PLAYBILL BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Steve Kazee; Broadway's Once "Guy" Talks About Exiting the Hit
By Kenneth Jones
Steve Kazee, the Tony Award winner for playing Guy in the Broadway musical Once, talks about his sudden exit from the show — and addresses his social-media life, his health issues and rumors about his absence.
Steve Kazee, the Broadway actor who shot to greater fame in 2012 when he was named Best Actor in a Musical for playing a broken Irish troubadour named Guy in Once, went silent in February. In more ways than one.
In early February, following a week's vacation from the Tony-winning Best Musical, he was experiencing vocal issues that had surfaced earlier. On doctor's orders, he said, he went on vocal rest, dropping out of the musical for what he thought might be a limited time. But the vocal rest lasted for more than seven weeks, with Kazee also going silent on his busy Twitter account since Feb. 14 (he's got 17,000 followers and he had tweeted more than 7,590 times by February, not counting any potential deletions). By agreement with the Once producers, who were assessing casting options during his illness, he did not speak to media until March 25, the day after his (and co-star, Tony nominee Cristin Milioti's) exit from the show was official. (The producers announced on March 18 that Ben Hope, Kazee's standby, who had played performances in his absence, would graduate to the role of Guy full-time on March 26. Original cast members Will Connolly and Tony nominee Elizabeth A. Davis also exited March 24.)
Kazee's silence in the Twitterverse raised eyebrows, proving the power of social media to fuel negative speculation and/or inspire caregiving. Why would an actor who has tweeted @SteveKazee more than 7,000 times suddenly stop? Was he in crisis? Was he in rehab? Was the pressure of carrying a vocally demanding show catching up with him? After all, his time since the 2011 A.R.T. tryout of Once (which later moved to Off-Broadway's New York Theatre Workshop, then Broadway) had been crowded with incident: He'd Tweeted about health issues (Lyme disease and an ailing shoulder, both mentioned by him in Tweets in 2012); his mother, Kathy, died of cancer shortly before he won the Tony Award last spring; he was dating pop star Christina Perri last year and sang a duet with her, "A Thousand Years," on the latest "Twilight" soundtrack (they stopped dating last fall in what he calls "just a normal didn't-work-out situation"), to say nothing of the earlier public breakup with "Smash" actress Megan Hilty, his longtime girlfriend (they both released amicable, mutually respectful statements at the time).
Kazee, 37, told Playbill on Monday, March 25 that he'd heard all the rumors. He's setting the record straight. Hours after this interview was conducted, he posted an open letter "to the fans" on SteveKazee.com, recapitulating some of what he shared here (scooping Playbill!). He also tweeted a link to his open letter. (Welcome back, Steve!)
Read Playbill.com's spring 2012 Leading Men interview with Kentucky-bred Kazee, whose name is pronounced "kuh-ZEE."
You've been on vocal rest?
Before I went on this vacation I was starting to feel fatigued, vocally. We'd been going on for so long, almost a year and a half at that point, and, you know, I was starting to definitely feel the pressure of the role a little bit on my vocal cords. So I thought I should probably take a little vacation to try and build up some steam, moving forward. So I went on vacation, I came back, went back into the show, and on that Tuesday night I just didn't feel great, I felt like I should've felt better after a week's rest. So the next day I went into my vocal lesson, which I have every week with Liz Caplan, who has been wonderful and the sole reason that I was able to do the show as long as I [have]. I went to her on Wednesday morning, and sort of listened around and tried to see what was going on with it and we felt like maybe go into the matinee and try to see what it was. And I went into the matinee [Feb. 6], and unfortunately right off the bat, I knew something just wasn't right. I didn't have the notes I had had so effortlessly. So I pushed through the first act, got to intermission and I definitely, at that point, could tell that something was wrong. I thought, "Well, let me just finish the show and I'll got to the ENT [ear, nose and throat doctor] between the matinee and the evening, and we'll go from there." I went to the ENT and, unfortunately, saw that I was starting to develop a little bit of a bump on my vocal cords.
And the biggest problem was I had a blood vessel that was stretched over it that was enflamed quite a bit and was pretty precarious. Had I continued on without seeing an ENT, I ran the risk of hemorrhaging the vocal cord. So the decision was made to put me on a week's vocal rest. I went back the following week to see the ENT again. I got scoped again. It had improved some but it was still apparent that I needed some more time, so we decided at that point that we'd take another week, possibly two, then I went back again, got scoped again and this just kept happening for four weeks. At that point I'd already come to the end of my contract.
You and the producers were in discussions about you extending your contract?
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?
Everybody seemed to be sick this 2012-13 winter season in New York.
Do you burn the candle at both ends, personally? Are you up til 3 AM?
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.
And in recent weeks did doctors put you on prednisone, for your vocal cord swelling?
Potentially still damaging your instrument.
So, how do you move forward? What's coming up? Are you auditioning?
You disappeared from view. No social media.
I was very upset with the whole situation and I felt very bad that people were coming to see me and I wasn't there. You feel a lot of pressure in that situation. You feel that being a part of a Tony Award-winning musical: You're there to be there, to perform! I made the decision, along with talking to the producers, talking to my own team of managers and agents, to just be quiet for awhile and to just lay low. I didn't want to be out and about in New York. I have basically been in my apartment for a month and a half.
I'm curious about that social-media aspect of your life — the public presence that you've sort of chased in the past year. We've all followed your tweets. Do you feel you've learned and grown in terms of what you present to the public? Are you going to jump back into tweeting?
I made the decision to sort of back off and to sort of wait and see how things were gonna progress before I made any kind of announcement or statements about my future. More than anything I just wanted to be respectful of the people who were still there doing their jobs every night. I didn't want my company to look at me as someone who was just at home tweeting about "The Walking Dead" or something…
Has your absence sparked rumors that have gotten back to you and troubled you?
There are certain people who just want to muckrake. They just wanna be in there and they just wanna be starting those things because, unfortunately, when you have a certain amount of good grace come your way….we live in a society where people then want to start to tear that down. When my mom passed away, and when the Tonys and all that was happening, there was a lot of good grace that came my way, and it was lovely and it lifted me up and it carried me through a lot of that stuff.
They wanna see you fail after you've succeeded, and so I think people just reached out and say a lot of different things. Now could I sit here and list 1001 reasons why I'm not in rehab… I could sit here and prove it all day long but it's just not worth it to even go into that frame of mind. Anybody who really knows me knows exactly what's been going on. They know that they've either talked to me or they heard from me via email or text.
Do you think you'll return to social media?
I think part of the rumor mill stems from the fact that the Guy role is Herculean, and you carried it in a year when you were struggling with some personal stuff. The question arose, perhaps naturally, "How much pressure can this actor take?"
Now, as far as [my pain] being a contributing factor to the role — I'm not that method of an actor. I don't go into a show and really wear it home and take the role with me. I'm a performer. I'm pretending to be someone else. I'm not putting my own self into the show every night. So for me, the show wasn't adding to my stress. it was actually helping to relieve my stress and helping to take away a lot of the pain. When you're up there making that music and you're playing those songs with that group of people, you can't help but feel better. you know?
How did you leave it with the cast? How was the goodbye?
You did not attend Cristin and Will and Elizabeth's final performance?
Are you still meeting with your vocal coach, Liz Caplan?
Has there been self-reflection in the past several weeks?
And what's coming up for you in the next couple of weeks?
What about a job?
(Kenneth Jones is managing editor of Playbill.com. Follow him on Twitter @PlaybillKenneth.)
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