At 13 years old, Aaron Carter — who, at that point, had already released two solo pop albums and was rising to fame as a teen heartthrob — made his Broadway debut as JoJo, a small, singular voice in the universe in the Dr. Seuss-inspired musical Seussical. Carter, however, proved to be much more than a small voice — touring with The Backstreet Boys, placing fifth in the reality series "Dancing With the Stars" and exploring the worlds of film and television. Last November, the pop star returned to the stage as the romantic lead, Matt, in the Harvey Schmidt-Tom Jones musical The Fantasticks.
He has extended his limited engagement in the Off-Broadway musical, at the Snapple Theater Center, to April 22. After a hiatus from the show to deal with the tragic loss of his sister Leslie, 25, who died Jan. 31, Carter returned recently and spoke to Playbill before his Feb. 21 performance. He talks about returning to the stage and entering a new phase in his life, both musically and emotionally.
Welcome back to the New York theatre. Has it been over ten years?
Aaron Carter: Yeah. It's great to be back. I love to be able to perform in front of these people every day and learn something new and deal with different responses from the audience and improve my ability — my acting skills and my singing skills. I've gotten to a point with this show where I know that I don't have to think about the lines. I don't have to think about the music — the material — it just happens and it's real. For me, I'm just seriously getting into acting, and it's not something that happens right away with me — feeling completely comfortable and confident with it. It takes a little time for me.
|photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN|
You were 13 when you began Seussical. What's different coming back to the stage at 24?
AC: Everything. My life experiences, what I can relate to [now] versus what I could then. There's just a lot more knowledge about what it is we do as human beings, and I bring that to my performance.
How did you first get involved with The Fantasticks?
AC: Through the audition process — two auditions. [After the first audition], they gave me some notes, and they wanted some correction. I took all of their notes and critiques and, after the second time, I booked the job.
This material is very different from pop music. Did you find it challenging to take on a "legit" score?
AC: I guess I do find it challenging, a little bit. When I first came into the process, I learned the show in two weeks. It was very difficult. I felt like I was going to a music school, and I'm very fortunate because I have a great musical director, Robert Felstein, who conducts this show — he's amazing. He helps me every single day to become a better singer. He goes to colleges and teaches, so this is his profession. It's cool because I get to step outside doing what I do as an entertainer. It feels like I'm almost able to go back to normal life… like I'm going to college with the amount of knowledge that I'm obtaining. It's incredible.
And, you worked with book writer and lyricist Tom Jones!
AC: That, too! It's not every day that you get to work with the person who wrote the script.
Are you taking what you're learning and applying it to your solo career?
AC: Yeah, absolutely. Every day I'm learning something new that's changing me and leading me in the direction of where I'm going to go, musically. I've been in the studio, I've tried different sounds — different styles of music — and I'm getting ultimately closer to where my sound is as an artist. I'm really becoming a lot more in tune with [myself] as an artist. I was just on the phone with my manager and said, "I'm not going to be doing pop music and all that stuff anymore. I want to do real music and music that relates to people." That's who I am now, who I'm becoming as an adult. I'm not going to be able to be 40 years old and singing these dance-love songs. That's not going to be realistic, and I want to be a realistic artist in my lifetime. It's my life. I want to live it the way I want to live it, not how everybody else wants me to live it.
Knowing your pop persona, complete with tattoos, I would expect to see you in a contemporary piece. You'd be a great match for Rent. Is the role of clean-cut Matt in The Fantasticks a stretch for you?
AC: It's definitely a stretch. This kind of theatre is different [from what] most people come to see in New York City. A lot of people come to see the big shows, and this is much different. It's more intimate, and you really have to put your mind to work with this kind of show. Think about a stage with all of the props and the trampolines and the cords that hold Spider-Man. Without the people, you have nothing — you have no show. That's what's great about The Fantasticks. It's about the people. It's about the actors. It's really about the core of what the human can do…with your mind and your feelings. My point is that it takes an ensemble in a cast to make the show — any kind of show in this city — come to life.
Right. And, with The Fantasticks you really are putting yourself out there. It's an intimate show with only a two-piece band — piano and harp. You're bare, in a sense.
AC: I extended [my contract] in this show because I love it. It's about the art. It's about the passion of what I do. This is as good a show as any other show out there, in my opinion. To be so close to the other castmates and the music director and the harp player — it's right there! I enjoy it so much versus being on a big stage. Of course I would love to do that, but right now my life is The Fantasticks. This is what I've chosen to do. If I want to be in a bigger show, I'll go out there and audition just like anybody else.
|Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN|
You're very charismatic in the show. How do you breathe new air into The Fantasticks — a show that's been with us for so long?
AC: Well, I watched the show about 12 times to study it before I came in. [My predecessor and understudy and the character of The Mute is] Matt Leisy. We do the role differently. I like to be funny. I like to be stupid. I like to be obnoxious. [Laughs.] It's what I like to do as an actor. I like to make people laugh. I kind of search for that. I guess that's what would be new. I'm just bringing me. [Laughs.]
Did you do research? The musical is suggested by Edmond Rostand's Les Romanesques.
AC: No. The only research that I did was studying the show when I came to it. I didn't really want to know too much about it. And, I didn't know anything about it at all. I'd never even heard of it. Honestly, when I heard The Fantasticks, I thought of The Fantastic Four! [Laughs.]
Between TV, theatre, pop music and "Dancing With the Stars," you're a crossover. How do you seamlessly slip through all of these worlds?
AC: You know, it's not as easy as it might seem. [Laughs.] I love to do all kinds of different things. I can do stuff like Broadway, "Dancing With the Stars," judging TV shows, guest-appearing on cook-off shows and my singing career. They're different entities. I've been able to bounce back and fourth. Now I've got to do the same thing with being a singer. I've got to make a change. I can't just stay the same.
|photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN|
What styles of music will we hear on your upcoming album?
AC: More pop-rock-type. More mature music. Big ballads. Meaningful songs…like Coldplay. That's generally where I'm going with me as a person. It's going to change, though. Sometimes there's things that happen in your life that change who you are as a person. Just recently, something happened that changed me as a person, and I'm not going to be afraid to be who I am. That's what's important to me now. What do you enjoy most working on in all of these worlds? What excites you as a performer?
AC: What excites me now — what livens me up — is being an actor and sitting in audition rooms and being in a weird, uncomfortable environment that I'm not used to. [Laughs.] I like that. It's enjoyable, and it gives me a rush. [Laughs.] You can look at being nervous in a bad way or you can look at it like, "This is life. I'm really living."
(Michael Gioia's work frequently appears in the news, feature and video sections of Playbill.com. Write to him at email@example.com.)