THE LEADING MEN: Most Happy Fellas

The Leading Men   THE LEADING MEN: Most Happy Fellas
 
June is bustin' out all over with Tonys' top nominees for Best Actor in a Musical, plus three of the funniest fellas around: John Hill (Skinny Corpse) and Billy Eichner and Robin Taylor (Creation Nation).
John Lloyd Young
John Lloyd Young Photo by Ben Strothmann

TONY'S PHENOMENAL NOMINEES
It's awards season, so here are notable quotes we gathered from the Drama League luncheon, the Drama Desk Awards and the Tony Awards press reception:

John Lloyd Young, "Jersey Boys": You've been so busy these days; how are you holding up? "My itinerary looks like Hillary Clinton's when she was running for Senate. There's not a single hour in the day that's free, but I like that. I'm a workaholic." How's it feel being in a show that's gotten so much Tony buzz? "Exciting. The show's such a hit, and J. Robert Spencer, Daniel Reichard and Christian Hoff are all great. If anything, J. Robert Spencer is the unsung hero of our group. His performance is one of the most layered and nuanced of all of us. Unfortunately, that kind of work goes unnoticed because you're not doing spins or wearing sequins." What was your reaction to the New York Post theatre column that suggested that you weren't doing all your own singing? "I didn't feel significantly successful enough yet to have someone attempt to bring me down, so it was very odd to see myself the subject of a gossip column. Michael Riedel never talked to me or else I would've set him straight on a lot of the innuendo. It was more misinformed than malicious." What's it like going through awards season with your girlfriend, Alison Franck? "Wonderful. She's the casting director at Paper Mill and knows everybody. It's been fun, and we've been together since March 2004." Any plans to marry? "We're very busy now, but we've had discussions, and the next role I'd like to play could be a life role, yes. That's as far as I'll go without giving myself away."

Harry Connick Jr., The Pajama Game: How’s it feel getting Tony-nominated for your Broadway acting debut? "It’s really cool, man. I haven’t had a chance to see the guys in my category, but I’ve met a bunch of them, and they’re all great and deserve to win." How's it doing eight shows a week? "It's been easier than being on the road because you’re staying in one place. I’ve also learned how wonderful the collaborative spirit is on Broadway." What’s it like working with Kelli O’Hara? "The best. Kelli’s just an amazing talent. And a big goofball. She makes weird faces and could win Stupid Human Tricks on the Letterman show. She’s got this vein in her arm that she can move all around, and she whistles with all these combinations of fingers and does all kinds of crap. She’s so funny." How was it shooting the last episode of "Will & Grace"? "Sad, but I loved playing Leo, and it was a thrill to know those people. Eric [McCormack] came to see me a few weeks ago and had such a good time." Do you think "Will & Grace" has expanded your gay fan base? "I don’t notice that about my fans, but I grew up in showbiz, so I have a lotta gay friends, and they’ve always been a big part of my life. In New Orleans, we’re very sexually expressive people. Anything goes." Finally, do you wear pajamas in real life? “Nope, I go commando, baby, all the way!"

Stephen Lynch, The Wedding Singer: What’s it like getting nominated for your Broadway debut playing Robbie Hart, alongside all these great guys? "It’s crazy. These are hypertalented people. It’s making me nervous. I’m proud of myself and my performance, but this is kind of a shocker. I really appreciate all the Tony nominations that our show got." Your leading lady, Laura Benanti, has been a two-time Tony nominee, so what’s it like sharing that long, steamy kiss with her in Act I? "That kiss used to be two seconds long. One day we realized that the longer it went, the more the audience would feel we were falling in love at that instant. It also makes the scene kinda funny when we’re mashing it up for a minute and a half." What’s your favorite moment in the show? "It changes all the time. One week, it was 'Come Out of the Dumpster' because I was so tired and got to lie in the dumpster and just listen to Laura sing. Another week, it was 'Casualty of Love' because I got to exorcise my demons onstage." One of the show’s unsung heroes is Matthew Saldivar, who plays your pal, Sammy. "Matt’s my man. He’s been there since day one of the readings. He’s an incredibly gifted actor and so instinctively funny." Speaking of weddings, some politicians want to pass a constitutional amendment against gay marriage. What do you think? "That’s ridiculous! Two people who love each other should be able to celebrate it in any way they see fit."

Michael Cerveris, Sweeney Todd: What's the sexiest thing about working with Patti LuPone? "Her fearlessness. She's adventurous, outrageous and fun. When you have to be as good as Patti LuPone onstage, you gotta be pretty darn good." Patti says she can see faces in the audience because the lighting is so bright. Can you? "I can see all the way to the back wall. I like to know who's in the house, so I won't be surprised. The night Len Cariou came, he was sitting next to [Brian] Stokes [Mitchell]. Afterward, it was such a thrill to go out with Len; he told me war stories about the original Sweeney, which I saw seven times." Even though this is your third Tony nomination, have you ever thought of quitting acting? "At least a dozen times. And that's matched by the other dozen of times when I think, 'They'll figure out that I really don't have any talent. My career's over.' Even after winning the Tony for Assassins, I wondered, 'Maybe this is it.'" Isn't it ironic that you play a barber even though you're bald? "I guess it's good advertising for my barber skills if I shave myself well. I've been shaving my head since Tommy [in 1993] because I wore a wig all the time; it was so much more comfortable to have it shaved." Some women love guys who are bald. Has it helped your love life? "Anyone who finds a murdering barber sexy is someone you gotta be kinda nervous about, but I'm grateful for any attention." Bob Martin, The Drowsy Chaperone: Congrats on being the longest-running Canadian musical on Broadway! "It's true. We beat Billy Bishop Goes to War, which ran for 12 performances in 1982. We had champagne on the day we passed that mark. We also got a letter from the prime minister of Canada on our opening night, and it was a real thrill." Are you anything like your character, Man in Chair? "We're all a little like him. I'm a chronically, marginally depressed person, though I'm very happy today. I also have a disdain for ringing phones and a desire to be transported by theatre and a disappointment with a lot of the theatre I see." Your Man in Chair yearns for the days of the Gershwins and makes a wisecrack about Elton John ("Must we continue this charade?"). What do you think of Elton's musicals? "I love his music. You know what? That line was written six years ago. It's not about Lestat. It was written in response to the more pop-oriented musicals. I still haven't seen The Lion King. But I'd love to see Billy Elliott." What musicals do you obsess over? "I'm more into jazz and Steely Dan, but I love The Music Man, Guys and Dolls and Gypsy." Soon, your show will be the one that young fans obsess over. "More than anything else, I dream this show will be done in high schools. Some kid will get to say, 'I want to play Man in Chair!'"

HILL'S ALIVE WITH THE SOUND OF MUSIC
Thanks to his pecs and performances in Broadway's Hairspray and The Boy From Oz and Off-Broadway's Bare, John Hill has set more hearts racing than a cardiologist at Mount Sinai. But there's a hunk of untapped talent in this 6-foot-2 actor from San Antonio, Texas. In his new comedy-cabaret show, Skinny Corpse, playing June 5 at 9:30 PM at The Duplex, he shows off an outrageous sense of humor and a riotous writing style that's absolutely Hill-arious. In between pop songs, he tears into tirades about MySpace, musicals and Marissa Janet Winokur. Having appeared on his Hairspray co-star's sitcom, "Stacked," he jokes, "My trailer was a shower stall in a ditch. Marissa's trailer was a blowup circus tent with Chuck E. Cheese for catering." Hill also name-drops Pamela Anderson, Nathan Lane and Jai Rodriguez. Matthew Morrison, who was at a recent show, says, "John is one of the funniest people I know because you never know what's gonna come out of that boy's mouth."

Hill had a tough time writing his act until Harvey Fierstein told him, "Just remember the most painful stuff is the funniest to other people." Produced by Jason Courson and directed by Ben Rimalower, Skinny Corpse also deals with growing up gay. Hill recalls, "I always knew I was gay. I loved 'Falcon Crest.' I loved the drama, the fighting and the pants suits. I lived in some soap opera in my head. I was always in theatre, but I also had girlfriends in high school. The first time I made out with them was during a horror movie, like 'Carrie' and 'Seven.'" His minister-dad and mom discovered he was gay after finding an e-mail to his first boyfriend on his father's computer. "My parents also found a straight porno tape called 'Butt Party' in my bed, so they thought there was still hope for me, so they sent me to a Christian counselor, but it was no use. It's still sucky [between us], but they're the best people on the planet."

While in college, Hill left to play Chris in a tour of Miss Saigon, which eventually led to New York. "I was bartending at XL with my shirt off and I wanted to slit my wrists. When James Carpinello dropped out of Hairspray, Matt Morrison got bumped up to Link, and they needed a replacement. There were 50 of us at the audition. I knew Katy Grenfell [who understudied Winokur], so I made fun of her boobs, and they thought that was funny. Then it was down to two of us. The other guy knew the songs; he knew Marc Shaiman. Then John Waters came into the room. I thought: 'If there's any justice, he'll make the deciding vote in my favor,' and he did!"

Next, Hill got "caught between the moon and New York City" playing Mark Herron, Judy Garland's ex-hubby, and Hugh Jackman's cover as Peter Allen in The Boy From Oz. "I love Hugh. He's just the greatest person. And yes, he's straight. He came up with the idea: 'What if I kissed you [Herron] in front of Judy to insult you?' So we kissed. We did it only twice in rehearsal, but I was shocked."

Asked if he wrestled with being an out Broadway actor, Hill says, "I'm 28. I'd rather be happy doing what I'm doing than trying to be the hottest leading man or some B.S." Besides Skinny Corpse, which will be extended soon, he's excited about a TV pilot he sold to MTV called "Show Choir." It's now being shot in Morgantown, West Virginia, produced by World of Wonder, which did "Showdogs Moms & Dads" for Bravo. "'Show Choir' is basically cheerleading meets drama club meets R.O.T.C. It's a high school competition that features about 40-50 kids on a team, doing the same choreography, so it looks cool. I think the success of 'High School Musical' showed MTV that there's an audience for this. If we get picked up, we'll follow one show choir from the first day of auditions to the national championships. I'm the co-producer, and this is the most stressful thing I've ever done, but it's gonna be a great show!"

For more info, visit www.theduplex.com and www.johnnyandkooks.com.

THE FUNNIEST GUYS IN 'CREATION'
Creation Nation is the hottest and hippest variety chat show in New York, so it's no surprise that Billy Eichner and Robin Taylor are the talk of the town. The New York Times has called this unambiguously gay duo a "late night theatrical phenomenon," and their wacky collaboration of sketch comedy, satirical songs and video has won them awards from Time Out New York and the New York Nightlife critics. Their celebrity guests have included Ana Gasteyer, Jackie Hoffman and Denis O'Hare, and Bravo is talking to these boys about bringing their inspired insanity to TV.

So what makes Creation Nation, which plays through June at the Ars Nova, a hit? It's the incredible comic chemistry between Eichner and Taylor, who play Billy Willing, a high-energy talk-show host, and Robin Lord, his adorably low-key sidekick. Wittily written by Eichner, the show parodies pop songs like James Blunt's "You're Beautiful" with a silly spoof called "You Look Really Good for You." You also have to laugh at Willing's hyper-celebrity-obsessed rants and reviews: "In 'Firewall,' Harrison Ford does all of his own stunts; unfortunately, he also does all his own acting." Or: "Julia Roberts got so beaten up by the New York critics that she was taken away by Child Services. Her performance is so bad that I kept hoping the chandelier from The Phantom of the Opera would somehow cross the street and hit her in the head."

Eichner, a 6-foot-3 brunette from Queens, says, "We were unemployed actors sitting at home watching talk shows, so Creation Nation started as a gay 'Regis & Kelly.' We thought: 'Wouldn't it be great if there were a talk show hosted by two gay guys that had the same weird sexual vibe?' And what if one of us [Willing] was out and the other [Lord] was uncomfortable talking about his sexuality?" Taylor, a 5-foot-8 blond from Solon, Iowa, says, "No offense to any Scientologists, but I couldn't live with myself if I had to lie. If you're a good actor, who gives a s***?" Eichner adds, "I know closeted actors who go, 'Oh, my career!' That's just insecurity about your talent. I'm with the biggest agency in Hollywood [CAA], and I love being gay. People should be out. It means more to the world than being on some stupid soap opera."

These best friends, both 27, first met as roommates at Northwestern University. Eichner recalls, "We were such opposites. I'm this city kid who's loud and opinionated, and Robin was this shy, polite boy from Iowa, but we bonded." Taylor says, "We found out that we watched the same span of cable TV in the eighties, all these weird movies like 'Who's That Girl?' and 'Poltergeist II.'" Even today, they're still roommates. Though they banter and bicker like a couple in Creation Nation, they never dated each other. In real life, Taylor's got a boyfriend, and Eichner is single.

Individually, Taylor earned raves as a gay hustler in The Culture Project's The Shooting Stage and appeared in Shakespeare's Henry IV at La Mama. And Eichner made his bright Off-Broadway debut in the Eli Bolin-Sam Forman musical I Sing, directed by Benjamin Salka. (Bolin is now his musical director of Creation Nation; Forman is his producer, and Salka still directs Eichner.)

Eichner says, "I'd love to do a funny Broadway musical or a sitcom, but Creation Nation has spoiled me. Our show rips apart everything: Robin, myself, our guests. But it all comes out of a love of what's good about pop culture and wanting to contribute. We go beyond celebrity jokes; we want to be thought-provoking about the world." For more information, visit www.creationnationstation.com.

WHERE THE GUYS ARE
There's so much to see in New York: Patrick Mellen (Lestat) weds the timely topic of same-sex marriage with pop and showtunes in his act, ringfinger, on June 4 and 25 at 9:15 PM at The Triad, 158 W. 72nd St. (212-479-7995). . . . Two-time MAC Award winner Brandon Cutrell will headline June 5 at 8:30 PM at Feinstein's at the Regency, 540 Park Ave. (212-339-4095). And two-time Tony Award winner James Naughton continues there with his nightly show, Looking for the Heart of Saturday Night, through June 10. . . . David Josefsberg (The Wedding Singer) will shine in the Broadway Spotlight on June 5 at 8 PM at the Ars Nova, 511 W. 54th St. (212-868-4444). And Kevin Cahoon, who plays George in the Wedding band, will join his group, Ghetto Cowboy, on June 25 at 11:30 PM at Joe's Pub, 425 Lafayette St. (212-539-8778). . . . Singer-songwriter Marc McBarron Kessler, who's been hailed by Time Out New York as "an artist to watch," will play June 10 at 9 PM at Rose's Turn, 55 Grove St. (212-366-5438). . . . David Burnham (The Light in the Piazza) will warble on June 19 at 7 PM at Birdland, 315 W. 44th St. (212-581-3080). . . . Michael Longoria, who imitates the pint-sized Joe Pesci in Jersey Boys, makes it to the Metropolitan Room on June 19 at 8 PM at 34 W. 22nd St. (212-206-0440). And finally, Jay Rogers brings his madcap musical comedy there on June 23 at 8 PM.

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.

From Left: John Hill, and Robin Taylor & Billy Eichner of
From Left: John Hill, and Robin Taylor & Billy Eichner of Photo by Jason Courson and Ben Strothmann
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