THE LEADING MEN: Vamp Till Ready
By Wayman Wong
“Though April showers may come your way,” any one of these guys would light up your day: Hugh Panaro (Lestat), Matt Cavenaugh (Grey Gardens) and Jonathan Rayson (“Shiny and New”).
HUGH & THE BITE & THE MUSIC
Keeping up with Panaro, neck and neck, is Carolee Carmello, who plays Lestat’s immortalized mother, Gabrielle. “I love Carolee,” says the sexy six-foot tenor from Philadelphia. “We did the first national tour of Les Miz.” Carmello adds, “That was 18 years ago. He was gorgeous and sang like a dream — and he still does. Besides his incredible talent, Hugh is just the sweetest, warmest, kindest and most generous man you’ll ever want to be onstage with. He really taps into Lestat’s soul, and with all the changes we’ve had, I’ve never seen anyone work as hard as Hugh.”
Panaro, who was phenomenal in The Phantom of the Opera, is also working on his first solo album for Sony: “I’ll be doing mostly new tunes: Elton John, Desmond Child, Richard Marx. I want to get back to beautiful singing. When you hear songs these days, there’s so many bells and whistles that you can’t hear the melody.”
Question: Congrats, Hugh! How did you land the lead of Lestat?
Q: What’s the story of Lestat?
Q: In the books and in the show, Lestat has passionate and intimate relationships with Nicholas, and later with Louis. Are they lovers?
Q: In the song “To Live Like This,” Lestat sings: “Don’t fear the world out there because of who you are. So free yourself and you’ll see there is no need to live like this.” Is there a coming-out theme in there?
Q: Elton John said writing Lestat “was like being bitten by a f***ing vampire” and it’s some of his best work. For instance, you get a beautiful, soaring solo called “Sail Me Away.” How would you describe the score?
Q: Anne Rice’s website boasts that “during its pre-Broadway run at the Curran, Lestat grossed $4,315,293, breaking the record previously held by Wicked.” What was it like trying out in San Francisco?
Q: In San Francisco, Drew Sarich took over the role of your nemesis, Armand, from Jack Noseworthy. For the record, what happened?
Q: Finally, Rice has said she wouldn’t be doing any more vampire novels and would only “write for the Lord.” What’s she think of Lestat?
For more information, visit www.lestat.com.
THE COURTSHIP OF EDITH’S DAUGHTER
Cavenaugh, 27, says, “I first got involved with the show when Scott asked me to play Joe, and we did a workshop at Sundance. It’s fun to play a Kennedy. Joe was the golden child who was being groomed to be the first Catholic President of the United States. He was in love with Edie, and our number, ‘Better Fall Out of Love,’ harkens back to a Rodgers & Hart tune like ‘I Wish I Were in Love Again.’ It’s catchy, but if you listen to the chords, they clash and don’t quite go together. It’s very smart on Scott’s part, and Michael’s lyrics are clever.” In this delightful duet, Kennedy sings, “I need a leading lady by me neck and neck to help me lobby for a campaign check,” and Little Edie, who’s an aspiring actress, replies, “The only lobby I know is the Martin Beck.”
In Act II, Cavenaugh becomes Jerry, a long-haired Long Island teen. “I love playing him. Jerry’s got a goofy, sweet nature. And he had a real affection for Mother [Beale], who treated him like a son.” Though the old woman brags that this boy “has a new girl every night,” the real-life Jerry is gay. At one workshop, “Doug Wright told me that ‘Jerry’s here and he wants to meet you.’ I thought, ‘Omigosh. I’m s***ting myself.’ Jerry couldn’t be sweeter. He loves the show. And he lives in Queens. The New Yorker interviewed him, and Jerry says that Jackie Onassis once asked him out to go clubbing and invited him home for a drink. But Jerry said “no, thanks” and went to a gay bar instead. That’s hilarious!” (Speaking of hilarious, Cavenaugh adds, “Christine’s a great leader. She’s kooky, crazy fun. She’s a nutcase — in all the best ways.”)
This 5-foot-11 hunk from Jonesboro, AR, has toured in Thoroughly Modern Millie; tackled new musicals like Palm Beach at La Jolla Playhouse; and played a gay student on ABC’s “One Life to Live.” And like riding the mechanical bull in Urban Cowboy, he’s learned to enjoy the ups and downs: “I’m very proud of that show. I loved every minute. As tumultuous as it was, I’d do Urban Cowboy again in a heartbeat. I’m a much better actor for going through that. It was tough sometimes. I kept a bottle of Jameson [whiskey] in my dressing room. I’m not gonna lie. Some matinees, I might take a shot. It was disheartening to know you were in a theatre that seats 1,100, and there might be only 200 people there, but they came to see a show, so we gave it to them. It was a great ensemble, and we had so much fun.”
Though he’s single, Cavenaugh enjoys keeping company with an Idiot. That’s the name of his blue Betta fish. “When Michelle Kittrell and I dated, she gave him to me. I was in L.A. for pilot season by myself, so she sent me a beautiful vase of flowers, and Idiot was swimming in the bottom. He drove cross-country with me, and like me, he’s a loner. He doesn’t talk much, but he’s a good listener. I love my Idiot.”
For more information, visit www.playwrightshorizons.org.
HE’S RAYSON THE ROOF WITH THAT SEVENTIES CD
Rayson, 38, says, “I picked songs for this CD that had a personal connection, like ‘Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head.’ In kindergarten, I’d get up on a table and sing that for the other kids. Usually, ‘Raindrops’ can sound kinda cheesy, so Dan Chouinard, my amazing musical director and co-producer, slowed down the tempo. I wanted to give it more weight. I’m a ballad boy at heart. I tend to gravitate toward the melancholy and concentrate on the lyrics. And there were so many great lyrical writers in the 1970's: Billy Joel, John Denver, James Taylor. This CD’s really about what we choose to hold onto and what we choose to let go — not just things but our beliefs.”
If making this album was a dream for Rayson, so was getting to play Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors. On Broadway he understudied Hunter Foster, and on tour, he took over for Anthony Rapp. He says Seymour was his dream role because “I always felt like a dork growing up. I was in the junior high mime troupe.” As much as he loved the show, there were problems working at the plant: Audrey II, that is. On tour, “the plant had a lotta technical difficulties. Once the computer went down while I was inside Audrey II, and I couldn’t get out, so the cast had to do the finale without Seymour. It was terrifying.” Rayson adds, “The road was very challenging. There were places that seemed to hate us. Houston was miserable. But Boston was fantastic. And I was blown away by the response in Minneapolis. I had spent 13 years there [as an actor]. One of my friends is on the City Council, so they declared it Jonathan Rayson Day.”
In Minnesota, Rayson played in everything from A Little Night Music to Love! Valour! Compassion! He was a big tadpole in a small pond, but he got to leapfrog to Broadway as a standby for the Children’s Theatre Company production of A Year With Frog and Toad (2003). Jay Goede, who played Frog, suffered a burst appendix, so Rayson had to hop in on short notice: “Mark Linn-Baker, who played Toad, is a fantastic man and a brilliant comedian. I was so intimidated. I didn’t want to let him down. Mark came in that day on his own time to go over some scenes. That night, he was so generous. At the end of the show, Mark told the audience: 'One of the most difficult jobs in our field is being an understudy, and I want you all to know that this was Jonathan’s first night going on as Frog. And not only did he do a terrific job, this performance marks his Broadway debut.' I still get choked up about it. Sometimes, I feel like I live under a star. I once left this business for three years, but I came back because I wasn’t doing what I love. I feel so fortunate and appreciate it every day.
For more information, visit www.jonathanrayson.com.
WHERE THE GUYS ARE
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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