THE LEADING MEN: Les Is More

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01 Nov 2006

Adam Jacobs
Adam Jacobs
Ben Strothmann
Thanksgiving's coming, and these guys can sing the stuffing out of any song: Adam Jacobs (Les Miserables), Jonathan B. Wright (Spring Awakening) and Jason Michael Snow (Pirates of Penzance).

MARIUS, WE ROLL ALONG
Alan Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg's Les Misérables is back on Broadway, and though they haven't reinvented the wheel – or the turntable – it's a revolutionary revival in terms of nontraditional casting. Alexander Gemignani, a Caucasian, leads a multicultural cast that includes Norm Lewis, an African-American, as Javert; Daphne Rubin-Vega, a Latina, as Fantine; and Adam Jacobs and Ali Ewoldt, both Filipino-Americans, as Marius and Cosette. Produced by Cameron Mackintosh and directed by John Caird, this Victor Hugo musical will open Nov. 9 at the Broadhurst.

Even though Jacobs played Marius for over a year on tour, the 5-foot-10 actor is making his Broadway debut. When he got the job, the ecstatic Jacobs asked his agent: "Are you sure they didn't want me for the cover?" Aaron Lazar, who co-stars as the stirring Enjolras, says, "Adam looks like Superman playing Marius. . . [He] brings a lot of heart and passion to it. He's fantastic."

Growing up in Half Moon Bay, CA, Jacobs was raised by his Filipino mother and his Russian, Dutch, Jewish and Polish father. At age five he saw Yul Brynner in The King and I: "I was mesmerized. Because I sat through it and didn't cry, my mom says she knew I'd become an actor." The NYU grad got his big break on the tour of Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella; there, he took over the role of the Prince from another Filipino-American leading man, Paolo Montalban. Last year, Les Miz would "bring him home" to the Bay Area: "That was so cool. My drama teacher came and brought about 50 students from my high school, and I felt like a star."

Offstage, Jacobs, 27, has "a heart full of love" for Kelly Kohnert, his newlywed bride of three months. A lovely singer-dancer who's appearing in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, she says, "Between Adam's Broadway debut and our getting married, it's been a thrilling year." Asked to name the first thing she noticed about her future hubby, Kohnert says, "His totally electric smile and beautiful teeth. He's also got a great bod. And I love his voice. When I first heard him sing, I just melted."

Question: Fifteen years ago, Cameron Mackintosh upset many Asian-American actors because he cast Jonathan Pryce, a Welsh actor, as the Engineer in Miss Saigon, another Boublil-Schönberg show. His casting director claimed he couldn't find a single Asian male "suitable" to play the role. And soon you'll be opening on Broadway as the first Asian-American as Marius in Mackintosh's revival of Les Miz. Congrats! What do you think about the multicultural casting?
Adam Jacobs: It's a sign of the times. Everyone in our cast is bringing something unique because we come from different backgrounds, and yet we're creating something fresh. Obviously, there are shows that are very race-specific, but Les Miz isn't that. It's been a classic for 20 years, and it's such a universal story. It's time to break some boundaries and stereotypes and have fun with it. Diversity can thrive in the theatre, and actors of different colors can only enhance the audience's enjoyment.

Q: On tour, Hedy Weiss of the Chicago Sun-Times raved that you were "especially outstanding" and "gave a real backbone to Marius."
Jacobs: Marius is so complex. I love him because he's passionate about the revolution. But when he meets Cosette, he's thrown for a loop. He's torn between love and politics. It's easy to just play Marius lovesick and naïve, sort of a simpering puppy love. But I don't feel that's right. I want to show what his commitment to the revolution means. Am I going to be with Cosette or am I going to fight and die? In the novel he didn't really know his father, but his family helped instill those feelings of the revolution in him. It gives Marius more of an arc, and it's very rewarding to play.

Q: What's it like performing Les Miz on Broadway?
Jacobs: I'm excited and exhausted. New Yorkers know this show, and I can feel them with me. Their energy is incredible. The show's also more intimate on Broadway. About 16 to 18 inches have been taken off the turntable, and they've shaved off a few feet on the barricades. I also love Christopher Jahnke's new orchestrations. The registers are a lot higher in the woodwinds, so the score sounds brighter and fuller.

Q: You and Ali look and sound sensational together, and Ali says, "Adam has the perfect voice for Marius, and he's a really warm and great guy."
Jacobs: I love Ali. She's such fun to work with. She's like a little bird. Ali's delicate and beautiful and everything I think Cosette should be.

Q: In the book "Making It on Broadway," some actors recalled playing onstage games on tour. Andrea McArdle says they held an Easter egg hunt on the barricades, and Hunter Foster remembers "stage hockey." What do you recall?
Jacobs: Before every show, we used to play hackysack onstage in our costumes. This would never happen now [on Broadway], but on the tour, there was a lot of Passing the Penny, butt-grabbing and random ad-libbing.

Q: What's the [worst] job you've ever had in showbiz?
Jacobs: Being a lounge singer on Spirit Cruises would be pretty high on the list. I'd be cheesy and singing "New York, New York," and people would walk in front of me to get to the buffet line. Then there were times I'd have to sing "Build Me Up, Buttercup" and pick someone in the audience to sing to, usually some nice-looking older woman, but sometimes one of them might grope you. That wasn't fun.

Q: Your wife's also a performer; how did you two meet?
Jacobs: We met doing a rinky-dink Christmas show in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Kelly was a rag-doll ballerina in it, and I was the ethnic Santa with black eyebrows and a white beard. It was sort of love at first sight. We were dance partners, and she led me around. And she still does. [Laughs.] She's helped me get in touch with my emotions. We got married in July and honeymooned in Maui. I just love everything about her.

Q: Looking back, has being an actor of color been a plus or a minus?
Jacobs: Definitely a plus. And things are getting better. The great thing about being half-Filipino is that I could play anything. When I was 15, I played a Native American. I've also played Latinos a lot. Sometimes, you do fall through the cracks or you're told you look too ethnic. For example, I've always wanted to play Tony in West Side Story, but I look too much like I could play Bernardo. Maybe I could play Tony in the winter because I'm not as tanned then. [Laughs.]

For more information, visit www.adamljacobs.com and www.lesmis.com.

THE WRIGHT OF SPRING
Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater's exciting, new musical, Spring Awakening, is based on Frank Wedekind's 1891 play, and concerns adolescents dealing with abortion, suicide and sex. Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele head the fresh-faced and phenomenal ensemble, but when it comes to stealing the show, Jonathan B. Wright is a master of grand larceny. The 5-foot-10 Livonia, MI, native plays Hanschen, a handsome schoolboy who seduces his shy classmate, Ernst (Gideon Glick), with a kiss. Before singing their Act II duet, Hanschen says, "When we look back 30 years from now, tonight will seem unbelievably beautiful," and Wright gives the line a delightfully deadpan delivery that's so arch that you could build a bridge over it.

When Spring Awakening played this summer at the Atlantic Theatre, Jeremy McCarter of New York magazine singled out Wright as "line-for-line" his favorite in the young cast. Now that the show's moving to Broadway, where it begins previews on Nov. 16 and opens Dec. 10 at the O'Neill, even Sheik says, "Johnny's seduction scene with Gideon is actually my favorite single moment in the show. The character he's created is so hilarious and rich. Everytime I see that scene, I'm completely cracking up."

Wright, 19, says, "Hanschen is so much fun to play and I really like shocking people. He's only 15 and there's no B.S. about him. . . . He just wants love, man. Look at the song 'Touch Me.' People just want to be touched. When Gideon and I first did our scene, I was nervous. I had never kissed a boy before, but we've become very close friends." Glick adds, "Once we start the scene, we're not us anymore. We're the characters, and we have fun doing it." The only downside? Wright admits, "I don't like facial hair. It's prickly, so I make Gideon shave. Before the show, I'll go: ‘What's that? Wanna borrow my razor?'"

Wright says, "Playing Hanschen is like going into a bar knowing you're the most interesting, hottest, sexiest, irresistible person who has walked into anyone's life. But I'm no Hanschen with the girls. When I meet a girl I like, I get so stunned by her beauty, I'm tongue-tied." However, he can identify with Hanschen's rebelliousness: "I was a little skater punk. We'd play awful pranks, roll our skateboards on cars and break into this abandoned school. I'm not proud of it, but it was so much fun. We were going through what these characters [in Spring Awakening] were. I was very angry. I have great parents, but sometimes there's so much going on with your body and your school and stress. I hated math. Acting was the only thing I could concentrate on."

In high school Wright was a big fan of Marlon Brando, and at 18, he played Stanley Kowalski in his high school production of A Streetcar Named Desire. He also has studied acting, clowning, Balinese masks and movement at the Actors Center in Manhattan. His taste in plays runs from Shakespeare to Strindberg to Shepard (he once directed a student production of Buried Child). And making his Off-Broadway and Broadway debut in Spring Awakening has been its own education: "I love [our director] Michael Mayer. He's brilliant and he's completely honest. Steven Sater is so sweet, and his lyrics are so beautiful. And Duncan is the man. I love him. He's quick and he's funny, and his music is gorgeous. In a perfect world, I would be skateboarding and surfing everyday for half a year, and the other half, I would be acting or directing a play in New York. I want to travel, chill and do more work that's satisfying like Spring Awakening. I've caught a break here, and I'm so happy."

For more information, visit www.springawakening.com.



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