BWW Interview: Broadway-Bound Tony Yazbeck Reveals Details on Toe-Tappin' 54 Below Debut, ON THE TOWN and More!
Just in time for his return to the Great White Way as Gabey in next season's revival of On the Town, perennial song and dance man Tony Yazbeck will soon heat up the stage in his 54 Below debut (August 11, 14 & 19) with The Floor Above Me- a thrilling evening of tenor melodies and tenacious tap dancing.
The beloved Broadway vet-late of Little Me at Encores!, who has also appeared in Gypsy (Tulsa), Chicago (Billy Flynn), Irving Berlin's White Christmas (Phil Davis), A Chorus Line (Al), Oklahoma!, Never Gonna Dance and NBC's Smash-will be joined by fellow Broadway hoofer Curtis Holbrook (If/Then, West Side Story, Xanadu) and tap dance sensation Melinda Sullivan (So You Think You Can Dance, Glee).
Yazbeck, who is currently in rehearsals for a concert version of KISS ME KATE at London's Royal Albert Hall, recently took the time to chat with BroadwayWorld about the concerts, preparing for ON THE TOWN, and much more. Check out the full interview below!
What can people expect from your 54 Below show?
It's something a little different for sure. It's not a standard cabaret; it's more of a show. We're not using handheld microphones, we're gonna sing and dance. I have a good five numbers with tap dancing in them. I have two featured guest artists who I'm really excited about- Curtis [Holbrook] and Melinda [Sullivan]. They are so fantastic. And my friend Jeremy Benton is coming in for Curtis for the last two shows I think.
I have a four-piece band, Usually you get a piano, bass and drums, but I'm also adding a trumpet, so there will be some really great flavor in there. I'm trying to use the stage as much as I can for all of the movement and dance that I've created for the show. It will be a span of old MGM classics to some standards and some newer stuff. I've got some Beatles and some Joni Mitchell...some Martin Sexton. It's something I started getting together about a year ago and now we get to see if it works!
People don't usually get dancing at small venues like 54 below!
It's a small space, so they agreed to move the drums to the floor so that I can have as much space as possible up there and we realized that there's some room! If you can get everything out of the way there is definitely space for some movement up there! I'll be excited to see how it plays.
And you'll be incorporating stories about your career as well?
Yeah, I'll definitely be touching on how I got into the business as a kid and about how I broke through the barriers that got me into the business as an adult, to get people to take me seriously. And there will be a bit about love and loss, which we all of course have gone through. So hopefully it will be enough in an hour so that people will get what they paid for!
Many of the performers that I've talked to are usually really pumped to get to work in that space, it that something that you're excited about?
Oh I am. It's very intimate and has a feel of an old-time era, which is where I live as a performer. It's very exciting though because you get to go downstairs into a basement and it's late at night. You feel like there's something exciting about to happen. I can't wait to see who shows up!
How are Kiss Me Kate rehearsals going?
It's wild! I've never been to London before and I'm staying in Hampstead, which is such a gorgeous neighborhood. I didn't realize how amazing it would be. The best part about it is getting to work with John Wilson and his orchestra. It's almost like a match made in heaven because he specializes in this old-time music. He has built all of these MGM scores from the ground up because they were all lost in the shuffle. So he basically rewrote them and they're his now. To be able to work with someone who understands my style is incredible. And we have this great choreographer named Alistair David and a wonderful director and this huge cast - the orchestra is 46! It's huge, 6000 people! It's already sold out at the Royal Albert Hall.
It's one concert and the BBC is recording it- we are live on radio on Saturday and so they'll be airing it here and then hopefully eventually in America. It would be stupid not to because it's going to be a huge event. But it will be on the BCC at Christmastime all over the UK.
It's pretty cool because they've been tailoring it to me. I'm a big tap dancer, and when they found that out, they found an alternative dance arrangement of "Bianca" that the original guy who did it in London did. He was a tap dancer and I was like, "Oh my god, I have to do this version!" So now it's an added, new feature in the show!
Soon you're coming back to start rehearsals for ON THE TOWN...
I think we are starting in less than three weeks now!
I'm exhausted just thinking about it!
I know, there's a lot going on! It's going to be bigger and better than it was last summer. I think people are in for something they don't even realize. They're gonna get what they want. This orchestra is 28 pieces. I don't think there is a better score in my opinion. The ballets especially, to my heart...I just love them. We have such an amazingly talented ensemble, and Josh [Bergasse]'s choreography is gonna be even boosted up to the next level for Broadway.
I'm so excited to get in the room and honestly just look at everyone in the room and be like: "We made it! We're here!" I've had a long journey! I did the show about six years ago at Encores! And I thought we had a good chance of maybe moving then. Now to do it is so wild. To feel like you have a second chance.
And you get to reunite with a lot of the same people!
And that was one of the things that made it so special last summer at Barrington! We had incredible chemistry, the five of us. I think they realized that this was a big reason why the show worked. There was so much love on that stage. There wasn't even much of a set at Barrington. It was these actors and dancers and that was enough. It really tells you what theatre can be if you just tell the story right. That being said though, I think they are revamping the set and there's lots of new Broadway things happening, but they are keeping the core and the heart of it really the same.
Is there an aspect of the show that you are most excited to revisit?
I'm particularly excited to hear the orchestra play the ballets, especially the "Lonely Town" ballet. I LOVE how Bernstein wrote that score... I can't wait to hear it live. The sitzprobe is going to be an event for me- just to hear what it's like with the huge cast. I've only had that a couple of times and it's rare in theatre nowadays to get a full-sized orchestra with a full-sized cast. The music is the emotional connection for me, so listening to them being performed will be the most exciting. I have some favorite songs but really it's in the notes of the score where the magic happens.
It was announced a few weeks ago that the winner of 'So You Think You Can Dance' will get to join the cast. Did you watch their ON THE TOWN number?
Yes, I was in London when it all went down and I was really excited, I wanted to see it! I had to wait 'til the next day though for someone to send me a YouTube clip to finally see it. I was really excited, first of all because it's wonderful promotion. I think this producer is doing a really great job with it, between that and this video promo that came out recently. We were all so excited to do that. We filmed it in two days and got great feedback. It really showed the joy of what we're going through with the show already.
But I think that with 'So You Think You Can Dance' it's such great cross promotion. And we get to show the world that this is dance for Broadway. It's the Jerome Robbins- style but Josh is doing his own version of that. These dancers are understanding that this is the real deal and they're shooting for that as a goal. And we get to say: "Hey, we're on Broadway! Come see the show!"
Your character in the show gets 24 hours to spend in the city. What would you do if you only had a day to spend in New York?
That's a toughie! The first thing that came to my mind was that when I was eleven I was cast a newsboy in the Tyne Daly GYPSY. I remember being in New York at that time and feeling like it had this dark, mysterious magic to it- even though 42nd Street and Times Square was a terrible place to be at that point. As a kid, I felt my world opening up. I would love to experience that again and see what it was like to listen to that GYPSY score and walk out into the street to go home again. Just that feeling of being a kid and to live that experience so young. Just looking up and feeling that I had the rest of my life ahead of me. It was a little bit spooky at that time but I think that was why I liked it. There was so much hidden magic. I'd like to relive that.
You've gotten to work on a lot of truly classic musicals... Is that something you enjoy?
I grew up watching Fred [Astaire] and Gene [Kelly] do work and I found them to be so graceful and effortless. I realized that how they got there was they practiced their butts off and they loved what they did. Then they got on the stage and made it look like it was nothing. I was always so fascinated by that. I feel like now coming into my own I feel like I've been able to take what they did and learn from it. You watch your teachers and you learn and you take and you steal steps. You take styles and make it your own and you can hopefully tell a story through that. It's where I live and I love that era. I think it will always be my thing
I think the challenge now in 2014 is how do we take that old-time style and put it into our contemporary era? How do we connect in 2014 even if I live in an era of the 1940s and 50s? That's the interesting part. I wouldn't do it if I don't love it though!
Do you ever get the time to reflect on the amazing career that you've had so far?
I have them ALL the time. I don't feel like I've ever been handed anything. I think my career has been step, by step, by step. I was a kid in GYPSY looking up at Tyne Daly and Robbie Lambert as Tulsa and watching them. And when I got to New York I was booking jobs in the ensemble. My first job as an adult on Broadway was being a swing in OKLAHOMA! and sitting next to Susan Stroman in rehearsals watching her work. And I realized that the more I worked, the more I learned and the more of a truthful performer I became. I could just be who I was onstage.
I've been totally blessed to do what I do, but it's also realizing that it takes a lot of hard work and persistence, because there are a lot of people out there who will tell you that you can't do it. You have to just ignore all of that. It's crazy what we do! But with the opportunities I've had, I definitely can't take credit for it all. I have a faith to know that somebody's looking out for me. There's a saying that the desires of your heart were put there by God. I really believe that. I don't believe that I could have had all of these abilities as a really young person just for kicks. I think you just have to trust that sign that someone is telling you to do this and obey it. That's so hard to do when you get into the business and realize all of the rejection. We've all had a lot of it. Anyone who has been a successful actor will tell you how many times they've been rejected. It's part of the process but hopefully you get through it and you can say, "I'm a performer and I'm proud of what I did."
Yazbeck has starred on Broadway as Billy Flynn in Chicago, Phil Davis in Irving Berlin's White Christmas, Tulsa in Gypsy with Patti LuPone (earning an Outer Critics Circle Award nomination), and Al in the revival of A Chorus Line. Other Broadway credits include Oklahoma!, Never Gonna Dance, and Gypsy with Tyne Daly. He appeared off- Broadway in Fanny Hill at the York Theatre, and he has performed in numerous New York City Center Encores! presentations: this past February's Little Me, On the Town, Gypsy, The Apple Tree, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Pardon My English. Regional credits include Harmony at the Alliance Theatre, On The Town at Barrington Stage Co., Far From Heaven at Williamstown Theatre Festival, Antony and Cleopatra at Hartford Stage, Animal Crackers at The Goodman theatre, Singing in the Rain at the St. Louis Muny, My One and Only at Goodspeed Opera (earning a Connecticut Critics Circle Award), and Sycamore Trees at Signature Theatre(receiving a Helen Hayes Award). This August, Tony stars in Kiss Me Kate at the BBC Proms in London and he also makes his 54 Below debut in New York City with his show "The Floor Above Me". He was seen in NBC's "Smash," and the feature documentary Every Little Step. Tony is a master teacher and panelist for the National YoungArts Foundation. His website is tonyyazbeck.net.
ON THE TOWN, the musical comedy love letter to New York City, is set to begin previews on Saturday, September 20, 2014 and officially open on Thursday, October 16, 2014 at Broadway's Lyric Theatre (213 W 42nd St, New York, NY 10036). Tickets for the new Broadway revival of ON THE TOWN are on sale now and available at Ticketmaster.com
For tickets to his 54 Below show, visit: http://54below.com/artist/tony-yazbeck/