|Photo by Joan Marcus|
How familiar were you with the show before this?
CJ: I actually played Joe about 15 years ago, when I was in my early 20s, in Seattle. I don't really remember it, but that's probably because we had cut a lot. I was also so young. I had just started doing professional theatre, I didn't know what I was doing, I didn't have a hold of the character, and I couldn't sing it the way it should be sung. So I'm just pretending this is the first time I've done it.
Tell me a bit about Joe, the ranch hand.
CJ: This is one of those shows where you don't get a lot of exposition to explain who someone is before they start singing, but that's a challenge of these older musicals. I come in, I have five lines, and then I'm singing my big "I want" song, like every protagonist has in every musical. Joe can't commit to anything or anyone, whether it's a job, a woman, or whatever. He's a restless dreamer, and that manifests in a bunch of different ways. He's impulsive, he's charming, and he's also a little bit sleazy. I'm going to try to imbue him with all of that in five lines and then sing.
The show is often described as more of an opera than a traditional musical. How do you see it?
CJ: It is very operatic because it's mostly sung through and it's legitimate singing. It's definitely not pop or typical musical theatre. If everybody's on it and has done their homework, which they have here, it's thrilling. It has a classical sensibility like The Light in the Piazza, but they don't make 'em like this anymore. It's very challenging. I definitely had to work hard in the months prior to make sure I could do this score justice. What really makes this show work is if it's cast correctly, and our cast is brilliant.
Laura Benanti stars as Rosabella, your character's love interest.
CJ: Laura Benanti is my favorite of all the sopranos. We're really good friends, we've done a million concerts and benefits, but we've never worked together like this before.
From the looks of the silly Instagram videos you've been posting, you two are having a blast.
CJ: Well, the show has some really dramatic plot turns, so sometimes you just have to keep it light and bust out some '80s dance moves. [Laughs] We've both been through similar things in our personal lives, and we've been there for each other through all those things, so we're so excited we get to do this show together.
After selling out Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center, you're bringing your solo show, Music of the Mad Men Era, to the Los Angeles Philharmonic's Walt Disney Concert Hall April 26. Did you anticipate that the show would become so popular?
CJ: I thought it was just going to be a one-off, but yeah, it's turned into this wonderful gift. That will be my first concert in L.A., so I'm really excited. Jane Lynch is coming to play with me, and Rebecca Romijn is going to do a sexy little number with me too. I also have another show, Shaken Not Stirred, in which I sing music from the movies, that I'm taking to San Francisco in July. Traveling around to different performing arts centers is a new part of my life. As an artist, I want to express myself in so many different ways, as long as they keep me interested and inspired.
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