A Star Is Born
The youngest of the group, Michael Arden, left Texas for Juilliard at age 18 and, at 20, was picked to play Tom Sawyer in the Roundabout's revival of Big River. Last season saw him in Twyla Tharp's The Times They Are A-Changin' on Broadway, and next TV season should see him on the tube in a new show by "Gilmore Girls" creator Amy Sherman-Palladino that also stars Parker Posey and Lauren Ambrose. He's calling 2007 his "Year of Incredible Women."
Question: Are you excited about the tour? Nervous?
Michael Arden: I'm pretty carefree about it. I'm excited to get to go and see the world, and I'm lucky enough to get to do a little bit of what I do with an incredible artist. It is all positive, so I am not letting myself get nervous or worried about it. It should be a fun adventure.
Q: What's your experience with life overseas?
Arden: I've been to Europe. I've been to a few of these cities. I have some friends, actually, in Berlin and London and Vienna, places like that. So, some of my friends who live overseas are going to get to see me and I'm going to get to see them, and it's rare that they get to see me perform, so I'm pretty excited about it. I'm excited to get to see these places and not have to stay in a hostel, which is what I'm used to.
Q: How different is the preparation for this versus a character role in a show?
Arden: I'm not playing a character here. I'm myself, as a person, so I basically have to play the character of the song and make sure that character doesn't tell any conflicting information about myself, so I find what's true in the song for me, and hopefully a character will come out of that. I'm most comfortable when I am playing someone else, but in order to not feel so, like, "Oh, I'm showing myself to everybody," I think of it as, "I want to get the lyric across through what the composer and lyricist are doing as clearly as possible." And then that's all I really can do with it, and hopefully that can take some of the pressure off being me up there [laughs].
Q: Describe your Broadway career so far in a nutshell.
Arden: I've never worked on a show that's run longer than three months, but I've done a lot of shows that I really believe in. I would love for something to be a success and to love it. But I would much rather love it than it be a success and I not be completely interested and inspired by it. Otherwise, I don't know why I'm doing it, and I hope I never lose sight of that. I've been lucky to work on this Off-Broadway show called BARE. The show this year, The Times They Are A-Changin', for me, I thought we were really doing something completely different and beautiful whether it was well-received or not. I learned so much from it, and I got to work with Twyla Tharp and Bob Dylan. You could call it a flop at the box office, but it was a home run for my life. Q Have you always had acting in your blood?
Arden: I love theatre. I used to stand up on the hearth in front of our fireplace and hold a ukulele that I couldn't play and make people watch me. Just make them watch me. I guess I always just had to do it. Maybe that's why I'm still doing it after being in flop after flop. I knew I wanted to do it. I had no idea how. I remember at 20 walking onto the Roundabout Stage and being like, "I can't believe it. I'm here standing on the stage." From that moment I realized that dreams can't always be absolute. Your dreams are always changing, and you're challenging yourself. Now I'm really interested in writing. I'm composing two shows, and I want to get into that world. Hopefully that will be happening soon.
For Pete's Sake
Hugh Panaro calls Peter Lockyer the most Zen guy he's ever met. Star of productions of Les Miz, Phantom, La Bohème, Miss Saigon, Zenmaster Lockyer had actually stepped away from the business and earned a masters in education and educational theatre — both of which he is now qualified to teach in New York City — when he got the call about the Streisand tour.
Question: So, this was an unexpected gig?
Peter Lockyer: You know what's funny about this business, you find yourself doing jobs you never thought you would. They come out of the blue; this one certainly did. What's nice is it came at the very end [of school]. I was ready to get back into the business, start auditioning again, which I hadn't done in years and years, so it was perfect timing.
Q: Were you over the moon about working with Ms. Streisand?
Lockyer: I think I've been in it long enough that you don't get too excited until it happens. I don't know about you, but things happen, they stop, they're just experiences. One of the things that going back to school taught me, which I'm so grateful for, is I think what is most important is the engagements we have with people, whether they're stars or whether they're not. It's just fun to be in a business where you get to meet different people and engage in an art form that you become very close, and you engage with emotion and music, and it's just so great. Going to school has showed me how fortunate I am to be able to do that, and I'm thankful to be able to work with three other talented guys.
Q: You've done 42nd Street in Europe, Les Miz in China — do you enjoy seeing the world?
Lockyer: Yeah. The more I travel, the more I realize that it's just so important to be open to other people and learn from other people, whatever it is. The China experience was so fascinating because we were at the time with Les Miz… It was a new thing for them, and some of the experiences we had over there were just phenomenal. One of our dressers had us out to her house. [The dressers] were traveling hours on the bus [to earn only] four dollars a show was the rumor. We went up to their house — they taught us how to make dumplings, and they were just so proud of their home. There were like eight people living in a one-bedroom apartment: tiny, but just so clean and spotless. And we forget how fortunate we are in this country. I think what's nice about this gig, going to Europe, especially during this time, is that music can be a positive experience and it can have a hopeful bent. . . . The other day in rehearsal, Michael Arden was talking about one of the things about Broadway music is that it's hope. It's such a uniquely American sort of feel — that Broadway hopeful sound — and I think it is easy for us, especially in our liberal city, [to] get down on our government, and certainly this administration. It's easy for us to look at the negative, but the fact of the matter is, a lot of us are hopeful, and a lot of us have positive energy, and hopefully that can overcome some of the negative stuff that's happening and open it up to a new administration soon [laughs]!
Q: You've brought your wife along on the trip. Do you plan a lot of sightseeing?
Lockyer: I think we're just going to wing it. We have some friends that have been to some of the cities we haven't been to. One of my friends, Michael Shawn Lewis, he lived in Vienna for awhile; he gave me the sweetest gift. He went through the guidebook of Vienna with stickies and wrote out where we should go and what's important to see and what's not, so it was the best gift. We're trying to get an insider track to some of the cities, sort of root out the special little cafes and people watch, take in the culture and learn something about a different way of life.
Q: You and Hugh Panaro both played Marius in productions of Les Miz. Who was better?
Lockyer: I never saw Hugh's Marius, but my wife did, and when my wife saw him onstage, she fell in love with him, so I think she just got the second fiddle with me [laughs]. Hugh is just a phenomenal talent. His voice is just ridiculous, and I'm learning from him already. I've respected Sean for a long time, and Michael I saw in Big River and thought he was going to be an absolute star, so I'm just learning from these other guys. It's a life experience, you know?
The Prince of Tides
Sean McDermott comes from a family of cattle ranchers in Colorado. "Real cowboys," he says. He has been in leading roles on Broadway in Miss Saigon, Chicago, Jekyll & Hyde, among others. He has pulled what we call the Victor Garber Good/Evil Daily Double by playing Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar and a demon on TV's "Charmed." He has also worked on TV as a regular on "The Guiding Light."
Question: Where does this tour rank among your achievements?
Sean McDermott: Pretty far up there, I would say. Starring on Broadway in Miss Saigon was quite thrilling. I was brought down to Australia to be sort of the American import for a big production of West Side Story playing Tony 10 years ago. That was pretty amazing, seeing Australia and performing with Australian stars down there. Singing for the President I've done a couple of times, but singing with Barbra Streisand, yeah, this is way up there.
Q: You're the only one of the four to have seen the Il Divo tour. Did it give you a sense of what to expect?
McDermott: I had seats behind the stage, so I was looking at Barbra Streisand and Il Divo as they were looking out into the audience, so I actually felt like I was a performer onstage because the seats we had in the Staples Center were behind stage, an in-the-round sort of set. My first thought was, when Il Divo came out, how incredible it was for these four guys to perform with her onstage —my God, how great for those guys. A little envy, but more just joy. So I sort of experienced that and knew exactly what the show was.
Q: Are you nervous about working with a performer of such legend?
McDermott: Not so far. I get in awe of certain performers. Mandy Patinkin I was very nervous to work with because he had a bit of a reputation, but he was a joy to work with, and he was a prince. I think because he's so meticulous about his work, and this is something I've always heard about Barbra Streisand, that she is such a perfectionist, and I strive to be that as well.
Q: Have you followed her career closely?
McDermott: I am a huge fan. When I was younger and an aspiring singer, she was one of the voices I aspired to be like. My sister is a singer, and we used to play [Barbra's] stuff and sing along with her. My sister and I are belters and were taught by an opera singer from a very young age, so we have very big voices. So we loved listening to [Streisand]. Johnny Mathis is a huge hero of mine. And I know that Streisand was very inspired by Johnny Mathis. Streisand and Judy Garland, these big belt voices. When I was younger, I used to say I would love to have an hour with Barbra Streisand. There are certain people in your life you really respect and admire, and I thought that would be a great thing, to have an hour with her, so — I haven't thought about that till just now! — perhaps maybe I will get some time, certainly onstage.
Q: It will add up to an hour, at least!
McDermott: [Laughs.] Over six weeks, yeah. Positive thinking.
What's Up, Doc?
Hugh Panaro despises flying. He is easily the least traveled of the four fellows. "It cracks me up because everyone thinks that I live in France in a tuxedo or something," he says. But this trip with Streisand marks his first time in continental Europe. Most recently on Broadway in Lestat, Panaro created leading roles in Side Show and The Red Shoes. He also gave memorable performances as the Phantom and the aforementioned Marius in Les Miserables, which was his Broadway debut.
Question: Why do you think Streisand is such an icon?
Hugh Panaro: There's no one, when you look at the old stuff, the video that exists from when she was like 19 years old on "The Ed Sullivan Show," "The Judy Garland Show"…there was no one like her then. She was her own creation. It was pretty wild — the abandon in which she performed was pretty amazing. The one thing I didn't know until recently was that she performed like that because she really wanted to act and wasn't necessarily getting cast in the roles that she wanted to do, so she would pick songs that she could act in and tell stories, almost like monologues, but songs. Maybe that's why she was so dynamic because she was approaching them from an acting standpoint rather than just singing a song. Especially growing up and being a keyboard person, I would play in bands, [and] I had a piece of sheet music that had a cover of her with her dog on it, and I'm a crazy dog person, so I thought, "She's got a dog, I like her."
Q: As a leading man, is it tough subsuming yourself in the group dynamic?
Panaro: It's not really because one thing that the four of us do pretty naturally, which comes from performing as a soloist or a leading man, is duets. I sang so many duets. You watch someone's mouth and your consonants and vowels, your phrasing…At the risk of sounding crass, it's like good sex. You really pay attention to your partner, what you're giving and what you're getting. The four of us really watch each other and tune into each other. I think being part of a group is rewarding, especially when you get four voices in harmony. It's beautiful! Especially if you're four voices moving as one. I sang in concert choir in college [and] at Carnegie Hall. When you're part of a group, there's a certain camaraderie and a power with four guys, a lot more power than just one. If there was one a-hole in the group, you might feel differently, but everybody's great and everybody pulls their weight. I love making music, and that's kind of what we're doing.
Q: What's something that would surprise people about you?
Panaro: I love country music. K.D. Lang is probably one of my favorite voices on the planet. I pretty much like every kind of music except — sorry to offend anybody — acid rock, because that's my brother's thing [when we were growing up]. He would have the acid rock blaring and his girlfriend's picture on the dartboard. I should say, not his current girlfriend! Q: Are there characters you've played onstage that you would love to revisit?
Panaro: I really was just starting to get into playing Lestat. That was a great role to play because, first of all, I loved Anne Rice. I loved her books, and I loved her characters. Even though the show was not necessarily 100% accurate as far as the literal character, I loved playing him. He had a kind of "f— you" attitude and was just like the total bad boy. I had fun with the Phantom, but it was so much work I don't know if I could say, "Oh my gosh, I think about putting on an hour worth of make-up." I mean, I love playing the Phantom. Love it, love it, love it, but it was very taxing in a lot of ways.
Q: Are you looking forward to your whirlwind tour through Europe?
Panaro: Are you kidding? I've only been to London, so everything else is just gravy. I can't wait. I'm joking and I'm not joking when I say I'll be at every pastry shop, wine tasting, and I think I'll eat my way through Europe. I'm half Irish, so I have to say I'm excited to go to Dublin. I don't know too much about a lot of places like Berlin. I really think it's going to be an adventure and obviously, I've never been to Paris, and I think that's going to be a blast. One of the things that Richard-Jay Alexander said, that until you're on that stage with 15,000 people screaming deafening screams and flashbulbs going off, there is no way to prepare for that. I can only imagine that that's going to be insane. What a crazy ride.
The Barbra Streisand European Tour will be in Stockholm on July 4, Manchester on July 10, Dublin on July 14, followed by three shows in London on July 18, 22 and 25.
On July 23 I'll be cooling off at Christmas in July: Misfit Kids' Letters to Old St. Nick, which is a benefit for ASTEP (Artists Striving to End Poverty) and will feature the world premiere of a collection of holiday-themed theatre songs with lyrics by Kenneth Jones, music by Gerald Stockstill, and music direction by ASTEP-founder and Drama Desk Award winner Mary-Mitchell Campbell. "The songs are the body parts of a new musical revue Jerry and I are writing, meant for four actors and a piano," said Jones, who is also managing editor at Playbill.com, "but we've expanded the roster of performers for this concert benefit — we're hoping to lure a wide spectrum of Broadway fans to help raise money and awareness for ASTEP. We were thrilled Mary-Mitchell invited us." Announced performers include Tony nominee Gavin Lee, Chris Hoch, Daniel C. Levine, Cindy Marchionda, Jen Simard and Sally Wilfert. The show will be performed at the Players Theatre at 115 Macdougal Street at Minetta Lane. A $20 pledge secures your seat. You can make your reservation now by e-mailing [email protected] Put your name on the reservation list, and just show up with cash or check in hand at the door July 23.
Fans of non-traditional movie musicals or anyone who is passionate about songwriting and the collaborative process, I would urge to run out and see "Once," featuring Irish singer Glen Hansard as a Dublin street musician who forms an unlikely creative alliance with a young Czech woman (Marketa Irglova). The story is pure simplicity; the songs will not leave you alone . . . . Updating from last month, I was able to head up to Williamstown, MA, to catch B.D. Wong in Herringbone, which was exactly as weird, wonderful, and "cool" as its star told us it would be. The show went through some minor catastrophes as you no doubt read about on Playbill.com, as Mr. Wong gashed his leg on a piano bench during a performance. Later, a power outage cancelled a show, but none of this would you know from the absurd amount of energy Wong poured forth as nigh a dozen characters, each commandeering the stage in very daring ways. I do hope more people get a chance to see him perform this show. . . . Also in Williamstown, met a cousin of Ms. Streisand, the great Richard Kind, who'll be in The Front Page on the mainstage from July 4–15. Tom Nondorf is an associate publications editor for Playbill. He can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]