IF I WERE SARICH, MAN
My cousin from Indiana was in town a couple weeks back, and she came out of Les Misérables just raving about the current Jean Valjean, Drew Sarich, who was so dynamic as Armand in Lestat. I thought I oughta snag him for the column so I can say "I talked to him when…"
Question: Are you having fun as Jean Valjean?
Drew Sarich: I'm having a blast, man. It's one of those things where you're just given such an unbelievable part to make your own, and I've been given the chance to sort of build the character the way I wanted to build it. I wasn't given a prefabricated form, and that was the best gift anyone has given me. It's real easy to fall into, "This is what a Valjean looks like, and this is what a Valjean does and this is what a Valjean sings." I was given a chance to sort of build it from the ground up, which was great.
Q: That's interesting because people might assume that Les Miz has a formula, and you are just supposed to step into that.
Sarich: That was business as usual, and when I got the gig, I started to sweat because I'm not the Valjean that people are expecting. I'm actually too young, and for some reason, Valjeans were always a whole lot stockier than I am at the moment. Our associate director, Shaun Kerrison said, "Look, you're not what anyone is expecting, which is one of the reasons we wanted you to do it." So I played around with ideas and thought what it could be. Victor Hugo wrote ["Les Misérables"] in installments for a magazine, so every chapter was a cliffhanger. So I was like, how would it be if Valjean was like a guy from a Frank Miller comic like "Sin City" or something?
Q: Over time, you've played so many parts in this show. Have you thought of doing a solo Les Miz?
Sarich: That's right! [Laughs.] Les Miz Times One. . . . I was given a chance to play all the fun parts. Grantaire was kind of a blast to play. It was like, go out there and be kind of annoying as possible and tell a story and watch someone's transformation. Enjolras was another great experiment where I knew what people expect in an Enjolras. I watched it with Aaron Lazar. Aaron was our Enjolras, and he was magnificent in what he did, but I said, "I'm not going to be that. I can't." That's what makes Aaron Lazar the fantastic Aaron Lazar that he is. So I started going, "What if I could see Enjolras sort of like a Kennedy? Somebody who has all the right materials…and somebody who is a great planner, but really doesn't know what he's doing when it comes to the practice and execution of his plan." And that made it incredibly fun. And Javert! Who doesn't want to play Javert? Everybody says he's a bad guy, but he's not. He's just a dark guy. I always like playing parts that are misunderstood.
Q: You also seem to like going against the grain.
Sarich: I figure that's the reason I got into this business. I grew up in a city [St. Louis] where there was a big touring house, where you got all the big tours. You saw all these productions of these shows where someone had created a part in the original Broadway company . . . I got the feeling as a kid that [the actors] were told, "This is what you have to do because somebody else built it." Growing up in the theatre, in high school, the kids that were in the theatre and in the thespian society and all that stuff were the dangerous kids that were doing weird, crazy stuff. And, what's the point of going to the theatre if you're not going to be challenged? Nobody wants to be spoon-fed a story. I always like to be avidly loved or lividly hated, but I don't want to be complacent and have everybody go, "Well, he was alright." Q: Who are your heroes as actors?
Sarich: I love Gary Oldman. I've loved Gary Oldman since I saw him in "Sid and Nancy." As far as musicals are concerned, people like George Hearn or Ben Vereen or John Cameron Mitchell or Michael Cerveris — these are guys that did what they did, made huge choices, and you had no other choice but to go with it, and you believed, you bought every second of it, but it's bigger than life. Johnny Depp is one of those people as well. He paints with broad strokes, but you can't wait to see what he does next. And he has hits and misses. All these guys have had their share of missteps, but I feel like that's the whole point of what we're doing. I'd rather mess up and mess up big than take careful steps and do alright.
Q: Do you classify Lestat in that way?
Sarich:I feel like I'm still incredibly proud of Lestat. I think it was a whole lot better than anyone gave it credit for. It wasn't perfect. It was far from perfect. I may be so bold as to say it was just as good or better than a lot of things that ran longer, but it wasn't perfect. At the same time, I was given a chance to step up and create a part that I was told from the beginning that I was the wrong type for. To then step into something and have a chance to create something that went almost 180 degrees against that which was their original intent…And I was given a chance to make some fantastic friends. I'd been in Europe for the past eight years. I knew nobody in the city anymore, I really didn't. And to suddenly be put in the situation where I'm hanging out with Hugh Panaro and Carolee Carmello, who I had a just a horrible crush on, because she's fantastic in everything she does—and completely beautiful!
Q: Your time in Europe was partially spent with Der Glöckner von Notre Dame, Disney's German Hunchback. What was that like?
Sarich: It was along the lines of what Lestat was. I was put into a position very suddenly of being allowed to create something. With Hunchback, I was fresh out of school, I was on my eighth Rent callback and was expecting to at some point slip into a tour of something, you know, covering somebody. To suddenly get the chance to take the ball and run with it was just unthinkable, to sit and talk character structure with James Lapine was unthinkable to me, and to sit with Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz and decide how a song was going to be put together was unthinkable to me. I think the biggest thing that Hunchback taught me, because it was in German, was that simplicity is always better. If you think simply, you'll find so many colors to paint with. Not having spoken German before, and suddenly being put into a piece that is only in German, you barely knew what you were talking about, so as long as you got the information across, you did about 95% of your work.
Q: Tell me about International Victim.
Sarich: That's the name of my band. I formed it when I was living in Vienna doing Hair. I started playing out, and I called it International Victim because I was American, married to a German, living in Vienna and my drummer was a Hungarian-Austrian, my bass player was Swedish-Austrian, my guitar player was a German. We just joked around — we called ourselves the United Nations of Loud. We finished our album, we finished mastering it two days before I left New York to start rehearsals for Lestat.
Q: What musicians inspire you?
Sarich: It has almost become too easy to say because everybody says him, especially musical theatre performers who have high voices, but Jeff Buckley has been just a god to me. He's someone that was able to mix doing Judy Garland covers, "Kashmir" by Led Zeppelin, and "Kick Out the Jams" by the MC5. He was just a beautiful person who played guitar like a fiend and sang like a broken angel, and he was just it.
[You can check out tracks from Drew's CD on myspace.com/victiminternational, or, he says, if you see him on the street, just ask. For tickets to Les Miz, call (212) 239-6200 or visit www.telecharge.com.]
NAT "KEITH" COLE
I caught the delightful Midsummer Night's Dream at the Delacorte with Keith David as Oberon and was pleased to hear not only that his wonderful voice gets a couple musical moments in the Central Park show, but that this month he would be doing a Nat King Cole tribute show at Feinstein's at the Regency, making him doubly fair game for an interview. David is an actor who has been in tons of films, from "Platoon" to "There's Something About Mary." A Tony nominee in 1992 for Jelly's Last Jam, David was on Broadway last season in Hot Feet. His voiceover credits are too huge to list, but his deep mellow tones make it very easy to imagine him singing in the style of the one and only NKC.
Question: I know Nat King Cole is a hero of yours, and your dream is to play him on film. What's it like to sing songs he is known for?
Keith David: One of the things that I also liked about Nat Cole songs is they always told stories. Being an actor, I was always attracted to those stories and how you can listen to those things. I got great lessons from some of them — if I didn't know what to do in my life. . . . I say in the show, there is almost no occasion or circumstance in my life that I can't find a Nat King Cole song to fit the occasion.
Q: Do you have a Top 5 list of favorites?
David: They always fluctuate. I remember once I was in the Philippines. Whenever I go out of town, I always go to a record store. Overseas, sometimes companies do compilations that we don't get here. I found a song called "Making Believe You're Here," and I just wept. It was just a great, beautiful song, so I added it to my repertoire. I'm not going to be doing it this time, but I did do it last time.
Q: My fave is "That Sunday That Summer." Will you be doing that?
David: I have done that. I'm not doing it this time. It's a great song, isn't it? When I was about seven years old, I can remember the first time I heard it. I was living in East Elmhurst [Queens], and it just always reminded me of summertime. Just like I remember "Roll out Those Hazy, Lazy Crazy Days of Summer," which always reminds me of summertime, but also reminds me of that time of my life when I was about seven years old. We moved from East Elmhurst to Corona [Queens] when I was nine, so between seven and nine, those particular songs are red letters in my memory.
Q: He had marvelous lyrics to work with, didn't he?
David: One of the reasons I am anxious to do this show is we live in a time that with hip hop music, there's lots of music about booty calls and getting very graphic about body parts and all that — there's no romance left. The one thing I love about Nat is there's something left to the imagination. A song I do do is called "A Handful of Stars," and when he talks about, "Our hearts were madly beating, and soon two lips were meeting, and Venus seemed to melt right into Mars…" I didn't need anything more graphic than that. To me, that was the moment, I wanted to be right there!
Q: That's pure romance!
David: Pure romance. To me, we had the Count of Basie, the Duke of Ellington, and Nat, to me, was the King of Romance. I've often thought of many analogies, but I always wanted to be a knight at the table of romance that Nat was the King of.
Q: What other songs will be a part of the Feinstein's show?
David: I will get to "Nature Boy," and I've got a little movie section. Nat Cole sang probably more movie themes than any other artist. I will sing "The Ballad of Raintree County," "Mona Lisa" and "Darling Je Vous Aime Beaucoup."
Q: How have you enjoyed your summer as Oberon?
David: Going to the Park to me is like going home. It was exactly 28 years ago this summer that I got my Equity card understudying Raul Julia in the Park, so that is my favorite theatre. I love being there.
Q: Were you pleased that there are some musical elements to this production?
David:Yes, of course. That is always a great thing. It's like an extra bonus. The great thrilling element to me was I got to work with [director] Dan Sullivan, which I've been wanting to do for years. [Midsummer co-star] Jay Sanders [has] been a friend of mine for almost as many years. We went to school together. We went to my first year of college together. In fact, we were the bass section of the Purchase Gospel Choir. We used to pump some bass up there!
Q: Which of your films do you most get remembered for by folks on the street?
David: It all depends . . . each to his own. I remember Karl Malden's speech at the Academy Awards, and it made me proud to be a character actor because that's what we do, man. I love being a comedian and being able to change. One of the best compliments I've ever received was, "Were you in that play?" And I played the lead! I guess I'm sort of a sentimentalist at heart. Once I almost wept because somebody walked up to me on the street, and he said, "Excuse me, I didn't mean to disturb you, but I was in the 25th Infantry in '68, and I know you," and he walked away. And that was his experience having seen "Platoon," and it was just amazing to me.
Q: Tell me about one of the great fight scenes ever filmed, with you vs. Rowdy Roddy Piper in John Carpenter's "They Live."
David: It was some of the best fun I've had in my life. We rehearsed it for two weeks. It's everything you get to study acting about. I was also certified . . . in stage fighting, so I got to put all those techniques I learned in school to the test and do it. The fight was fashioned after the John Wayne Film "The Quiet Man," and it just went on for days. It was great because it was like a silent movie except for the few times we spoke because the fight has a story to it, it has an arc, and Roddy Piper. . . How great is that? I got to do a fight with Roddy Piper! We had a wonderful time. Q: Voiceovers have been an incredible key to your career. I feel like I should be paying you to listen to you talk on the phone. Did you feel like you were blessed with a great voice?
David: [Laughs.] I appreciate that. I feel blessed and highly favored. God has been good to me my whole life. If I left the planet tomorrow, I could face St. Peter, and I've had a wonderful time. I told my wife to put on my epitaph: "No complaints and no regret." I get to do what I've always wanted to do. I knew I wanted to be an actor when I was two years old. Now I get to live my dream. How lucky is that? Through all good times and bad times, the hard times, the plush times and the thin times, it's all part of the package. It comes with the territory. No one ever promised me that I'd be a millionaire being an actor. But I did have a teacher who said my life would be wealthy and I could have a great life, and it is a great life.
[Keith David's "Tribute to Nat King Cole" performances at Feinstein's are on Sept. 23 and 24. Go to www.feinsteinsattheregency.com or call (212) 339-4095 for ticket info. A Midsummer Night's Dream at Central Park's Delacorte Theater runs through Sept. 9. Pick up tickets on the day of the show at the theatre; call (212) 260-2400 or got to www.publictheater.org for more info.]
ROB IN THE HOOD
Last month I mentioned Bruce Kimmel and David Wechter's 1950s comic sci-fi valentine The Brain from Planet X in NYMF, and who should get in touch with me, but Rob Evan, late of Tarzan, recently cast as the lead in Brain. Evan is, of course, a former Jean Valjean himself, and a former Jekyll/Hyde, not to mention a former college football player at the University of Georgia, the alma mater of yours truly.
Question: So you're diving into The Brain from Planet X.
Rob Evan: Yeah, man. I'm psyched. I read the script, and it's hilarious. The best time I ever had in my life on Broadway was doing comedy in Little Shop of Horrors. I was lucky enough to do one of the first workshops of Bat Boy, so all of this is kind of reminiscent of that kind of zany camp that I love to do, that I rarely get to do. I do a lot of more dramatic parts. It's fun to have a good time being in a satirical piece like this.
Q: It's different than Jean Valjean?
Evan: Little bit. [Laughs.] You know, I love doing it. It's a trip. I've really been looking forward to working with Bruce Kimmel because I've known of Bruce in passing for years, but I've never gotten the chance to work with him, so when they just out of the blue offered me this, I was thrilled.
Q: Were you a fan of fifties sci-fi films?
Evan: Yeah, you know the famous Ed Wood film, "Plan 9 From Outer Space"? This is "Plan 10 From Outer Space." I was a big fan of "Mystery Science Theater 3000"; that was when I was coming up and ad-libbing to movies and stuff — it was a trip.
Q: What were you up to post-Tarzan?
Evan: I'm in a band called the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. We're recording a new record. Paul O'Neill, who is the founder of the band, gave me eight songs on the new record, so I've been down here [in Florida] on and off since Tarzan closed and flying around doing concerts. I did a symphony gig in San Diego and whatnot, but I've been primarily here since literally the day after Tarzan closed.
Q: How bitter a pill was it when that happened?
Evan: It was kind of a surprise, I'm not going to lie to you. I was contracted to March of 2008, but things happen for a reason, and I probably wouldn't have been able to do all these songs on this new record, or wouldn't have had the time or voice because playing that part was a little bit different vocally for me. My voice is a little bit higher then Shuler Hensley's, so I kinda had to push it down there for that. I was surprised, but new doors have opened up, and this crazy business always feels like there's some rhyme or reason to it — you have to believe that, I guess.
Q: Other than the closing, was Tarzan a happy experience?
Evan: It was the stability, and I was proud to be working for Disney. I have three little boys, so they were thrilled their dad was a gorilla on Broadway. It was fun for them. It was fun to do a Disney show because I always wanted to do one. It was tough on my body, my knees, and my back and everything, but it felt good.
Q: You took kind of a roundabout path to the stage…
Evan: I'm originally from Georgia, I played football there and kind of fell into Broadway. I actually saw Les Miz in the first tour when it came around there. I studied business in college and was going to law school. I'd always performed but never really pursued it. I saw Les Miz, and I was like, "Oh my God, I have to do this." Within a year and a half, I moved to New York and was in the third national tour.
Q: Tell me about your playing career for the Georgia Dawgs.
Evan:I was there from 86-90. I was on [legendary coach] Vince Dooley's last team there. It was cool because [later] Coach Dooley came up and saw me as Jekyll and Hyde, and I went to the college hall of fame a couple times with him every time he came to New York. . . I got to come back and sing the National Anthem at Sanford (Stadium) and feel like I was important.
Q: So, you have the whole Broadway/football combo. . .
Evan: It is funny. I guess it's all show business, isn't it? [Laughs.] Especially at that level. You know, when you play football for the Dawgs, you play in front of many more people than you do at the Imperial Theatre or the Richard Rodgers Theatre!
Q: Is it rough being in the business and having three kids?
Evan:The great thing about having a family is it is a big ol' reality check. The real important things in life are your family and your health, of course, and that's the big grounding thing. The second thing that's good about it is it's a cool career — it's a cool life, and my boys have seen me in a lot of different situations. They love the fact that their dad is . . . did the original Batman demos. . . . They were like, "Dad might be Batman!" or "Dad's Kerchak!," so that's cool. The tough thing is it's a rollercoaster ride. When I'm in a show, I see them, but I'm not there for bedtime. When I'm not in a show, I'm usually on the road doing concerts or records. I've been very lucky to have this concert career, which really, really keeps me going when I'm not in a show. The Trans-Siberian Orchestra allows me to do some of this rock stuff and things I've always wanted to do, but I'm not at home so that's rough, too. But you know what? I wouldn't have it any other way. I'm very, "Live for the day. Carpe Diem." My kids, when we're together, it's so quality, and it's so much fun, and I'm a big kid, and it's just a party at my house.
[NYMF, the New York Musical Theatre Festival, runs from Sept. 17-Oct. 7 at various venues in the city. The Brain from Planet X will be at the Acorn Theater at 410 West 42nd Street starting Sept. 20. Visit www.nymf.org for a full schedule and ticket info.]
HITHER AND YON
Other familiar fellows involved in 2007 NYMF shows include Ted Levy, who choreographed the tap and shared the stage with Gregory Hines and Keith David in Jelly's Last Jam . Levy choreographed a new show called Platforms. Brad Oscar of The Producers is in a show called Such Good Times, and Lee Wilkof is performing in Little Egypt . . . . Sept. 10 at the Zipper Factory promises to be a hoot as Celebrity Autobiography: In Their Own Words —featuring actors interpreting actual celeb autobios — hits the stage. Xanadu's Tony Roberts and Cheyenne Jackson will be a part of the fun, as will Richard Kind and Seth Rudetsky. Check out www.zippertheater.com or call (212) 352-3101 for tix.
Tom Nondorf can be reached at email@example.com.