THE LEADING MEN: The Men of Godspell — Nick Blaemire, the Star With the Guitar

The Leading Men   THE LEADING MEN: The Men of Godspell — Nick Blaemire, the Star With the Guitar
 
Playbill's Leading Men series focusing on the disciples of Broadway's Godspell zeroes in on Nick Blaemire, who chats about his rock band and his return to Circle in the Square, site of his Glory Days.

Nick Blaemire
Nick Blaemire

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Broadway's Circle in the Square has welcomed back Nick Blaemire, who, three years ago, opened and closed his first musical Glory Days on May 6, 2008, at the theatre-in-the-round. Following that "one-night Broadway sensation" (his phrase), and a handful of other jobs, the young writer-singer-actor is now center stage in the Circle's revival of Godspell.

In addition to performing "We Beseech Thee" eight times a week (while simultaneously jumping on a trampoline and playing guitar), Blaemire writes new musicals, occasionally books a television gig and performs with his rock band, The Hustle. Before talking to Playbill.com, Blaemire was hard at work, laying down a few tracks with The Hustle in the recording studio.

You were just recording with The Hustle?
Nick Blaemire: Yeah, we're beginning the process for our EP. We're doing a little six-song EP, [although] "little" is probably the wrong word — it has a ton of layers. That should be out in January. I'm [also] writing two new musicals and working on a couple of new shows as an actor, so I've been running around like a headless chicken.

Blaemire in Godspell.
photo by Jeremy Daniel

Can you talk about the new musicals?
NB: I'm writing the book, music and lyrics for a show called After Robert Hutchens, which we did a workshop of at Williamstown Theatre Festival this summer as part of their fellowship program. Sheryl Kaller directed it, and she was incredible. Jesse Vargas is doing all the arrangements and orchestrations for both The Hustle and After Robert Hutchens. The show is about these two brothers who find out their mother had an affair for 25 years that they never knew about, [and] they decide to go find the guy. It's been really interesting to write. It's a tiny little show. I also started a new show called When the World Ends, which I'm also writing book, music and lyrics for, that John Simpkins is directing. He did Blood Song of Love at Ars Nova and we did The Black Suits at The Public. He's a beautiful director. We're in the process of doing rewrites for that right now and we should have drafts done by the New Year. Hopefully we'll have some productions lined up.

What is the end goal for these musicals, and what is the process like?
NB: I learned a ton the last time I wrote a musical — a lot about the process of patience. [Co-creator James Gardiner and I] definitely jumped in full-force with Glory Days. These two are, decidedly, taking a different path. I've been working on them for a while and I just really want them to be in awesome shape before we give them to any theatres, so I've been kind of keeping a lid on them. They're both small. They're similarly sized to Glory Days. They're definitely both commercial pieces, but my whole goal as a musical theatre writer is trying to figure out a way to marry my favorite things: the odd ways you can manipulate reality and represent reality in independent film, and musical theatre. I think that a lot of new [material] that gets written is very presentational and doesn't feel real, and you have to deal with people breaking into song. I think it's possible to connect the music and speech a little more organically. That's been the goal of these shows.

The cast of Glory Days
photo by Scott Suchman

What do you feel you've learned since your last musical, Glory Days, went up and went down all in the same night?
NB: A world of things. The largest was that this community is absolutely incredible. We were super young. I was 23, and it was my first musical, and people treated me like their equal — like a professional — and like I had every reason to have a say in the room. We never expected to get as far as we got, so the fact that we took every step along the way [to Broadway] was gravy on top of the experience that we had writing it. Now that the show has happened, it has been this great learning experience both in my life and in James' life, my buddy who I wrote it with. With these two stories that I'm working on now, I can run to him — we communicate a ton. The chance that we got is one that I would never have had the balls to dream up for myself, and the fact that we got to do it was just incredibly humbling and has totally informed all of the writing that I've done since. You're back at Circle in the Square, where Glory Days had its short-lived run. How does it feel to be back?
NB: It's like exorcising some ghosts. It's really cool to be in there. Actually, the other day I walked in and was looking at the mailboxes next to our callboard, and the names of the Glory Days boys were still up there. It was totally touching. I didn't get to spend a whole lot of time at Circle while we were in previews because I was in previews [as an actor] for Cry-Baby, but it was definitely a place that I rushed in and out of. [Being back] has just been an unbelievable joy. In a lot of ways, it's made me more grateful that I got to have that experience as a writer there. This time around, I'm sitting in the front of the stage just waiting to be told what to do, and it's a very lovely thing to be just part of the team [rather] than leading it.

Do you feel that it helps you as a performer to know both sides of the table?
NB: Absolutely. It's invaluable. I'm much more sympathetic to the writers and the directors that I've been working with — although, working with Stephen Schwartz has been like a master class every minute. The yin and the yang of it is really rather unique. When you write, you can go home while everyone else is doing the show and sit home and think about how your work is done for the day and figure out [how to] fix all of the problems that you noticed when watching it. As an actor, you carry the torch every evening and make sure that you're maintaining the integrity of the show and the intention of the writers and creative team. …I'm so glad that I've gotten to experience both.

How did you first get involved with Godspell?
NB: I auditioned for Godspell at the end of this summer. I came in at the end of the process and was lucky enough to get to sing and play "We Beseech Thee" on the guitar for Stephen Schwartz and the team.

How did you react when you were told that you would be jumping on a trampoline while singing and playing guitar for "We Beseech Thee"?
NB: [Laughs.] Initially, we were just going to be jumping on trampolines, which I was already nervous about — trying to make sure that I can actually sound good and get through the number while I was bouncing up and down. [About] two weeks into rehearsal, Stephen came over and said, "You auditioned with your guitar. It was the reason we cast you. You've got to play it while you're bouncing." [Laughs.] I remember thinking, "There's no way I'm going to be able to do this" and they are going to end up cutting it in previews. But, I got a chance to go out and work on the set before rehearsal everyday with Chris Gattelli, our incredible choreographer, and he helped me figure out some ways to coordinate the rhythm — the guitar is playing a rhythm that the jumping sort of conflicts against, so I had to just get that in my body. It has really become this weird second nature. Danny Goldstein, our director, came up with the idea from watching videos and seeing concerts of Phish because they jump and play a couple of their songs on trampolines. It's a really cool homage to Phish, which I very much appreciate, and I think it's a rockin' moment in the show for sure.

You must feel a great sense of accomplishment.
NB: Actually, I constantly feel like I'm not sure how I am going to top an experience like this. I guess that's the challenge — to continue to push yourself forward and figure out new challenges, but this one was definitely a surprise.

Blaemire and cast in Godspell.
photo by Jeremy Daniel

Can you tell me about the rehearsal process?
NB: It was, and continues to be, very collaborative. It really is a show that you can't come in with any cynicism or judgment — both as an audience member and as an actor — because there's just no room for it. The minute you start judging yourself on jokes and moments that have to be improvised, you totally fall on your face. It became a really interesting trial by fire for all of us. The show is like jumping off a cliff each night, and you have to have people there who are going to catch you. Thankfully, I have nine friends on stage who are in the exact same boat as I am, so we all have to be equally focused and equally open-minded. There have been a lot of moments where everyone has gotten the chance to fall flat. We've started a thing called "The Graveyard" where offstage we write down the bits that don't work or have gotten a groan or crickets from the audience. What moments of yours that have made it into "The Graveyard"?
NB: Oh, man! I used to do a Robert De Niro impression — or I used to butcher a Robert De Niro impression — that is prominently displayed in "The Graveyard." [Laughs.] Also, I fall into Hunter [Parrish's] arms at one point in the show, and one night he groaned, and I made a joke about him eating too much that day at lunch. I was all excited to do it [again], and the only laughs that I got that night were from my castmates — who were laughing at me.

Celisse Henderson and Nick Blaemire in the recording sutdio
photo by Jeremy Daniel

What have you brought to Godspell from your own religious background?
NB: I definitely came at the show from a very secular point of view. I'm not very religious, and that sort of informed the character — the heightened version of myself — that I play every night. I come at the show as the cynic, and I think one of the really great transformations that's happened in the show — to my life, and to my understanding of religion — is that there is not room for cynicism. The cynicism that I have in my own life, I really do keep in much tighter check now because of going through this journey every night with [this cast]. That's been the greatest gift of the show — the approach that I took in creating my character has turned into some major lessons for my daily life.

You also do film work. Can you tell me about some of your projects?
NB: It's been a really cool year. I got to do a recurring gig on "The Big C," which is a show on Showtime. I got to play Oliver Platt's racist boss. Working with him was another master class. I feel like I'm still in school because I go to these rooms and meet these incredible artists who are so focused, so confident and ready to create. It's like instant genius — watching Laura Linney and Oliver Platt and Craig Zisk, who directed it. I feel like I'm getting paid now to go to class. And, then I did a movie with Oliver Platt this fall called "Gods Behaving Badly" that John Turturro and Christopher Walken star in. Right before that, I filmed a movie called "Damsels in Distress," which is Whit Stillman's first film back in about five years. He directed, wrote and produced. I've been loving the film world a ton.

You're writing, playing in a band, and acting on stage and in films. What do you prefer and what do you want to see yourself doing more of in the future?
NB: It's a constant discussion that I seem to have with myself — how all of this is going to shake out. I never really dreamed that anyone would let me do as many different things as I am getting to do, but I would like to continue to be a part of all of the worlds as simultaneously and equally as I can. They all fulfill a different side [of me], artistically. And, they are all so complementary that I learn about myself as a theatre actor. Watching yourself on film, [you think], "Why did I do that with my face?" or "Why wasn't I more connected or focused on that line?" I would really like to be able to write when I'm not acting and to act when I'm not writing and to sing when I'm not doing a movie, and hopefully allow all of those things to co-exist as best as possible.

Michael Gioia's work frequently appears in the news, feature and video sections of Playbill.com. Write to him at mgioia@playbill.com. Read Playbill.com's Leading Men columns with Godspell stars Telly Leung, George Salazar and Wallace Smith.

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