THE LEADING MEN: Lucas Steele Proves His Mettle in Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812
By Wayman Wong
Lucas Steele struts and swaggers with a magnetic "czar quality" as Prince Anatole in Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812. In Dave Malloy's Obie-winning "electro-pop opera" of Leo Tolstoy's "War and Peace," the blond, 5-foot-10-inch tenor is constantly racing and rushing throughout Kazino, the show's lush and plush supper club, in pursuit of wine, women and song.
In the opening, the cast sings, "Anatole is hot," and "as played by Lucas Steele, he is," raves Jesse Green of New York magazine. Thom Geier of Entertainment Weekly adds: "Steele is dashingly caddish as the lothario Anatole who seduces Natasha."
Though she's engaged to Prince Andrey, "Natasha falls for Anatole because he makes her feel like she's never loved anyone else before," said Phillipa Soo, who's gained acclaim in the title role. "And Lucas makes it so easy to play. He's so open, warm and wise. This is my first job out of school (Juilliard), and he's taken me under his wing. I look up to him so much."
In recent years, Steele has forged his reputation Off-Broadway, appearing in the New Group's The Kid and Prospect Theater Company's Myths and Hymns. In 2006, he made his Broadway debut in Roundabout's The Threepenny Opera, starring Alan Cumming and Cyndi Lauper. Besides singing and recording with the Broadway Boys, he has written his own dance-pop songs.
In Natasha, everyone sings "Anatole is hot," but how would you describe him?
Lucas Steele: Anatole is an absolute hedonist. He just cares about pursuing pleasure and lives in the moment. He doesn't think too much about the consequences and he's narcissistic to a degree. Physically, it's the most challenging role I've ever had. You have to make sure the entire room sees a scene as it's happening, so you learn to act as you're walking because you're constantly in transit. It's three hours of cardio each night. I've lost 8 pounds. I do over 150 stairs a show, and that doesn't include the ones backstage.
And you're navigating around tables and interacting with theatregoers, yet Anatole always looks cool.
LS: Anatole looks cool until he falls down, which I've done. (Laughs.) And I have the best entrance I've ever had, or will ever have. Two doors swing open with a lot of light and fog behind them, and then I enter. And when I exit, I belt a ridiculously high note, a C sharp. Later on, I found out that Dave Malloy wrote that note as a joke and thought, "Nobody will ever be able to sing this!"
How did you come up with such a charismatic character?
LS: Our director, Rachel Chavkin, and I decided we wanted him to be almost like an alien from another dimension, which is what makes Natasha's head explode. She's never seen anyone like him. There's a lot of David Bowie undertones going on.
That would explain your blonde, spiked-up hairdo. Tell us about your Natasha. You and Phillipa have chemistry and such a passionate and romantic makeout scene. She said, "Lucas is a great kisser and has got very soft lips." What's she like?
LS: Phillipa is incredibly talented and so mature for her age (23). There's very little diva. There's an innocence to her, but she's also way smarter than Natasha, who's 15. And she never pushes. She's definitely one of my top five people I've worked with.
What about Amber Gray, who plays Anatole's fiery and fierce sister, Helene?
LS: That girl is a star in the way Eartha Kitt was, with a little Chita Rivera. Whenever you look in her eyes, she is telling you a hundred stories. And though we don't play it out, there is definitely something incestuous going on between Anatole and Helene. There's also a backstory going on with his buddy, Dolokhov (Nick Choksi). Anatole's a guy who likes his pleasure. (Laughs.)
You're a songwriter yourself, so what do you admire about Dave Malloy's music?
LS: Dave crafts music that is intelligent, sophisticated and artistic, and still has hooks. He does an incredible job of marrying the two. In Natasha, there's a lot of dance, techno and folk. And I hear Adam Guettel and Sondheim. He loves all kinds of music.
Many celebrities, such as Neil Patrick Harris and Josh Groban, have seen Natasha. Do you have a favorite encounter?
LS: Yes, Bernadette Peters. I grew up in a tiny town of 500 people (in Wyalusing, PA). One night when I was 13 or so, PBS was showing Into the Woods with the original Broadway cast. I recognized Bernadette because I had seen her in "The Jerk" with Steve Martin. She was incredibly funny and beautiful. Anyway, one night after Natasha, I was coming out after the show, and Bernadette saw me and said some very lovely things. Then I told her: "You were a large part of a very integral moment in my life, and I just wanted to thank you." She smiled and hugged me. It was so cool. It was a full-circle moment. She was absolutely lovely.
Natasha got five Drama Desk nominations, but in 2010, you were in another musical that got five Drama Desk nods, The Kid. Michael Zam, Andy Monroe and Jack Lechner wrote about Dan Savage and his boyfriend, Terry Miller, and gay adoption.
LS: I was proud to work on a piece about what it really means to be a family. Ultimately, what cements you is not a piece of paper that defines your marriage or whether this child is yours; it's love. I also adored working with Christopher Sieber, who played Dan. He's one of the best actors and guys in the business. He can do anything. He's hysterical. He's sincere. He's a wonderful actor and singer and such a giving human being. Anytime I had a doubt, he'd take it away. He was always, "Don't sweat it." He's amazing.
What was it like meeting Dan, Terry (whom you played) and their son, D.J.?
LS: Surreal. They were lovely, but maybe a little freaked out, and rightly so, to see their story musicalized. At the opening night party, I asked them if what we did was okay, and they said it was more than okay and they couldn't be happier.
Jill Eikenberry, who played Dan's mom, said you and Chris taught her so much about how young men come out to their families. That same year, there were an alarming number of gay teen suicides, so Dan and Terry posted an inspiring video called "It Gets Better" on YouTube to give hope to young people.
LS: And our musical even had a song called "It Gets Better."
If you could tell those teens that "It Gets Better," what would you say?
LS: Growing up is a beautiful thing. You owe it to yourself to be around for that awesome moment when you evolve. It's a long process. Just getting out of high school, your world changes. My heart breaks when I see someone take their life so young. I never felt that. I had a great time in high school. I was the prom king. I had a lot of friends. I wasn't bullied. Years later, when I came into my own, I talked to my family about it. It wasn't the easiest moment, but they're good people and they love and support me.
Finally, tell us about The Threepenny Opera. You played two roles in the ensemble: Harry, who wore sweatpants, and Velma, who wore orange Speedos and high heels. But what do you remember most about Alan Cumming and Cyndi Lauper?
LS: We had an incredible time offstage. When you're chilling with Alan and Cyndi, the world is a different place. We'd party in Alan's dressing room (at Studio 54) and stay until 1:30 or 2 in the morning. Other times, we'd pile into an SUV, usually Alan or Cyndi's car service, and hit a club or two. We got to skip the line, meet awesome people and one of them would take care of table service. So we were having a blast and not paying for anything. (Laughs.) I was with creative people who didn't care what other people thought. And I think that's when I first started feeling, ''Oh, wait. I've been putting boundaries on myself.'' One night, over a beer, Cyndi and I were talking about the business, and she said, ''YOU don't ever need to settle.'' And I have to say that changed my life.
Tony nominee Billy Magnussen, who plays the sexy boy toy in Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike, caps off his fairytale year by leaving the Chris Durang comedy on Aug. 4 to film "Into the Woods." He'll be Rapunzel's Prince in Rob Marshall's star-studded version of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's 1987 musical, with Meryl Streep playing the Witch.
"Omigosh, I'm so excited," Magnussen said. "And do you know who I owe the credit to? Meryl Streep. She came to [Vanya] and was the sweetest thing. She's the one who whispered into Rob Marshall's ear and then he came to see me. I love Meryl. She doesn't play a character. She owns it. She's gonna kill it as the Witch. And that's cool that Chris Pine is Cinderella's Prince. He's so great in the 'Star Trek' movies. I'll get to sing 'Agony' with him, and in college, the only song I ever worked on was 'Agony.' That's awesome."
Magnussen, whose randy and outrageous role of Spike will be taken over by Creed Garnick, admitted, "It's a bummer to leave Vanya. Julie White just came in to play Masha and kicked ass. Honestly, I've been so blessed and honored. I'll miss all the cast and crew. We're family. And I'll miss motorboating Kristine [Nielsen] the most." (Laughs.)
If you haven't seen Douglas Carter Beane's The Nance at the Lyceum, you've still got until Aug. 11. Two-time Tony winner Nathan Lane gives the season's dramatic and comic tour de force as Chauncey, a gay 1930s sketch comic who's skittish about love.
Meantime, a galaxy of stars has been stopping backstage to say "Hi, simply hi" to Lane and his company of cutups. Jonny Orsini, who plays Chauncey's hunky young lover, said, "It's been incredible. We've seen Victor Garber, Mel Brooks, Martin Short, Eugene Levy, Cynthia Nixon, Kristine Nielsen, Alan Cumming and Danny Boyle, whom I'd love to work with. And it was funny, but both Dr. Spocks from "Star Trek" — Leonard Nimoy and Zachary Quinto — came on the same night. Jerry Lewis was pretty cool, and I was blown away by Ian McKellen. And I have quite the schoolboy crush on Krysta Rodriguez. She's adorable and so sweet!"
Broadway and TV star Matthew Morrison recently proved that the show — and the "Schue" — must go on after he paid a touching tribute to his Glee co-star Cory Monteith, who played Finn Hudson and died of a drug overdose on July 13. At the July 17 closing of his latest run at 54 Below, Morrison announced: "This week, I lost a good friend of mine: Cory Monteith. On Glee, he was like a son to my character [Will Schuester], but in real life, he was like a brother to me. I had to do two shows the day after he passed, and it was one of the hardest things for me. I questioned whether to cancel the shows, but more than any time in my entire life, I realized that day that singing was therapeutic and I really dealt with all my grief in those performances. It was amazing."
The Tony and Emmy nominee added, "We usually start the show with a rowdy bang, but tonight, we're gonna start with a song for Cory." With his beautiful voice brimming with emotion, he crooned "What I Did for Love" from A Chorus Line, accompanied only by the plaintive piano of Brad Ellis. Morrison received a rapturous round of applause from the soldout house, which included Glee co-star Darren Criss. He then wowed the crowd with the high standards he set for himself on his new CD, "Where It All Began." Bravo!
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Until next month, let's hear it for the "boys"!
Wayman Wong originated "The Leading Men" column and wrote it from 2003-2006. He also has been a longtime editor of entertainment at the New York Daily News and an award-winning playwright.
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