Steve Kazee, Once's Tony-Winning Troubadour, Finds Harmony in Dream Role

By Brandon Voss
28 Jun 2012

Kazee in Once.
photo by Joan Marcus

Throughout his formal theatrical training, from his very first role as one of the brothers in a Morehead State University production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Kazee never considered Broadway an accessible goal. "I'm too aware of the statistics," he says. "When I auditioned for grad school, I just wanted the chance at a career in theatre. I figured I'd be able to work in the business somehow if I had an MFA from a big school and distinguished program, but I never imagined I'd get to be on Broadway." The actor had also been discouraged by many mornings of fruitless cattle call auditions. "I wouldn't even get to sing! They'd put us in a line, and the director would say, 'Go' or 'Stay.' They'd just look at me and say, 'Go.' That's the reality for so many actors in New York, so I'm very thankful for everything I've been able to do."

Kazee received his first Tony nomination — and win — for his work as Guy in Once, but "it ain't all roses and sunshine," to borrow the actor's own expression: Shortly after splitting with his girlfriend of six years, his mother lost her battle with cancer in April — events detailed in a recent profile in The New York Times. "When I read that piece, I thought, 'Well, this is a bummer,' but people have taken inspiration from my story," says Kazee, who grew up in a trailer in Ashland, KY. "Because of everything that's happened to me from the time I was born, it's a miracle I'm even here talking to you. Some critics — I always read reviews — wrote that I didn't seem like someone who could be down on his luck, but if they only knew what I was going through in my life. I'm not a method actor who brings that dark cloud onstage with me, but I do know how to pull from that. People can succeed but also be lost."

When we first meet Guy, he's creatively stalled, a feeling to which Kazee can also relate. "My career dried up in 2008 for about two years, and I knew I couldn't struggle like that forever," he remembers. "Right as I was ready to quit, Once came along, which is poetic, because that's what the show's about."

Steve Kazee on Tony night
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

The last time Kazee felt like quitting the business? "Every day," he says with a weary smile. "My best advice for an aspiring actor is this: If there's something else you can see yourself doing, do that. I wasn't prepared for how tough this business is and how hard it is to survive as an actor. Even when you make it, you never know which job is going to be your last, so you have to enjoy it while it's happening; if you try to plan ahead, it'll just fall apart. There are people who have won Tonys and never done another Broadway show, which keeps everything in perspective for me. All I know is that when the show's over, I won't die, and every once in a while it'll be a beautiful day."

Although he would like to eventually tackle film and possibly pursue a music career, Kazee has no intention of turning his back on Broadway. "One of my favorite performers and human beings is Denis O'Hare, who can do a season of 'True Blood' and then come back to New York to do An Iliad and Into the Woods," he explains. "That's the kind of career I want." As for an onstage dream role, he says, "I'd love to do a Sam Shepard play; Curse of the Starving Class seems like a good one to bring back right about now."

But if nothing else comes out of his Once success, Kazee hopes that more people will learn how to correctly pronounce his last name. He jokes, "Yeah, could you please make that clear in this article? As one blog explained, it's like 'kazoo,' but the end rhymes with 'tree.'" Whoopi Goldberg still managed to mangle it when the Once cast performed on "The View." Did that sting? "Nah, because it's Whoopi. I mean, have you watched 'The View'? At least David Letterman said it right when we performed on 'Late Show.'"