THE LEADING MEN: The Ring and I

News   THE LEADING MEN: The Ring and I May time is playtime for these three great guys: Stephen Lynch (The Wedding Singer), Jacob Young (Beauty and the Beast) and Troy Britton Johnson (The Drowsy Chaperone).

Stephen Lynch
Stephen Lynch Photo by Ben Strothmann

WEDDING SINGER TAKES THE CAKE
When it comes to playing Robbie Hart in The Wedding Singer at the Hirschfeld, Stephen Lynch, 34, proves he’s the best man for the job. Dressed in a neon blue jacket and black leather pants, he’s the life of the party among New Jersey newlyweds – until Hart gets dumped by his fiancée when “It’s [His] Wedding Day.” An adorable waitress named Julia (Laura Benanti) tries to mend this broken Hart, but she’s already set to marry a Wall Street shark – unless Hart can help her break her prior engagement.

Based on the 1998 Adam Sandler-Drew Barrymore comedy of the same name, the Broadway musical has a breezy book by Tim Herlihy, who also wrote the movie, and Chad Beguelin, who also penned the witty lyrics. Directed by John Rando, The Wedding Singer is an affectionate flashback to “Flashdance” and everything eighties, set to the season’s most fun and infectious pop-theatre score. Matthew Sklar’s melodies have more hooks than a tackle box, and the incredible cast just reels you in for more.

The 5-foot-11 Lynch, who grew up in Saginaw, MI, and now lives in Brooklyn, acts, sings and dances his Hart out. Benanti, his lovely leading lady, raves: “Stephen is a joy. He’s hilarious, sweet and funny and keeps you on your toes. You’d never know this is first Broadway show. The man is smooth as butter.” His dynamic debut already has earned him nominations from the Drama League and the Drama Desk Awards.

That’s pretty impressive when you realize he is best known as a musical comic who tours colleges and clubs. This Comedy Central fave writes outrageously demented ditties. In “Baby,” he croons, “Damn, that’s an ugly-ass baby!” And in another, he begs “Grandfather” to kick the bucket so he can collect his inheritance: “What’s say we unplug the machine?” His three comedy CDs – “Superhero,” “A Little Bit Special” and “The Craig Machine” – run the risqué gamut from gerbils to Goebbels.

Question: Congratulations! What do you love about playing Robbie?
Stephen Lynch: I was a fan of the movie, so I liked the love story, and the characters were great. I like the fact that Robbie is a guy’s guy. He’s in a band and dreams about being a rock star and a songwriter, which I can identify with. And I just love singing these songs every night, and I really like making people laugh. Q: The show and the score are such a celebration of the 1980s.
Lynch: Except for “Somebody Kill Me” and “Grow Old With You,” which Tim Herlihy and Adam Sandler wrote for the movie, all the songs are the genius of Matt and Chad. “Right in Front of Your Eyes” sounds like Madonna. “Casualty of Love” has a Joan Jett feel, and “Saturday Night in the City” has a Blondie tone to it. They did a great job of capturing the flavor of the 1980s. The very year the story takes place [1985], I was 14. I had just discovered the classic rock of the sixties and seventies: The Doors, The Rolling Stones and The Beatles. And I grew up listening to my parents’ music, which was a lot of folk music: Joni Mitchell and Peter, Paul & Mary. I also saw my dad play the Padre in Man of La Mancha when I was a kid, and that got me interested in theatre. So I did shows in high school, college and summer stock in Augusta, Michigan: Big River, Blood Brothers and Equus. Those were good times!

Q: I hear Adam Sandler came to see the show during its Seattle tryout.
Lynch: Yeah, I had no idea he was there. Apparently, he snuck in when the lights went down during our opening night. People were wise enough not to tell me. Who wants that kind of pressure? He’s the guy who invented the role for the big screen. That night was a blur, but I met him afterward, and he was gracious, kind and funny, and said really nice things about me and the cast and the show.

Q: Coming to New York, did you worry about your Broadway debut?
Lynch: I wondered if I was in over my head, but fortunately, those fears have not been realized. I can’t say enough about the creative team. From day one, they treated me as if I’d been here for years. The same goes for the cast. Everyone has incredible resumes and is so talented. So who was I walking into this? But, man, it’s fun to come to work, and it’s because of all these people: Laura and Amy [Spanger] and Matt [Saldivar] and Kevin [Cahoon] and Rich [H. Blake], all those guys. We have a great time, and when we’re done, we come into my dressing room and play poker. We play so much that our producer, Margo Lion, gave me a big poker table as an opening-night gift.

Q: Have you ever been a wedding singer in real life?
Lynch: Never. And I’ve never sung at a family or friend’s wedding either. I perform for a living, so I enjoy being a spectator.

Q: And how was your own wedding?
Lynch: Aw, it was the best. My wife [Erin] and I got married on a private beach on Lake Michigan. We had 50 or 60 close friends and family. It was a beautiful day in September. It was a little before sunset, and we were all barefoot. Our wedding was basically an excuse to party all week. We had bonfires and barbecues.

Q: Robbie’s catchphrase in the show is “Love is what I do.” So what’s the most romantic thing you’ve ever done for a woman?
Lynch: Propose to my wife. We’ve known each other for years, and were vacationing in tropical Belize. This is kind of eighties, but do you know the Prince song “The Beautiful Ones”? It’s from his “Purple Rain” album. There’s a line in it that goes: “Baby, baby, baby, what’s it gonna be?” And then one of the lines goes: “If we got married, would that be cool?” So that’s what I said to her because that’s the album we listened to on our first date. It was funny and romantic at the same time, and she cried.

Q: And didn’t someone propose at your show over the weekend?
Lynch: Yes. At Saturday’s matinee, I stopped the show during the curtain call and brought this guy up. He nervously took out this piece of paper and brought up his girlfriend. I held the mike for him and he asked her to marry him. She said yes, and the place went crazy. We all grabbed hands and took a bow. So if anybody wants to propose at a Broadway show, we’d be perfectly happy to accommodate them.

For info, visit www.stephenlynch.com and www.theweddingsingerthemusical.com.

DAYTIME STAR MOONLIGHTS AS LUMIERE
Starting May 9, the super-hot soap stud Jacob Young will be really burning the candle at both ends. In the mornings, the Emmy winner will be shooting “All My Children” as JR Chandler, but at night, he’ll be lighting up the stage of the Lunt-Fontanne as Lumiere the candlestick in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast for the next ten weeks. The 5-foot-8 heartthrob from Renton, WA, couldn’t ask for a brighter Broadway bow; even his scheming soap character’s name is “Chandler,” which is a seller of candles.

Young, who grew up on Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, says, “I never guessed in a million years that I’d be doing a Disney musical. But Mark Rozzano, the associate producer of Beauty and the Beast, saw me sing 'One Song Glory’ from Rent at a Broadway Cares benefit and suggested it. It’s been fun. Lumiere’s got all the great one-liners. He’s literally the light of everyone’s life. He’s a big flirt who loves women. And he’s a sweet, charming character who still has his humanity, although he’s turning into this candlestick. He’s balancing everyone else’s fears with his own fear of melting away to nothing. I also get to do ‘Be Our Guest,’ this incredible showstopper. I do some soft shoe, tango and waltz. The dance captain [Daria Lynn Scatton] has been so gracious. I even surprised myself. After this, I can guarantee you that I can do anything. This is just the beginning. Playing the Phantom [someday] would be amazing.” Gary Beach, who originated the role of Lumiere and got a Tony nomination for it, adds, “I can’t wait to see Jacob in the show. I hear he’s wonderful.”

Growing up, Young sang in choirs, doing everything from doo-wop and pop to Latin. Though he appeared in high school ensembles of Grease, Our Town and The Wizard of Oz, “I also played Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls. It was a real kick. It was the first time I booked something as a lead.” Once dubbed “the sexiest soap star” by People Magazine, he’s now a lead on “All My Children” — and that’s light years away from Lumiere: “JR’s totally the opposite. He’s vindictive and manipulative. He’s a bit evil. He’s big on revenge. I’ve been on three shows [including ‘General Hospital’ and ‘The Bold and the Beautiful’], and this is the best character I’ve ever played. JR’s gonna be bad, but he’s got to be charming. He has a tormented past.”

Young, 26, also had a tormented past: “I lost my stepmom when I was 16. She killed herself. You couldn’t help but blame yourself. Why did it happen? And we were close. I knew her since I was a baby. You live in that dark place and I was having nightmares. My dad was going through his own torment. But those life lessons made me stronger.” He put himself through private school by working at Denny’s and lived in a temporary foster home. Later, he stayed with his birth mom in San Diego. “We had a falling out when I was younger, but now we have a great relationship. She urged me to do commercials. If I hadn’t moved down there, I would’ve never gotten into the industry. Acting has taught me it’s to okay to have feelings. It’s like therapy everyday. Meantime, I’m thrilled that my mom’s coming to see me on Broadway.”

For info, visit www.disneyonbroadway.com and http://merybarb.com/jacobyoung2.htm.

DROWSY GROOM GETS TO RISE & SHINE
In The Drowsy Chaperone, Troy Britton Johnson looks like he’s heading for a fall. He plays a good-looking groom who sings “[I’m an] Accident Waiting to Happen” – while he’s blindfolded and on roller skates. But during the show’s Los Angeles rehearsals, it was his co-star, Sutton Foster, who took a tumble and broke her wrist in that scene: “Troy’s a dream to work with, but I was the one who stepped backward and fell; I felt so stupid.” Johnson adds, “When Sutton was in the hospital, I took her some Vicodin. She went on with the show [wearing] a cast and was such a trouper.”

But Johnson’s quite a trouper himself – and he’s been in an original cast or two. The 6-foot-actor from Charlotte, NC, made his Broadway bow exactly 15 years ago in The Will Rogers Follies, which also opened May 1. As a crooning cowboy, he got roped into it with Jerry Mitchell, who says, “Troy’s spectacularly talented. He’s always the handsomest man onstage and has the most gorgeous voice.”

Johnson, 42, also appeared as Elvis in the King-sized calamity The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public: “I wore a Bob Mackie costume that had so many jewels that I needed a harness to hold it up. It weighed 40 pounds. Everybody ought to be in a ten million-dollar flop. It builds character.” It’s also where he shared a dressing room with then-actor Casey Nicholaw, who’s now the director-choreographer of The Drowsy Chaperone. “Casey’s really in his element as a director. He’s allowed us to create these characters and cultivated the funny in all of us.”

Written by Bob Martin and Don McKellar, this Canadian musical is about a theatre buff who’s obsessed with a 1928 show called The Drowsy Chaperone. As he waxes over its vinyl cast recording, the story springs to life in his apartment and so does the peppy pastiche score by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison. “My character [Percy Hymen] requires an affected style of acting, so we watched a lot of 1920s movies. Percy plays this tap-dancing groom; he’s got one bulb missing from his chandelier.” Foster says, “Troy had Percy down pat from day one. He has this goofy and lovable charm.”

This isn’t Johnson’s first time playing the Marquis. He went to bat as Joe Hardy, opposite Jerry Lewis as Applegate, in Damn Yankees in 1995. Johnson recalls, “I adored Jerry. He was the consummate pro. Charlotte d’Amboise and I rehearsed him into the show, and he’d call and leave messages thanking me for the day. That’s a class act. He knew the name of everyone in the theatre and couldn’t be sweeter.”

Though he was a hit in Damn Yankees, Johnson felt he was in a slump: “I was totally burnt out. I was onstage and thought: ‘I’m not having a good time.’ This isn’t fair. There are so many people who would love to be here. It was time to go. So I left for L.A. [for several years]. So when I auditioned for The Full Monty, Jack O’Brien [who directed Damn Yankees] welcomed me back, and I owe him a huge debt of gratitude. Now I’m thrilled to be on Broadway again, surrounded by a cast of absolute pros. So many of us came from the ensemble 15 or 20 years ago. It’s been a gift, and I look forward to everyone else in this ensemble getting his turn, too.” For more information, visit www.drowsychaperone.com.

WHERE THE GUYS ARE
There’s so much to see in New York: Jazz guitarist-singer John Pizzarelli, who’s always finger-pickin’ good, plays May 4-6 at 8:30 PM at Feinstein’s at the Regency, 540 Park Ave. (212-339-4095). . . . Rob Maitner offers his own Goofy Misadventures in A Tale of Mouseketeer Love on May 6, 13 and 20 at 7 PM at The Duplex, 61 Christopher St. (212-255-5438). . . . With his terrific pipes, Nick Cearley is clearly worth hearing in Born & Bred: The 80’s on May 7 at 7 PM at The Duplex. . . . The stellar Steve Ross sings and swings Astaire on May 7, 14 and 28 at 7 PM at the Iridium, 1650 Broadway (212-582-2121). . . .The brilliant Billy Stritch opens the Metropolitan Room at Gotham, by paying tribute to Mel Torme on May 11 at 34 W. 22nd St. (212-206-0440). . . . Euan Morton will “sing, sing a song” or two by the Carpenters, as well as cuts from his “NewClear” album, on May 15 at 7 PM at Birdland, 315 W. 44th St. (212-581-3080). . . . Jack Donahue will croon some cool tunes on May 15 at 7:30 and 9:30 PM at the Jazz Standard, 116 E. 27th St. (212-576-2232). . . . Andrew Suvalsky celebrates the release of his “Vintage Pop” CD on May 15 at 8:30 PM at Bar Rouge at Paris Commune, 99 Bank St. (212-929-0509). . . . John Hill will bring his Skinny Corpse to The Duplex on May 15, 22 and 29 at 9:30 PM.

Finally, have you seen the new Avenue Q poster in Shubert Alley? It reads “Wake Up Happy” and features Lucy the Slut puppet in bed with a blond guy. But the blond isn’t Barrett Foa, who’s fantastic in the show, but Will Chase, who isn’t in it. Chase’s explanation? “Lucy and I have been dating awhile. She constantly does photo sessions and I always feel left out. So I put my foot down. Yes, [my wife] Lori knows, and is thinking of doing her own spread with ‘Rod.’ I told her Rod is gay, but she says she can change him. Is it a choice for puppets or are they born that way? Anyway, go see Avenue Q.” Meanwhile, though Chase can’t confirm it, we hear he’ll be starring in High Fidelity, the new Tom Kitt and Amanda Green musical that’s bound for Broadway.

Got comments or questions? E-mail me at waymanwong@hotmail.com.

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 theater critic for The San Francisco Examiner, a writer for The Sondheim Review and a Drama-Logue Award-winning playwright.

From Left: Jacob Young and Troy Britton Johnson.
From Left: Jacob Young and Troy Britton Johnson. Photo by Ben Strothmann