THEATERMANIA: How well do you know Les Miserables?
JLY: I've been looking at the music again, but it feels like a review of something I fell asleep to when I was 13 years old. I was always interested in Broadway, as an aspirant to be an actor, and cast albums were the only artifact of live theater that were available to me. So I used to listen to Les Miz and Phantom all the time when I was that age. And the first production of the show I saw was in Montreal, directed by Richard Jay-Alexander, who's directing our concert, which was in English with French supertitles.
TM Did you always want to play Marius?
JLY: My entire life I have gravitated to doing Marius. When I first got to New York, I had some callbacks to play him on tour, and it was one of my first near-misses. And when this last Broadway revival happened, I felt like I was watching a college production because I had so many friends in the cast, but I had just done Jersey Boys and felt like I would just have to let this dream go to bed. But when I was asked to do this concert, I was able to rekindle my enthusiasm immediately. It's such a sweeping, romantic role; he's sensitive and brave at the same time. And he has that one great song, 'Empty Chairs at Empty Tables.' If you know me personally, you know those kind of heart-wrenching songs speak to me. I love Fado from Portugal, because it's described like a knife twisting in your chest. Personally, I would like to do a concert of only ballads, except I'd be afraid of the audience falling asleep.
TM: So did the role just come to you without an audition or anything?
JLY: No. Richard hadn't been thinking of me doing the show, but once the idea was presented to him, he was intrigued with it. I understand that it was an out-of-left-field idea if you only knew me from Jersey Boys, because you might not have thought I could do this sort of legit singing. But the truth is I learned to sing like Frankie Valli just for that show and now there are lots of people who think that's only what I can do. I'm glad it was convincing. In any case, I did a work session with Richard and music director Kevin Stites to show them I was right for Marius, and now I am so excited to return to a way of singing in which I'm comfortable.
TM: Are you looking forward to working with this cast and with the L.A. Philharmonic?
JLY: I'm really excited to work with Lea Michele. I am a big fan of hers, especially because of Spring Awakening. I know Stokes from our work with Actor's Fund and Jennifer Naimo, who's in the show, was part of Jersey Boys, so that will be a nice reunion. And to be singing this score in front of one of the best orchestras in the world will be like flying. Even in college, I was so excited to sit down for a sitzprobe when we did Sweeney Todd with the Brown University orchestra.
TM: How do you feel about spending some time in Los Angeles?
JLY: I've had a lot of short visits in LA over the years, but this time I plan to linger a little longer. I do like it. I actually wanted to come out here to do the national tour of Jersey Boys; in the golden age of musicals, stars went out with the national tour and went around the country. But it just didn't work out. You know, I would've followed the show around the world if they asked me. The other thing is that I grew up as a military kid, so I am used to going wherever the work is. If the next big job is out here, fine, but if it's Off-Broadway or Chicago, that's cool too.
TM: Speaking of the next thing, I know you just did a reading of this musical Myth at the Eugene O'Neill Center. How did that go?
JLY: John Mercurio is a really committed composer. I didn't see a script until two days before rehearsals, and it turned out to be a perfectly assembled group, and I'd love to continue with them and with the piece, maybe even bring it to New York for a reading. The show is inspired by Joseph Campbell, and it's about how classic myths endure and how they carry into current lives. I played this rock star who is sick of the bullshit of his life -- he's sort of a modern-day Orpheus -- and while the music has a very classical feel in terms of orchestration, the singing was more contemporary. Also what I loved being at the O'Neill is that it was so writer-centered, which takes a lot of pressure off the actors. Our job was really to serve the writers, and I found it relaxing to help build something. I almost felt like a model working with a designer to see how his clothes fit.
TM: How are you finding your career options now that you're a Tony Award winner?
JLY: I think I'm realizing that winning a Tony means you did one thing really well; it doesn't mean that new things come to you without work or effort. Because of the success of Jersey Boys, there are some things I would avoid doing -- like any Mafia-themed thing or a show where I play a falsetto-singer -- unless I'd felt it was too stupid to not do it. I do think I need to reeducate some people that I am an actor and not Frankie Valli, but I think anyone who goes through something as big as Jersey Boys has to go through this. I admit it's a high-class problem.
TM: One of the things you've told me you loved about Jersey Boys is that it wasn't a typical song-and-dance musical.
JLY: Yes, luckily for me, musicals are becoming darker and more complex. For example, I loved Adding Machine, and would go to the ends of earth to work with Josh Schmidt, and I really admire Tom Kitt. In my work, I want to be able to really go deep into characters, as well as sing.
TM: Doesn't that lead us back to Sondheim?
JLY: I actually did six of his shows in college. In fact, my friends from college were so used to hearing me with that kind of voice that they didn't think I could sing Jersey Boys. Of course, I did all these roles I was too young for, like Frederick in A Little Night Music. And I think I'm finally leaving the Antony track. The biggest problem for me is that I haven't aged into the Sondheim roles I most want to do. But I should be able to do Bobby in Company in a few years. That's probably the best role for me in the immediate future.
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