PLAYBILL BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Steve Kazee; Broadway's Once "Guy" Talks About Exiting the Hit

By Kenneth Jones
27 Mar 2013

Cristin Milioti and Steve Kazee in Once.
Photo by Joan Marcus

You and the producers were in discussions about you extending your contract?
SK: Yeah, yeah. We were just trying to figure out the best way for me to move forward; what was best for me health wise, what was best for the show. Ultimately I decided, along with my doctor and agent and managers, that moving forward and continuing to sing the same role and running the risk of doing some permanent damage to my vocal cords just wasn't the best for me, health-wise or career-wise. …You know, I mean, my voice is my income, is my livelihood. So we decided not to move forward."

My intention was to stick around until September. I was very happy there. As you can probably imagine, I've loved that show and loved that company and loved performing that role so much over the past two years. You know, this has been a very difficult month and a half for me of being up and down emotionally and feeling broken, and feeling like you don't know how to fix what's wrong with you. Things you used to be able to do so easily are now a struggle for you. So, you know, I had to make a very tough decision about my own welfare, and moving forward.

The production was wonderful in the way that they handled the whole situation as far as my health was concerned. No one was bearing down on me to make a decision or get myself back to the show. Anyone who's seen the show since knows that Ben Hope is one of the most fantastic standbys you could ever ask for, and the job that he did stepping in for me the entire time was just unbelievable. So I think they felt like they were in a good position. We were all just willing to wait and see if I'd be able to come back, and ultimately I wasn't able to do that.

Last fall, did you get your throat "scoped" just to check on cords, for the sake of maintenance? Or were you sort of plowing through the show?
SK: No, no, no — I am a person who constantly checks on myself. I was scoped in January 2012, right after the New York Theatre Workshop run, because I wanted to see where I was, health-wise, moving forward. And then I was scoped again in the fall of 2012, after the Tonys…and at that point my voice had held up superbly, and I had zero issues, zero problems. I think what might've led to the downfall is just the change of season, heading into the holidays, the pressure of the holiday schedules — and you know you're doing a lot more, extracurricularly.

Kazee in Once.
photo by Joan Marcus

Everybody seemed to be sick this 2012-13 winter season in New York.
SK: Well, I tell you, it was one of the worst seasons I've ever had as far as sinus infections go and just like general ick. And, you know, also, it's just the wear and tear — it was the hardest role I've ever sung in my life and will most likely always be the hardest role I've ever sung in my life.

Do you burn the candle at both ends, personally? Are you up til 3 AM?
SK: Oh, no. I think anybody who knows me will tell you that over this past year and a half I have been a monk. I [went] home right after the show, I didn't have dairy…I was basically on a vegan diet for four or five months. I was constantly, constantly, constantly taking care of my voice because when I first got this job in April of 2011, I knew right then and there that this was gonna be the hardest job I'd ever had, and I made a decision to personally commit myself to that role more than I've ever committed myself to anything else. I knew the potential of it to be a great show and I knew the potential of the role to be one that was going to wear me out.

A lot of my friendships, a lot of my professional and personal relationships — not necessarily romantic — suffered because of that commitment, because I wasn't able to go out, I wasn't able to go and participate in a lot of the things that a lot of the community can go participate in. So I was very much home after the shows. I would sleep as much as possible. I was just very good, and I took very good care of myself, which I also think is what allowed me to sing the role for a year and a half and not have any problems at all.