GYPSY OF THE MONTH: Gavin Lodge of 'Annie'
On stage and off, Gavin Lodge is a man of many vocations. In just one number in Annie, "N.Y.C.," he plays both a beggar and Santa Claus (a tap-dancing Santa at that). His other roles in the show include the dog catcher out to get Sandy, Judge Brandeis and FDR cabinet member Harold Ickes.
In real life, too, Lodge has pursued several different occupations. The would-be diplomat, who speaks French and Spanish, majored in international affairs and worked on political campaigns before ever performing professionally. He's also created an app and written two as-yet-unpublished books. And he's an inveterate adventurer and traveler, most recently taking his infant son to Italy.
"That's what I would do if I had no responsibilities and endless cash," Lodge says of traveling. He's been to eastern Africa, Peru's Machu Picchu and Iceland, among other destinations. The trip to Italy was his "Annie-moon," taken after he'd been cast but before rehearsals began (he's taken other vacations like that, when he's known he'd be starting a job). Lodge attributes his wanderlust to the road trips he and his mom made every summer when he was a child.
Born in Indianapolis, Lodge grew up in Lakewood, Colo. The Younger Generation Players, a Denver-area children's theater troupe, was his only performing experience other than school plays and choir before he settled in New York in 2001. For more than a year preceding his move to New York, he worked on Al Gore's presidential campaign and the initial U.S. Senate run of Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.). Now Lodge has four Broadway shows to his credit, including the entire 15-month run of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, where he understudied the lead role of Tick. He's played principal roles regionally as well, among them Harold Hill in The Music Man and Jerry in The Full Monty.
Yet while he was attending the University of Colorado in Boulder, Lodge was focused on a career in diplomatic service. "When I went into college, I knew that I wanted to be a diplomat, I wanted to work overseas--I was positive of it," he says. Nonetheless, he'd originally intended to double major in international affairs and theater. But the school's BFA program didn't really allow for much outside coursework, so he double majored in international affairs and philosophy and performed in some college productions. After graduating, he spent the fall of 1999 in Iowa as a get-out-the-vote organizer for the Gore campaign leading up to the Iowa caucuses; he would do similar work for the Missouri, Pennsylvania and Minnesota primaries in early 2000.
For most of that year, however, he assisted former broadcasting executive and congresswoman Maria Cantwell as she ran for U.S. Senate (she won and was reelected again this November). Serving as Cantwell's "guy Friday," Lodge helped write speeches and transport her to appearances and provided general support, assistance and a sounding board. Cantwell and Lodge spent a lot of time together and got to know each other well. And as valuable as he was to her, she could tell that just maybe there was another kind of work he'd rather be doing. After the election, Lodge recalls, "she said, 'You can come and work for me, but I don't think you want to do that. I think you want to go give New York a try.'" She was convinced particularly by an evening during the campaign when she and Lodge went to karaoke with some fund-raisers. "I ended up, shall we say, giving quite a performance," he says. "She said [remembering that], 'I knew that you didn't want to go to D.C. and be a bureaucrat.'"
So New York it was. "I arrived in the city completely wet behind the ears," says Lodge. "I threw myself into dance classes, because I figured that would probably be the skill I could [improve] to get into the chorus of a show." He came here full of optimism: His first audition was for a NETworks tour of--prophetically enough--Annie. "I thought, Man, I'm gonna book this in a heartbeat," he says, laughing at his naivete. He didn't get that job, and his first professional gig turned out to be a summer '01 production of Anything Goes on Hilton Head Island, S.C.
Lodge had been similarly confident when he auditioned for the Rent tour in Denver during his senior year of college and was invited to callbacks in L.A. "Suddenly I'd had illusions of thinking, 'Oh, I'm going to have to drop out of my senior year in college to go be on Broadway.' Needless to say, that didn't happen." His optimism didn't flag even after years in the business. He received his Equity card doing the national tour of 42nd Street in 2003, then got into the Broadway company for the last eight months of the revival's run in 2004. "After 42nd Street closed, I thought, Man, this is so fantastic, I'm never gonna leave Broadway," he says. Instead, it took him a couple of years to appear again on Broadway.
That would be in Spamalot, which he also joined as a replacement (in 2008) after doing the tour. It wasn't until this year that he went from one Broadway job to the next. Priscilla Queen of the Desert closed in late June, and just a few weeks later Lodge was in rehearsal for Annie. In Priscilla he'd gone on as Tick numerous times, covering Will Swenson as the drag queen who saw his young son for the first time in a while. The role took on additional meaning for Lodge after he and his partner, Todd Ellison, became parents partway through the show's run. Ellison Lodge was born in September 2011; Lodge (who is the child's biological father) and Ellison used an anonymous egg donor but have become good friends with the surrogate who carried the baby.
"After Ellison was born," Lodge says, "not only did it focus my interactions in Priscilla--Tick had really magnificent scenes with the kid, especially at the end of the show--it gave me a stronger sense of responsibility and sense of connection, rather than having a nebulous feeling of 'Oh, my gosh, what if I weren't a good father?'
"Before Ellison was born, I was much more sappy and sentimental at the prospect of having a kid. I was very emotional and excited and nervous. But I became less sentimental because things are more immediate and important right now. So I live a little more in the present reality. Hopefully, it makes me a better actor, too, because I am more experienced in life, it focuses me more in getting to the truth of the story instead of playing around with the what-ifs."
Lodge is slightly reluctant to talk about his partner, as Todd Ellison has been the music director on three of Lodge's four Broadway shows: Annie, Spamalot and 42nd Street (where they met). "I don't want the world to think I can't get a job without him," Lodge says, noting that Ellison recused himself from his Annie auditions--and had nothing to do with Priscilla.
There, of course, have been plenty of other shows Lodge did that Ellison wasn't involved in. Two summers ago Lodge even did a nonmusical, playing Bernard in Boeing Boeing at the Twin Tiers Theater Festival in the Finger Lakes. In 2009 he was seen in both Lucky Guy at Goodspeed and in the title role of The Music Man at TriArts Sharon Playhouse (both in Connecticut). Lodge has played The Full Monty's Jerry at two regional theaters, Forestburgh Playhouse in upstate New York and the Maltz Jupiter Theatre. For the latter he was nominated for Best Actor at the 2008 Carbonell Awards, a prestigious prize in south Florida theater. Lodge had the title role in a 2007 NYMF production, Sherlock Holmes (The Early Years), and has performed in Crazy for You at both Massachusetts' North Shore Music Theatre and Broadway Palm West of Mesa, Ariz. Earlier in his career Lodge portrayed the Pirate King in The Pirates of Penzance at the Fulton Opera House in Lancaster, Pa.
But what of the political life he abandoned? Some of the friends he made in those days are now employed in the Obama White House, and while Lodge admits to occasionally wondering "That could have been me?" he has no regrets about choosing theater. "It's all the same business," he remarks. "You're dealing with the same fragile egos, and desperation, and kissing up.... Theater is very political: You don't want to burn bridges, and you want to get along with people, and you want to problem-solve, and there's no reason to make a mountain out of a molehill, etcetera. The same lessons in life apply to both industries." He adds: "Many of my friends who are in in politics admire what I do. They think that what I do is more interesting than what they do."
Both Lodge's interest in politics and his yen to perform were triggered in elementary school. In third grade he went to a local production of The Sound of Music: "When I saw that there were kids on stage, I said, 'Why can't I do that?'" He participated in the Younger Generation Players from fourth to eighth grade, "and that definitely planted very strong seeds for me." The political seeds were planted at home. "I came from a very politically opinionated family," he says. "I remember being at my grandmother's house in Indiana in the summertimes when I was probably in second or third grade and hearing her rail at the TV because of the Reagan administration."
Lodge remains politically active, just not professionally. He's had letters to the editor published, including one in the Toronto Sun about gay references in media when Priscilla had its out-of-town tryout in Toronto (read it here). His pet issue is campaign finance reform: He mentions it in his Playbill bio and links to the voter-advocacy organization Common Cause on his website. "I witnessed on the campaign trail so many instances of the people who have the money influencing those who make the decisions," explains Lodge, who supports public financing of campaigns. "It's very apparent that politicians almost have to be beholden to the people writing the checks, when they should be beholden to the constituents. If special interests didn't influence politicians to the great rate that they do, we could have solutions to all of the big issues, I think, and we wouldn't have such partisan politics and infighting going on."
Outside of politics, Lodge has written two books--semi-fictionalized memoirs--that he'd like to get published. In addition, an app he developed, Ghostlit, is now available on iTunes and at the website Ghostlit.com. Lodge describes it as a "Zagat guide for regional theaters": Ghostlit's user-generated content provides information on working terms and conditions at various theaters and features comments and ratings by performers who have worked at them.
Pictures of Gavin, from top: in his headshot; kneeling, as Ickes in Annie, with (from left) Lilla Crawford, Dennis Stowe (the March 2009 Gypsy of the Month), Jane Blass and Merwin Foard; with his son, Ellison, over the summer; as Jerry in The Full Monty at Maltz Jupiter Theatre; left, in Lucky Guy, with James Gray. [Annie photo by Joan Marcus; Lucky Guy photo by Diane Sobolewski]