emotional ones?
Evans: The thing that's great about that [is] that exact feeling of balancing those two things is exactly what the character is going through at that time. Second-Act George knows he has to behave a certain way and not let his guard down at any time, so he has to remember to move things, to be in the right place at the right time, say the right thing, get the right person to give him a commission. At the same time, he probably feels like, "Oh my God, how am I going to keep it up?" It's a sort of weird parallel where art really does imitate life in that scene.
Q: You mentioned territoriality with Shakespeare. Of course, there is a lot of that with Stephen Sondheim as well. The die-hard Sondheim people out there — did you have to come to terms with them at all?
Evans: I understand feeling territorial, and indeed, I feel territorial about this piece, especially, this production because I've been with it since the beginning, and I feel that when you originate the part, even if it's in a revival, you do get to feel very territorial about it. The thing about mad Sondheim fans, or mad anything fans really, is you can only listen so much to [them], and especially coming to this town to do this piece, which made two iconic actors very famous and vice-versa. They made the piece very famous: Mandy and Bernadette. It's obviously going to inevitably invite huge comparisons with them, and if I think for a moment that I am trying to compete with Mandy Patinkin or am somehow going to live up to him, it makes me so nervous that I sort of lose my bottle, really. I have to just think, we're doing a new version. In rehearsals, we have this mantra that we have to behave like this piece has never been done before.
Q: You had worked closely with Sondheim on Merrily We Roll Along in the past, yes?
Evans: That's right. He came over to London to work with us on [Merrily] previews, and indeed he came over to work with us on Sunday in the Park, too, and again here. When he was here, he filtered some notes through our director [Sam Buntrock]. It's a very privileged position to be in. I always feel that working with living writers, especially when you admire their work so much, it doesn't get any better than that.
Q: What performers inspired you before you had your first big break?
Evans: When I was younger, my favorite actors were Mark Rylance and Ian McKellen, two very different actors. In fact, I got to work with Ian McKellen about 20 years later, which was really amazing. I remember seeing Mark Rylance as Hamlet, and he spent most of the play in his pajamas, and did a "moonie" at one point. He showed his mother his bum. I know that made a really deep, deep impression on me.
Q: What was it like working with McKellen?
Evans: Oh gosh, he's so naughty. He's such a generous man. He's one of my friends now. I'm privileged to call him one of my friends. I couldn't get over it. I was Peter Pan, he was Captain Hook, and you're sort of pinching yourself every day, and it takes you awhile to get rid of your feelings of being stage struck — that he's just a guy like you're a guy, he's an actor like you're an actor. Because you just think that he's an icon. But he's so generous and so cheeky, and his sense of humor is so naughty.
Q: The Welsh are known for their singing. Did you come out of the womb with a song on your lips?
Evans: [Laughs.] I always sang in choirs and stuff at school, but I trained as a classical theatre actor. I never ever thought that I would be doing musicals, and I've only done four, ever. But I was asked to audition for a production of Candide at the National Theatre in London, which Trevor Nunn and John Caird were putting on. They gave me the part, and they gave me singing lessons, and I discovered I'm a tenor, and I found that I absolutely love singing. I was a huge fan of Sondheim even before then but never thought I'd get to do this stuff and especially never thought that I'd get to play George. It's kind of strange to me that I've ended up singing for a living. I still have singing lessons, and I still work on my voice, and I find it such a joyful thing.
Q: How are you enjoying the day-to-day of life in New York City?
Evans: Oh! I'm loving it! I'm loving it! I'm especially loving when it's a typical New York winter morning when it's really cold and it's really bright. I go for long walks in the park, and I love that weather. It's so bracing. I'm loving New York. It's like nowhere on Earth.
[Sunday in the Park with George plays Studio 54, 254 West 54th Street; for tickets call (212) 719-1300 or visit www.roundabouttheatre.org.]
Safe in the City
Tony-nominated for Taboo in 2004 and most recently on Broadway in Cyrano de Bergerac, 30-year-old Scotsman Euan Morton is starting the longest music engagement of his life at the storied Algonquin Hotel's Oak Room. His solo show with jazz combo, entitled Here and Now, runs March 4-29.
|photo by Linda Lenzi|
Question: How are you feeling about the show?
Euan Morton: I'm a bit nervous actually. When I first started going to see stuff at the Oak Room, people would almost curtsy when they said "The Oak Room." I'm really excited. I've done a couple of gigs there, and I love the room. The audience seems very friendly, and it's a chance for me to try some new stuff, which is always great. Q: What is the significance of Here and Now?
Morton: It's funny, when I came up with a title, I never noticed that Betty Buckley, I think, has a show called Then and Now. I realized that had there not been a writer's strike, maybe I would have been able to come up with a better title [laughs]. I also realized that Betty Buckley [and I] are on completely the same wavelength! I wanted to sort of tell my story — not some boring "I was born in Scotland and when I was five, I did this" — but why on earth I'm here, how I got here and stayed here and what Taboo was and how it opened doors. It's kind of that part of my life story and the music that affected me over the last ten years of my life.
Q: So Taboo is not taboo?
Morton: Certainly it's part of the story. It's part of the story of why I'm here, so it's to some degree involved in the storytelling at the Algonquin, although I'm not actually singing songs from Taboo. I want to tell the full story, and of course that's involved, but there's other stuff I'm doing: "Paper Moon" and "Pure Imagination" from "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory."
Q: After Taboo, you once told this column that you weren't sure you belonged on Broadway. I imagine you are reinvigorated now.
Morton: I don't remember what the impetus was for saying that. If this was during the Taboo time, I was probably a little bitter [laughs]. Taboo was an exciting but also quite scathing experience, even though it was very good for me. There were remnants of shock after we closed, but I've just come off a short Broadway run with Cyrano, and it was great to get back to Broadway. I think I was interviewed at a time when Taboo was still fresh. It took a good two years for me to stop saying, "I hate them for what they did to Taboo! And by "them," I don't even know who "they" are anymore. Was it us? Was it Rosie? Was it the press? Who knows or even cares? It was four years ago now, but at the time it was pretty hard to get through, and I guess that was where that came from. But no, I am excited! And, I've been working on this workshop of a new musical called Behind the Limelight about the life story of Charlie Chaplin. Goodness knows where things go. There's a million workshops every week. 999,999 of them go nowhere, but it's exciting to be working on a piece of work that could be on Broadway, that may go out of town for three months. Even though it's only maybes, it does excite me, so I can safely say that I love Broadway.
Q: How engaged do you like to be with an audience?
Morton: Well, it's pretty unavoidable at the Algonquin. People are right there. But I like that. I like to be able to see people and relate to people. Most singers love the sound of their own voice [laughs]. There's nothing better than getting to sing to someone and know that they are enjoying it. It's a great feeling. It's great to share that with someone. It's horrible if the audience is hating it. You can't really hide in the Algonquin if they're not enjoying it, and they can't hide either. And if they are, then I like being up close to them. Places like Joe's Pub and the Metropolitan Room, those other sort of cabaret-type venues I've played before, they're also really close and really involved. You're really there with the audience.
Q: What music shaped you in your early days?
Morton: My mother and father divorced when I was very, very young, so it was always me and my mom. I don't know if she was morbidly depressed or what, but she used to play the Carpenters all the time, and that affected me. I would put the vinyl albums on, and Karen Carpenter was kind of my singing teacher when I was about five, six, seven years old. I didn't know what I was doing, but I was getting practice. I'd practice breathing like she did.
Q: What do you feel made Karen Carpenter so amazing?
Morton: Her voice is timeless and completely touching. I went to visit a friend of mine up in Vermont last week, and he was talking about being in an airport a couple months ago in a crowded, crazy airport bar. It was one of those rush-hour times, and the bar was filled with people, and on the TV was an old live shot of Karen singing "We've Only Just Begun." And the 25 people at the bar and everyone at the nearest tables, everyone at once stopped talking and watched at least 35-40 seconds of her singing the song and went back to what they were doing. It was like this strange pause to stop and listen to Karen, and I think that really sums up what Karen did to people.
Q: Will you be doing any Carpenters songs in this show?
Morton: I'm doing a song that I know because Karen sang it, but it's not actually a Carpenters song. Sammy Fain's "I Can Dream Can't I?" from a 1938 musical called Right This Way. It's been done by the Andrews Sisters and the Gordon Jenkins Orchestra and Tommy Dorsey, but the only time I ever heard it was on a vinyl album, sung by Karen Carpenter. I didn't want to take one of the obvious ones, "Close to You," or any of those. I wanted to do something that kept itself within the period that I wanted to play with in the show but also that had connected me to Karen, so this song was perfect.
Q: You've been pretty well-traveled in the States.
Morton: It's the one thing I do when I am not working in New York, which there have been swaths of time. I made an album — I can't believe it was almost two years ago. I do a lot of traveling. I do gigs at high schools in Peoria; the University of Utah; all over Vermont; Birmingham, Alabama; Georgia. I love this country. And with music, it's great. It's easier to take a small band and tour a few small theatres in Alabama than it is to take Taboo on tour. You really connect to people. I love being an actor — it's another part of who I am, but there's nothing better than taking a small band out, playing small, little gigs to 40 people in tiny little pubs or whatever. I'm truly meeting people and truly sharing music with them, and I hope they enjoy it, and I love going out and traveling. Although, these days I feel a little guilty because I use the car a lot, and I still have a fuel-engine car. I'm desperate to get a hybrid so I can feel slightly less bad about myself.
[Euan Morton's Here and Now opens March 4 at The Algonquin Hotel's Oak Room Cabaret, 59 West 44th Street; call (212) 419-9331 for information and reservations.]
Now That You Minchin It…
Haven't heard of Tim Minchin? Well, look him up on youtube, and see the gaggle of daffy numbers he has concocted and had great success with in his native Australia and in England. Minchin is a mixed bag of piano virtuosity, mock pomposity, theatricality and silly comedy. Such songs as "Inflatable You," "Peace Anthem for Palestine" and "Canvas Bags" have had people in stitches at venues like the Royal Albert Hall, and now he is ready for import to the New World. New World Stages, that is, where he will set-up shop March 3-April 12.
Question: Are you stoked about your first major American gig?
Tim Minchin: I am, really. It's scary as hell — in a good way. It's scary in a way that I've been scared before, and when you're that sort of scared, things usually go pretty well because it means you're taking a risk. It's not a crazy risk because I'd visited [the States] in November and got the feeling that there was a much bigger market for my sort of thing, so I'm not taking a stab in the dark, but there's no doubt it's an ambitious run for someone who no one really knows apart from some clippings about festival success. Q: Do you worry about whether your humor will translate to U.S. audiences? Is that a valid concern?
Minchin: I think it absolutely is, for all comedians crossing into other cultural paradigms. I grew up in Australia; obviously I'm Australian and lived there until very recently, and when I came to the U.K. for the first time in 2005, it made so little difference to the way audiences responded, that I started realizing that I, through sheer dumb luck, had created a style of show that is not very parochial. It's very universal in that my obsessions are about sex and death and God and stuff like that rather than the minutiae of everyday suburban Australian life.
Q: People love to pigeonhole and classify, and you are not easily classifiable.
Minchin: Thanks. That's a great thing to be, unless you come into a place where if you can't be classified, they'll just ignore you. I do call myself a musician and actor and that sort of thing, and I am, but in terms of my solo comedy act, it's a bit different from a lot of the stuff that's going on. But at the same time, the heritage of what I do goes all the way back to music hall and comes through all the old blokes: Tom Lehrer, Victor Borge and all that, even though they are not really influences on me. I was never a musical comedy fan. The fact is, I'm a cabaret act, and what better place to be doing cabaret than New York? So, hopefully, I'm in a genre that's familiar enough that people aren't freaked out by it.
Q: You've been on stage in shows like Amadeus and Jesus Christ Superstar. What came first to you in your life, the music, the comedy or the acting?
Minchin: Certainly not the comedy. I never dreamt I'd become a comedian. I don't know about you, but the whole idea scared the hell out of me until I was doing it accidentally. I still struggle with the label, "comedian," because I can't believe that's what I'm doing, but I do understand that is the genre I'm in. Not because I don't want to, just because it seems sort of weird. I started doing comedy about four years ago. Really I was composing, writing music for theatre.
Q: You have a song called "The Dark Side," about a guy who can't have hits because his songs are too happy. Do you think the era of novelty pop hits will ever return?
Minchin: I don't know. There's a grey area, isn't there? Pop music is actually quite ironic these days. I hope it is, [laughs] otherwise it is seriously terrible.
[Minchin plays The New World Stages, 340 West 50th Street, from March 3-April 12; call (212) 239-6200 or visit www.telecharge.com for tickets.]
Hither and Yon
Last month in this space I gave a shout out to Jason S. Little, performing as his alter ego, Tits Fisher, at the Zipper Factory. Somehow I accidentally sainted the man by adding an extra "t," and thus creating a brand new alter ego that Little has embraced wholeheartedly, Jason St. Little. Well, the Saint came marching in and absolutely killed the audience at the Feb. 28 Zipper show. It's not every artist who could pull off a transition from AC/DC's "Back in Black" to Al Jolson's "Swanee." Or have medleys of Weill-Brecht and the Smiths. Plus, anybody who does a song from "Bugsy Malone" is going to win me over automatically. Excellent backing by Kitten's Kiss… Last Five Years fans, if you haven't seen the news, Jason Robert Brown and Lauren Kennedy will be performing a concert version of the show at Birdland on March 17 and 18 at 7 PM. Go to www.birdlandjazz.com for details…Clark Warren returns to the Metropolitan Room (34 West 22nd Street) on March 6 with his show Better Than Anything; call (212) 206-0440 for info… P.S., March is Cabaret Month, so check out marchiscabaretmonth.com, and get out and see some stuff. More I cannot wish you. Until next time.
Tom Nondorf can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.