Jason Danieley first burst on the musical theater scene in the Playwrights Horizons production of Floyd Collins, and has since thrilled audiences in such diverse Broadway shows as The Full Monty, Candide, Curtains, and Next to Normal (opposite his wife, Marin Mazzie).
Now, he's turning the Windy City on its ear in Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's Pulitzer Prize-winning musical Sunday in the Park With George at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre. TheaterMania recently spoke with Danieley about the show.
THEATERMANIA: Has this show always been on your wish list?
JASON DANIELEY: Yes. The very first time I saw the DVD of the original Broadway production, I thought this was the Hamlet of musical theater . There is so much to it. But I never really thought I'd get to do it. And then I was here with Marin doing a concert at Millennium Park in July and Gary Griffin, our director, came up to me at a party after the concert, he asked if I was interested in this show. And I said, "Are you kidding? Yes!"
TM: You have a personal relationship with Stephen Sondheim. Have you asked him for any advice?
JD: No. I toyed with writing him a letter, since he's seen it a million times and has so much insight into it. But one of the things I love about Gary's approach to the piece is to make it our own. This show is personal to every artist, and it's been fun making our own path.
TM: Do you have any talent as a visual artist?
JD: Not really. Marin and I went to some museums when we were in London and I tried to do some sketching, but outside of doodling, I don't draw. And the thing is there's a deep thrust here in Chicago so people in the audience are very close to watching me sketch. And trust me, I ain't no Seurat.
TM: What does it mean to you to do this show at this point in your life?
JD: I am in a very different place than I was 22 years ago when I moved to New York, and one of the beautiful things about this show is how it speaks to me now. In the song "Move On," Dot says "anything you can do, if it comes from you, then it will be new." And that's how I am trying to look ahead for myself in my artistic life. It's a very hopeful song, and I am not optimistic by nature. And I truly understand the meaning of the song "Putting It Together," and how one's outside life overwhelms you as you make art.
TM: How do you balance life and art?
JD: As an actor, you want to make sure no one forgets you, so you find yourself doing benefits or guest starring in other people's concerts. But I also perform with my own band, The Frontier Heroes. I'm always painting with my own palette.
TM: Had you ever considered doing Sunday with your wife?
JD: We have always wanted to do this show together, but things were in place for the production before I was considered. When I did Next to Normal with Marin, it was amazing being on the same page, buzzing on the same level, even if the show was fraught with depression. It was an artistic high for both of us.
TM: What has it been like doing the show in the same city where the painting "Sunday on the Island of La Grande Jatte" -- which is the inspiration for the show -- is on view at the Art Institute of Chicago?
JD: It's kind of special to have this incredible work of art within walking distance of the theater. We even just did a special event where the cast came to the museum and posed with the painting. (For photos of that, click here.) The city of Chicago takes great pride in having that painting, and I understand why.