THE LEADING MEN: Maroulis and Kirkwood

The Leading Men   THE LEADING MEN: Maroulis and Kirkwood
 
In this month's column, Rock of Ages Tony nominee Constantine Maroulis rocks on by, and actor-writer Kevin Smith Kirkwood puts the "fun" in funk.
Constantine Maroulis
Constantine Maroulis

CONSTANT SCENE
From "American Idol" finalist to Tony nominee in Broadway's Rock of Ages, it has been a whirlwind few years for Brooklyn-born, New Jersey-raised Constantine Maroulis. He lives the proverbial rock-star life onstage most every night at the Brooks Atkinson where his powerful but perfectly pitched vocals deserve their own dressing room. Offstage, the lifelong Yankees fan told me how he recently marveled at sitting near Paul McCartney and Jack Nicholson at a ball game. "It was one of those crazy nights," he says. One gets the feeling the crazy times are just beginning for Constantine.

Q: You're still rockin' in Rock of Ages. How are you keeping it a blast for yourself?
Constantine Maroulis: You know, I just do my job every night. That's what I get paid to do. Show up and kick ass—that's what I try to do. It helps that we have a thousand screaming, eager fans packing the theatre every night, anticipating a good show. The buzz has been awesome. It's been a great thing to be a part of. It was built so organically from a little club in L.A. to sold-out runs on Broadway to the Tony Awards and lots of turnover in my leading lady category! But we've had consistent fans and people who get to see a show they normally wouldn't see on Broadway. We're bringing a new demographic to the theatre mixed with a more traditional Broadway crowd, and it makes for a great dynamic every night—that energy, you feed off that energy.

Q: Coming off of "Idol" it was clear you had an affinity for this music, going way back. You also have theatrical musical experience as well, but you are definitely someone who always dug the rock, yes?
Maroulis: Absolutely. Definitely grew up with this music. Being born in Brooklyn and growing up in New Jersey, Bon Jovi was huge for me, all of that East Coast eighties rock and roll. I was a blue-collar kid; that was everything to me. Those guys could really sing, and it was so theatrical. So I definitely gravitated toward that music early on, and the videos and the spectacle that was a part of selling those songs as well.

Q: Have the rockers in the cast meshed well with the more theatre-loving folks? Or is everyone a little of both?
Maroulis: I think the creatives did an incredible job of casting this show from day one. They put the right players together. They put people together that had a lot of experience, but a lot of them hadn't had the opportunity to be out in front in a creative role and to really show what they could do as far as character work, singing, feature moments, everything. So I have to give all the credit to the creative team for casting the right people who knew how to take these songs and turn them into scenes in the show in a comedic setting and really just go for it. And what was awesome was creating the process together in the rehearsal room with Kristin Hanggi [director] and Chris D'Arienzo [book], really exploring the characters and the jokes and the ad libs, a lot of which ended up being part of the show permanently. Taking some of what the actors started in the L.A. workshop phase and bringing it to another level — I think all of that stuff was just so huge. I don't think anyone ever needed my help with the songs or anything like that. Once in a while [cast mates] will come up to me and say, "Dude, how do you do it every night? Where do you get it from? How can I sound a little bit more rock?" And I might recommend a couple of records to listen to that might help. It's all sort of in the phrasing sometimes. It's more of a feel thing than anything; it's not something you can really teach.

Q: I was curious what rock-and-roll albums shaped your life. You mentioned Bon Jovi, but were there ever specific albums that gave you the feeling, "Wow, this is it!"?
Maroulis: Definitely Jane's Addiction—"Nothing Shocking." Guns 'N' Roses—"Appetite for Destruction." Nirvana—"Nevermind." U2—"Joshua Tree." Aerosmith—"Toys in the Attic." You know, monster records that just jumped out of my youth and have still stayed with me the whole time. Q: A common thread of those is the awesome production of the music.
Maroulis: Great production—great songwriting too, though. If you took those songs down to basic guitar and vocals, it would be just awesome melody, great vocals, great lyrics; they tell a story, they connect. That's what really stands the test of time.

Q: You spent time up at the Williamstown Theatre Festival earlier in your life. What does Williamstown mean to you?
Maroulis: It was huge for me. Coming out of a BFA setting and being able to apply all the tools I picked up there in a professional environment over a three- or four- month period was just so huge for me in my whole process. I had plans to move back to New York and work with the best in the country, the best in the world; all the up-and-coming writers, directors; all the established writers, directors. I had Chris Pine as an acting apprentice there with me, and we were competing for lead roles in all the little projects. And now he's a big movie star. Everyone would push each other to the next level. We were working around the clock; we were apprentices, so we were the dogs of the Festival, but if we weren't running crew and being in the ensemble on a main stage show, we were doing a director workshop production in the middle of the night —rehearsing that and still making our crew time in the morning — in time to make rehearsal for another thing that afternoon. It was just round-the-clock madness, and it was awesome. The problem is that I wish there was a little more air conditioning up there, but it helped us suffer for our art [laughs]. I met so many amazing people up there. I got to meet Paul Newman that summer, Christopher Reeve, somewhere in there, Michael Greif, actually, and he cast me in Rent shortly after that. It ending up being pretty cool.

Q: Tell me a little about "A Night at the Rock Show at Joe's Pub."
Maroulis: "A Night at the Rock Show" is a concept I'm working on. I can't reveal too much about it as far as our long-term plans with it, but I really just want to pay tribute to and celebrate the great songs of rock of the last 40 years in a bit more intimate, theatrical-meets-rock sort of setting. I think people got to know me on "American Idol" because I have a knack for interpreting good rock songs, and maybe some were hits, some were misses. I think I've assembled a great group of people to work with, and I hope to be able to take it to another level, where it would involve far more production, far more spectacle... It's just something I wanted to put together for the fans as well as for me. I'm not a 20-year-old recording artist; I'm a bit older than that now, and I appeal to a different demographic, from the teens to the moms and dads. I want to create something that everyone can enjoy. And based on the success of Rock of Ages and how everyone is reacting to that, I think this is the right time for "A Night at the Rock Show." That's what it is—it really is just a night at the rock show. Back in the seventies, when all the giants still walked the earth, the Led Zeppelins and the Who and everyone—it was an event, you'd go and see a concert. It was like a real event, and I want to bring back that feeling.

Q: What was it like working with Brian May of Queen and those guys? That had to be incredible for you.
Maroulis: Oh, clearly. Just legends. I plan on tipping my hat to them in my show at Joe's and the subsequent other venues. It was an incredible experience, and when I did the song on "American Idol," it was still so early on in the season and all, that they hadn't had one song really jump out of the show like that until then, and I was honored to jump into those shoes to do that, but we were just at the beginning of the digital age for downloading and stuff, so they saw the spike in their catalog, and it was the first time that people were saying, "Wow, maybe this 'Idol' thing could really help sell the records of these artists as well," and thereafter you started seeing more artists comply with letting them use their songs on the show, and then you saw more and more artists lining up to perform on the show. Brian May's been amazing. I've gotten to see Queen with Paul Rogers [singing] as well, and it's pretty awesome; it's a whole different sort of take, and I think they did a track with Adam Lambert recently, too, so it's awesome that they've been so supportive and involved with the "Idol" family and the talents in that as well and still to this day.

Constantine Maroulis
photo by Joan Marcus

Q: Lastly, and I know that this is a changeable thing, but what's your favorite song to perform currently in the show?
Maroulis: I think I tell someone a different song every time they ask me that. There's some really beautifully strong moments in the show for my character. I think the end of Act One is really strong with the Whitesnake number because it's one of these rock classics that manages to be spiritual and very uplifting as well. "Here I go again on my own…" You know the lyrics. And it really just makes so much sense in the world of our show. And our two characters, Drew and Sherrie, are at a sort of crossroads. I really think it starts off so intimately and beautifully, and the whole ensemble comes out and rocks it out, and I get to scream the high F or whatever it is, and then we end Act One very strong with a bit of humor as well. That always ends up being my favorite, but every number I get to sing in the show is a blessing. From the opening to the end with Journey. "I Wanna Rock" by Twisted Sister — I grew up worshiping that band as well. The whole process has been a blessing, and I'm grateful to our great producers and creative team for giving me the opportunity. I think it's all worked out pretty good for all of us. [Rock of Ages is at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, 256 West 47th Street. For ticket information, go to www.rockofagesmusical.com.]

Kevin Smith Kirkwood

DIAL 'K' FOR KEVIN
Note to any teachers out there: If there is one constant among the many performers I have spoken to, it is that they tend to remember the teachers who pushed them to pursue dreams they might not otherwise have gone after. Kevin Smith Kirkwood is no exception. Raised in a rough area in Toledo, he was given a chance to attend a Jesuit High School there, where one priest gave him the encouragement to act and sing, which led to Kirkwood studying theatre at Fordham and eventually making a go of it as a musical performer. Currently he is acting in a funky new Off-Broadway Blaxploitation satire musical called Dial 'N' For Negress, which bows Sept. 10 at the Clurman. Q: You came up with the concept for Dial 'N', so tell me what you were going for with it or what inspired it?
Kevin Smith Kirkwood: The team that created the show [including Travis Kramer and Tom Oster] is a bunch of friends from college and high school, actually. We've been friends for a long time. We created a show five years ago called Karate Kid the Musical, and we took it and gave it a sort of gay, edgy, 2000s slant. It was fun to do, and we liked working together as a team, so we looked toward the Blaxploitation genre. And I thought, "What if Prince could have played Shaft?"

Q: Do you like being in things in which you have such a key role in the creation of the show? Is that pretty rewarding, a little scary or both?
Kirkwood: It's definitely all of the above. It doesn't get scary until right up until those last rehearsals, which is right about now. It's been the most rewarding thing ever to work on something that I helped create from the ground up and that is expressing ideas and things that I want to express. And you get to work with friends who you know and trust, which is an awesome feeling.

Kevin Smith Kirkwood in Dial 'N'

Q: With Karate Kid and Dial 'N', it seems you have a taste for spoofs and satire.
Kirkwood: Oh definitely. We love the idea of being able to comment on something, which is what the best spoofs are able to do. Not just making fun of it but have something to say about it. That genre also gives you a chance to be a little more outrageous and edgy and fun. Q: Checking your résumé, it looks like you've done a variety of shows. What are some of your favorites?
Kirkwood: Well, of course, Spelling Bee because it was a great show, and I love William Finn's music, so that was awesome to do, and I've gotten to do some concerts with him since, singing more of his awesome music. Godspell the tour, which was one of my first jobs, was really awesome to do. It was a great young cast; we were all just kids having a great time. I got to play Angel in Rent last year at the Weathervane Theatre up in New Hampshire—a small theatre, but the production values they have there are really great for a small regional theatre, and it's really about the work, and you get to stretch your wings over the course of a summer in like seven different shows.

Q: And you do some cabaret shows as well.
Kirkwood: I do, yes. I've done a show at the Duplex with a friend of mine named Ritter Hand. I did a solo show called "It's Me, Baby, It's Kevin," which is a chronicle of my life. And last September, Ritter and I joined forces again to do a show at the Laurie Beechman Theatre, which is called "Comme Tu Veux," which again is about getting together, creating something of our own, putting it together and performing it. It feels really awesome. [Dial 'N' For Negress is at the Clurman Theatre, located at Theatre Row at 410 West 42nd Street. Call (212) 279-4200 for tickets, or for more information, go to DialNforNegress.com.]

HITHER AND YON
Lots to talk about this month, which marks my lucky 13th year in NYC…Original movie musicals featuring Broadway talent are hard to come by these days, so "Clear Blue Tuesday," screening at the SVA Theater (333 West 23rd) on Sept. 10 at 7 and 9:15 PM is pretty exciting for that reason, and the trailer on Youtube looks pretty intense. The film, directed by Elizabeth Lucas, features original music written by the cast, which is a cool approach for a movie dealing with the emotional effects on New Yorkers in the years after Sept. 11. Associate producer, Julie Miller, told me, "Basically the cast went through a series of improvisational meetings, and out of that, grew the script — sort of like the process for A Chorus Line, but turned into a film instead of a theatre piece." Among the cast are Asa Somers, Becca Ayers, Greg Naughton, Jeremy Schonfeld, Julia Murney, James Naughton, Kelli O'Hara and Christian Campbell. Go to www.clearbluetuesday.com for further info. . . . My predecessor at this column, Wayman Wong, continues spreading the Leading Men spirit by producing the wonderful Leading Men concert series benefiting Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Leading Men IV was held back in May, and the DVD will be available at the Broadway Flea Market on Sept. 27, so if you are attending the Flea, keep an eye out for the DVD. Past editions will also be available. If you can't attend, fear not. The DVDs will be available through BroadwayBeat.com thereafter. LM IV was hosted by John Tartaglia and featured Nick Adams, James Barbour, Jim Caruso, Mickey Conlon, Michael Kadin Craig, Kevin Earley, Jonathan Groff, Norm Lewis, Paolo Montalban (whom we'll be talking to soon), Tony Yazbeck and others. More on the DVD next time. . . .The wonders of the internet never cease. Who would have thought one could see footage from the long-lost collaboration between John Phillips, Michael Bennett, and later Andy Warhol called The Man in the Moon? There is a two-minute video clip of a performance of the song "Plastic Bouquets" on www.dangerousminds.net that gives a clue at just how charmingly odd the show was. Check that out while you can. . . .Speaking of Warhol, the lovely Merrill Grant informed me that she's been cast as the lead in the NYMF dance musical Andy Warhol Was Right written by Sammy Buck with music by Dan Acquisto and choreography by Daryl Gray, Darren Lee and Shea Sullivan. Giovanna Sardelli directs this mixture of dance, music and pop art that opens Sept. 30 at Manhattan Movement and Arts Center. Go to www.nymf.org for details. . . . Sept. 11 and 12, St. Bart's has a fundraiser, a staged reading of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown. David Pasteelnick, Chazmond Peacock, Marc Strauss and Michael Vannoni are the dudes in the cast. Call the box office for reservations: (212) 378-0248. St. Bart's is at 109 East 50th Street between Park and Lexington Avenues. . . .Okay, that's a wrap. Look for me at the Broadway Flea!

Tom Nondorf can be reached at tnondorf@playbill.com.

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