When the new Broadway revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Sunset Boulevard was announced, few stateside recognized the name of the leading man playing opposite Glenn Close. Yet Michael Xavier, a two-time Olivier Award-nominated West End luminary, quickly established himself as a transatlantic star with his dashing turn as Joe Gillis, a screenwriter taken under the wing of faded screen legend Norma Desmond.
While this production is ending its run on June 25, shortly after the curtain comes down, Xavier will be back in rehearsals for his second Broadway show, Manhattan Theatre Club's Harold Prince revue, Prince of Broadway. Here, he reflects on the experience of becoming part of the tight-knit Broadway community.
1. What is your favorite line that you get to say?
"Did she read the script!?"
2. Everyone loves inside jokes. What is the best one from your show?
I love blowing smoke rings (with my cigarette) for the orchestra when I'm up on the staircase during the Paramount scene.
3. Every show experiences technical difficulties. What was the worst technical difficulty experienced during your show and how was it handled?
The car died one night. Glenn Close and myself had to get out and walk into Paramount Studios. Not very cool! Fred Johanson (Max) stayed in it trying frantically to get it started.
4. What was the most "interesting" present someone gave you at the stage door?
Oh, probably a series of Lego men dressed as different characters I've played in different shows. It is so accurate and detailed. I love it!
5. Who is the coolest person that came to see your show? (You can't say your family!)
I think the coolest person was probably Oprah Winfrey, or maybe Hillary Clinton, or perhaps Steven Spielberg. No wait, George Lucas. Oh, I forgot, Whoopi Goldberg! Oh damn, then there's Oliver Stone and Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones. And Tommy Tune was cool! Not forgetting the legendary Robert Redford. Take your pick. I loved them all!
6. How did you and Glenn Close bond to form the Joe-Norma relationship?
Early in rehearsals we were all sitting around reading, singing the script and score, and Glenn got to "As If We Never Said Goodbye." She finished and the entire room was weeping. I turned to her and said, "Ugh, are you gonna do it like that?"And as quick as Usain Bolt, she replied, "Were you trying to be sexy?" It was from that moment that I knew she had a great sense of humor, and we'd get along just fine. We have since become really great friends, and I'm so glad she has come into my life.
7. What is it like to see a mannequin of your dead body floating above the set every night?
Strange! Stranger still when they took the wig off and I saw myself bald. Not a good look for me. I don't have the right shaped head to carry off the cool bald look. When my Mum came to see the show she said, "Ooh, I don't like seeing you dead!"
8. How do you feel about emerging from an onstage pool in a bathing suit during each performance?
It took me a long time to get comfortable with it. I've had to learn to embrace it and not be self-conscious. I have to stick to a strict diet and exercise regime.
9. Was there an aspect of the Broadway experience that surprised you or that you didn't expect? What was it?
The sense of inclusion here is fantastic amongst the Broadway theatrical community. Even though I'm British, I have been welcomed wholeheartedly and it's been so wonderful to experience. The crowds at stage door are so enthusiastic and incredibly vocal about their appreciation for us as performers and musicians. It's lovely.
10. What can we expect from your performance in Prince of Broadway?
I haven't even seen the script yet, so I'm not too sure. I can tell you that I'll be singing songs from The Phantom of the Opera, Company, Evita, Follies, and Fiddler on the Roof to name a few. It's going to be a brilliant experience working with Hal Prince, Susan Stroman, and Jason Robert Brown. Plus, the cast is phenomenal. I can't wait!
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