Ryan Silverman was to charge onto Broadway on a noble steed as The White Knight of Frank Wildhorn's Wonderland — he'd done the readings, workshops, everything — when he opted not to and took what has become a triangular approach to stardom.
A chance to play Raoul on Broadway and rival The Phantom of the Opera for fair Christine presented itself, and, since he had already done the part in Vegas, he dropped his lance and beat a track to the Majestic. At least it was a chance to be seen on Broadway — something Cry-Baby didn't afford him: to understudy the title role, he had to do time in an iron lung as a polio victim rather cruelly called Skippy.
After ripening as Raoul, the strapping 6-foot-2 bari-tenor from Alberta, Canada, landed a star part that would properly introduce him to Broadway — the mysterious Maxim de Winter whose second marriage is haunted by the ghost of Wife No. One in Rebecca — but that $12-million musical evaporated into the mists of Manderley.
This could have been de Winter of his discontent, but instead he's Off-Broadway, warming himself with second-look Passion — the first New York revival of the 1994 Stephen Sondheim-James Lapine Tony-winner. It's a triangle as anguished as all the above. He's Giorgio, a soldier in 19th-century Italy who is trapped between the oppressively obsessive love of his commanding officer's sickly, homely cousin, Fosca, and the sensual pleasure of his married mistress back home in Milan, Clara.
"Giorgio is not just this leading man who falls in and out of love," says the 35-year-old playing him. "He's well-educated, deep into literature — but he's also a captain in the army, and yet he's not your typical alpha-male in the army. It has been really enjoyable trying to figure out exactly what makes him tick — why he's in this relationship with Clara at the top of the show? What are the reasons? The first song that they sing is called 'Happiness,' but there is a lot of sadness in it, really." Iginio Ugo Tarchetti, who was to die in poverty of tuberculosis without ever reaching the age of 30, based his novel "Fosca" on his affair with an epileptic woman; Ettore Scola turned that into a 1981 film ("Passione d'amore") that happened to catch composer-lyricist Sondheim's fancy. The inequality of the ultimately dominant relationship between Fosca and Giorgio — the fact that the sheer force of her affections can open him up to a newer, truer dimension of love — is the argument that the creators are advancing, and it will be the big challenge director John Doyle must make convincing when the show opens Feb. 28 at the Classic Stage Company (it's now in previews). Given the controversy now going on about "dating outside your league," Passion just might be the most topical show in town.
"I don't think it's necessarily just because she has beaten him down enough — that's part of it — but I certainly think he sees something he has never had before," contends Silverman. "Then, it becomes something so much more than just physical beauty. It becomes what Fosca has to offer — this unconditional love that he has never had before. It's tapping into that and letting the audience go on that journey with him. Getting to that point has really been the challenge for the three of us."
By "us," he means Judy Kuhn's Fosca and Melissa Errico's Clara. "It's interesting being in a show with ten guys and two women" — and he has dibs on both of them. "I've never worked with Judy before, but Melissa and I have done concerts before. We know each other, and we get along very well, so it's great to do a show with her."
Passion is putting Silverman's stamina to a test. "There's no intermission, and I'm the one character who's on stage the entire time. The whole area of where he starts and where he ends will be a nightly challenge. And it'll be a change from matinee to evening. It's about being able to pace myself and find the moments that move forward and the moments that settle. I'm just excited about the challenge that it takes to get me to the end of the show every night — to be the wreck I am at the end."
Musically he goes to hell — that's the good news: "It's funny, you can listen to the music and then go back, and the next time you listen to it you hear something else, and you go back to it again and you hear the beauty of some of the melodies. It takes you several times to hear what I think you want to hear. Certainly, it does for me. "There are actually just moments that are not necessarily just me singing but moments where I sing with Melissa — the melodies are so beautiful, and what we're saying — the lyrics we're singing — are so beautiful. Those little moments, I think, are really exciting —where we're together and we're both telling a story — or Fosca and I are telling a story, and there's this melody that's weaving in and out of another that is so magical that, as a singer, it's a delight to sing, but also, as an actor, it gives you a certain sense of stillness. Those are the things that, so far, I'm really enjoying."
Silverman is a Sondheim fan of long-standing. "When I was in college, we just always did Sondheim. It was just what we did. The first thing we did was Follies — which, clearly, we weren't the right age for, but we did it anyway — then Anyone Can Whistle, which is a little gem of a show I don't think it's appreciated nearly enough. The last big show I did before leaving Canada was Sweeney Todd. My introduction to musical theatre was Sondheim, but this is the first time I've done him in New York.
"I came to New York a few years ago, and I've been doing shows, but, for some reason, in the last year, things just seemed to have clicked. Whether it's Confidence meets Preparation meets Talent, I dunno. Whatever it is, it's suddenly becoming exciting. With that comes more challenges. I feel at this point I'm ready for it."
There is a lot of life after Passion. He has a busy concert schedule into 2014 and a new album in the works, for which he has written three songs. Hi ho, Silverman!