John Tartaglia Brings His Inner Child (and Inner Jew) to 54 Below
The Tony-nominated Avenue Q star looks back on his days of makeshift spotlights and bedroom performances.
John Tartaglia, best known in the Broadway world for his Tony-nominated dual-performance as Princeton/Rod in Avenue Q, is ditching the puppet and going hands-free for two performances of Decade Three at 54 Below on September 8 and 16. Though Tartaglia plans to musically embrace the maturity that has come with his third decade of life, TheaterMania decided to take him back to childhood to see what the Broadway performer-turned-children's-television-star was like during his earliest performing days. What we uncovered was a past filled with homemade confetti cannons, ethnic costuming, and a fair share of "tradition."
Your show is all about "decade three," but what was decade one like for you?
My mother is a performer and my father is a musical director so I remember that time in my life as just being creative. I was always making or putting on a show or building or something. I was constantly annoyingly asking people to watch me perform.
So you were a living-room performer?
Oh my god, yes. I wanted to be on Kids Incorporated — it was kind of like High School Musical of the '80s — so I would drag my parents into my bedroom [where] I would have a stage set up and confetti cannons I made out of Tupperware and a flashlight as a spotlight. I was always that kid who was like, watch me, watch me! I guess it paid off.
Aside from theater, you spend most of your time working on your Disney show, Johnny & the Sprites. What made you want to get involved with children's television?
I was in a really interesting position because I did Avenue Q and the president of the Disney Channel basically said "do you want to have your own show?" Kids have always been important to me because I had such a good childhood and theater was such a vital part of that. The opportunity to introduce kids to the theater was so exciting to me. I want to leave that mark. I want to be able to say maybe some generation of kids got interested in theater because of my show. That was what drove me.
Do you remember the first musical you were introduced to as a kid?
I was uncomfortably obsessed with Fiddler on the Roof. My dad had the cast album and I was that kid who not only sang the music but made the costumes and built the set. One of my earliest memories was I put [my sisters] in these awful kerchiefs and I made…what do you call them?...with the strings…prayer aprons?...I should know what they're called. But I put them in that and had them do "Tradition." I actually have a visual memory of my sister with her hands up in the air just stone-faced and I'm like, Sing out! They were teenagers — they were not into it at all.
How did you convince them to do it?
I'm pretty sure my mom was like, "Come on guys, it's good for him." She was probably like, "He's going to have a temper tantrum, just do the frickin' number and get it over with!" To this day, when I hear the cast album, I know every word.