THE LEADING MEN: Oh, Danny Boy!

The Leading Men   THE LEADING MEN: Oh, Danny Boy! Happy New Year! Here are four "Leading Men" loaded with drive who’ll be thriving in ’05: Danny Gurwin (Little Women), John Tartaglia (Avenue Q) and Brian and Ted Farley (Rose’s Turn).
Danny Gurwin
Danny Gurwin Photo by Ben Strothmann

LITTLE WOMEN IS HIS BIG BREAK
In Little Women, how can you ignore the boy next door, especially if he’s played by the delightful Danny Gurwin? The handsome actor portrays the lovable Laurie, who believes happiness is just a thing called Jo (Sutton Foster), in the new Broadway musical of Louisa May Alcott’s classic, opening Jan. 23 at the Virginia.

Gurwin and Foster first worked together as kids doing children’s theatre in Detroit. She recalls, "All the girls loved Danny, and I think I had a crush on him, too. But Little Women is the first time we’ve worked together as adults. It’s amazing to share this history and play two characters who grew up and became family. We both feel so lucky." Gurwin, 32, adds, "Sutton’s like my little sister. She’s so wonderful and giving!"

Another Broadway veteran, Marc Kudisch, claims the 5-foot-11 tenor as his "kid brother." They’ve worked together on The Scarlet Pimpernel, A Little Night Music and The Thing About Men — and they’ve been roommates for six years. Kudisch says, "Danny’s a sweetheart and a great soul. He’s also talented and funny, and he can sing to the sky. In A Little Night Music, he had to hit a B, and he would hit that f***** and it would be always glorious and full."

Question: Congrats! How’d you get involved with Little Women?
Danny Gurwin: About two years ago, [the director] Susan Schulman saw me in A Little Night Music and she called me about doing a reading of this show. And I’ve been with it ever since. I had read "Little Women" in school, and it’s a very funny book with so many great stories; our writers [Allan Knee, Jason Howland and Mindi Dickstein] did a really nice job of choosing which ones to dramatize. I’ve also seen the movie versions with Katharine Hepburn and Winona Ryder.

Q: Do you identify with Laurie?
Gurwin: Completely. We both have a quirky sense of humor. Laurie’s devoted to Jo and the other March girls, and I’m devoted to my friends. And like him, I tend to be shy, but once I get to know you, I’m more comfortable. I love the arc I get to play. Initially, I’m the romantic lead and I propose to Jo, but then it shifts. Q: Why do you think Alcott’s book is such a classic?
Gurwin: Everyone can identify with the March family. It’s also a wonderfully romantic story, not just in the relationships, but in Jo’s quest to become a writer.

Q: How’s it feel to originate your first role on Broadway?
Gurwin: Exciting! I love this show. The cast is so wonderful, and I’m in great hands with the creative staff, especially Susan Schulman.

Q: Tell us about Sutton and the Peanut Butter Players.
Gurwin: Omigod! [Laughs.] That was the name of the children’s theatre where we worked together. We didn’t do Barnum, but we did P.T.: The Story of Barnum. I was 14 or 15 and played Barnum, and Sutton played the Girl on the Trapeze, so my biggest memory of her is hanging upside down.

Q: You’ve played Henrik in A Little Night Music at N.Y. City Opera, the Kennedy Center and L.A. Opera. How did that come about?
Gurwin: I’m a really high tenor and vocally, the role suits me. [Stephen] Sondheim’s been a big champion of mine, and I think he’s the reason I’ve gotten to do it so often. I love Night Music, but someday I’d also love to play George in Sunday in the Park With George. Actually, the first time I met Sondheim, I was parodying him in Forbidden Broadway, but he was a good sport.

Q: Jeremy Irons is a great actor, but when I saw him play Fredrik in Night Music, he dropped a number of his lyrics.
Gurwin: That happened every night. But we just rolled with it. He worked very hard. And he was fun. He loved doing scene work.

Q:Marc Kudisch, who played Carl-Magnus, says he’s an extrovert and you’re an introvert, so how did you two become roommates?
Gurwin: Marc had bought a two-bedroom and was dating Kristin Chenoweth then. She wasn’t ready to move in yet, so he needed someone to move in temporarily. And when they broke up, I stayed on. We really get along, and Marc’s a great guy. We’re like the Odd Couple. We share [the chores], but I think that Marc has never bought paper towels — ever. [Laughs.] I’ve had friends who joked that we’re the best show in town; they could get popcorn and just sit and watch the two of us.

Q: Showbiz is so tough. Ever tempted to throw in the towel?
Gurwin: All the time. I have so many things I’d like to do. I had a double major in art history and musical theatre at Michigan. I love interior design and architecture. And I love TV shows like "Extreme Makeover" or "While You Were Out." I’m glued to the screen. Working on something like that would be a dream come true.

For more information, visit www.dannygurwin.com.

LEAVING AVENUE Q WITH A SENSE OF ‘PURPOSE’
"What do you do when you choose to leave Broadway? What is your life going to be?" Well, Avenue Q's John Tartaglia, 26, will soon find out. First, the adorable actor-puppeteer returns with his hilarious cabaret show, AD-LIBerty, Jan. 3 at 7 and 9:30 PM and Jan. 24 at 7 PM at Joe’s Pub. Dazzlingly directed by Alan Muraoka, it’s a campy mix of Muppets, Mickey Mouse and madcap pop medleys. Then, Tartaglia gets set to exit his Tony winning musical on Jan. 30. Since he gave his very first interview to this column, it was only fitting to revisit this Theater World Award winner who’s got a fine, fine mind and the sweetest soul.

"I’m so lucky and grateful for everything Avenue Q has brought me, but it was time," says the 5-foot-11 performer. "I’m so physically and vocally exhausted. It’s been five years of my life. I know too many jaded Broadway performers, so I want to go out really loving it. Leaving Princeton and Rod is going to be hard. It’s like leaving your children. I have no love for the puppets themselves; physically, they’re tools, and Rick Lyon’s designed beautiful puppets. But I will miss being those characters. They’re not just voices. They’re people I’ve built up from scratch. And I’ll miss my family at the theatre. Our cast is really close, and everyone’s been so supportive. There’s genuine love there. Our crew is the best on Broadway, and our band is amazing."

But don’t think Tartaglia’s hit a dead end with Avenue Q. There’s "talk" that he might open the Vegas production in the fall, and he might return someday to the show at the Golden — or in another Broadway musical: "I’ve always loved Beauty and the Beast and I’d love to be Lumiere. Or Mark in Rent." He recently did a workshop of Zanna, Don’t, "but I hear its [Broadway run] has been postponed." Outside of theatre, what’s his dream job? "People will think I’m nuts, but I’d love to play Goofy at Disney World. I love seeing people happy."

Tartaglia, who would like to have kids someday, also is getting to make one of his "fantasies come true": "I’m developing a children’s show for the Disney Channel. I’ll be performing in it and there’s puppets involved. It’ll be fun and it’ll challenge kids, like ‘Sesame Street.’ A lot of today’s kids’ shows talk down to them. ‘Teletubbies’ drives me crazy. I grew up with ‘Electric Company,’ ‘Fraggle Rock’ and ‘Kids, Inc.’ My show’s gonna be about relationships and feelings. And it’ll have great music, not stuff like ‘I love you, you love me’ [on ‘Barney’]. I’m very protective of kids."

Setting a good example was also a reason why Tartaglia chose to be openly gay: "When I was 15, there was no ‘Ellen’ or ‘Will & Grace.’ I used to cry myself to sleep because I was scared of not knowing who I was. I wish I had had someone to look up to. Actually, a lot of people didn’t want me to come out. They said: ‘You’re going to ruin your career. It’ll ruin the show.’ Well, I’m proud and happy with who I am. You’d be surprised, but there are shows in town with gay characters that celebrate being gay, and they told me: ‘We can’t hire you. You’re too gay.’ What?! It’s funny, but most of my incredible fans are teenaged girls. Being an actor, I’ve never had one person say to me: ‘Yeah, you were great as Rod, but I really can’t believe you as Princeton.’ A casting director asked me if I could play straight roles, and I said: ‘What do you think I play every night?’"

To quote Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx’s wise and witty score to Avenue Q, "Nothing lasts, life goes on." And it’s now official: Barrett Foa, who’s so talented, tells us he’s taking over as Princeton/Rod on Feb. 1. But Tartaglia has left his indelible imprint on the show, whether or not if his hand is in the puppets. He says, "‘For Now’ has taken on a lot of meaning for me, in light of that horrible tsunami, the election and even my leaving. The first time I sang it after I made my decision, I had to stop myself from crying. I love Avenue Q and it’ll always be a part of me."

For more information, visit www.johntartaglia.com.

LIFE IS A CABARET FOR THE FARLEY BROS.
Brian and Ted Farley, two good-looking young gay brothers from Manhasset, L.I., are making their New York cabaret debut, and they’re the best dynamic duo to hit Gotham since Batman and Robin. Working in perfect harmony, these lovable baritones joke about their "unadulterated loathing" for each other by singing Stephen Schwartz’s "What Is This Feeling" with Wicked glee. And you know you’re in good Company when they do a marvelous medley of "Being Alive" and "Happily Ever After." But it’s their sunny and funny chemistry that stops the show in John McMahon and Jay Jefferies’ cute and catchy comic duet, "Which Way Does He Swing?" Brian and Ted are a riot as they try to figure out whether a hottie they’ve spotted is gay or straight: "Is he into fashion or computers? Does he go to Splash or Hooters?"

Stu Hamstra of Cabaret Hotline raves, "Their vocals are top-notch, and they are so refreshingly open and honest in their delivery that you want to catch their act again and again." McMahon, their amazing musical director, adds, "They’re total dolls." Happily, the Farley brothers will return Fridays, Jan. 7, 14, 21 and 28 at 8 PM at Rose’s Turn. Brian, 31, put together the act because "I love singing with Ted. We’re gay brothers, but it’s not freaky. It’s just normal. Our show’s about acceptance of everyone." The six-foot Ted, who’s 22 and an inch taller than Brian, says: "We’ve been doing this our entire lives. When we were kids, we’d sing along to the cast album of Miss Saigon in his room. I was a mean Kim. There’s something odd about a seven-year-old singing, ‘I would give my life for you,’ but it was so much fun."

Brian’s New York credits include the Godlight Theatre Company’s Picasso at the Lapin Agile and Principia at the 2003 Fringe Festival. He’s got a BFA in musical theatre from Syracuse University and is a member of Equity. Ted, who interns at GLAAD, recently graduated from George Washington University with a degree in communication. While in school, he joined the GW Troubadours, a co-ed a cappella group that performed around America and toured Eastern Europe.

Growing up, Brian took to the stage ("In King and I, I was Lun Tha with a blond Tuptim") and Ted took to the violin. But they weren’t ordinary little boys. Brian says, "I was always trying on skirts and high heels, and I played Mary from ‘Little House on the Prairie.’" Ted says, "When I was little, I wanted pompoms." Though some kids at school teased them for being "faggots," the Farleys did their best to play it straight. Ted says, "I was a good prom date. What can I say? The gay ones can dance."

At 27, Brian came out and says: "It was very complicated. I was married for almost two years. And we were together for eight years before that, so it was a big deal. I was playing Tony in West Side Story [in Virginia] and fell in love with one of the Jets. I had experimented before, but I told my wife I loved her and it didn’t matter. But it really does." After Brian told his family he was gay, Ted thought "Crap! So am I." A year later, he came out to his loving older brother, who "really helped me through it. And our mom and sister have been so supportive." Brian and Ted, who are also swim instructors, each have a boyfriend and live ten blocks apart in Manhattan.

In their cabaret act, the Farley brothers croon Irving Berlin’s "Old-Fashioned Wedding" about "a groom and a groom," so what’s their take on same-sex marriage? Ted is hopeful: "I’d love to have a family, a husband and a backyard to play with my kids. That comes from the bottom of my heart. Gay marriage is like civil rights. You win some. You lose some. But eventually, it’s going to change." For more information, visit www.thefarleybrothers.com.

VOCAL HEROES OF 2004
Among the many highlights from the great guys of Broadway and cabaret:

4 TERRIFIC TOUR DE FORCES
Michael Arden (Bare)
Tommy Foster (The Method to My Madness)
Chad Kimball (Memphis)
John Tartaglia (Broadway Spotlight, AD-LIBerty)

10 AMAZING MUSICAL MOMENTS
Tom Andersen, "I Took My Heart & Gave It to My Love" (Bradstan)
Michael Arden, "Morning Glow" (Pippin concert)
Christian Borle, "The Greatest Writer" (Snoopy! concert)
Gavin Creel, "These Four Walls" (Feinstein’s at the Regency)
Evan D’Angeles, Alvin Ing, Telly Leung & B.D. Wong, "Someone in a Tree" (Pacific Overtures)
Brian & Ted Farley, "Which Way Does He Swing?" (Rose’s Turn)
Adam Fleming & John Hill, "N & R" (Queer Songbook concert)
Christopher Sieber, "We Both Reached for the Gun" (Chicago)
Ben Strothmann, "You Can’t Get a Man With a Gun" (Cast Party)
Colm Wilkinson, "Bring Him Home" (Showstoppers concert)

1 EXTRAORDINARY ENSEMBLE EFFORT
Ryan Duncan, Cheyenne Jackson, David Josefsberg, Andy Karl and Tyler Maynard in Altar Boyz at the N.Y. Musical Theatre Festival

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.

John Tartaglia (left), Ted and Brian Farley
John Tartaglia (left), Ted and Brian Farley Photo by Ben Strothmann
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