"I had a shot at doing it for six or seven shows six years ago at Encores!," he continued, "but now I get to do it in front of these huge, New York Broadway audiences, and that's crazy to think about."
For a week in November 2008, Yazbeck played Gabey, the hopeless romantic at the heart of On the Town, at New York City Center as part of the 2008-09 Encores! season. John Rando was at the helm in '08, returned to the musical for its Barrington Stage Company bow last summer and now directs on Broadway. He insisted on bringing Yazbeck along for the ride.
"It's what lives and breathes in me," explained Yazbeck, known for his recent dance-heavy performances as Tulsa in the 2008 revival of Gypsy (starring Patti LuPone) and Al in the 2006 revival of Chorus Line. "I feel like I was—at four years old — watching Fred Astaire on the TV, knowing that this is what I wanted to do. It's the brand of show that I really live in, and I connect to this music, especially Bernstein's music. He has such diverse ways of writing, and it makes you feel something. It manipulates you to go deeper into how you feel the dance steps [and] how you sing your song." Yazbeck's been dancing on Broadway since he was a pre-teen — when he was cast as a newsboy in the 1989 Broadway revival of Gypsy, starring Tyne Daly.
In On the Town, which will open Oct. 16 at Broadway's Lyric Theatre — home to the dance-happy classic 42nd Street from 2001-05, when it was the Ford Center for the Performing Arts — Yazbeck's Gabey is "looking for love," he says. "A real love." And, he's got 24 hours in New York City to find it.
Enter newcomer Megan Fairchild, who plays Ivy Smith to Yazbeck's Gabey. Fairchild, a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, makes her Broadway debut in the production. She studied at the School of American Ballet.
"We're being able to be transported back—to see what it was like," said Yazbeck about the 1944-set musical. Iconic choreographer Jerome Robbins put his stamp on the original Broadway production, and Emmy Award-winning "Smash" choreographer Josh Bergasse has crafted the world of war-era NYC for 2014.
"I saw his stuff even before 'Smash,'" said Yazbeck. "To be able to collaborate on all fronts with all these people just made a perfect match for all of us."
He added, "I feel like New York is thirsty for a show like this right now… It's what I think New York should always have. We should always have a big Broadway musical like this. We get to have it."
(Playbill.com staff writer Michael Gioia's work appears in the news, feature and video sections of Playbill.com as well as in the pages of Playbill magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @PlaybillMichael.)