THE LEADING MEN: Steve Kazee, the Traveling Heart of Broadway's Once

By Kenneth Jones
17 Mar 2012

Kazee and Cristin Milioti in the recording studio.
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

You play a Dubliner. What's your relationship to Ireland? How well do you know it?
SK: Well, I know it through research only. I know it through heritage. Three-quarters of my family is Irish. Of course, the "Kazee" is not. For me, it was about just hanging out with a lot of people from Ireland. I spent a lot of time at a bar called the Scratcher, which is an Irish pub down in the village and hung out with a lot of Irish musicians and tried to get the grasp from Enda and from this guy Mark Geary, who's an Irish musician — friend of Glen Hansard's. Spending time with Glen and just sort of talking about Dublin and what's been going on there over the last couple of years, and doing my own research about [the Irish economic trend of ] the Celtic Tiger and how that affected everyone living there and how that brought the influx of the Czech people into Ireland, and now they're all sort of there with nothing to do.

It's strange: One thing that we never really get asked about is Dublin, itself. And I think that Dublin is actually one of the extra characters in our show. Even though the Guy is going to New York, and he is leaving Dublin, this story is still about how music affects a city, music affects people, music affects relationships… One of my favorite lines in the show, which never really gets referenced all that much, is at the very end. The banker says to the piano shop manager, he says, "You can't have a city without music," and I think that's a very profound thing to say, and I think it's a very true thing to say.

That idea becomes visual when the characters climb to a bluff and look down on the twinkling lights of Dublin. It's a breathtaking design.
SK: Bob Crowley, I tell ya!

Your relationship with songwriter Glen Hansard, who created this role on film, how would you characterize that? Has he been open about talking?
SK: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. Glen has been amazing. When he saw the show in Cambridge, when we did the workshop, I was very nervous. I'm a huge fan of the movie. I'm a huge fan of his. I will never be Glen Hansard, and I knew that from day one, so I chose to never even try to imitate that. And, he was very accepting of that. He was very willing to work with me and say, "Make this song your own. Find things in this song that you can relate to, to make it your own song." For an artist to do that, it's pretty rare — especially with something as personal as songwriting. But he has been an absolute gift to this production. He has been a gift to me, in my life. And, he's somebody I would consider a very good friend.


Kazee in Once.
photo by Joan Marcus

You're on stage a great deal in Once.
SK: That would be true. [Laughs.]

You're standing a great deal.
SK: That is true as well.

Can we talk stamina? From an actor's physical point-of-view, you have an instrument in your hands and on your body — the guitar. Does your body have to grow into that?
SK: Well, it's ironic that you should ask on a day like today when I go to my physical therapist at 4:30! Yeah, I have once-a-week physical therapy. Carrying a guitar around your neck for two-and-a-half hours every night does something to the spine and the neck. Unfortunately, when you have to sing, as well, it causes you all kinds of problems, and it's not necessarily a light load that I'm singing either. It's not lilting melodies. It's pretty raw, heavy singing. I always feel, as an actor, your body is an instrument, so I have vocal lessons with Liz Caplan, which is brilliant and keeps me tuned that way. And then, I go to my physical therapy, which keeps me tuned that way. So, in a lot of ways, you're like an automobile — you have to go in for maintenance. I try to do it once a week. It keeps me sane. It keeps me healthy. I just do my best to always be at my top. But it's a learning process. And, the great thing is, I've basically been at this for a year now, so I'm sort of in the rhythm of this show. But where we had five or six weeks off, and we came right back into tech, there was definitely a readjusting process to that.

Do you ever get back to Kentucky?
SK: I do, occasionally. It's not as much as I would like, but I try to get back as often as possible because it keeps me sane. It keeps me remembering exactly who I am and where I'm from, so that when I see my picture on a billboard on 45th Street, I don't think I'm something special — and I remember that I'm just some kid that grew up poor in Kentucky, and that when I go home, I still go home to a trailer. So that's the way it goes!

Keeps you sane.
SK: Absolutely.

It's pronounced kuh-ZEE, right?
SK: It is.

Is it part Polish?
SK: It's Dutch, from what I've learned. Although, I was at Duane Reade two days ago and was told by the cashier there that it was actually Indian, but that it's spelled with a Q in India, and I said, "Well, I've never heard that before," so I don't know.

That's an unlikely heritage, possibly.
SK: Well, possible. You never know. Stranger things have happened.

(Kenneth Jones is managing editor of Follow him on Twitter @PlaybillKenneth.)