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Jason Alexander Has Experience

The award-winning actor talks about bringing his show The Donny Clay Experience to Las Vegas, his future plans for Reprise, and a possible return to Broadway. logo
Jason Alexander in The Donny Clay Experience
Jason Alexander may be best known to audiences as the sometimes lovable loser George Costanza on the hit sitcom Seinfeld. But the versatile Tony Award-winning actor is now focusing on another indelible character, motivational speaker Donny Clay, whom he is bringing to the stage of Las Vegas' Planet Hollywood in The Donny Clay Experience. TheaterMania recently spoke to Alexander about this show, his work as artistic director of L.A.'s Reprise Theater Company, and his plans to return to Broadway.

THEATERMANIA: How did the idea for Donny come about?
JASON ALEXANDER: He's a direct line from my sitcom Bob Patterson, in which I played the third best motivational speaker in the world. Some years after it was canceled, my writing partner Bob Tilden and I were asked to come up with an entertainment for the corporate market. I didn't think they wanted to hear George sing show tunes. Then we realized that on Bob Patterson, we did the story of his life, but not his work. So we decided we should give a real motivational seminar, and we could write each one specifically for each company. Later on, we were asked to do a show for a general audience, and we gave it a shot. No one was more surprised that people were buying into this than me.

TM: What is the audience's first reaction when you take the stage as Donny?
JA: I think more than anything that unless they know me from stage work; they are wondering what George is doing on a big stage. I know a lot of audience members have to work to let go of Jason and George and invest in Donny before they can really enjoy the show.

TM: Donny is meant to be parody of people like Tony Robbins. Does he actually offer any good or useful advice?
JA: We are doing it all for the gags, but a lot of people come up to me after a show and say they find some truth underneath what we're saying. Personally, I wouldn't take Donny's advice.

TM: How much have you had to change the show for its run in Las Vegas?
JA: The major difference is that I am sharing the stage with Peepshow [director Jerry Mitchell's burlesque entertainment]. Actually, I am in front of their curtain and in the middle of the stage is this huge LCD screen, and if we put nothing on it, then it becomes this giant black hole. So we've made an investment in the visual aspect of the show; and now we use the screen for a lot of added humor. Otherwise, there's some new material, and a special opening riff about Vegas; but the structure is the same. The show plays like a seminar and there's a lot of audience involvement. I would say about 80 percent of it is rehearsed in advance. But those people in the audience can throw you a curve. And people who are one way in life can be very different when they're in Vegas.

TM: Have you had any disastrous moments with audience participants?
JA: Nothing too crazy has happened onstage, although we do get some people who are way past the two-drink minimum who are a bit overenthusiastic. I did one show in upstate New York where I asked one guy what he did for a living and he said he drills gas holes. I didn't hear the G, and when I finally understood what he meant, I just lost it.

TM: Have you thought about bringing Donny to Broadway?
JA: I think you would have to open it into a two-act structure and schmaltz it up -- maybe add some dancing Clayettes or something. The show is about 80 minutes now, and I think we have enough material to make it longer. If it plays well during this run, we might work on expanding it.

Jason Alexander, Vicki Lewis, Lea Thompson,
and Patrick Cassidy in I Love My Wife
(© John Ganun)
TM: You've been artistic director of Reprise for the past two-and-a-half years. How has that experience been for you? JA: I am pleased with how the seasons have been going, but I am still learning about our audience. I want to really be true to the company's mission of doing shows that are known as well as those more off the beaten path. I think one change is that in the past, they always went for marquee names, and it's great if you can get some, but I truly believe you need people up there with real stage experience. For example, we're going to get some great theater people to do our next show, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. I was asked to play Pseudolus, but I can't because I'm doing Donny.

TM: You've done some acting for Reprise, including I Love My Wife, and you did a concert version of Richard Rodgers' Two by Two in which you played Noah. Would you like to do a full-scale production of that show?
JA: It is a wonderful part for me, and the score is always good and sometimes really wonderful. But the book still needs some work. I think someone still needs to develop some of the other characters. And it's not a low-cost venture; you need to put a clever ark on the stage and invest in some projections. And I don't know how you do the animals. Still, if someone could solve the problems, I think it's a viable show for New York.

TM: Do you have some ideas for next season?
JA: I've got my eye on Sugar, and one show that I can't get the rights to but I'd love to do is Funny Girl. We're also flirting with the idea of Gigi, but done in a new way; it has some real delights in it.

TM: Do you have any plans to come back to Broadway?
JA: With two kids -- my youngest is 14 -- it's hard to commit to that eight-show-a-week schedule and still be the kind of father I want to be. Right now, I'm trying to open up another career as a stage director, and maybe that will get me back to New York. But in four years, when my son goes off to college, watch out!

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