‘GONNA DANCE’? JUST SAY ‘NOAH’
Fred Astaire left awfully big shoes to fill, but Noah Racey is a knockout as he puts his best feet forward in Never Gonna Dance and floors us with his style, his smile and his tour de force tapping. In Jeffrey Hatcher’s adaptation of the 1936 Astaire-Ginger Rogers musical "Swing Time," the 6-foot actor plays Lucky, a handsome hoofer who waltzes his way into the heart of Penny (Nancy Lemenager), a dance instructor.
Directed by Michael Greif and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell, Never Gonna Dance opens Dec. 4 at the Broadhurst. Mitchell, a two-time Tony nominee for The Full Monty and Hairspray, raves, "I’ve been in New York City for 23 years now, and I’ve never worked with an incredible artist like Noah. Fred Astaire was always the dance. He wasn’t the dancer doing the dance. Noah has that talent and a flair for comedy, too. When he and Nancy dance, it’s breathtaking!"
Racey, 33, grew up in Seattle, WA, and went to Boston Conservatory, where he studied ballet with Sam Kurkjian and tap with Sue Ronson. Regionally, he starred in Crazy for You, and on Broadway, he played the Letch in Thoroughly Modern Millie, where he was also the associate choreographer to Rob Ashford. There, Racey was tapped to work on "The Speed Test" and "Forget About the Boy" ("I was so happy for Rob when he won the Tony"). But he takes a giant step as a leading man with Never Gonna Dance, and we predict he’ll win next spring’s TDF/Astaire Award for his fancy footwork.
Question: Congrats! We guessed you’d be fast on your feet, but who knew you were such a comedian? In your opening number, "I Won’t Dance," you play Lucky, a hoofer who’s supposedly sworn off dancing, but your body can’t stop itching and twitching to the rhythm of the sounds in Grand Central Terminal.
Noah Racey: Thanks. I’m a huge fan of Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd and Charlie Chaplin. They’re all geniuses, and physical comedy is just an extension of dance. It’s a blast to do. Harold Wheeler, James Sampliner and Zane Mark have created some amazing orchestrations, and I’m fortunate enough to put on some tap shoes and go hopping and skipping around to them. And there’s a great orchestra in the pit.
Q: Then there’s "The Way You Look Tonight." Now it’s set on the rooftop of a building that’s under construction. You and Nancy literally dance on air.
Racey: If you sit in the balcony, you get to see the space between the platforms [and I-beams] we leap across, and you can see how damn scary it is. [Laughs.] Q: You started with the workshop, so have you always been Lucky?
Racey: I’ve always been Lucky, Wayman, and that’s the truth. Everything came together in the workshop. Click, click, click. I’ve been spoiled.
Q: When did you first discover Astaire’s work?
Racey: In college. A friend of mine gave me three of his movies: "Swing Time," "Shall We Dance" and "Top Hat." I was amazed and awestruck. He really blew the roof off of everything I understood. I felt I had a role model in him. Everything he did was so emotionally and physically connected to telling a story.
Q: In the film "Swing Time," it reportedly took Astaire and Rogers 42 takes to get their final number, "Never Gonna Dance," right.
Racey: Astaire was an amazing perfectionist. He was dedicated to the truth and beauty of the moment. And that’s Jerry Mitchell, too. He has such respect for every single second of his creation on that stage.
Q: Surprisingly, "Swing Time" has only six songs (by Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields) in it. You used them all, except "Bojangles of Harlem." It was Astaire’s salute to Bill Robinson and got choreographer Hermes Pan an Oscar nomination.
Racey: It’s phenomenally dated [in it, Astaire wore blackface], and it became apparent that other songs would serve the story better.
Q: What’s it like working with Nancy? Is she a diva? [Laughs.]
Racey: You have no idea! [Laughs.] She is a blessing. She’s the only one I could imagine in the role. She is one of the best, if not the best, dancer I’ve ever worked with on Broadway. She’s everything you’d want in a partner. Nancy is physically strong and really aware of being led. Partnering is an art form in and of itself.
Q: Do you enjoy dancing, socially, away from the theatre?
Racey: I love it. I don’t go to a lot of clubs, though. I like to find places with a band and cut loose. I’ve always been the guy who’s willing to boogie. I used to break-dance in junior high. I had my big piece of cardboard like everybody else. When I saw Movin’ Out, it was so cool to see John Selya whipping out a windmill. I can still do a windmill, but I’d probably hurt myself horribly!"
So Racey won’t break-dance. Don’t ask him. But visit www.nevergonnadance.com.
PERFECTLY FRANK ABOUT ‘SINATRA’
Adam James has been called "the Canadian Connick" by the Toronto Star, and noted critic Will Friedwald declares "he’s my favorite young jazz singer," but this bright and boyish baritone is best-known for crooning Frank Sinatra’s tunes all the way. Tina Sinatra chose him to play her father in the new musical Sinatra … Remembered in Montreal, and he’s toured in his own tribute to the man, A Toast to Ol’ Blue Eyes. And now James, 31, is singing and swinging up a storm, along with co stars Hilary Kole and Tony DeSare, in Our Sinatra, which just reopened in a jazzy new spot: Birdland. James says, "It’s a lot of fun working with Hilary and Tony, and it’s exciting to play Birdland. We’re getting a younger crowd. Sinatra’s music has become hip again."
Among the more than 50 songs in the revue, he sings "Where or When" and "I Fall in Love Too Easily," but he is especially memorable and moving on "For Once in My Life [I Have Someone Who Needs Me]." The 5-foot-9 jazz singer-drummer says, "I first heard Stevie Wonder’s version, but Sinatra’s arrangement is great. It’s big band. But I try to approach the song as a true story, as a ballad, and it’s perfect timing. I just fell in love with a great girl in June: Nancy. We met when I opened for Tony Bennett in Montreal. She’s so beautiful. I sang ‘My Funny Valentine’ to her in her ear."
James grew up the son of a folk musician and teacher, Jim Broughton, outside Toronto. As a teenager, he had rock bands and sang the Rolling Stones. Sometimes, he even did "air band" versions of "Start Me Up" as he strutted around like Mick Jagger atop cafeteria tables. But in tenth grade, he retired from rock after listening to his grandfather’s recordings of Sinatra and Louis Armstrong: "That changed my style of phrasing. The song’s lyric became my focus. Sinatra was such an innovator. He was a musician, not just a singer, so his phrasing came from guys like Tommy Dorsey and Harry James."
Lyrics are also the rhyme and reason behind James’ own songwriting. He has co-written "Montreal Italiano," the theme song to the film "Mambo Italiano," which he sings on its soundtrack, and "Every Day," the closing song to the new "Caillou’s Holiday Movie." Plus, he’s penned a slew of tunes with his award-winning jazz trio, Panache, and he does some of them Wednesdays at 9 PM at Brunelli’s at 75th St. and York Ave.
So in 2003, James made his Off-Broadway debut in Our Sinatra, got his own songs sung in the movies and found a wonderful new girlfriend. As Ol’ Blue Eyes would say, "It was a very good year"!
For more information, visit www.oursinatra.com.
LEAVE IT TO ‘DIVAS’
Imagine Jack McFarland from TV’s "Will & Grace" doing his campy cabaret act, Just Jack, dedicated to Liza Minnelli, Ellen Greene, Maya Days and Marla Schaffel — only ten times funnier. That’ll give you an idea of Tom D’Angora’s deliriously delightful show, Divas I’ve Done. He’s joined by a bevy of backup gals — Noel Cody, Christine Gonzales, Stephanie Harwood and Alex Kissel — and he’s returning Dec. 28 and Jan. 25 at 8 PM and Jan. 27 at 9 PM to Don’t Tell Mama.
D’Angora has been described as "the love child of Paul Lynde and Charles Nelson Reilly" by David Hurst in Show Business Weekly, while Margaret Cho simply says, "Tom is brilliant!" In Divas I’ve Done, this self confessed "show queen" toasts Minnelli by chiming in with "Ring Them Bells" and salutes Jane Eyre star Schaffel with a spoof of "If I Were a Rich Man" retitled "If She Won the Tony." But the show’s highlight is his tribute to Greene: "Somewhere That’s Pink," a sweet and inspired parody of "Somewhere That’s Green" from Little Shop of Horrors. In it, he fantasizes about domestic bliss with his boyfriend in "a co-op of our own."
There’s something so fun and infectious about D’Angora’s devotion to his divas. The 6-foot-3 actor from Boston boasts, "You can’t buy a better drug on the street than seeing Liza live." And he was so amazed by Days that he saw her in Aida 32 times and brought her three-dozen roses every time. D’Angora, 24, realizes his obsession is "absurd and funny. I’m like Gypsy [Rose Lee]. No one laughs at me, because I laugh first." And what do his divas think? Days says, "I loved Tom’s show and belly-laughed a lot. His conviction [as an actor] is so amazing. He’s awesome!" And Schaffel says, "I had the best time. It was so much fun, and Tom’s hysterical!"
D’Angora first became infatuated with soap opera divas at age seven. He adds, "My dad’s a hairdresser who runs Diva Salon — that can explain a lot right there. He’s in great shape, he’s a pairs figure skater and he’s very gay. Mom’s straight. They were high school sweethearts, and I came out of that. She was a total fag hag. They’re divorced, but they’re still very good friends like Will and Grace, and they’re the coolest parents."
As a kid, D’Angora was teased for being fat and gay. At 18, "I weighed about 320. I put myself on a 1,000-calorie-a-day diet, so I ate a lot of salads and lost over 100 pounds." He wound up in such good shape that he starred in Naked Boys Singing in Provincetown: "I had a blast; I was even offered a porn movie, but I turned it down."
Meantime, D’Angora’s day job is working at the TKTS booth, flyering for Forbidden Broadway and Little Shop ("I wish they brought back Ellen to play Audrey"). That’s where he met his boyfriend of two years, Michael Duling, 22, who directed Divas: "We used to go clubbing and pick up guys, but now musical theatre is our life. We stay home and listen to Gypsy or rent Annie. And we’ve talked about the wedding. I want Maya Days to sing ‘Listen to My Heart’ and Kelly Clarkson will fly in to do ‘A Moment Like This.’ It’s gonna be fabulous!" For more information, visit www.tomdangora.com.
WHERE THE GUYS ARE
There’s so much to see in New York: In passing years, Rick Jensen has become one of cabaret’s most popular songwriters, and he’ll appear Dec. 1 and 8 at 7 PM at The Duplex, 61 Christopher St. (212 255-5438). . . . Tim DiPasqua plays Dec. 5 and 12 at 7 PM, also at The Duplex. Go and hear why Stephen Schwartz calls him "one of the most melodic of the contemporary cabaret writers." www.timdipasqua.com. . . . And Andrew Lippa, who whipped up one Wild Party, will raise the roof on Dec. 15 at 10 PM at the Ars Nova, 511 W. 54th St. (212-868-4444).
Todd Murray will croon from his tuneful album, "When I Sing Low," and share the stage with Anna Bergman at Scott & Barbara Siegel's "CD Picks of the Month" on Dec. 7 at 7 PM at Dillon’s, 245 W. 54th St. (212-307-9797). . . . Other talented twosomes around town include Mark Nadler and KT Sullivan (Dec. 1-3 and Dec. 9-10 at 7 PM at Mama Rose’s, 219 Second Ave., 212-533-0558); Marcus Simeone and Sue Matsuki (Dec. 4, 11 and 18 at 9 PM at The Duplex), and Scott Coulter and Lennie Watts (Dec. 15-17 and Dec. 21 at 7 PM and Dec. 19-20 at 9:30 PM at Mama Rose’s).
Celebrate a "Miracle on 47th Street," a benefit concert for God’s Love We Deliver, with John Tartaglia, Max Von Essen, Deven May and many more on Dec. 15 at 7 and 9 PM at the Supper Club’s King Kong Room, 240 W. 47th St. (212-921-1904). And have a "Billy Holiday" with the brilliant Billy Stritch on Dec. 19-20 at 9 p.m., also at the King Kong Room. . . . Over at Feinstein’s, 540 Park Ave. (212-339-4095), the amazing Michael Feinstein sings from "The Great American Holiday Songbook" now through Dec. 27. . . . Finally, Andrew Gans, who writes the ever-diverting "Diva Talk" column at Playbill On-line, opens his act, "The Story Book," on Dec. 29 at 9 PM and Dec. 30 at 6:30 PM at Don’t Tell Mama, 343 W. 46th St. (212-757-0788). He’ll send his lovely voice sailin’ on the timeless tunes of Stephen Flaherty & Lynn Ahrens, Frank Wildhorn and Alan Menken.
TIME FOR A THUMB’S-UP AND THANKS
Wow, 2003 has just flown by since we started "The Leading Men" column in January. What was your favorite "Amazing Musical Moment" by a "Leading Man" of Broadway, Off-Broadway or cabaret? Pick your No. 1 performer and song, and e-mail me at [email protected]; we’ll feature some of them next month.
Meantime, thanks to all the great guys we interviewed in 2003: Tom Andersen, Antonio Banderas, Brent Barrett, Bobby Belfry, Matt Bogart, John Bucchino, Stephen Buntrock, Norbert Leo Butz, Michael Cavanagh, Matt Cavenaugh, Larry Ching, Gavin Creel, Tom D’Angora, Justin Daniel, Jonathan Dokuchitz, Jarrod Emick, Hunter Foster, Ty Giordano, Simon Gleeson, Brian Lane Green, David Gurland, Jeff Harnar, Michael Hunsaker, Adam James, Tom Kitt, Marc Kudisch, Robert Sean Leonard, Daniel Letterle, Jose Llana, Michael McElroy, Howard McGillin, David Miller, John Pizzarelli, Noah Racey, Johnny Rodgers, John Selya, John Tartaglia and Welly Yang.
Happy holidays and until next year, 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.