THE LEADING MEN: Gavin’s Havin’ a Ball

The Leading Men   THE LEADING MEN: Gavin’s Havin’ a Ball
This month’s "Leading Men" — Gavin Creel (Bounce), Tyrone Giordano (Big River), Brian Lane Green (Waiting for the Glaciers to Melt) and John Bucchino ("Grateful") — each feel "like the sky on the Fourth of July" and are having a blast.

Gavin Creel
Gavin Creel Photo by Wayman Wong

If you caught the incredible original cast of Thoroughly Modern Millie at the Marquis, it’d be hard to "forget about the boy" who played Sutton Foster’s young beau. With his good looks and glorious tenor voice, Gavin Creel made a brilliant Broadway debut as Jimmy Smith. But only days into previews, he blew out his knee and had to have surgery. The 6-foot-2 actor bounced back two weeks later, just in time to open on his birthday, April 18, and later earn a Tony nomination for Best Actor in a Musical.

Talk about a close shave. There must be someone up there watching over him because since then, Creel has "got it good." The 27-year-old native of Findlay, OH, wrapped up a year-long run in Millie in April; made his cabaret debut singing his pop-soul songs (co-written with David Cook) at Fez, and appeared in the ABC-TV movie "Eloise at the Plaza" opposite Julie Andrews ("She’s royalty to me"), the original Millie Dillmount from the 1967 movie of "Thoroughly Modern Millie."

Now, Creel is co-starring in Bounce, the new Stephen Sondheim-John Weidman musical, directed by Hal Prince. It just opened and runs through Aug. 10 at the Goodman in Chicago. In it, he plays Hollis Bessemer, an idealistic and artistic young man who befriends Addison and Wilson Mizner (Richard Kind and Howard McGillin), two brothers renowned as cunning con men and enterprising entrepreneurs, in Florida.

There, as Addison sells Palm Beach matrons on his vision of building them Spanish-tiled and Moorish-styled mansions, Hollis realizes he’s found his creative soulmate in Addison. Hollis bursts into song, "You, where have you been all my life?," and that simple, heartfelt solo of "You" turns into a rhapsodic duet for the younger man and the older one as they declare their love for each other. It builds to a thrilling crescendo and becomes one of Bounce’s most magical moments.

Question: Congratulations! Your role is based on Paris Singer, a real life patron of the arts, but he’s been reconceived and now called Hollis Bessemer. Who is he?
Gavin Creel: My whole basis for Hollis is his relationship with his father, which happens off-stage. His father made a fortune on perfecting the blast furnace, but Hollis has no interest in the family business. He’d rather spend his life in museums ("I know I’m a boy, but what I enjoy is art"). His father has called him a "faggot," so Hollis escapes through art, but what he really wants is the paintings to talk back to him. He’s a genuinely good person who wants love, affection and attention. Q: What did you think when you first heard "You"?
Creel: It was amazing. It’s the simplest thought and Steve has written the most beautiful melody for it. I’m so proud to be part of that moment.

Q: How’s it feel working with Sondheim?
Creel: I pinch myself. The other night we were eating pizza, cracking jokes, and he was telling me that he counts how many people walk out of his shows! It’s been a dream of mine to be in a Sondheim show since college [University of Michigan].

Q: You did Company there when you just 20, right?
Creel: Yeah, after my sophomore year, my friend Jonathan Baker and I started the Schalin Theater Company. It was the most brilliant, dysfunctional summer of our lives. We were a bunch of horny college students willing to experiment. We did Company and I played Bobby, but we gave it a homosexual twist. During the "Tick Tock" ballet, "Kathy" was dancing around me when a light came up and there was "Peter" standing there. We got very close and whoa! The whole ending was about Bobby discovering, "Maybe I’ve been searching for the wrong [sex]." We even took Company to my conservative hometown in Ohio and sold out. They loved it!

Q: Prince originally directed Company and now Bounce.
Creel: And I love Hal. He doesn’t tell you how to do every little thing or give line readings, so I thanked him for trusting me to find Hollis. He says, "I don’t believe in drama class." In rehearsals, I’d try something and he’d say, "Ah, good boy!" He’s so supportive, so your performance feels like your performance.

Q: Looking back, Millie put you on the map. How’s it feel?
Creel: I’ll be honest. Millie was a roller coaster. It wasn’t all peaches. The best part of the show were the people. If I ever get to play opposite someone who fits me as perfectly as Sutton Foster, I’ll be lucky. Marc Kudisch has a heart of gold, and the whole cast, crew and stage management were all great. And the fact that both of my songs were Jeanine Tesori-Dick Scanlan originals was very special. But the rehearsals weren’t easy for me. I had a hard time getting my "legs." Literally. It was super-stressed and it was mainly me, my own insecurities. I finally got my confidence back, but I didn’t do a show I was proud of until six months into the run.

Q: After Bounce closes in Chicago, you head Oct. 21-Nov. 14 for the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. What else would you like to do?
Creel: I hope to make a CD of my songs within the next year. I love music. I love theatre. And I love acting. I’m like Hollis. I want this and that. I don’t know where I’m heading, but I’m on the right path. But no matter what success I have, I hope to grab my friends and bring them along because they mean everything to me.

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Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is returning to Broadway, and this time it’s offering a raft of opportunities for deaf and hearing actors and audiences alike. If you thought those worlds were destined never the Twain to meet, wait’ll you see this inspiring American Sign Language adaptation, produced by the Roundabout Theatre Company and Deaf West Theatre, along with the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles. Directed and choreographed by Jeff Calhoun, this award-winning revival will begin previews on July 1 and open July 24 at the American Airlines Theatre.

Sign-language interpreters usually work from the sidelines, but here everyone signs and takes center stage. For instance, the beaming and bright-eyed Tyrone Giordano, who’s deaf, will play Huck Finn and sign his lines and lyrics. Meantime, Daniel Jenkins, who originated this role and received a Tony nomination for it in 1985, will now play Mark Twain and provide Huck’s speaking and singing voice.

Giordano, who was born deaf, told us — through interpreter Stephanie Feyne — that "Dan’s a great guy to work with and a fantastic signer, too!" The curly-haired native from Terryville, Conn., who resembles a younger Michael Feinstein in his twenties, is thrilled to make his Broadway debut and says, "Huck is all about heart." His other co-star, Michael McElroy (Rent), will sing and sign as Jim, his Huckleberry friend.

Though the deaf actor can’t hear the music, he can feel the tempo. Recently, he’s seen Nine, La Bohème and Movin’ Out. So is he a fan of musicals? "Right now I am," Giordano says with a smile as wide as the Mississippi.

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Brian Lane Green also first entered the Broadway mainstream in Roger Miller’s Big River, but that was in 1986 with the original Tony-winning production. The 5-foot-11 actor became the king of the road as Huck in its first national tour, and later criss-crossed America starring in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. The Tony-nominated lead of Starmites (1989) also got fans worked up in a lather as a soap stud: Alan Brand in "Days of Our Lives" (1987-89), Sam Fowler in "Another World" (1991-93) and Brian Bodine in "All My Children" (1993-94).

And now the Broadway, cabaret and TV star is taking yet another course in his career. He’s written and composed his first musical, Waiting for the Glaciers to Melt, and he’s happy to go with the floe. Directed by Kirsten Coury, Glaciers is the story of Garrett (played by Stephen Bienskie), a gay man in his thirties recovering from the loss of his lover. He’s dealing with depression and trying to find peace. As part of the Midtown International Theater Festival, it’ll play July 16, 18, 19, 26, 27 and 30 at the Abington Theater Arts Complex, 312 W. 36th St., NYC; (212) 279-4200.

So is Glaciers autobiographical? Green, 41, says, "A lot of Garrett is me. The drinking, the drugs, the sex — I’ve definitely been guilty of that, and so is this character. But there are other people in it, too, and much of the show wrote itself. Matt Zarley plays Lucky, Garrett’s lover; Queen Esther is Memaw, the caretaker of her grandson, Simon, who’s in a wheelchair, and he’s played by Eric Millegan. It’s a dream cast."

Like Garrett, Green had a minister-father. He even got his start singing with Bebe and Cece Winans on Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s "PTL Club." However, it wasn’t easy growing up in a very religious home. Green says, "Organized religion has done nothing to help some of us ‘come out,’ so you have to redefine your own spirituality. Even today, my mother, whom I love, has a hard time with [my being gay] because she’s very much into the church and the Bible, and I am, too, but I see it differently."

Fortunately, he found a safe haven in music. "How does a ten-year-old in Cleveland, Tenn., find Judy Garland? I remember being 16 and going to see Jane Olivor. That’s scary." And in high school, he did musicals. At his website, there’s a funny photo of this English-Irish kid dressed as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. "There were no Jews in my town, and I was the only one who knew who Barbra Streisand was."

But who knew Green would grow up to be a soap star? "When ‘Another World’ was No. 1 in Canada, I would go to malls and sign autographs. Up there, I could’ve done anything — and just about anybody — I wanted. But it was hard for me to enjoy a lot of it. I didn’t lie about being gay then, but I was always afraid [people would find out]." Now he’s out and takes great pride in all his work. He sang at an all-star Sondheim gala at Carnegie Hall with the Tonics, an astonishing pop quartet he co-founded. He released one of the best male vocalist albums around called "Brian Lane Green," produced by John Bucchino (on LML Music), and the Olympic gold medalist Viktor Petrenko is skating to his soaring rendition of Craig Carnelia’s "Flight." And he’s in "Friends and Family," a cute comedy about the gay Mafia, directed by Coury, and it’s opening in September in New York. "The movie is fun. It’s a cross between ‘La Cage Aux Folles’ and ‘The Sopranos,’ and I’m Jean-Michel, marrying the mob boss’ daughter.’’

Green doesn’t take his talent or faith for granted. To quote the Bucchino song on his CD, he’s happy "giving thanks for what I’ve got" and "truly blessed and duly grateful."

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Another terrific talent who knows the meaning of "Grateful" is John Bucchino, the MAC Award-winning composer of that cabaret classic. He’s doing a new show of his exquisite songs Wednesdays, July 2, 9, 16, 23 and 30 at 9 PM at The Duplex, 61 Christopher St., NYC; (212) 255-5438. Plus, on Sept. 2, Harper Collins is publishing a marvelous children’s book of "Grateful," featuring his lyrics to that song, whimsically illustrated by Anna-Liisa Hakkarainen. Bucchino says, "It’s beautiful, and it comes with a new recording of ‘Grateful’ by Art Garfunkel and a glorious Don Sebesky orchestration." By the way, the whole project came about after Julie Andrews and her daughter, Emma Walton, heard the song — aptly — at a Thanksgiving dinner.

Meantime, Bucchino will be working on a new musical with Hairspray superstar Harvey Fierstein, and it’s based on Paddy Chayefsky’s "A Catered Affair." It was a 1956 movie about a poor Bronx taxi driver (Ernest Borgnine) and his wife (Bette Davis) and their struggle to give their daughter (Debbie Reynolds) a ritzy wedding. But Bucchino says they’ll base their show on the original 1955 teleplay and adds, "Harvey’s loved it for years. It’s a sweet, small story. It would make an intimate, little family musical, really. Nothing flashy, the anti-Hairspray. We’ll see what happens."

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For the past two months, everyone’s eyes have been on the prize, so congrats to all the great guys who were nominees or winners of the Tonys, Drama Desks, Outer Critics Circle, Lucille Lortels, Obies, Theater World Awards, etc. We’re especially happy that John Selya (Movin’ Out) danced away with the TDF/Astaire Award, which we predicted months ago. But even with all these honors, some star performers can get underrated or overlooked, so allow us to offer our "Leading Men" laurels to Matt Cavenaugh (Urban Cowboy), Daniel Reichard (Radiant Baby) and John Tartaglia (Avenue Q).

And what are they up to next? Cavenaugh goes from Cowboy to playboy as Jimmy Smith in the national tour of Thoroughly Modern Millie, which opens July 15 at the Starlight Theater in Kansas City. Reichard, who gave a Radiant reading of Keith Haring, joins the new Off-Broadway musical The Thing About Men; it previews Aug. 6 and premieres Aug. 27 at the Promenade. And Tartaglia gets the Golden opportunity to re-create his puppet performance in Avenue Q, which begins previews on July 11 and opens July 31 on the Great White Way. Gee, who knew you could get to Broadway by taking Avenue Q through Shubert Alley? Bravo!

If you’re looking for some amazing male (and female) vocalists, head for the Hamptons. The Mabel Mercer Foundation and Guild Hall are producing the first-ever Cabaret Convention there July 18-20 at 8 PM at the John Drew Theatre in East Hampton, N.Y. Though two-thirds of the singers are gals, like Karen Mason and Donna Murphy, you can bet the guys will make their mark. At Friday’s opening, you’ll see Jeff Harnar, Sidney Myer, Craig Rubano, Billy Stritch and Larry Woodard. Saturday will showcase Tom Andersen, Mark Coffin and Eric Comstock, and Sunday wraps up with Mark Nadler, Phillip Officer and David Staller. Tickets are $25-$100; (631) 324-4050.

Got comments or questions? E-mail me at

Until next month, let’s hear it for "boys"!

Wayman Wong edits entertainment for the N.Y. 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.

<i>Big River</i> veterans Brian Lane Green, Daniel Jenkins and Tyrone Giordano.
Big River veterans Brian Lane Green, Daniel Jenkins and Tyrone Giordano. Photo by Wayman Wong and Matt Polk
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