THE LEADING MEN: He's 'Hot' Stuff
By Wayman Wong
The Fourth of July fireworks are over, but these guys are still having a blast: Michael Balderrama (Hot Feet), Matthew Saldivar (The Wedding Singer) and Jonathan Groff (Spring Awakening).
PUTTING HIS BEST 'FEET' FORWARD
Balderrama has been a scene-stealer in Saturday Night Fever, where he and Natalie Willes turned "Salsation” into a sensation, and Urban Cowboy, where he and Michelle Kittrell did a drunken adagio duet that became a tipsy tour de force. Besides grooving out in Movin' Out, the six-foot-one Texan has danced beside Michael Jackson, Gloria Estefan and Mariah Carey. However, Balderrama, 33, is originating his first Broadway lead in Hot Feet, and his former Urban Cowboy co-star Jenn Colella raves, "Michael is so sexy and strong. I knew he had the acting chops, and he's a great leading man.” Nixon adds, "Michael is an amazing partner. He can lift me any way and he will never drop me. But he's also hilarious, and I love that.”
Balderrama, who lives in Clifton, NJ, says, "Dancing is my first love,” but believes "you have to have a life outside of showbiz in order to lead a healthy life within it.” He's especially proud of Samantha, "my beautiful, wonderful 12-year-old daughter,” and his girlfriend is Lorin Latarro, who'll be appearing in A Chorus Line.
Question: Congrats! How would you describe your character of Anthony?
Q: What's it like working with Vivian as your lovely leading lady?
Q: Hot Feet looks like it's got the hardest-working corps of dancers on Broadway. How's it being directed and choreographed by a legend?
Q: Were you always a fan of Earth, Wind and Fire?
Q: What's it like being the leading man of Hot Feet?
Q: Are you a dancer who acts, or an actor who dances?
Q: Did you ever dream of dancing on Broadway then?
Q: Urban Cowboy was such a fun show. What was it like working with Matt Cavenaugh, Jenn Colella and that whole cast?
Q: In Hot Feet, Hines has put together quite a cast. It's not only multitalented, it's very multiethnic. How's that feel?
For info, visit www.HotFeettheMusical.com and www.michaelbalderrama.com.
WHAT MAKES 'SAMMY' RUN? SALDIVAR
Saldivar, who's a graduate of Middlebury College and NYU, says, "Sammy's not written as the brightest guy, but he is not dumb. He loves his friends Robbie and George (Kevin Cahoon). He loves his girl, and he loves his music. He's made a lot of good choices. Those are the things you want to get right in life.” In Act II, Sammy's big number is about the joys of being "Single.” Saldivar, who's dating actress Liz Elkins, says, "I am much like Sammy in that number. What guy doesn't sing that song to himself? You could do all those absurd things, like have a beer in the shower, but what you really want is someone who cares about you and whom you could care about.”
Over the past decade his stellar stage credits have included the Public, LAByrinth Theater Company, Classic Stage Company, Drama Dept. and the Guthrie. Saldivar, 36, says, "It feels terrific making my Broadway debut, and there have been a lot of perks. I went to Radio City Music Hall for the first time because I was performing at the Tonys. Our company is very proud of our show because we give joy to our audiences. I find it surprising that some people, like Michael Riedel [at the New York Post], would try to actively undermine our success [in his column] and predict that we'd close by the end of June. We do our best and rock it out every night.” Since the Tony telecast, the show's grosses have steadily gone up, thanks to its enthusiastic audiences.
In a way Saldivar was groomed to be in The Wedding Singer. He appeared in the 2004 film of Tony n' Tina's Wedding, playing Barry, "the best friend of the groom and a not-so-bright guy from Jersey.” It featured Joey McIntyre, Mila Kunis and Adrian Grenier (HBO's "Entourage”). "That was a cool ensemble. We did a lot of improv. Adrian's a good guy. We've both got bands, so we jammed.”
Saldivar and his mock-rock comedy band, The Petersons, will celebrate the release of their CD, "Upstate,” on July 10 at 9:30 PM at Joe's Pub. Heralded by Time Out New York as "one of the funniest, most original shows in town,” this gang of NYU grads also consists of Keira Naughton, Evan Robertson, Pete Simpson and Adam Stein. Saldivar, who is Mexican and Scots-Irish, plays Julio, a migrant fruit picker who plays the bass, oil-paints and lives over the Petersons' garage. He says, "It's been so creative. We write sketches and songs, do improv and make short films.” The Petersons' special guests have included Paul Newman, John Cameron Mitchell and Robert Sean Leonard, and on July 10, they'll be joined by The Wedding Singer's Felicia Finley.
Saldivar adds, "I got the best fortune ever from a fortune cookie. It said: 'The good times start when I count to three. One, two, three.' Before every show [on Broadway], we get backstage and go, 'One, two, three, Wedding Singer.' We do the same thing at our softball games. We're six and 0. We must be doing something right.”
For info, visit www.theweddingsingerthemusical.com and www.petersonic.com.
MAKING THE MOST OF RADICAL SHEIK
Spring Awakening is based on Frank Wedekind's scandalous 1891 German play about teen sexuality. Groff says, "That's the brilliant thing about our show. The scenes take place in 1891, and the music not only allows the characters to express themselves, but it shows you how timeless the issues of masturbation, teen suicide and homosexuality are; they're still as relevant. We can all relate to Melchior because he stands up for what he believes in. Getting to sing 'Totally F*****' is the greatest gift ever. My mom brought a busload of 56 people to see the show. I don't swear much in real life, but it was really liberating to say f*** in front of all my teachers and childhood friends. They thought it was hilarious. I'm so totally opposite of Melchior. He's an atheist and a radical who wants to change the world. And I'm a Methodist and I'm so laidback.”
For Groff, Spring Awakening has been an eye-opening and ear-opening experience. "Before I auditioned, I didn't know Duncan's music, so I bought all his albums and fell in love with them. He's an amazing performer as well as a musician. To be honest, I grew up a big musical-theatre nerd. My favorite show of all time is Thoroughly Modern Millie, and Sutton Foster knocks my socks off. I saw her six times. And Michael Mayer directed Millie, so how weird is that? I'm originating a role in a new musical and getting directed by him; it's everything I dreamed.”
Sheik, whose Spring Awakening pop score is so melodic and mesmerizing, says, "Jonathan is a joy to work with. He has no ego about his process, and he's an incredible actor. He's very sincere and searching himself as a person; that works really well in terms of Melchior's journey. And all the girls really like him.” Groff, 21, adds, "It's such an ensemble show. We're in the same dressing room; there's only a curtain separating the boys and the girls. We care about it so much, and we're all in our late teens or early twenties, so this show is like our life. I loved high school. I was consumed by theatre. When I got cast as Finch in How to Succeed, I never screamed so much or jumped so high. Omigod, I watched that movie with Robert Morse a bajillion times.”
Last year, he made his Broadway debut as an understudy, swing and dance captain for In My Life. "From start to finish, it was so much fun. Even after the terrible reviews came out, the cast was so inspiring to watch. That company formed such a connection. A few weeks ago, we had an In My Life reunion picnic in Central Park. And even Joe Brooks came. He's just a crazy, fun guy.”
Though it's been reported that Groff will play Jesus in the Paper Mill Playhouse's Godspell (Sept. 20-Oct. 22), he's taking life day by day, enjoying Spring Awakening through Aug. 5. "It's living a fantasy. If you're upset, wouldn't you love to pull out a microphone and sing to the person you're pissed off at? It's awesome!”
For more information, visit www.atlantictheater.org.
WHERE THE GUYS ARE
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Until next month, let's hear it for the "boys”!
Wayman Wong edits entertainment for The New York Daily News. He has been a movie and theatre critic for The San Francisco Examiner, a writer for The Sondheim Review and a Drama-Logue Award-winning playwright.
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