THE LEADING MEN: It’s Reigning Men

The Leading Men   THE LEADING MEN: It’s Reigning Men
 
In Avenue Q, Bad Idea Bear #1 urges Princeton to "keep his eyes on the prize," so we’re kicking off this "Leading Men" column by chatting with all five Tony nominees for Best Actor in a Musical.
Hugh Jackman
Hugh Jackman

THE ‘LEADING’ CONTENDERS
Hugh Jackman: This wonder from Down Under is so Oz-some as Peter Allen that he makes everything old look Hugh again. So what’s the first Broadway musical he ever saw? "Cats. I loved it. I was 11, and my father took me [to see it in Australia]. I remember cats yelping out from behind me and scaring the hell out of me. My father also took me to La Cage Aux Folles, which kind of surprised me because my father’s pretty religious, a straight kind of guy. When we got there, I thought, ‘My father’s made a mistake.’ But I really liked it and my dad loved it, too. It’s a great show." . . . Dream roles? "I’m a big Shakespeare lover. Henry V would be a great part." . . . And his idea of heaven? "Something combining swimming, my family and a great meal. I’m a genuine lover of all food, except for liver. No liver!"

Hunter Foster: When you play opposite a monstrous, man-eating plant like Audrey II, it’s not easy being seen, but Foster really blossomed as Seymour. How’s it feel getting a Tony nomination? "Really, really great. But there’s also been a backlash [against Little Shop of Horrors]. Not that the other revivals aren’t great. They are. But our show wasn’t nominated for a Drama Desk or Tony and hasn’t gotten the recognition we deserve. Our reviews were generally positive, so I don’t know why. But the cast has been so happy for me." . . . What’s the latest word on his musical of Bonnie & Clyde? "We just did a reading with Christian Borle and Megan Lawrence and a lot of Urinetown people. We’re in talks about doing a workshop." . . . How’s he feel about taking over the role of Leo Bloom in The Producers on June 15? "It’s gonna be fun. I saw it with Matthew [Broderick] and Nathan [Lane], and it’s one of my favorite shows. And I’d love to be in Young Frankenstein. Maybe this’ll help me get [into it]. I’ll do anything!"

Alfred Molina: Art isn’t easy, and neither is scoring a Tony nod for a Broadway musical debut, but that’s what Alfred Molina did. When’s the last time he did a musical? "Twenty-three years ago in London. It was Destry Rides Again. I did the Andy Griffith part, and it’s where I met my wife [Jill Gascoine]. She played Frenchy. I also once did Judd Fry in Oklahoma! . . . What does he enjoy most about Tevye? "It’s just one of the greatest parts in one of the greatest musicals ever written. My favorite moments are when he talks to God." . . . Molina also plays Dr. Ock, a villain with eight tentacles in the "Spider-Man 2" movie opening June 30. It stars Tobey Maguire, who says Molina is "awesome." And how was his co star? "Working with Tobey was great, just great." Molina once joked that he hadn’t had calamari since the shooting. True? "I’ve had it several times. I’m a big fan of the dish!"

Euan Morton: If anyone from Taboo deserves a Rosie future, it’s this amazing actor. Boy George says, "This boy did a better job of playing me than I ever did." If he had a chance, would Morton do anything differently? "No, I don’t think I would. Maybe I wouldn’t have mentioned that I wore high heels around the house back at the beginning; that’s all the Scottish press writes about. But I had a fantastic ride in Taboo, and we had a great cast. Rosie O’Donnell and Kelly [Carpenter] are still supporting me. They’ve been like my mother . . . and my mother." . . . What was it like working with that ensemble? "I had a really easy job. I spent most of my time with Raul [Esparza], Jeffrey [Carlson] or Cary [Shields]. We had a terrific time. But it was difficult when you have two men [Cary and me] playing lovers. They got us to both kiss on the first day of rehearsals, and I was so nervous. So was he. Thank God, it was Cary. By the end, I thought I really was in love with him [laughs]."

John Tartaglia: To quote one of his favorite phrases, these are "good times" for Tartaglia, who acts as the terrific right-hand man for Rod and Princeton in Avenue Q. Besides receiving raves and awards, he hosted a benefit for gay teens, and has become a hero for being an openly gay actor-puppeteer. Why is it important to be "out"? "I’ve had gay kids come up to me and say they’ve been inspired, and that means a lot to me. It’s 2004; it’s ridiculous that we’re still worried about people’s careers being hurt because of their sexuality. The more gay people stand up and say who they are, it’ll be less of a big deal. And if I’m not going to work because [I’m gay], then I don’t want to be in this business. I think any self-respecting individual should be honest enough with himself not to be living a lie." . . . Hugh Jackman plays Wolverine in "X-Men" and Alfred Molina is in "Spider-Man 2," so if Tartaglia could be in a superhero movie, who would he play? "I’ve always wanted to be Robin. That’s one of my dreams. Whenever I read the comic, I loved Robin. ‘Holy smokes, Batman!’ That was the coolest thing in the world." And who’d be his Batman? "Matt McConaughey. He’s amazing!" (By the way, Tartaglia will star in a benefit for Musicals Tonight!, featuring Avenue Q puppeteers performing "Empty-Handed," on June 21 at 8 PM at the Lucille Lortel.) NOTABLE QUOTES AT TONY TIME
Heard among the whirlwind of awards shows, CD signings and parties:

Raul Esparza: "Taboo was fraught with so much horrible publicity, so much anxiety and so much crap, frankly, but Euan, for me, became the center of the show. He is a beautiful actor who gives every last inch of everything he has to the part. We had an extraordinary time onstage, and it was a joy to do. Stephen Sondheim said he was enormously moved by Taboo, and Michael John LaChiusa saw it three times. I would not have been able to give the performance I gave if it hadn’t been for Euan. Or Rosie O’Donnell. She adores this community and poured so much love and money and time into it. I hope she gets up on her horse and tries again because we need producers like that to say that Broadway is important and needs to be seen."

Rod from Avenue Q: "I’m so thrilled about going to the Tonys and meeting Hugh Jackman. I’ve seen The Boy From Oz 475 times. I tried to bid on Hugh’s T-shirt during the Broadway Cares fund-raising, but I couldn’t carry that much money on me because I don’t have any pockets."

Douglas Sills: "Audrey II is not happy about Joey Fatone joining Little Shop of Horrors [on June 24] because she fears he’ll upstage her. But Audrey II might leave Broadway and set her sights on higher office. She offers, as an example, George Bush. She says, ‘Look how far a well operated puppet can go!’"

THEY WROTE THE BOOK ON ‘BROADWAY’
If you think working in theatre is glitzy and ritzy, you’ve got to read David Wienir and Jodie Langel’s "Making It on Broadway" (Allworth Press). It’s a heartbreaking, humbling and hilarious look at today’s Great White Way. Wienir and Langel interviewed more than 150 performers — including over 50 Tony Award winners and nominees, featuring Donna McKechnie, Donna Murphy and Lea Salonga. Plus, it’s loaded with "Leading Men" alumni: Antonio Banderas, Matt Bogart, Stephen Buntrock, Jarrod Emick, Marc Kudisch, Hugh Panaro, Jim Walton and Patrick Wilson.

Candidly and courageously, they reveal their aspirations, aggravations and frustrations with a life in the theatre. Hunter Foster recalls how the porters used to kill rats during Grease!: "The rats would get caught in glue traps. Sometimes, in the middle of the show, the porters would put a box on top of a rat and stomp on the box. One time, I was downstairs and I heard this squealing. It was awful!" Speaking of feeling trapped, actors also speak out about the "Disneyfication" of theatre, the corporate machinery of mega musicals and stunt casting. Adrian Zmed says, "Most of the celebrities [on Broadway] today suck." Nor is winning a Tony a guarantee of fame and fortune, says Scott Wise, who took home a trophy for Jerome Robbins’ Broadway. Three months after his big night, he says, "I was at a kids’ birthday party dressed up as a Teenage Ninja Turtle. Hey, look at me! Tony winner! Tony winner!"

Wienir and Langel, who have been dating for ten years, say their illuminating book aims to address the misconceptions about theatre for both performers and audiences. The authors especially empathize with today’s working actors. Wienir, 33, grew up in Southern California, where he made his stage debut playing a potato at age 6. At Oxford University, he started the first rock a cappella group, and he is currently an entertainment lawyer for Coudert Brothers LLP in New York. Langel, 32, who grew up in Ossining, N.Y., made her Broadway debut as Cosette in Les Misérables. She has toured in Cats, Martin Guerre and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and is now pursuing her MFA in theatre at UCLA.

Wienir and Langel interviewed dozens and dozens of actors over the past four years. So which stories didn’t make the book? Wienir says, "The ones people were most afraid of, like personal experiences with casting." One actor who played Marius on a tour of Les Miz recalled rejecting the advances of a male director; afterward, he was demoted to chorus and told he was "too Jewish-looking to play Marius."

Has the book confronted any criticism? Wienir says, "Claude-Michel Schönberg [the composer of Les Miz] is worried that this book will shatter the dreams of kids throughout America. I don’t. I think it’s going to inspire them. Once they know what’s really going on, they’ll be more prepared to pursue a successful career. What drives me crazy is when people tell performers: "Don’t complain. You’re lucky." So in effect there’s been this gag order in theatre. But I’m hoping this book is a reality check that encourages Broadway to change and grow in a more positive direction."

Wienir and Langel, along with Broadway actors they’ve interviewed, will appear June 10 at 7 PM at Barnes & Noble at Lincoln Center, 1972 Broadway, NYC.

For more information, visit www.makingitonbroadway.com.

SMOKIN’ JOE’S CAFÉ
Joe’s Pub is one of the hottest clubs in New York, and it’s even hotter when its air conditioning conks out, but Euan Morton also turned up the heat there on May 30. Backed by a rockin’ band, his sizzling sold-out concert opened with Leonard Cohen’s heavenly "Hallelujah." To quote a Cyndi Lauper tune he covered, Morton showed his "True Colors" and belted some Billy Joel ("Just the Way You Are"). But the Taboo-crazed crowd went wild when he sang "Pie in the Sky," which was in the London production, and "Stranger in This World." Morton closed with a singalong of "Sing," the sunny Carpenters tune, which left everyone grinning ear to ear with good cheer. (P.S. He’s joined the June 14 concert of "Broadway Musicals of 1963" at Town Hall; the charming, sweet Scot will sing "Where Is Love?" from Oliver!, which he did as a kid.) For more of Morton, visit www.officiallyeuanmorton.com.

Joe’s Pub also hosted another stellar celebration, "Standing Ovations," on May 23. A salute to BroadwayWorld.com’s first anniversary, this benefit concert for Broadway Cares was hosted by Michael Musto and Scott Nevins, directed by Jamie McGonnigal and musical-directed by Mark Hartman. Among the "Leading Men" highlights were Matt Cavenaugh’s "Making Love Alone," Cheyenne Jackson’s "Joey, Joey, Joey," George Merritt’s "Muddy Water" and Max von Essen’s "Only in New York." But Marc Shaiman almost stole the show with his opening video: a hilarious parody of Internet chat, set to "Pick-a Little, Talk-a-Little" from The Music Man.

WHERE THE GUYS ARE
There’s so much to see in New York: Gavin Creel got to sing a couple of the Bounce-iest tunes in Stephen Sondheim’s latest musical, but he’ll be the keynote composer in an "Uncharted" concert of his own pop/R&B songs on June 13 at 8 and 11 PM at the Ars Nova, 511 W. 54th St. (212-868-4444). Creel, who was a Tony nominee for Thoroughly Modern Millie, will be backed by co-composer David Cook, who’s performed with Aerosmith, JC Chasez and NSYNC. . . . It’s samba time and the livin’ is easy when the jazzy John Pizzarelli brings his Brazilian "Bossa Nova" show (June 8-20) to Feinstein’s at the Regency, 540 Park Ave. (212-339-4095). He’ll be accompanied by his "First Family of Cool" and Daniel Jobim, the grandson of Antonio Carlos Jobim. . . . If Bobby Belfry’s name doesn’t ring a bell, it ought to. He’s a 2004 Bistro Award winner for Outstanding Vocalist, and he’s written crowd-pleasing pop songs with David Budway, David Friedman, Mark Hartman and Steven Ray Watkins. Belfry, who’s being filmed for a documentary, will play June 7, 14, 21 and 28 at 9 PM at The Duplex, 61 Christopher St. (212-255-5438). . . . Marcus Simeone just won the 2004 MAC Award for Male Vocalist, so he’s got plenty to celebrate, including his birthday. The silky-sounding singer will perform June 27 at 4 PM at Danny’s Skylight Room, 346 W. 46th St. (212-263-8133), and his special guests include Tom Andersen, John DePalma and Ruben Flores.

The New York City Gay Men’s Chorus presents "Out on Broadway" on June 22 at 8 PM at Avery Fisher Hall (212-721-6500). It’s a celebration of musicals penned by Terrence McNally, who wrote the book when it comes to Tony-winning librettos (Kiss of the Spider Woman, Ragtime). It’ll be narrated by Barbra Streisand, as embodied by Steven Brinberg, whose impeccable impersonation nails Babs right down to her last cuticle. . . . And the Storefront Theatre salutes gay pride by bringing back "My Queer Youth" on June 25 at 9 PM at The Duplex. It’s Phil Geoffrey Bond’s heartfelt and funny story about a gay boy discovering divas, dating and himself, accompanied by the songs of Sondheim and Strouse. Bond is a riot reading his own writing, and his cast includes Scott Coulter, Jason Courson, Rick Jensen, Eric Pickering and Ric Ryder. . . . The Storefront is also producing "New Mondays in Concert," starring established and aspiring composers from its songwriters’ series at The Duplex, on June 28 at 8 PM at the Lucille Lortel, 121 Christopher St. (212-239-6200). Among the scores of Broadway and cabaret tunesmiths: Tom Andersen, Bobby Belfry, Michael Holland, Rick Jensen, Tom Jones, Michael John LaChiusa, Galt MacDermot, Peter Mills, Charles Strouse, Joseph Thalken, Mark Waldrop and John Wallowitch.

Got comments or questions? E-mail me at waymanwong@hotmail.com.

Until next month, let’s hear it for the "boys"! Wayman Wong edits entertainment for the New York Daily News. He has been a movie and theater critic for the San Francisco Examiner, a writer for The Sondheim Review and a Drama-Logue Award-winning playwright.

Bobby Belfry (left), Euan Morton with Theatre World Award, and David Wienir
Bobby Belfry (left), Euan Morton with Theatre World Award, and David Wienir Photo by Bill Westmoreland, Ben Strothmann and Wayman Wong
Today’s Most Popular News: