THE LEADING MEN: ‘Jersey’ Joys

News   THE LEADING MEN: ‘Jersey’ Joys
 
Even in the chill of December, these guys are always hot: Daniel Reichard (Jersey Boys), Aaron Lazar (The Light in the Piazza) and Jim Newman (Almost Heaven).

Daniel Reichard
Daniel Reichard Photo by Ben Strothmann

A DAN FOR ALL SEASONS
Jersey Boys is the backstage story of the harmony and disharmony that gave birth to Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. And, Daniel Reichard is pitch-perfect as Bob Gaudio, the band’s principal songwriter ("Sherry"); he always strikes the right chord, musically and emotionally. The sensitive six foot actor from Rocky River, OH, says, "This is more thrilling than anything I’ve ever done." John Lloyd Young, who sets the tenor for the show as Valli, adds, "Daniel’s a young bucko with a lot of energy, and it’s fun to tear up the stage with him." And what’s Gaudio think? "Daniel looks better than me, he sings better than me, and he dances better than me. What’s not to like?"

Reichard’s appeared in Forbidden Broadway, but it was his tour de force as Keith Haring in Radiant Baby (2003) that electrified audiences at the Public. It depicted Haring’s halcyon and harrowing days as a gay pop artist felled by AIDS, and George C. Wolfe directed the show at a pace "Faster Than the Speed of Life." Debra Barsha, its incredible composer co-lyricist, recalls, "It was hard to find someone who could play a sexy geek and pull that off, but Daniel did it. And now that I’ve seen him in Jersey Boys, he doesn’t have any of that, which proves he’s a great actor."

Reichard, 27, will include tunes from Radiant Baby in his concert, The Glory Daze, on Dec. 5 at 8 PM at the Ars Nova, 511 West 54th Street. Backed by the Red Dirt Band, he will recount the wild partying he did after that musical closed.

Reichard grew up the eighth child in a Catholic family of nine kids, and says, "Steve Martin was/is my hero. I wanted to be a character guy, so I made radio mix tapes and did wacky voices and impressions, like Morton Downey Jr. and Joan Rivers. I also made funny film parodies with my camcorder, like ‘It’s a Crappy Life.’"

Question: What a way to make a Broadway debut. Congrats!
Daniel Reichard: Thanks. I can’t believe it. This is really how I wanted to make my debut: in an intelligent show that’s beautifully written and beautifully directed, with incredible talent all around me, in a fantastic role. It’s a show with integrity, and that’s the coolest thing. I believe in this story and I love telling it. Q: What do you have in common with Bob Gaudio?
Reichard: A love of music and a natural flair for it. I love so many of his songs: "Dawn, Go Away," "Rag Doll," "Bye Bye Baby." The relationship between Bob and Frankie is the most important one in Jersey Boys, and it’s so clear what this man did for this band. It’s a huge honor to play him, and it was something I could really sink my teeth into. Bob is such a gentleman and he’s got such an ease about him. I’ve sat with him and his kids and his wife, Judy, whom I love. She wrote "Oh, What a Night" and "Who Loves You" with him. We have a bond. And when you listen to our cast album, which Bob produced, his work just shines. His ears are so right-on.

Q: What can you tell us about your fellow Jersey boys?
Reichard: John is a total pro. He does everything with such incredible professionalism. J. Robert Spencer [who plays Nick Massi] is so f****** funny. It’s amazing to see him get such a well-deserved opportunity. And Christian Hoff [who plays Tommy DeVito] is a great friend. I love playing opposite him.

Q: When did you first audition for Jersey Boys?
Reichard: Spring 2004. I first read for Tommy, which is the worst part in the show for me, but then Des [McAnuff] said I should read for Bob. Des was a big fan of Radiant Baby, and the first thing he said to me was: ‘You were so incredible in that show. I loved you in it.’ That’s why I’m here: Radiant Baby.

Q: What was it like having a nervous breakdown as Keith Haring?
Reichard: Painful. It literally hurt my body, my legs, my arms and my rib cage. I sweated buckets. And it’s the luckiest thing I ever did. It changed my life. I got to meet Keith’s parents, who were so brave to come. Keith’s mom said, ‘How did you do that? You were Keith,’ which was pretty intense. Doing Radiant Baby also inspired me to do more original work. I loved the cast, the music and everything about it, so it was very sad when we didn’t move [to Broadway]. The critics didn’t get it. But there should’ve been a cast album; people ask me about it all the time.

Q: So tell me about your Glory Daze show at the Ars Nova.
Reichard: It takes place in the three months after Radiant Baby. It was a wild, mind-blowing time. I was having a whole lot of crazy fun, getting drunk and high all the time. My brother and I would download all these fun hippie songs and a lot of 1960s rock and folk: Paul Simon, the Monkees, Herman’s Hermits. "I’m Into Something Good," "Up, Up and Away," "Daydream Believer." So I’m gonna sing all these party songs at the Ars Nova. I’d like to think of this as Elaine Stritch’s At Liberty show, but without the profound life experience or the celebrities or the interesting anecdotes. It’ll be a lotta fun, thoughtful and really silly.

Q: Glory Daze is a show that you’re developing for the future. Why were you compelled to do a piece about those three months?
Reichard: After Radiant Baby, I hit rock bottom. When I was struggling, I daydreamed about doing a show about it, to keep myself going. This was my way of staying creative and igniting my own artistry. I was supposed to do this Ars Nova concert earlier, but then I got Jersey Boys. It’s amazing how everything’s so connected. Radiant Baby was one disappointment, but if you keep going, something hopefully comes along. I had one callback for Jersey Boys, read again and sang "Oh, What a Night." They went, "That’s great, Daniel." I was walking out, and I turned around and said, "I play piano, too. Do you want to hear me?" So I played "Oh, What a Night," and I got the part. That was it. When it’s right, it’s right.

For more information, visit www.jerseyboysbroadway.com.

HE’S A BRIGHT NEW ‘LIGHT’ IN THE ‘PIAZZA’
Aaron Lazar plays Fabrizio, a young Italian who’s always beaming with love for Clara in The Light in the Piazza, and it’s no wonder everyone takes a shine to him. Kelli O’Hara, who co-starred as Clara until Dec. 4, raves, "Aaron’s beautiful to look at, beautiful to listen to and beautiful to fall in love with. And he’s made the entire experience [of Piazza] even more beautiful." Lazar, 28, says, "It’s been such a thrill to play my first Broadway lead with Kelli. She’s so special. And if I have to lose my leading lady, why not to Harry Connick Jr. [in The Pajama Game]?" Meantime, this 6-foot-1 hunk from Cherry Hill, NJ, has been rehearsing with Katie Clarke, who takes over as Clara on Dec. 16. He adds, "Katie’s gonna be fantastic."

Since Lazar started playing Fabrizio on Sept. 2, this former Broadway understudy (The Phantom of the Opera, Oklahoma!) has seamlessly tailored his character like a fine Italian suit and made it his own. "How great is it to play a guy who does all the fun stuff when you’re in love? It’s also the most challenging score I’ve ever sung. It combines singing in Italian and Adam Guettel’s music, which is gorgeously complex. It’s a dream working with this cast and Bartlett Sher. And Matty [Morrison, who originated this part] guided me into this role, and he’s been such a champ."

LeAnn Lazar, his gorgeous wife and a Ford model, says, "I love this role for Aaron. Like Fabrizio, he’s such a romantic. Aaron leaves notes around the apartment for me and writes beautiful cards. And he sings to me a lot. The play also mimics what we went through: falling in love with someone different. I converted to Judaism. Clara converts to Catholicism. And my parents are Southern, too." It’s also this culture clash that led these two foodies to win the "Food Network Caters Your Wedding" contest. Emeril Lagasse and Bobby Flay whipped up gourmet goodies for their reception, which aired as a TV special in March. Last year, Lazar was working on the Barry Manilow musical Harmony, so Manilow sent his congratulations via video: "Aaron is one of the most talented and dearest people I know, and LeAnn is a blessing to him."

Manilow also played a part on the night Lazar proposed: "I cooked LeAnn a birthday dinner of chicken fajitas and sang ‘Every Single Day’ from Harmony to her. And I had ‘Will you marry me?’ written on her favorite cake: strawberry shortcake. I asked her to get the cake from the refrigerator, while I went to the bathroom to get the ring and some roses. I waited for the string [on the cake box] to snap, so I’d hear her reaction. The string snapped, but nothing. Omigod. I crept out with the roses and ring behind my back. She hadn’t opened the box. I said, ‘Open the box!’ So she did and she freaked out. She was hyperventilating and crying. And I was crying, too. Proposing is the scariest thing I’ve ever done, but when LeAnn said yes, it was pure joy."

For more information, visit www.aaronlazar.com.

‘HEAVEN,’ HE’S IN ‘HEAVEN’
In Almost Heaven Jim Newman plays John Denver with the voice of an angel, and he’ll give you a Rocky Mountain high, especially when he sings "Thank God, I’m a Country Boy." And though he doesn’t wear Denver’s glasses or Dutch-boy haircut, this sweet, six-foot blond from Center Point, AL, lights up the Promenade stage as if he had sunshine on his shoulders. In this new revue of Denver’s toe-tapping tunes, he works in homespun harmony with Jennifer Allen, Terry Burrell, Valisia Lekae Little, Lee Morgan and Nicholas Rodriguez. Newman says, "I love this cast and Jeff Waxman’s arrangements. I think John would be really happy with our show." Almost Heaven celebrates the lyrical legacy of the Grammy-winning singer-songwriter who sold over 60 million albums around the world. Newman says, "John had an unbelievable way with melody. His lyrics are like poetry, and that’s what's great about having actors sing his songs. Instead of treating them like elevator music, a lot of people are listening to his lyrics for the first time. That’s the best tribute to John."

Though Denver might’ve had the image of a mellow, granola-loving good ol’ boy, Newman says, like many artists, he was tortured: "His wife, Annie, thinks John would’ve been diagnosed as bipolar nowadays. He had moments of deep depression and anger, and he was never faithful to her. After he wrote ‘Annie’s Song,’ this beautiful song about their love, she said she told him: ‘F*** the song. You could’ve written that about any girl you slept with.’ She hates to hear that song because it brings back memories of painful infidelity." So what’s she think of Almost Heaven? "Annie loves it. She thought it was honest and not cheesy. And his son, Zach, loves the show, too."

On Broadway, Newman has danced with Liza in Minnelli on Minnelli. Regionally, he bared his soul — and everything else — as Jerry in The Full Monty. And he had "magic to do" as the Leading Player in Paper Mill’s Pippin ("I loved being a bad-ass in $3,500 Gucci leather pants"). But one experience without peer was Steel Pier, John Kander and Fred Ebb’s 1997 musical about a 1930s dance marathon: "I played Happy, and Kristin Chenoweth was my wife and Debra Monk was my love interest. Scott Ellis and Susan Stroman were great, and I became friends with John Kander." Kander says, "Jimmy’s an original and he’s really gifted. He has a lot of colors [as a performer], and he’s one of the kindest people I know."

Newman adds, "Even though Steel Pier was a bomb, it was one of the best experiences of my life. Kristin was a blast, and if I were straight, we’d be married with kids." And Chenoweth agrees. In Instinct Magazine, she said, "There are so many people that I say, ‘Why are you gay? We’re perfect together! There’s Jim Newman of Steel Pier. If [Jim] gave it a chance, maybe it could work.’ [Laughs.]" In reality, Newman, 41, says, "I was dating women until I was 32, so I gave it a shot. I came out really late. I went through a religious phase, a lot of self-hate and I did the bisexual thing, but it wouldn’t go away. When I was 16, I was short and skinny. My sister brought home the swimsuit issue of GQ and I thought, ‘Why can’t I look like that?’ and transferred that to wanting [those guys] on top of me. My parents were divorced; my girlfriend was cheating on me, and now I’m gay? What did I do to deserve this?"

As for being an out actor, Newman says, "It’s about my quality of life. It’s really not about my list of credits when I die. I’ve loved all my leading ladies, and I’ve got no trouble being sexual with them. I’ve always played straight guys. The odd part is I’ve never played gay. But I think more of us will be coming out. And you know what? I’ve got a boyfriend who’s great. I have step-twin boys who are four-and-a-half and awesome. I’m not gonna jeopardize all that for a part. It’s just not worth it."

For more info, visit www.almostheaventhemusical.com.

WHERE THE GUYS ARE
At a press preview of The Secret Garden, Michael Arden sang the Dickens out of Dickon’s song, "Wick," from Lucy Simon and Marsha Norman’s soaring score. Arden says, "When I was 11, I did this show in Midlands, Texas, and Colin was the first part I ever played. Hearing this music again made me teary." He’ll co-star with Laura Benanti, Will Chase, Celia Keenan-Bolger, Jaclyn Niedenthal and Steven Pasquale in the World AIDS Day concert of this show on Dec. 5 at 7 PM at the Manhattan Center, 311 W. 34th St. (212-279-4200). It’ll benefit the Joey DiPaolo AIDS Foundation and Camp TLC.

The very next day, Dec. 6, Arden flies out to San Diego to work on The Times They Are a Changin’, the new Twyla Tharp-Bob Dylan show. As for his own musical, Easter Rising, he says, "I’ve finished a new version, and now I’m gonna shop it around." The show is about two men who had an intimate relationship when they were young, grow up, fall in love with women and then reunite years later. Told that he’d be the perfect composer-lyricist for an amazing musical based on "Brokeback Mountain," the gay-cowboy movie starring Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, Arden says, "I know. It’s so funny. Someone told me it sounds a lot like Easter Rising, but I had the idea first." (If "Brokeback" becomes a Broadway musical, which two "Leading Men" would be the perfect pair to star in it? E-mail us at waymanwong@hotmail.com and maybe we’ll print your casting choices.)

Finally, Susan Stroman’s big-screen version of Mel Brooks' The Producers opens Dec. 16 in New York. So "will it flop or will it go"? Well, we think it’s a hoot and a half. Nathan Lane plays Bialystock to the Max; Matthew Broderick blooms as Leo, and Gary Beach and Roger Bart are so goofy and gay, "they nearly flew away." And don’t miss Will Farrell's hilarious "The Hop-Clop Goes On" over the closing credits. Sometimes, this movie musical is "Betrayed" by its stage origins, but we’re grateful it’s so faithful. Plus, it’s fun to catch cameos of John Barrowman, Brent Barrett and Jai Rodriguez. We did one day’s work as an extra on this film, so if you want to play "Where’s Wayman?," we’re in the audience of Springtime for Hitler.

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

Until next month, let’s hear it for the "boys," and happy holidays!

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.

Aaron Lazar, Jim Newman and Michael Arden.
Aaron Lazar, Jim Newman and Michael Arden. Photo by Ben Strothmann
Today’s Most Popular News: