THE LEADING MEN: Meeting Raul
By Wayman Wong
Go ahead, make my May — and here are four "Leading Men’’ who can do it: Raul Esparza (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang), Max von Essen (The Baker’s Wife), Euan Morton ("Show Business") and Robert Goulet (La Cage aux Folles).
Even without sitting high in a flying car, Esparza always has audiences — and fellow actors — looking up to him. Euan Morton (Taboo) says, "Raul is passionate and compassionate. He worked his ass off in our show, and without Raul, theatre would be a much shallower place." Billy Warlock (The Normal Heart) adds, "Out of everything I’ve ever done and out of everyone I’ve ever worked with, Raul changed my life the most. He’s the most talented person I know."
Born in Wilmington, DE, the 5-foot-10 Cuban-American grew up in Miami, and sang salsa tunes and ABBA at age six. In eighth grade, Esparza played an old lady in a Spanish play, Manana del Sol, and "it changed my life." On the homefront, he has been married for over ten years to Michele. "A real nut for politics and history," he’s now reading David Herbert Donald’s acclaimed "Lincoln" biography.
Question: Chitty isn’t your first time driving onstage, right?
Q: How would you describe Caractacus Potts?
Q: Would you like to be a father yourself?
Q: What would you say to critics who fear Broadway is turning into a theme park with musicals about chandeliers and flying cars?
Q: You’ve won rave reviews for playing edgy and intense characters, so playing this sweet song-and-dance man is a real departure.
Q: What was it like to do Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart?
Q: Another show that provoked a strong response was Taboo.
Q: Have you ever been urged to change your Latino name?
Q: Speaking of Hollywood, tell us about your upcoming film.
For more information, visit www.raulesparza.com.
SINGING STEPHEN SCHWARTZ TO THE MAX
Because this revival features a revised libretto and score, von Essen says, "I feel like I’m part of a new show. I get new lyrics in ‘Proud Lady.’ Stephen says Dominique was originally so full of himself. His song didn’t say ‘I’m in love’ as genuinely as I do. He’s cocky, but he’s not just one level. He’s not Gaston [from Beauty and the Beast]. Maybe he’s slept with every girl in town, but he’s never seen anyone as beautiful or classy as Genevieve. Dominique is more sympathetic now. If you root from the first second for her to go back to the baker, there’s no story. It’s a triangle."
"I can’t believe I get to sing ‘Proud Lady,’" he adds. "It’s one of the hardest solos I’ve ever done, but it’s so much fun. I think Alice feels the same way about ‘Meadowlark.’ And I love Alice. I saw her in Sunset Boulevard and Rocky Horror, and it’s so thrilling to share the stage with her. It’s like when I toured with Liza [Minnelli]. Or worked with Michael Crawford [in Dance of the Vampires]."
Von Essen, 30, also received raves when he co-starred with Melissa Errico in last season’s Irish Rep revival of Finian’s Rainbow. "It was such a perfect fit when I sang ‘Ol’ Devil Moon.’ I felt I was born in the wrong era; I should’ve been back with Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra. There’s talk that it might still go to Broadway."
Next, he will perform "Max in Concert," which runs the gamut from George Gershwin to Boy George, on July 18 at Birdland, and he’ll be Emcee-ing Sacramento’s Music Circus revival of Cabaret (Aug. 9-14). But no chat with von Essen would be complete without asking him to recall one of his funniest "Vampires" memories: "Asa Somers played the gay vampire and we were in the library, and he’d ask, ‘Do you enjoy reading?’ He’d hand me a book and I’d read the title, ‘Sucking for Dummies.’ He’d say, ‘Oops, wrong book.’ At the final show, I changed the title of the book to ‘Yank My Doodle, It’s a Dandy.’ The show stopped in its tracks. Asa covered his face. I was hysterical. The audience was cracking up, and it took us so long to recover."
For more information, visit www.maxvonessen.com.
WHAT EUAN IS DOIN’ THESE DAYS
Morton, 27, says, "I love the film because I’m in it. (Laughs.) And Dori did a really good job. But it’s hard [for me] to watch it because it’s hard to look at those moments and know where it could’ve gone. The best thing about this is people go, ‘What happened to Taboo? It was such a nice show!’ But Taboo will never come back. It’s really done. So it’s nice that part of that was captured on celluloid. I’m going on holiday, playing tennis, writing an album. I’m quite happy to take a break from acting. I found it to be both exciting and heart-wrenchingly difficult. I don’t think I belong on Broadway. I’ve seen many better performers there. Meantime, I’m happy to work in a bar or a restaurant to pay the rent. I won’t be in the public eye for sometime, but God has given me a voice and I want to come back and make something of myself in the music world. Who knows what the future holds? I hope something bloody soon!" (Laughs.)
Before this great Scot flies home, he’ll appear at "Jamie deRoy & friends" on May 26 at 7:30 PM at The Encore, 266 W. 47th St. (212-221-3660). As for "Show Business," it hopes to open in New York later this year.
GOULET IS HAVING ‘THE BEST OF TIMES’
As for kissing his male co-star, Goulet says it wouldn’t be his first time. Back in 1960, "Moss Hart was directing this scene between Richard Burton and me in Camelot, and we’re supposed to come face to face. We had been drinking and I said to Richard, ‘Shall we kiss?’ And he said, ‘Alright … on the lips?’ Now I had never kissed a man before in my life, not even my father, but I couldn’t back down. We said, ‘Mr. Hart, could we show you the relationship between Lancelot and [King Arthur] so the audience will know immediately?’ He said, ‘By all means.’ Then Richard and I kissed. It took an hour and a half to get Moss off the ceiling. He made us do it again for [Alan Jay] Lerner and then for [Frederick] Loewe. Moss made us do it once more for the [chorus] kids. And everybody laughed, except two of the boy dancers cried."
For more information, visit www.robertgoulet.com.
WHERE THE GUYS ARE
Finally, thanks to everyone who bought tickets to "The Leading Men" benefit for Broadway Cares on May 30 at 7 PM at Joe’s Pub. It’s sold out, but a handful of $40 house seats might be released closer to the date, so keep checking TeleCharge (212-239-6200). John Tartaglia is hosting; Seth Rudetsky is the musical director, and Alan Muraoka is the director. And the lineup includes Tom Andersen, Scott Coulter, Tim Di Pasqua, Tom D’Angora, Brian and Ted Farley, Barrett Foa, Danny Gurwin, Cheyenne Jackson, Matthew Morrison, Jai Rodriguez, Christopher Sieber and Ben Strothmann.
Got comments or questions? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 theater critic for The San Francisco Examiner, a writer for The Sondheim Review and a Drama-Logue Award-winning playwright.
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