‘ONCE’ IN LOVE WITH ASA
Asa Somers is one Broadway actor who really knows how to rock in his roles, and they’ve included Riff Raff in Rocky Horror Show, Boy George in Taboo and Herbert in Dance of the Vampires. Plus, he once headlined in Hedwig and the Angry Inch . But now he’s playing a rising rock star in the Off-Broadway musical Once Around the Sun. Currently in previews, it opens Aug. 11 at the Zipper Theatre, with a catchy new pop/rock score by Robert Morris, Steven Morris and Joe Shane and a book by Kellie Overbey. Somers, who’s a handsome six-foot-one actor songwriter from Sullivan Island, SC, says, "It’s incredibly exciting originating a role like this. And I get to play my own electric and acoustic guitar. I’ve been working on developing this show for three years, and I feel it’s my baby."
As a kid, Somers says, "I wore out the tapes of A Chorus Line, Annie and Oliver!" He went to Yale, where he tackled the title role of Sweeney Todd and played Jack the Ripper in Peter Foley’s musical Whitechapel, which featured Melissa Errico. Foley says, "Asa’s a terrific guy and a very talented songwriter. And he’s the definition of a metrosexual." Somers adds, "They called me ‘Groomzilla’ at my wedding." Gina Garan, his beautiful bride, says, "Asa took care of everything. He even came to check my dress before we took our vows."
Garan, who’s a video producer, doll collector and author ("This Is Blythe"), says, "Asa’s very sweet and a real family guy, and he’s a great dad." They have an adorable six-month-old son, Carpenter, who has his own website that proclaims, "My turn-ons are sleep, boobies and pictures of dogs." The proud papa, 36, boasts, "Car loves music. I’ll play my guitar and sing at the top of my lungs, and he’s the best audience."
Question: What’s the plot of Once Around the Sun?
Asa Somers: I play Kevin, the lead singer of a struggling lower East Side band. He’s approached about going solo, so he’s faced with leaving his friends and his girlfriend. When he goes to L.A., Kevin gets involved with Nona Blue (played by Maya Days). She’s a former pop star who was Mariah Carey huge, but now she’s a powerful record executive. They start sleeping together, and Kevin gets seduced by the promise of fame. There’s a reference to [the Greek myth of] Icarus in the title tune ("Spread your wings before they melt away"); Kevin gets drunk with his own power to fly and overreaches himself. But it’s very redemptive and uplifting. And the story all takes place in one year, which explains the title Once Around the Sun.
Q: Did you do much research to play Kevin?
Somers: I didn’t have to. I’ve lived this life. I used to have a band called Moneyshot. We played Arlene’s Grocery, Mercury Lounge and Brownie’s. We sounded most like the Kinks. We were together for four years and put out three albums [before disbanding]. That’s how I became involved with this show. I know Joe Shane, one of the composers, from the downtown scene, and his band was Madflower. Q: What do you enjoy most about Once Around the Sun?
Somers: First of all, I get to be a rock star. Truly. If you look at the musicals I’ve done — Rocky Horror, Taboo, Hedwig — I’m an actor who happens to sing rock music. It’s transcendental. When I sing rock, I go to another place, and I love it. Besides, these songs are great and the music’s really good. The show’s also very innovative. Everyone in it plays their own instruments. It’s like Hedwig. The songs happen because they must happen. And the book scenes are well-written. It’s like a play with a rock concert interwoven. It’s fun and thrilling.
Q: Speaking of Taboo, you were in the ensemble, but you also played Boy George in a reading. Charles Busch, the book writer, recalls, "Asa’s so talented and such a good actor." What did you think of Taboo?
Somers: The story was compelling, the characters were cool, and Boy George’s music was incredible. The cast was monstrously talented, and Rosie O’Donnell was so generous. We were all worried about having eggs — big, fat frittatas — on our faces, but the good outweighed the bad, and it’s become Broadway history.
Q: What was it like going on for Euan Morton as Boy George?
Somers: I did it twice. I was so nervous, I was flipping out. The first time I did it, Bob Gaynor was playing Leigh Bowery. The second time, Boy George was in, and at the end of Act I [he joked], "That song was bloody terrible. Who wrote that?" Come on! It doesn’t get better than that. To take bows with the man smiling benevolently, that was really cool. Sure, Boy George has his bitchy side, but he’s a doll.
Q: Tell us about working with Michael Crawford on Vampires.
Somers: He’s the consummate pro. I read the message boards and people had the wrong impression about him lip-synching. That guy has pipes that do not quit. He’s the real deal. There were two little sections that were pre-recorded, but it was where he was hanging off the set or something. But it wasn’t the long note at the end of Act I. Michael held it for 30 seconds or so, and he did that at every show.
Q: You played Herbert, a gay vampire who tries to seduce Alfred (played by Max von Essen) with lines like "Those are my bats. Wanna see my balls?" Max says, "Asa’s fun and he made the most of that part. No one forgets Asa."
Somers: I’m very proud of that role. It’s tiny. There are only about 12 lines, but I tried to give him depth and make Herbert dangerous and powerful.
Q: You’ve done drag in Rocky Horror Show, Taboo and Hedwig, and your wife, Gina, says she loves seeing you do it. Have you ever wondered why you’ve been cast in so many drag roles?
Somers: Maybe it’s because I did Hedwig. In Once Around the Sun, I’m thrilled I get to show my more subtle acting chops. But I like doing big characters, and drag queens are big. I’m comfortable with taking it over the top. Gina and I also have many friends who are drag queens, and some of them came to our wedding in Cherry Grove. We had naked men there, too. We know lots of people on Fire Island. We’re almost the token straight couple in town. It’s cool.
Q: Didn’t Gina first meet you while you were in drag?
Somers: Yeah, she’s friends with John Cameron Mitchell, who wrote Hedwig. She’d seen it about 30 or 40 times. She came to my last performance, and it was so exciting. We went out afterward and she gave me her card. How geeky is that? We’ve been together for five years, married for two. Gina’s so smart, beautiful, funny and supportive. And there’s just a million things I love about her.
For more information, visit www.asasomers.com.
THE ‘ALTAR BOYZ,’ ACCORDING TO SCOTT
Altar Boyz is a musical about a Christian boy band with such Mass appeal that it’s celebrating its sixth-month anniversary at Dodger Stages. Scott Porter, 26, who plays Matthew, the show’s leader and heavenly heartthrob, counts his blessings. Actually, it’s a miracle he was cast. Though the six-foot actor had done theme shows at Disney World and Universal Studios in Orlando, FL, and sung with a cappella groups like 4:2:Five, he says, "I’ve never taken an acting class or a dance lesson, and I’ve never been in a book musical. I was a football player and a structural engineering major."
Written by Kevin Del Aguila, Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker and directed by Stafford Arima, Altar Boyz was having the toughest time casting Matthew. (Its original lead, Cheyenne Jackson, left to star in Broadway’s All Shook Up.) Luckily, Christopher Gattelli, the show’s incredible choreographer, had an "Epiphany." He had seen Porter as an understudy in Toxic Audio and knew there was "something about him": "Scott’s beautiful. His voice is gorgeous. He could dance, and he was perfect." At his audition, Porter says, "I went up to Robin Goodman — and I didn’t know she was the producer at the time — and serenaded her BTTW — balls to the wall — with ‘Something About You.’ I guess they liked it because I got the job."
In many ways, Porter is like his Altar ego of Matthew: He’s a genuine good guy. "Matthew’s a mirror of me. He’s the big brother of the group, and I’ve got a little sister, who’s 11, and a little brother, 7. My first name is really Matthew, but everyone calls me by my middle name, Scott." And while he’s Christian, he’s nondenominational: "I was never an altar boy, but I’ve been that confused friend who goes to mass. You know that thing you put your knees on? I thought it was a footrest." Though Altar Boyz might rib religion, "it never preaches or blasphemes. Priests and rabbis love the show. It’s innocent fun." And what’s his favorite moment in the show? "It’s definitely when the Altar Boyz sing ‘I Believe’ and reaffirm that they’re a family."
Working perfectly in sync, the Altar Boyz raise the roof (and the steeple) as they act, sing and dance their rear-ends off. Porter, who loves Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, says he’s lost 14 pounds alone. Though Tyler Maynard left the show to do The Miracle Brothers and David Josefsberg and Andy Karl will be departing near the end of this month for Slut, Porter says, "I’m with the show as long as they’ll have me. [Ryan Duncan is also staying.] But we hope to reunite if Altar Boyz goes to London [this fall]. Backstage and onstage, they’re all incredible. They’re so funny and such great actors. I pray they all become superstars because they all have it in them."
And Porter might become a superstar, too. Besides "digging" the enthusiasm of the show’s fervent fans known as "Altarholics" and enjoying the support of his lovely girlfriend, Deniece Alvarado, he’s been signed by the powerful Gersh Agency: "I’ve gotten callbacks for a Showtime pilot and a couple of feature films. It’s ridiculous. Six months ago, I was in Florida, dressed as a Wolf-Man in 100-degree heat. I couldn’t have imagined that Altar Boyz would come into my life. Whenever I’ve planned for something, God throws me a curveball. Moving to New York has been a test of faith, and I hoped He would be here to catch me, and so far, it’s worked out."
For more information, visit www.altarboyz.com.
HE ORGANIZES HIS FINE ‘PHOTOS’ INTO A NEW ALBUM
Johnny Rodgers has shared the stage with Paul McCartney, Michael Feinstein and Liza Minnelli, but his dynamite debut album, "Box of Photographs" (PS Classics), puts this amazing singer-songwriter in the solo spotlight where he belongs. Produced by Richard Barone, this CD offers snapshots of life and love across America. In the marvelously melodic "Home to Mendocino," Rodgers rhapsodizes about returning to his sweetheart. And in the fun and infectious "Movin’ to Graceland" (co-written with Brian Wilson), he fantasizes about "kickin’ off my boots" in Elvis Presley’s palace. But he also travels to the past. "In the End" is a poignant portrait of his dad as a boy and it recalls a grandfather who "went sailin’ on the whiskey, now he’s drowning in his gin." The five-foot-nine Miami native has won MAC and Bistro Awards, and David Hurst of Show Business Weekly raves that his heartfelt songs have "top-10 hit written all over them."
"Box of Photographs" features Rodgers’ rockin’ band — Brian Glassman, Danny Mallon and Joe Ravo — and will hit the streets on Aug. 9, but Rodgers will do a concert and CD signing Aug. 3 at 6 PM at Tower Records at Lincoln Center and a CD release party Aug. 15 at 7:30 and 9:30 PM at the Jazz Standard. Though his music runs the gamut of pop, blues and jazz, he says, "I call it ‘chameleon rock.’ It really reflects the music I listened to, growing up: great singer-songwriters, like James Taylor, Paul Simon, Sting, Billy Joel, Elton John. There are all kinds of songs on this CD, which made it fun to record. That’s why I like calling it ‘Box of Photographs.’ Everyone has a box of photographs. Some of them are in color. Some are black and white. And they’re not in any order, but they’re all special. I couldn’t be prouder of this album or the band."
In fact, the first time his band got together was to accompany Rodgers on "The Maury Yeston Songbook" CD (PS Classics). There, he lent his beautiful baritone to "Danglin’," a heartbreaking ballad. Busy as ever, he recently co produced Lee Lessack’s new CD, "In Good Company," and will accompany Sally Mayes on Aug. 22 at 7 PM at Birdland. Earlier this year, he played piano for Minnelli, when she headlined in Biloxi and Dallas: "Liza actually gave me a spot in the show to sing one of my songs. It was very generous of her. She’s been so supportive. If I ever get down, she’s been there to say, ‘You can do anything. And I believe in you.’ I really appreciated that."
Asked if he’s ever held a day job, Rodgers, 31, says, "I’ve never done anything other than music, except in high school. I popped popcorn and sold it at the movie theatre. I’ll bet [my girlfriend] Georgia [DeFalco] still wishes I had that job. It’s her favorite snack. If I smelled like popcorn, I’d probably get a lot more lovin’!" (Laughs.)
For more information, visit www.johnnyrodgers.com.
WHERE THE GUYS ARE
There’s so much to see in New York: Lee Lessack will be In Good Company as he celebrates the release of his latest CD, with John Boswell and Brian Lane Green, on Aug. 4 at 7 PM and Aug. 5 at 7 and 9:30 PM at Helen’s, 169 Eighth Ave. (212-206-0609). . . . FLOPZ, a concert saluting songs from short-lived shows, will feature Matt Cavenaugh, Danny Gurwin, Tyler Haynes and many more on Aug. 7 at 9:30 PM at Joe’s Pub, 425 Lafayette St. (212-239-6200). It’s produced and directed by Jamie McGonnigal and music-directed by Michael Lavine. Proceeds will go to the Joey DiPaolo AIDS Foundation and this year’s World AIDS Day Concert. . . . Seth Rudetsky will offer more riotous rants in Deconstructing: The Good, The Bad and The Headachy on Aug. 8 at 8 PM at the Ars Nova, 511 W. 54th St. (212-868-4444). Also at Ars Nova: Daniel Reichard will be joined by his cast mates from Jersey Boys when he hosts a Beach Blanket Benefit on Aug. 12 at 8 PM. Proceeds will go to the International Partners in Mission, which provides support to women and children around the globe. For tickets, call (212) 977-1700. Scott Nevins’ Variety Hour returns Aug. 17 at 9:30 PM at Caroline’s on Broadway, 1626 Broadway (212-757-4100). His guests will include Randy Jones, Jim Verraros and Max von Essen. . . . David Gurland is so mad for Madonna that he’s reviving his rockin’ and raucous salute to her, Neurotica, on Aug. 18 at 7 PM at The Encore, 266 W. 47th St. (212-221-3960). John Hill (Bare) is back with Whiskers on Kittens, his outrageous one man show, on Aug. 22 at 7:30 PM, also at The Encore. Though his evening’s got a catty title, he’s one sick puppy who’s Hill-arious. Finally, John Jeffrey Martin (Hairspray) will croon his own tunes Aug. 19 at 11 PM and Aug. 28 at 8 PM at Don’t Tell Mama, 343 W. 46th St. (212-757 0788).
Got comments or questions? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 theatre critic for The San Francisco Examiner, a writer for The Sondheim Review and a Drama-Logue Award-winning playwright.