THE LEADING MEN: A ‘Phantom’ phenom - McGillin, Tartaglia & Gurland
By Wayman Wong
It’s the month for April showers, so we interviewed three of the "reigning men" of Broadway, Off-Broadway and cabaret.
A two-time Tony nominee for Anything Goes and The Mystery of Edwin Drood, this Theater World Award winner from L.A. also has appeared in Sunday in the Park With George, The Secret Garden and Kiss of the Spider Woman. Away from the Broadway stage, the 6-foot-2 heartthrob has released a romantic solo CD, “Where Time Stands Still,” and he happily shares his life with his two "great" sons, Christopher, 22, and Brian, 19, and his partner for the past 8 years, Richard Samson.
Question: Congratulations on Phantom! Wow, 1,278 performances. Did you ever expect to break the record?
Q: Why do audiences find the Phantom so fascinating?
Q: It must feel fantastic to make the leap from Phantom and jump into Bounce. I understand it’s a new Sondheim show about the Mizner brothers, who were real-life dreamers and schemers, especially in the 1920s, right?
Q: Speaking of Sondheim, you recorded "Not a Day Goes By" and "Good Thing Going" on your CD, which runs the gamut from Richard Rodgers to Mary Chapin Carpenter. You sound glorious on it, but I especially love how personal it feels.
Q: Going from the sublime to the ridiculous, how did you wind up singing as Gregory the revolutionary in the "South Park" animated film? That’s so cool.
Q: Looking back on your career, what are you proudest of?
For more information, visit www.howardmcgillin.com.
TARTAGLIA: AND THEY CALLED IT PUPPET LOVE
John Tartaglia, a gifted and engaging young puppeteer, heads the tiptop cast and gives an astonishing hands-on tour de force as both Princeton, a college grad who’s just moved to Avenue Q, and his next-door neighbor, Rod, a closeted gay Republican whose favorite book is "Broadway Musicals of the 1940s." The 5-foot-11 actor has his hands full as he sings, dances and acts, while carrying his puppets and manipulating their movements.
Tartaglia, who is making his Off-Broadway debut, says, "There’s part of me in both puppets. Princeton is very much like me. He’s got a good heart, and he’s eternally optimistic and positive.” As for Rod and his roommate, Nicky, who are tongue-in-cheeky takeoffs of Bert and Ernie from "Sesame Street," Tartaglia says, "Rod is closeted and has this incredible love for his friend, but he’s a geek at heart and so was I."
"Growing up, I was a total dork," he adds. "I liked to play with puppets, so I got picked on a lot. I was in every musical and I got teased for being gay all through middle and high school. I wasn’t cool, and it hurt. So like Rod, I know what it’s like to feel like you’re the only one reading ‘Broadway Musicals of the 1940s.’" But he was lucky, says Tartaglia, who "came out" at 18: "My parents and friends always gave me so much love."
Though Princeton searches for his "purpose" in life in Avenue Q, the 25-year-old performer from Maple Shade, N.J., always knew what he wanted to do: "When I was 12, I wrote to Jim Henson and told him it was my dream to be a puppeteer. Months later, I got an autographed photo from him and a note. Omigod! We were supposed to meet, but a year later, he passed away. When I was 14, I wrote to Kevin Clash, who performs Elmo, and one night I got a call from him and he said, ‘Yeah, Jim mentioned you to me,’ so he invited me to New York to see the show. And at 16, I started working at ‘Sesame Street.’ It’s amazing. That’s where I met [my Avenue Q co-star] Stephanie D'Abruzzo. She’s been like a big sister to me. She’s so hysterical and supportive."
A "Sesame Street" puppeteer for eight seasons, he says he first began working on Avenue Q three years ago and credits its appeal to the "brilliant" team of Lopez and Marx and Rick Lyon’s delightfully designed puppets. While that’s true, Princeton and Rod wouldn’t come so magically to life if Tartaglia didn’t have a hand in them.
For more information, visit www.avenueq.com.
GURLAND: AWARD-WINNING SINGER STANDS OUT
Speaking of things you should know, this Manhattan-born singer is busier than a beehive this month. Gurland opens Privately, a new cabaret act, April 11 and 25 at The Duplex; appears in Barbara Brussell’s The Songs of Bob Merrill salute on April 6 at Danny’s Skylight Room; and croons Michael Holland’s tunes at the New Mondays songwriters’ showcase on April 21 at The Duplex. Plus, he’s nominated for Outstanding Male Vocalist, along with Marcus Simeone and Lennie Watts, on April 14 at the 2003 MAC Awards, the Oscars of cabaret, at Symphony Space.
Gurland, 35, sings with a passion, personality and puckish charm that is all his own. Just listen to his sensuous signature rendition of Sting’s "Every Breath You Take."
Based on the idea of "standing on your own two feet" and being independent, his new Privately show offers everything from Carole King ("Beautiful") to Rodgers & Hammerstein ("My Lord and Master"). As always, this NYU grad delights in giving old songs a new spin: "I love ‘Without You’ [from My Fair Lady]. It’s Eliza Doolittle’s song of liberation, but I got together with my great musical director, Dick Gallagher, and we’ve turned it into a bluesy torch song." It’s Gurland with a touch of Garland, and now it’s a gay man’s defiant "Hymn to Him."
As an openly out artist with an actor-boyfriend of nine years, Gurland says, "If you’re not true to yourself onstage, what are you doing? In cabaret, you have the freedom to be who you are. When I first sang ‘Taylor [the Latte Boy],’ I just thought, ‘Wow, wouldn’t that be funny?’ I never really thought, ‘Omigod, he’s in love with a guy at Starbucks!’ There’s no reason why I can’t sing that song. I think part of the cabaret world wants the guy singers to be a little like eunuchs. They don’t want you to be too sexual or proud. Real straight guys in cabaret are rare, and they tend to get put on a pedestal. But there’s room for everyone as long as you commit to the music 100%."
In 1991, Gurland won a "Stars of Tomorrow" contest at The Duplex, so his latest show practically brings things full-circle today: "I’m still doing this because I love it. There’s nothing like that intimacy with an audience. It’s a great high and I’m hooked!"
For more information, visit www.davidgurland.com.
WHERE THE GUYS ARE
Got comments or questions? E-mail me at email@example.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 theatre critic for the San Francisco Examiner and a Drama-Logue Award-winning playwright.
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