THE LEADING MEN: Jack Be Nimble

The Leading Men   THE LEADING MEN: Jack Be Nimble It's "September Morn," and this month marks "a brand new day" for Jack Noseworthy (Mother Courage), Joe Mandragona (All Shook Up) and Telly Leung (Godspell).
Jack Noseworthy
Jack Noseworthy Photo by Ben Strothmann

FROM 'COURAGE' TO CABARET
Jack Noseworthy is truly a Jack of all trades wherever he performs. On Broadway the handsome tenor crooned tunes in Sweet Smell of Success, and he was the only guy to fly as Peter Pan in Jerome Robbins' Broadway. On screen he and Ethan Hawke played plane-crash survivors who get a taste of cannibalism in "Alive." (Noseworthy notes, "We were really eating prosciutto and turkey jerky.") And he has been in films with Matthew McConaughey ("U-571"), Kurt Russell ("Breakdown") and Pamela Anderson ("Barb Wire"). On TV he starred in the MTV series "Dead at 21" and the Bon Jovi video "Always," and has appeared as a stalker ("Judging Amy"), a suspected rapist ("C.S.I.") and a child molester ("Law & Order SVU").

This 5-foot-10 charmer from Lynn, MA, just wrapped up his run in Bertolt Brecht's Mother Courage with Meryl Streep. Next, Noseworthy, 41, will make his nightclub debut with "You Don't Know Jack!," directed by Gary Griffin (The Color Purple), Sept. 19 at 10 PM and Sept. 20 at 7 PM at the Metropolitan Room. He also can be seen on-screen as a sweet guy who falls in love with a senator's gay son in "Poster Boy," an award-winning indie now playing around the country.

Matt Newton, his hunky co-star in "Poster Boy," says, "We had a lot of chemistry, and we got along great. This was my first film, and Jack has done many big movies, so he gave me a lot of wisdom about Hollywood and how things work." Kelli O'Hara, his lovely leading lady in Sweet Smell of Success, raves: "Jack is so special because there is just no one like him. He's intense. He can play the most lovable baby boy in the world and then he turn around and play a twisted murderer . . . scary! He has many levels, and I love them all. Plus, he has beautiful lips and they're fun to kiss!"

Question: Congrats! How was it working on Mother Courage?
Jack Noseworthy: Spectacular. Meryl played this matron of war who profits by selling wares out of her wagon to soldiers. And I had this scene where my mother and I are trying to sell her a mattress. Just then, the bells ring out, and peace breaks out, so everything changes. Now we want keep our stuff. It's one of George Wolfe's favorite scenes. My other big scene with Meryl is where I become one of the soldiers who kills Mother Courage's daughter. George's focus was: How do you go from a young man with promise to becoming a murderer? I love George. He's so full of life.

Q: And what about acting with Meryl Streep?
Noseworthy: Sometimes, I couldn't believe I was on the same stage with arguably our greatest actress, maybe ever. I like when Meryl's funny, and I love her in "Death Becomes Her." But when she stepped out of Mother Courage's wagon, she was so committed and living in that character. Mother Courage is not very likeable, but Meryl made her funny and rich and physical. The second time she did "The Song of the Great Capitulation" onstage, she was rolling around in the mud. Are you kidding? She's not afraid to try anything. I'd love to see her play Mrs. Lovett [in Sweeney Todd]. She's an amazing woman, not just in her talent but in her humanity. Q: And now you're doing cabaret. How'd that happen?
Noseworthy: Jayson Raitt from the Pasadena Playhouse was producing an evening of Broadway stars that would like to do a cabaret act and said he'd love it if I did one. I said, "Absolutely not!" But I talked to [my director] Gary, and we decided it would give me the opportunity to be creative and keep my voice in shape. Michael Lavine's my musical director. I know I'll sing "I Cannot Hear the City" from Sweet Smell, and I really love "There's a Fine, Fine Line" from Avenue Q. And I'll talk a little about myself. I often play bad guys, like rapists and murderers, so this was also a chance for me to show people I'm not gonna rape or kill them. [Laughs.]

Q: What was it like working on Sweet Smell?
Noseworthy: I loved it. It was so smart and crafty. I was working with Marvin Hamlisch, John Guare, Nick Hytner and Craig Carnelia. And they completely redid the last part of the show from Chicago to New York. To watch them make that change as fast as they did, and as brilliantly as they did, was a lesson in how to make a musical. What I saw was a phenomenal piece of theatre. I thought it was gonna be a smash. I still think it's Marvin's best score, and "I Cannot Hear the City" is a jazz classic.

Q: You and Kelli O'Hara had a sexy scene in bed, and she says, "I used to fall asleep on Jack's chest while we waited [to go on], and he'd wake me up."
Noseworthy: [Laughs.] I thought it was me who fell asleep. Kelli's just a beautiful, luminescent girl. While Brian [d'Arcy James] was singing "At the Fountain," we'd wait in bed. It worked for the scene because we were supposed to be waking up, so I never really felt guilty. When I was Mungojerrie in Cats, I used to fall asleep on the tire during "Memory." I had danced my butt off, so I was exhausted.

Q: Speaking of dancing, you were in Jerome Robbins' Broadway, and Robbins had a reputation as a tough taskmaster. Was he?
Noseworthy: Yeah. We'd do showings for his friends at 890 Broadway. One day, his friends were Mikhail Baryshnikov, Leonard Bernstein, Mary Martin and Claudette Colbert. I was doing "Cool" [from West Side Story] and I heard, "YOU! YOU!" Robbins yelled, "How much money do you make?" I said, "Equity minimum?" He said, "You're not earning your paycheck. Work harder!" But he was also this passionate and incredibly gifted man who could be just as touching. He had a lot of demons, and I think some of his genius was his struggle with being Jewish and being gay. But he loved his dancers, and look at all the great work he created.

Q: In your new film, "Poster Boy," you play Anthony, a gay activist who's in love with Henry, the closeted son of a Republican senator.
Noseworthy: I'm proud of the movie. It won the award for Best Screenplay at Outfest. In the film some gay activists want me to "out" Henry at a press conference, but my character falls for him and realizes it would be inappropriate. But Henry grabs me and kisses me on-camera and outs himself, so it's a nice twist because Henry takes control of his own life. Personally, I think outing is a terrible thing. That should be someone's own decision. But when people want to come out, that's perfectly fine. I like what Lance Bass says: He's also gay, which is savvy and the truth.

Q: Looking back, you've really worked with a lot of stars.
Noseworthy: I'm telling you: Everyone who works with me becomes a star: Kelli O'Hara, Brian d'Arcy James, Carla Gugino, Keri Russell, Angelina Jolie, Reese Witherspoon, Matt McConaughey. What the hell is going on? [Laughs.] In my career I've gotten to sing in some things and danced in others. I've made movies, done some theatre and TV. There's been so much variety, and that makes me happy.

For info, visit www.metropolitanroom.com and www.posterboy-themovie.com.

'ALL SHOOK UP' HUNK IS NO ORDINARY JOE
As the boyish new star of the Elvis Presley musical All Shook Up, Joe Mandragona will be the King of the road in the show's national 30-city tour, which begins Sept. 12 in Milwaukee. This 5-foot-11 "hunka hunka burnin' love" from Berkeley, CA, will play Chad and swivel his hips in Boston, Houston, Seattle, Philadelphia, Memphis, San Diego and many more cities. That's a-whole lotta shakin' going on, and "That's All Right" with Mandragona: "The show's a lotta fun, and it's a very joyful company. Jenny Fellner is cute as a button [as Natalie], and Susan Anton [as Miss Sandra] is a hunk of a woman and a beauty with such star power. I never saw the original cast, but I recently met Cheyenne Jackson, and he's a really nice guy, and omigod, he's built like a statue. I also love the music. The first Elvis song I ever heard was 'Jailhouse Rock.' I was five or six. Our family would go to Mel's Diner in Berkeley, and they had jukeboxes on the tables. I always wanted to hear that song, so doing this show is a dream."

Christopher Ashley, who shepherded this joyous jukebox musical by Joe DiPietro to Broadway, is also directing the tour: "There's an electricity to Joe. He's sexy and an excellent actor. When he auditioned, the first thing he did was his lip crept up and he started to snarl. It was endearing and hilarious. Cheyenne was extraordinary in this role, but Joe's special in his own way, and has made me kinda reconceive this show." "Jailhouse Rock" used to be a fantasy number that the mayor had about Chad in Act II, but Mandragona says, "Now it opens the show and has Chad getting out of jail from the previous town. And there's three times as much dancing [choreographed by Sergio Trujillo]." Also, Natalie used to change into her alter ego, "Ed," offstage, but now the audience will watch her disguise herself to the tune of "Love Me Tender."

All Shook Up won't be the first time that Mandragona, 25, played a 1950s swivel-hipped hipster with sideburns. In June he starred in a staged reading of Cry-Baby, a new musical based on John Waters' 1990 movie with Johnny Depp. He hopes to re-create that role when the show goes to Broadway. "John is so cool and down-to-earth. He was so supportive and such a fan. I was also familiar with Hairspray because my girlfriend [Donna Vivino] is in it; I've seen it 15 times."

Mandragona got his BA from U.C. Berkeley and interned at California Shakespeare Theatre. He found a home at San Francisco's Magic Theatre and was in Chris Smith's 13 Hallucinations of Julio Rivera. "I played a trashy drag queen named Felony Joyride. I wore big platform-heeled boots and a purple mini-skirt, and had a blast." Then he was a punk kid in Douglas J. Cohen and Robert Jess Roth's The Opposite of Sex. And in February he was in Nero (Another Golden Rome) by Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik (Spring Awakening). "I played two parts: a Spanish slave boy and Brittanicus, Nero's brother who tap-dances himself to death."

San Francisco was also where the All Shook Up star couldn't "help falling in love" with Vivino, who was in The Opposite of Sex. He says, "Donna's so talented, and she makes me laugh. She can do impressions of Sarah Jessica Parker and Drew Barrymore, and her Celine Dion is uncanny." Vivino adds, "Joe's a great boyfriend. When I was on the road, he went all over San Francisco to find these wheat-free brownies I love, and sent them to my hotel, which was sweet. Now that he's on the road, I'll have to send him CARE packages. He loves gummy bears." Mandragona admits he's "a sugar addict," so when he gets those packages, you can be sure there's one thing this Elvis fan won't write on them: "Return to Sender."

For more information, visit www.allshookup.com. TELLY'S NEXT JAM: 'GODSPELL' AT PAPER MILL
Currently in rehearsals for Stephen Schwartz and John-Michael Tebelak's Godspell, Telly Leung is taking things "Day by Day" before making his Paper Mill Playhouse debut on Sept. 20 in Millburn, N.J. Directed by Daniel Goldstein, the fresh-faced cast will include Dan Kohler as Jesus and Joshua Henry as Judas. "I'm incredibly excited," says Leung, who'll get to sing "All Good Gifts" in his thrilling tenor voice. "Our set is a theatre that's been torn down and is being reconstructed; there's scaffolding all around. It's been raining, so we all come in wet, looking for shelter. And like the theatre, we're all rebuilding, but with our relationships to each other, and with humanity. We're from all walks of life. I'm this street kid with baggy pants. Our director has let us play and improv, so it's organic and really feels like our show."

About five years ago, the 5-foot-8 Chinese-American from Brooklyn first met Schwartz at Carnegie Mellon. He recalls, "It's Stephen's alma mater, so he came to coach, and I was so bold that I sang his song 'Lost in the Wilderness.' He said, 'That's very brave of you to sing my song for me. I know where all the pitfalls and traps are.' Stephen then gave me some wonderful notes about song styling and riffing, and said I had to justify it as an actor, and I've never approached singing the same way again."

To quote Godspell, Leung "learned his lessons well." Schwartz says, "Telly has been in several of my shows and readings, and he never fails to come through. He's just one of those solid, all-around performers: an excellent singer, a good actor and an attractive stage personality. I'm delighted he's doing another one of my shows."

Since Carnegie Mellon, Leung has appeared on Broadway in Flower Drum Song and Pacific Overtures. Plus, he scored two nontraditional casting coups: Last month, he played Toby in Sweeney Todd at the Four Seasons Theatre in Madison, WI. And before that, he played Boq in the Chicago staging of Wicked. Leung, 26, gushes, "I'm very blessed. As an Asian-American actor, I know the reality is my bread-and-butter shows will be The King and I and Miss Saigon. But it meant so much to me to be the first Asian-American in a principal role in Wicked. Joe Mantello told me, 'I cast you because you captured the right energy.'"

Leung's energy is contagious. When he auditioned for Stephen Sondheim for Pacific Overtures, "I was so nervous. I started to sing 'There Is No Other Way' and I got to the bridge, and he cut me off. I gasped and started sweating. Then he said, 'That was gorgeous! I don't need to hear any more.' What a relief. I thought, 'I don't even need a resume anymore.' I'll just write: 'Gorgeous!' — Stephen Sondheim." [Laughs.]

Next, Leung is working on a cabaret act called "To Stephen …," which will feature "cool arrangements of songs by Schwartz and Sondheim, and sometimes I'll meld the two, like 'For Good' and 'Old Friends' — two songs about friendship." Directed by Alan Muraoka, it also will be a tribute to Leung's father, who's named Stephen. "The first two Stephens validated my love for theatre, and in between songs, I'll talk about my father and how that's been kind of a roadblock for him." Though it's not traditional for Asians to go into theatre, Leung's still Chinese to his core: "In college, I didn't go anywhere without my wok. I stir-fry everything. I even make French toast with chopsticks!"

For more info, visit www.papermill.org and www.tellyonline.net.

WHERE THE GUYS ARE
There's so much to see in New York: At the top of the list is the New York Musical Theatre Festival (Sept. 10-Oct. 1), which will premiere over 30 new musicals and 100 special events. Among the "Leading Men" featured will be: Michael Arden (The Musicology of Ben Folds), Stephen Bogardus and Jonathan Groff (Illyria), Hunter Foster (Party Come Here), Michael Hunsaker (The Tragic and Horrible Life of the Singing Nun), Deven May (Warrior), Reed Prescott (Oedipus for Kids), Jonathan Rayson (The Children) and Max von Essen (Desperate Measures). And then there's Darius de Haas in Michael Wartofsky and Thomas F. DeFrantz's new R&B drama The Man in My Head. The openly gay Broadway actor will play all the characters in this one-man show, including the lead; the two guys he's dating; his nephew; a male nurse; and a sister on a mission to find a husband. Throw in de Haas' vibrant vocals and it sounds like a sure tour de force. For more info, visit www.nymf.org.

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 theatre critic for The San Francisco Examiner, a writer for The Sondheim Review and a Drama-Logue Award-winning playwright.

From left: Joe Mandragona, Telly Leung and Darius de Haas
From left: Joe Mandragona, Telly Leung and Darius de Haas Photo by Ben Strothmann and Robert Kim