THE LEADING MEN: The Men of Godspell — George Salazar, the Show's "Light of the World"

News   THE LEADING MEN: The Men of Godspell — George Salazar, the Show's "Light of the World" This month's Leading Men columns focus on the disciples of Broadway's Godspell. George Salazar chats about making his Broadway debut, spending time on the road in Spring Awakening and his upcoming projects.

George Salazar
George Salazar

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When George Salazar returned to New York City following a run with the national tour of Spring Awakening, daily life was no longer the "Bitch of Living." Shortly after his return, the fresh-faced twentysomething University of Florida grad scored an audition for the Broadway revival of Godpsell, and after a three-month rollercoaster ride of callbacks, landed his first job on Broadway.

Life really began to take off after being placed in a room with Stephen Schwartz, whose musical Wicked paved the way for Salazar's Broadway dreams. Feeling "blessed," he says, sounds totally cliché — however, he can't stop pinching himself when he thinks of being part of the "Beautiful City" that is Godspell.

First off, the glasses — are they part of your Godspell persona or are they George Salazar?
George Salazar: No, the glasses are George Salazar. My whole life, I was told never to wear glasses to auditions, they want to see your eyes. When I got back from doing the Spring Awakening tour back in May, Godspell was one of the first things I went in for, and I was like, "You know, I'm so over putting contacts in. I want to go ahead and wear my glasses," so I did, against all the advice I had ever gotten. It ended up being a really good thing because [director] Danny [Goldstein], after I was cast, was like, "I really love you in your glasses. I want that look, so I'm talking to Miranda [Hoffman], the costume designer, to make sure we keep that in the show." So, the glasses came with, which is pretty cool. They're becoming a huge integral part of me, and I'm pleased about that because I am blind. I am absolutely blind. [Laughs.]

 

Salazar in Godspell.
photo by Jeremy Daniel

You're making your Broadway debut. How does it feel to be doing that?
GS: If it were any other show, I would be just as stoked and excited, but there's something about doing this show as my first... I get to just be myself. These audiences are coming in and seeing George as George. There's something really crazy about that and I'm super, super, super grateful. And, [the show has] totally changed my life. I had an interview with the Associated Press and I talked about how a few months ago I was serving shrimp at a restaurant since coming back from tour. [Laughs.] This has kind of been unreal. I know it sounds really cliché to be like, "I feel so blessed" and "I feel so grateful," but I really do. There's just one surprise after the next. Not only is this such an awesome show to be doing with such an incredible cast, but appearing on "The Letterman Show," and we're lined up to do "The View" next month, and we're flying out to Chicago to do "The Rosie Show" as well — it's so overwhelming and amazing at the same time. My parents are so proud, and that's such a huge thing for me. I'm literally having the time of my life doing this show with these people.

Can you describe your audition process? You had told me a little bit about your callback after your opening night performance — you had to create a piece for your audition?
GS: I got the call[back] the night before the audition. We've all gone through that where you have an audition tomorrow at four [and you have to] sing a song — 16-bars of something — and the sides are included. Okay, great. This time around, they said, "Sing a song of your choice and prepare a parable in a creative, fun way and tell the story as if you're talking to children, adults, blind people [and] deaf people. Find a creative and innovative way to do it."

I was freaking out at work, trying to figure out what to do, and I actually didn't decide on what I was going to do until two hours before the audition. I went in and did some impressions and was myself. From that, I went on to get called back four times over three months. I joked that it was like a really unhealthy relationship. [Laughs.] It was like, "Come, we want to see you!" And, then it was like, "Okay, we're going to see other people"... "Okay, come back, we want to see you again." When [I was offered the job], I was with my good friend Elizabeth, and I broke down and was just crying and sweating and an all-around mess. I will remember every second of that day for as long as I live. It was crazy, but the audition process, itself, was insane because the callbacks were [done as] group parables. Instead of it being just George telling a story, it was a group of five people that I've never met before with 25 minutes to put this [parable] together. It really tested how well we worked with others. I think that was really an important process for establishing this cast that we have. We all get along so well. There's so much creativity flowing. It's so much energy, and I don't think that they could've found that had they not done the group parable and the improv stuff. It was very nerve-wracking at first, but it was good.

Salazar on opening night.
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Can you elaborate on the dynamic of your cast?
GS: Some of us have known each other before coming in. I've worked with Telly [Leung] and Uzo [Aduba] in the past, but the rest of the cast I never met. It's so weird because everyone is so unbelievably talented and everyone has such large personalities. Normally, when you get big personalities in a room, it doesn't work well, but these big personalities work so well together. The dynamic is unreal. I have never been a part of a group of such selfless, truly ensemble actors. We get that we're a group. We all have our moments to shine in the show, but I think the magic of this production of Godspell — and other productions of Godspell — is that there's that strong sense of community and everyone works together to tell the story. Not only are we great co-workers and not only do we put on a really fun show, but [we see each other] outside of work, after the show, even on our days off. Yesterday, we all got together and had dinner and went to go see Nick Blaemire's show at Webster Hall — on our day off! We just can't get enough of each other. It's really nice. It's a nice feeling to be a part of a group like that. It's an absolute honor to be with these people night after night.

On what projects did you work with Telly and Uzo before?
GS: I worked with Telly at the Huntington Theatre Company in Boston. We did a Filipino musical called Long Season. He and I did two workshops with that over two years. I met Uzo just this past summer doing a workshop of Venice at The Public Theater. I'm actually doing another workshop of that next week, which is pretty exciting. It is a developmental workshop. The show itself was written by Matt Sax and Eric Rosen. It's a modern retelling of Othello with hip-hop and R&B music. It's a super multicultural cast, and it's amazing. [Laughs.] I'm so excited to get to work on it again. There's a small ensemble of singers and actors — two guys and a girl doing the ensemble parts. They did a full production of it with Center Theatre Group out in L.A. and Uzo played Venice's mother in the musical. Hopefully there'll be a nice life for this show after this workshop because I would love nothing more than to work with Uzo for the rest of my life. [Laughs.]

Before Godspell you were on the road with Spring Awakening. What does it feel like to be a part of these fan-favorite musicals? The energy must be through the roof.
GS: There's such a huge amount of support from your audiences when you do shows like this. We had the "Guilty Ones" during Spring Awaking — the fans who came. If they lived within the 100-mile radius of any of our shows, they would always be there, so we would see a lot of familiar faces. We have that following with Godspell now. There are fans who have come to at least 15 shows and do the lottery every day. There's that really nice devotion. It's one thing to see the show once and be moved, but it's another thing to be moved so much by that first experience that you want to keep reliving that time after time. We, as a cast, are getting to know these fans and they are getting to know us as well, so it's like an extension of our family.

What was the rehearsal process like for Godspell? Everyone has created their own little "bits" that are woven throughout the piece.
GS: I was talking to Lindsay [Mendez] and Telly, and said, "I feel like this production has spoiled me rotten" because it is kind of — in a sense — the anti-Broadway show. Our rehearsal process was, for the first two weeks, taking a look at the original transcript of the original production of Godspell and basically rewriting, but staying true and honoring that original production. At the same time, we added our own little twists to it, so it was great. It was like being a part of "SNL" because we would workshop things that we'd written, and if they didn't work, we'd trash 'em and we'd try again. Our motto throughout the process was "Strong and Wrong" — better to make a huge, loud mistake than to make weak, small choices. So we did that for two weeks — workshopping — then we began staging in the third week. All through that, we were learning the new arrangements. [Orchestrator] Michael Holland has done a brilliant job of breathing new life into such memorable songs for a new generation of theatregoers, so it was a lot. [Laughs.]

 

Salazar and Anna Maria Perez de Taglé in Godspell.
photo by Jeremy Daniel

There was a lot going on every day of rehearsal. It was also strange because we were building this script, so it wasn't a situation where we could start memorizing lines in week one of rehearsal. We didn't have a solid book until we were about a week into previews. Everything was constantly changing and we had to be on our feet 24/7, which was a really cool experience to be a part of because I've never done an original cast of anything, let alone something on Broadway. When I did Spring Awakening, we were given the script and I learned my lines before we started rehearsals, and I was off book when we started. With this, there was nothing memorized other than lyrics and music, but even then, we were going through rewrites for the arrangements as well. It was a little nerve-wracking, but we pulled it off.

How do you like working in Circle in the Square? Have you ever done a show in the round before?
GS: I've never done a show in the round. This is my Broadway debut, but it's also a huge learning experience as well. I've actually become really comfortable. It's a frightening thing being surrounded by your audience. There's nowhere to hide, especially with this show — we don't leave the stage. We're onstage the entire time. There's not one second to run backstage and grab water. We're there revealing ourselves for these audiences night after night, but I've found comfort in that. We're encouraged to make the audience a part of our group and include them as much as possible and that's kind of been a huge highlight of this whole thing — bringing the audience members in with us so they can experience this journey with us and ride the waves of emotions. Laugh and cry, and laugh again and cry again — it's wonderful. I can't imagine this production being done in any other space, that's for sure.

Salazar in the Godspell recording studio.
photo by Jeremy Daniel

What are you able to personally relate to in Godspell? Do you have a religious background that has influenced your performance?
GS: I was never really religious, and I have to be completely honest with you, doing this show has changed that for me. On a very personal level, I've been on this spiritual journey, trying to find where I fit in. Through this, I've learned that this is where I need to be. I think there's no coincidence behind my being a part of this. I'm having a very strange, spiritual awakening as we speak. I'm not at church every Sunday, but there's just some higher force that I feel is responsible for me being a part of Godspell. I can't think that I was in the right place at the right time — it's something bigger than that, and that's something that I learned through doing this.

What have you learned about yourself, personally, throughout this whole creative experience?
GS: Oh, Lord! [Laughs.] I've learned a lot. I was always taught by my parents to live my life as good a person, and always be good to my friends and to strangers, and be as compassionate and loving as possible. Through this, I've learned that my parents weren't completely crazy. I've learned that I have a lot to be grateful for. I've learned to really be proud of myself — loud and proud about who I am as an individual. I think there's a lot of pressure in this business to be a certain type or look a certain way to fit the mold, and this show thrives so much on individuality. I've really learned to become confident in me, as George, and to be proud of who I am and what I have to offer to, not just to this company, but to productions in the future if I could be so lucky to experience something like this again. I know what I can offer, and I know what I can bring to the table, and that's something that I've learned through doing this.

How was working with composer-lyricist Stephen Schwartz throughout this journey, and getting to sing his score every night on Broadway?
GS: One of the first musicals I listened to — because I was a late start in theatre — was Wicked. To have just met him, but then to have rehearsed with him, and then to have done the cast album with him in the booth... I've had to force myself to be like, "Oh, it's just Stephen," to not freak myself out whenever he's there. He has really shown himself to be a very selfless individual and a true artist and a wonderful person. In saying that, the word honor comes up. I'm so honored to be doing this, to work with him so closely — a legend. It's ridiculous. I feel unworthy of the opportunity to get to work with him like that. It is absolutely crazy. That's the only way I can describe this whole thing. I can't feel. [Laughs.] It's not processing it in my head. I'm just living it, riding the ride and enjoying every second of it.

 

Salazar (center) and cast
photo by Jeremy Daniel

How was the recording session?
GS: It was amazing. It was the most enjoyable and terrifying experience of my life. There are 10 people singing on that album, so you can't really hide and blend with an ensemble of singers. It's pretty bare-bones. You have to kind of knock it out and be perfect — or as perfect as possible. I'm singing on that album with amazing talent like Telly and Lindsay and Nick Blaemire and Morgan James, and it's very terrifying, but we had an amazing time doing it. The album is going to be sick. It's going to sound amazing. The band sounds sick. We recorded for about 9-10 hours. I can't wait. I can not wait. How was your opening night and getting to perform for the 1972 Toronto cast of Godspell?
GS: Oh my God! I have worshiped Martin Short and Eugene Levy and Victor Garber — all of them, so to have gone out on that stage... The first person I saw was Eugene Levy, who played Herb in the Toronto production, which is kind of the character that I'm playing in this production. When I say that they were so supportive of us, that doesn't even do it justice. They were having the time of their lives. They were really enjoying it, and then we got to meet them afterwards. It was like, "What is my life right now? This is ridiculous." These comedic legends who got their start doing Godspell… It was very overwhelming, but they really had a great time. There were moments where they would look at each other and were reliving their experience they had doing this show like 30-something years ago. It was surreal. The whole night was surreal.

Michael Gioia's work frequently appears in the news, feature and video sections of Playbill.com. Write to him at mgioia@playbill.com.

Read part one of Playbill.com's Leading Men of Godspell with Telly Leung.

Check out part two of Godspell's backstage tour:

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