Five guys back up the one-and-only Liza in Minnelli on Minnelli; the star's tribute to her famous film-director father, Vincente, is doing good box-office in its limited run at the Palace Theatre. Here's a closer look at the multi-talented men of the ensemble.
Last seen in: Mame at Paper Mill Playhouse
Other credits: Jerome Robbins' Broadway and Crazy for You; Tulsa in Bette Midler's TV Gypsy.
His big moment in Minnelli on Minnelli: " 'Stairway to Paradise' at the top of the second act. Also, the 'Triplets' thing with Liza and Billy Hartung."
How he was cast: "They invited us to a private audition with [choreographer] John DeLuca. I had two callbacks. Of course, Liza was there, and all the production people. I had auditioned when Liza did Stepping Out at Radio City years ago; they were originally going to use men, but then the whole concept changed -- and all of us men who were going to step out didn't step out. They just had women."
About the Broadway experience: "I was out in Los Angeles for awhile, so I haven't done a show in New York in about five years. Just coming back to Broadway, let alone with someone like Liza, is overwhelming for me. There's a feeling of community when you're doing a show that you don't appreciate until you don't have it. Also, you don't realize how much of your life depends on the social aspect of the theatre. Now, I know what I was missing. I love going to work every day; there's much more of a feeling of purpose than when you're sitting in your house in L.A., doing one movie every six months."
About Liza: "She's incredibly giving and nurturing. She takes care of us, treats us with respect and kindness. That's not always the case with other people, so it's more important to me than anything else."
About the other guys: "It was weird at first, because Liza's the only woman in the company. Other than her, it's all guys -- the cast, the choreographer, the musical directors. In the beginning, I missed that female input. It was just an odd energy. And, initially, there was a little bit of a competitive thing going on, because it's all men. I think it took a little bit more effort for us to establish a camaraderie. But now, we're really supportive of each other. We're like brothers."
Last seen in: On the Town and Peter Pan on Broadway
Other credits: Ziegfeld Follies on 1936, Encores! series; national tours of Sunset Boulevard, Dreamgirls, Grease, Joseph…Dreamcoat, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Heartstrings.
His big moment in Minnelli on Minnelli: "When I get to sing 'On a Clear Day' in the second act. That's my favorite song."
How he was cast: "Jay Binder called me in. I went in one day, then got a call two hours later saying that I got it. This has been a good year for me; my best year in show business. I was the Broadway Bares calendar cover boy, and then things just kept going. On the Town was my Broadway debut; I covered Gabey, but I was never able to go on. One thing I love about this show is that it gives me the opportunity to sing on Broadway, which is what I'm primarily focusing on now."
About the show: "Let me tell you, this is the most overwhelming experience I've had in the theatre. At the gypsy run-through, the roar from the audience when Liza came on was unbelievable. It just choked me up; the guys were standing in the wings, and it went right through us. It's been like that every night. Liza gets the best people to work with her in every area -- lighting, sound, whatever -- so it was interesting to see the caliber of the people who walked in during rehearsals. You know, 'Everybody, this is Marvin Hamlisch.' Watching John DeLuca and Joey Pizzi work together on the choreography was a great experience: They were really in sync, so we didn't waste any time. I've never been in a rehearsal process that went so smoothly. Also, our run-throughs at the Westbeth Theater were very professionally done: We had a sound system set up, lights, and everything.
About Liza: "She's just a first-class act all the way. She's the most humble and warm celebrity I've ever worked with. It's great, because she just hangs out with us, and she's a very giving person. She's very open to ideas, and she makes them her own."
About the other guys: "It's nice to work with a group where everybody is so professional and so much fun. We're glad we're all in the same dressing room because it's more communal, and we like to carry that feeling onto the stage. I also like the fact that we keep our individuality in the show, we each have our moment to shine, but we're still a team." BILLY HARTUNG
Last seen in: Footloose
Other credits: Side Show on Broadway; Follies at Paper Mill Playhouse; recent fatherhood (Hartung's wife, Sharon, had a baby girl on December 9 -- the day after the show's opening).
His big moment in Minnelli on Minnelli: "I start 'That's Entertainment.' And I get to do the 'Triplets' number from `The Bandwagon’ with Liza and Jeffrey Broadhurst."
How he was cast: "I got a phone call from my agent, and I thought, 'How exciting to be asked to audition for something!' I became very aware of M G-M musicals while I was in Follies, so I thought it was great that they were basically going to do a special on Vincente Minnelli on Broadway, but I didn't want to just show up. I went to many open calls at five o'clock in the morning before I had an agent, and I thought: 'If somebody's actually calling me and giving me an appointment, I'd better be on my gig!' I put together a little song medley that emphasized the acting, so I could go in there and be as much as I could like a Gene Kelly, or a Fred Astaire, or a Michael Kidd -- because those guys, to me, were wonderful actors as well as dancers. As it turns out, [the Minnelli on Minnelli people] were basically asking for just what I had prepared."
About the show's classic song and dance numbers: "Every time I'm on stage, especially in the sequence from `The Bandwagon,’ I feel like I'm on a movie set at M-G-M. I can't perform it without a smile on my face."
About Liza: "At the audition, I saw in her eyes that she was so excited about this piece, and I knew in my heart it was going to succeed. This is an artist who's doing a tribute to her family and her heritage. I don't think it's a show where Liza is saying, 'Hey, look at me' -- although you will certainly look at her. I'm genuinely touched by the way she's honoring her father. She told us at the first day of rehearsal that this has been her dream of hers for a very long time."
About the other guys: "I came to the first rehearsal not knowing any of them, so I felt like it was the first day of school. But everybody's great, and now we're very friendly; we go out to eat together, and they've embraced our little baby. I'm so lucky to be here."
Last seen in: Chicago.
Other credits: Broadway: Once Upon a Mattress. On tour: Kiss of the Spider Woman, Chita and All That Jazz. Film: “Boogie Nights,” “Scream II,” “Eraser,” “Batman and Robin,” and the cult classic “Showgirls.”
His big moment in Minnelli on Minnelli: "At the top of Act Two, I sing 'This Heart of Mine,' which Fred Astaire did with Lucille Bremer in the Ziegfeld Follies." [Much to the audience's delight, LaCause also functions as Liza's sexy water-bearer in the show.]
How he was cast: "John DeLuca revamped Chita Rivera's show, and I worked on that, so he knew me from there. I got a call from Jay Binder to audition [for Minnelli on Minnelli]. One of the key selling points for me was that there were only going to be five guys in the show -- it wouldn't be just a chorus line."
About the show: "I grew up watching all of those Vincente Minnelli movies, so it's really exciting for me to be part of a show where I can do the kind of material that isn't being done in musicals any more, except sometimes in revivals. It's been great to do my version of Gene Kelly, who I admired so much when I was growing up. I lived in L.A. for seven years, so a lot of my work was out there in films and TV; Chicago was the longest-lasting theatre job I ever had. Some people think you're either an L.A. dancer or a New York theater dancer, I guess because there are very few people who really go back and forth. But it's great to have a constant like a Broadway show in your life."
About Liza: "She's so sweet, so giving, and so welcoming. She contributes a lot to our creative side, too; it's great to get feedback from her, because of where she's been and the people she's worked with during her career. And her comments are really useful, not abstract things you can't relate to. What I love most is that she's a brilliant actor. Watching her convey emotional moments in songs is really touching, and if there's one thing I'm trying to learn from her, that would be it."
About the other guys: "We get along really well, we laugh a lot, and everyone's supportive of each other. There are no bad vibes or bad blood. It's fun to come into work every night, because every one of the guys is so individual and so strong at what he does."
Last seen in: A Good Swift Kick at the Variety Arts.
Other credits: Josh in Big on tour; Happy in Steel Pier on Broadway; Henry (Cain) in Over and Over at The Signature Theater in Arlington, VA.
His big moment in Minnelli on Minnelli: "I get to sing and dance 'I Guess I'll Have to Change My Plan' as a duet with Liza. Also, 'By Myself': I start it off, I'm featured in the middle, and I finish it off in the tag. When we were rehearsing that number, the joke was that the guys kept calling themselves my backup dancers."
How he was cast: "Liza came to see A Good Swift Kick. I don't think she was scouting or discovering talent at that point, but she came back stage and she was talking about her show. So she already knew me when I auditioned. After my audition was over, she gave me a hug and said, 'Jimmy, we'll do a number together -- just the two of us. It'll be terrific!'”
About the show: "From the top echelon down, it's one of the tightest companies I've ever been a part of. I'm sure Liza does that on purpose. Whatever stress there may be behind the scenes is kept from us. After all, it's Minnelli on Minnelli. Except for one night, when it was Newman on Minnelli: We came out to do our duet, and I stepped right on her foot! We both started laughing, and then we just kept singing. This has been a really fun job. John DeLuca is a sweetheart, and his assistant, Joey Pizzi; Howell Binkley, the lighting guy. Everybody is so nice."
About Liza: "She's unbelievably generous. I think, for her own security, she likes everyone in the show to feel like a family. We're in it together; it's not Liza and her backup dancers. She doesn't treat you like that. There's a respect factor when she talks to you. It's amazing because, when I was 15, I was in a cheesy high school show choir competition in Orlando, and Liza was playing down there. A whole bunch of us were, like, stalking her -- doing things like singing a four-part harmony arrangement of 'New York, New York' outside of her hotel room, until some security guy told us to move along. And now, it hit me during tech rehearsal: They were setting the lights for 'I Guess I'll Have to Change My Plan' and there I was, standing on stage at the Palace Theater with my arm around Liza, joking and laughing. It's surreal."
About the other guys: "There's no backstage drama at all, but because we're all supposed to be equal, we do make fun of stupid little things whenever somebody seems to 'get' more of something than the rest of us -- like the fact that all of the guys were limited to 75 words in our Playbill bios, but Alec Timerman has 150, for some reason. That's a big joke in the dressing room!"
Last seen in: Sacramento Music Circus; in New York, The Cocoanuts at American Place Theater.
Other credits: The Secret Garden, Gypsy, and Anything Goes on Broadway.
His big moment in Minnelli on Minnelli: As the production's swing (and its dance captain), Timerman was required to perform on only a few hours' notice the night after the show's opening, while Billy Hartung and his wife were at the hospital delivering their baby.
How he was cast: "I heard they were having auditions by invitation only. I had not been called, but I'd just worked with John DeLuca in Sacramento, so I went in. Two days later, I got a call saying they were looking for a swing and asking if I was interested. I'd never swung before -- but the opportunity of being able to work with John again, and certainly with Liza, was tremendous. I jumped at the opportunity, and I'm really glad that I did."
About that memorable second night: "I had the advantage, obviously, of knowing that Billy's wife was pregnant, so I had been following him pretty closely in rehearsals and previews. The day after the opening, I was away from my apartment for a while in the afternoon; when I got back about 3 PM, there were, like, 10 messages on my answering machine telling me I had to go on that night. I took an hour, laid down, and visualized the entire show in my head. Then I got up and went to the theatre for a quick put in with the guys. The performance that night was the first time I was in the costumes, on stage and, certainly, the first time performing with Liza. There was a tremendous amount of pressure not to mess up. I hope I was able to accomplish that!"
About Liza: "I'm so proud of her. The work ethic that she has, and the journey that she's taken over these past two months as she's worked with this material and made it her own, is just remarkable. It kind of proves that you can overcome anything. Liza is really inspirational."
About the other guys: "Being a swing, you're inherently separate from the group; you're off to the side, learning by yourself, or sitting out front and watching. But all of the guys were extremely helpful, warm, and generous when I had to go on. I couldn't ask for a better group."