InDepth InterView: Chad Kimball Talks JULIAN PO, MEMPHIS, Solo Album, Sondheim & More
Today we are talking to a passionate and prolific performer who has appeared in a number of impressive properties over the course of his career thus far - Milky White in the most recent Broadway revival of INTO THE WOODS to his starring roles in MEMPHIS and beyond - the charming Chad Kimball. Addressing many of his previous roles as well as looking ahead to his new headlining part in the New York Musical Theatre Festival premiere production of JULIAN PO - written by AnDrew Barrett and Ira Antelis and directed by Kirsten Sanderson - Kimball shares candid stories and illuminates his commitment to character and dedication to his craft as one of the most compelling musical theatre performers of his generation. Additionally, Kimball shares first news of his new solo album project which kicks off this summer and he outlines his intentions and ideas for the forthcoming theatre-themed release. Also, Kimball reveals some stupendous backstage stories of his starry days and nights leading MEMPHIS on Broadway and beyond, tracing his half-decade journey with the multi-Tony Award-winning Best Musical - as well as performing for President Obama and Michelle themselves during the run and hosting some major celebrities backstage - and similarly gives us the 411 on the behind-the-scenes goings-on during a Tony Award-winning Best Revival he participated in, INTO THE WOODS, and outlines working with the men behind that musical, James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim. Plus, Kimball opens up about his successful boutique clothing business shared with his brother, comments on the role of technology in theatre today and what it was like to star in the first Fathom presentation of a Broadway musical in movie theaters byway of MEMPHIS, looks ahead to future roles he would like to take on and what musical writers inspire him most - and much, much more! PC: Where do you see the role of technology in theatre today, particularly insofar as how you interact with fans? PC: It's a new musical, too. You did a new play last year at NYMF, right - MURDER IN THE FIRST? PC: Before you left MEMPHIS, the show was broadcast in Fathom-equipped movie theaters nationwide - the first Broadway show to be shown in such a way. Was that a thrill? PC: It's live theatre, after all! PC: No way! PC: Without a doubt! PC: Did you ever actually go on in it? The run was so short. PC: It would be great for you to duet with Linda Eder someday. PC: What a sight that must have been...
More information on the NYMF presentation of JULIAN PO, running July 8-14, is available at the official site here. Tickets are available here.
Broadway Lives In Me
CK: Oh, well, it's amazing, isn't it?!
PC: It really is.
CK: The thing is, though, is that it is difficult to keep up - when I did MEMPHIS, especially. You know, I want to engage people and answer people's specific requests and make sure they have a good time - but, sometimes it's tough to accommodate everybody. Once in a while, I'll take like five days off... [Laughs.]
PC: Everybody deserves a break.
CK: Yeah, I take some time away from Facebook and Twitter and everything once in a while. Luckily, I have a friend who runs my fan page and everything, so that is taken care of. People seem to be really excited - I'd maybe even say ecstatic - about JULIAN PO, though...
PC: It's your first musical since MEMPHIS, after all.
CK: They are so gung-ho - I think they feel protective of me or something? I don't know. I know we have a bunch of people coming to the opening night event we created, too. It's crazy - it's just crazy.
CK: Right. I did a play last year - MURDER IN THE FIRST. So, since then, I've sort of been traipsing between Seattle and LA and here.
PC: On that note, tell me about your clothing label. How did that come about?
CK: Well, I own a clothing label with my brother and we are going on almost ten years now. When I left GOOD VIBRATIONS to do LENNON - yes, that really happened [Laughs.] - it was 2005 and I kind of thought, "I'm going to LA and see what happens there," and, so, my brother and I started this t-shirt company and we had no idea what we were doing at first - none. We just wanted to go into business together, so we thought doing t-shirts together would be fun - you know, buying them in bulk and taking them to a screen printer and selling them online - so, then, we did some research on the contemporary fashion world and we've changed direction a few times since we started. But, I'm happy to say that we are now in about six hundred boutiques nationwide - Lolly Clothing; that's the name of our brand. And, we do private deals, too - we make some clothes for some big box stores as sort of a silent partner.
PC: Wow. What progress!
CK: Yeah, it's all kind of amazing! It really is. We went from not knowing anything about clothing to doing all this; doing what we are doing. We have a really robust social media tag, too, so that is great to have - it's all women's clothes and we have about twelve employees now working for us. The technology has played a huge role in it - we are two hours on Facebook a day in promoting the brand and everything like that.
PC: Did you go to LA back then originally to audition for pilot season, perhaps - or now?
CK: Not really - I've sort of stayed away from the pilot season thing out in LA. You see, my family is on the West Coast, so I like to go out there to see them, mostly. You know, when I left MEMPHIS, I was really, really badly injured with nerve damage, so it took me a while to get back on my feet and I wanted to go out to Seattle and be with my family for a while. So, then, after that, I did a lot of readings and stuff back here.
CK: Oh, yeah! That was really, really exciting - especially because it was one of the first times it was done. I remember that at the time we were busy sort of just doing our thing and getting through eight shows a week - we didn't really get it, you know?
PC: It hadn't sunk it that it was so significant to be doing - yet.
CK: No, it didn't. So, we started to understand it once we had the first of the five shows that we did that were filmed - the floating cameras and the jibs over the audience and the huge truck with the director and the crew and everyone else. I mean, they won an Emmy for it - the technical crew! And, so, after that, we realized that this was a really big deal. Of course, Lincoln Center has done stuff on TV and things like that, but this was completely different - and, it was really nice that we got to be the first. It is so awesome for me to be able to say to people who say, you know, "Aww, I didn't get to see the show!" and I can say, "Well, it's on Netflix! It's on DVD! Check it out!" [Laughs.]
PC: It's everywhere.
CK: It is - I've seen it! But, yeah, I mean, I remember going to see the filmed version after never having seen the show before myself...
PC: What an experience that must have been! Take me through it.
CK: Let me tell you - I mean, I even forget what theater it was at; somewhere down in Union Square, I think. The first time I saw it, all I could really focus on was the cowlick on my head while it was fifty feet high and I am standing there out of breath and dripping with sweat. [Laughs.]
CK: I know! I know, but I felt like, "Couldn't someone have told me to comb my hair?!" [Laughs.] But, it was a lot of fun to see.
PC: Did you re-visit the show when Adam Pascal took over?
CK: I did. I saw it twice with Adam, actually - I think I went sometime after his opening and then the closing night.
PC: Is it true that Justin Timberlake was courted to replace you, among other star replacements?
CK: Hey, listen, if Justin Timberlake wanted to do it or even considered it that would make me feel really good! That would be so cool. He actually came to see the show and stopped backstage with Jessica Biel...
PC: What was JT like one-on-one?
CK: Oh, he was great - he was so, so congenial. We both share the same sense of humor, I think, so we got along great - I've seen him a few times since that, actually, just sort of out randomly, so we've gotten to have a few conversations. He's originally from Memphis, so that was interesting to hear him talk about how the show reflected that. I have to admit, the first time I met him, I was so tired - it was right after we had done the show, remember - that I was just kind of like out of it. That happened a lot - you know, it'd be Glenn Close or Joe Biden or whoever and I'd just sort of politely meet them and it wouldn't hit me until I was on my way home that night that, you know, "Oh, my God! That was Joe Biden!" [Laughs.] I've met so many celebrities and didn't even realize it really until afterwards.
PC: You appeared on Jimmy Fallon's show, as well - which JT appears on often.
CK: Oh, yeah - that was a lot of fun to do; I loved doing all those appearances for MEMPHIS, they were a lot of fun. It's so weird you mention him, though, because I just saw him the other night at this bar that I was at having a couple of drinks with some friends - and my friend took a picture of him and I totally photo-bombed it by mistake! [Laughs.]
CK: Yeah, but I talked to him a little later as he was leaving - I was like, "Hey, I was on your show once when I was in MEMPHIS," and he said, "Oh, yeah, man! I loved that show," so it was pretty cool to see him again and have a little chat.
PC: Looking back, when you were in GOOD VIBRATIONS, did BrIan Wilson or any Beach Boys stop by as far as you remember?
CK: Did they? I'm not sure. I think he came after we opened, actually - you see, we had a sl'opening; I coined that phrase. With GOOD VIBRATIONS, they moved back the opening but still had an opening night party on the night anyway. You know, all of our friends and family had gotten tickets for the opening date - flights to New York and hotels and everything - so the Dodgers decided to not actually open but keep the same opening night event as had already been planned. BrIan Wilson was there for that, but that was the only time I remember seeing any of The Beach Boys around. I didn't really talk to many people on that show, though...
PC: Is it a totally different feeling onstage being in a big hit like MEMPHIS versus a big flop like GOOD VIBRATIONS or LENNON?
CK: Well, in the case of LENNON - Don Scardino worked for ten years on that piece! It was so beautiful - I loved it. And, then, GOOD VIBRATIONS started at Vassar and five months later they were on Broadway. So, they were very different... [Laughs.]
CK: But, you know, GOOD VIBRATIONS just really didn't have much of a chance, I don't think - they didn't have time to do the artist's thing and rewrite and rewrite and rewrite. But, LENNON... [Sighs. Pause.] I just feel like LENNON came from such an artistic standpoint. Unfortunately, some of the producers got too involved in the end, I think, and the show sort of fizzled out, which was such a shame. But, getting back to your original question, I do think it is different.
PC: How so?
CK: In the case of GOOD VIBRATIONS, the idea behind it was basically, I think, "Let's try to get another MAMMA MIA!" because, you know, how could anything go wrong using the music of The Beach Boys? [Big Laugh.]
PC: Surefire, until it's not!
CK: Right! So, yeah... but, LENNON - that was a joy. A true joy. I mean, singing those songs? Ugh. Meeting Yoko, too. I remember that I had to sit out for a week because I had laryngitis and she reached out to me - she said, "Are you going to be ready to go back onto the stage?" and I said, "I think so," and she said, "I am sending you to my specialist!" And, she did! She was so sweet to me - such a sweetheart. And, there was real artistry there in that show. So, it was much different - one was done for the art of it and one was done to see if they could make money. Since those two shows, I try to be more objective.
PC: It's all downhill when your Broadway debut is INTO THE WOODS, anyway, is it not?
CK: Well, actually, my very, very first show was THE CIVIL WAR - I was a replacement swing.
CK: [Big Laugh.] Well, I never went onstage, but in the last show they did let me sing as a pit singer. The first song in the pit that I sang was the slave song, "Freedom", so I actually made my Broadway debut as a black slave.
PC: Does that count officially for the record? I suppose so.
CK: I signed the contract - I think once you sign the contract, even if you are a swing or whatever, that it counts as your first Broadway show. I remember that I was so excited back then, too, because I got the job seven days before I graduated college.
PC: What a coup!
CK: Yeah, it was amazing. It was just a fluke, though. So, then, three weeks after that it was all over - THE CIVIL WAR closed - and so I was like, "What?! That's it?!" But, yeah - that was technically my Broadway debut, I guess.
PC: What are your thoughts on Frank Wildhorn's infamous string of flops on Broadway thus far in his career?
CK: Well, listen, here's the thing with Frank for me: I absolutely, pure-as-day love the music in THE CIVIL WAR. I mean, I went on tour with it as a replacement for two months - I just love that music. Now, I haven't really heard a lot of his stuff since, but I loved the music for THE CIVIL WAR. I thought that was so daring - I mean, it's like, how do you make a musical covering the huge time-span of the Civil War? But, I thought a lot of what they did was pretty great. I think Frank writes great hooks and some great songs, but the shows seem to falter for whatever reason.
CK: Maybe - but, she's too tall! She's like six feet tall - like 6'3' in heels! I'm only 5'9' ¾! [Laughs.] I'm just kidding. I love her - I'd love to do that.
PC: Getting back to INTO THE WOODS, your second Broadway show...
CK: Yes! INTO THE WOODS - my second Broadway show! [Laughs.] That was a total blast. So much fun.
PC: What is the best Sondheim story you can remember from your time spent with INTO THE WOODS?
CK: Oh, there are a bunch - he was around a lot, you know! I think that it's so funny - the whole thing where people refer to him as, you know, [Formal.] "Stephen Sondheim;" whereas other people, those who've worked with him, say, you know, [Casual.] "Hey, Steve!" There's this like weird question for me all the time because of that - do I call him Stephen or Steve? So, one day, I was sitting in the audience when we were in tech at the Ahmanson and I had just taken over as the cow, Milky White, from Kate Reinders - she actually asked me if I could talk to James Lapine with her about it because she was very upset. You see, I was already cast as a standby for Jack and some other stuff at the time. So, we went over to James and then she just started crying and he looked at me and just said, "Well, can you do it?" I don't know - I don't think he does well with tears...
PC: Perhaps not.
CK: So, I said, "Well, gosh - sure! I have been watching from the sidelines for three months while we've been rehearsing." So, I ended up doing it. And, one day - I'll never forget - Steve came and sat right next to me when I was in my full cow regalia.
CK: It was just a tech rehearsal or something and I remember just shooting the sh*t with Stephen Sondheim wearing this crazy cow costume. It was a great memory. Then, after that, he came to see the show a few times and every time he would see me after the show or whatever he would always give me this look - this sort of sly smile. I think he was a little bit afraid, to be honest. [Big Laugh.]
PC: You were very convincing as a cow, after all!
CK: Yeah, plus, with the head on and the utters sticking out and clopping around and everything... [Laughs.]
PC: That's so funny. What an elaborate costume that was!
CK: $150,000! Can you imagine?
PC: Was it tailor-made?
CK: Oh, yeah! Of course, it was originally built to Kate Reinders's body, so we really had to tweak it a lot out at the Ahmanson. Walking around in it was the hardest thing - I actually started to get tennis elbow, so I asked if they could put some sort of hydraulic spring-type thing in there. And, so, when it was announced that we would be going to New York, they tweaked it with the springs and they ended up putting what looked like thermonuclear devices in there! They were ridiculously complicated - and $25,000 each!
CK: Yeah. But, wow, I remember the day that I got them - I bounded up the stage and it was like nothing I'd ever done; it was so much fun.
PC: You had so much character and the costume had such buoyancy and cartoon-like affectation to it.
Today we are talking to a passionate and prolific performer who has appeared in a number of impressive properties over the course of his career thus far - Milky White in the most recent Broadway revival of INTO THE WOODS to his starring roles in MEMPHIS and beyond - the charming Chad Kimball. Addressing many of his previous roles as well as looking ahead to his new headlining part in the New York Musical Theatre Festival premiere production of JULIAN PO - written by AnDrew Barrett and Ira Antelis and directed by Kirsten Sanderson - Kimball shares candid stories and illuminates his commitment to character and dedication to his craft as one of the most compelling musical theatre performers of his generation. Additionally, Kimball shares first news of his new solo album project which kicks off this summer and he outlines his intentions and ideas for the forthcoming theatre-themed release. Also, Kimball reveals some stupendous backstage stories of his starry days and nights leading MEMPHIS on Broadway and beyond, tracing his half-decade journey with the multi-Tony Award-winning Best Musical - as well as performing for President Obama and Michelle themselves during the run and hosting some major celebrities backstage - and similarly gives us the 411 on the behind-the-scenes goings-on during a Tony Award-winning Best Revival he participated in, INTO THE WOODS, and outlines working with the men behind that musical, James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim. Plus, Kimball opens up about his successful boutique clothing business shared with his brother, comments on the role of technology in theatre today and what it was like to star in the first Fathom presentation of a Broadway musical in movie theaters byway of MEMPHIS, looks ahead to future roles he would like to take on and what musical writers inspire him most - and much, much more!
PC: Where do you see the role of technology in theatre today, particularly insofar as how you interact with fans?
PC: It's a new musical, too. You did a new play last year at NYMF, right - MURDER IN THE FIRST?
PC: Before you left MEMPHIS, the show was broadcast in Fathom-equipped movie theaters nationwide - the first Broadway show to be shown in such a way. Was that a thrill?
PC: It's live theatre, after all!
PC: No way!
PC: Without a doubt!
PC: Did you ever actually go on in it? The run was so short.
PC: It would be great for you to duet with Linda Eder someday.
PC: What a sight that must have been...
CK: Oh, it was so much fun to do - I relished doing that. I remember there was one performance when we were in previews in New York and Kerry O'Malley and Stephen DeRosa were onstage singing "It Takes Two" and I was at the back of the stage as Milky White and I decided to walk downstage. So, I clomped downstage and stood in the middle of them as they were singing this duet, and, then, I looked up at him... then I looked up at her... then I wiggled my ears. [Pause.] They were livid! [Laughs.] PC: Did they play around with giving you any mooing in the show at any point? PC: Would you consider it? PC: Alice Ripley is such an inspiring actress, is she not? PC: Or a new show, perhaps? PC: Oh, no! PC: What a story. PC: I'm glad I asked! So, what can you tell me? PC: An unusual, but pretty perfect fit, I'd say. CK: Yeah. With JULIAN PO, I get it - I totally get it - but, I am still at that point now where I am asking a lot of questions. I mean, we have a lot going on in the show - for example, we have these muses who are sort of narrators but also play instruments, too, so when we added those to the show earlier today, it just added a whole new layer to everything... PC: An allegory, maybe? PC: The ending seems particularly reminiscent of PIPPIN. PC: Have you gone back to your alma mater to visit since you MEMPHIS success? CK: I hope so. I mean, there are some really, really fantastic songs in this show and I cannot wait for people to get the chance to hear them - they will really jump at some of them, I know. I am so excited to be a part of JULIAN PO. I can't wait to perform it for an audience.
PC: What happened after that?!
CK: James Lapine came up to me and said, "Oh, Chad... [Sighs.] that made me laugh, but just don't do it again," and I said, you know, "Oh, I was just trying something out!" [Laughs.]
PC: How did the idea for an actual actor playing Milky White come about in the first place?
CK: Well, Susan Hilferty was the costume designer on INTO THE WOODS and she and James had planned it all along, I think. I think that he went back and forth on the idea, though, a little bit. I mean, he loved it, but the audience reaction was sometimes too much - after all, Milky White is allowed to break the fourth wall and everything, so it changes the dynamic. I think that James Loved that aspect of it - and that it was popular - but he is also a serious, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, so I think he was kind of mixed about it. That was fun to watch, though - his reactions and how the audience would react to things we tried out.
PC: I remember the audience going nuts for you when I saw it.
CK: Oh, yeah! Especially, there is this moment in "I Guess This Is Goodbye" where Jack sings the line about [Sings.] "Your head won't be on a plate," and I stuck my head out and turned to the audience with eyes wide open and then I would run after him and fall down, with my hoof out and motioning to him like, "Please! Please!" [Laughs. Sighs.] Oh, God, I relished that so much - I would do that role again! I'd play Milky White again.
CK: Well, Paul Gemignani wanted more sound - James said to me at one point, "Chad, can't you sing in there?" and Paul interrupted and said, [Deadpan.] "He doesn't have a microphone in there!" [Laughs.]
PC: That's so funny.
CK: Oh, Paul was so, so funny. Actually, whenever I would go on as Jack it would always be hilarious...
PC: Why so?
CK: Well, you see, Adam Wylie's Jack was very sprightly and mine was very sort of curious and slow, so Paul would always say that the show would end five minutes later whenever I was on. So, once while I was doing a scene, he hit his arm where his watch would be over and over and over again while he conducted - sort of like, "Hey, let's go! Let's go!" And, another time, he actually taped a piece of paper to his forehead with a picture of a clock on it. [Laughs.]
PC: It will be intriguing to see how they do Milky White in the film, don't you think?
CK: It will! And, hey, if they need somebody to green-screen or whatever, I'm available!
PC: I was curious: is it true you were offered Rooster in Lapine's new ANNIE revival?
CK: No, that is not true.
CK: Eh. I honestly have a real love of creating new stuff - I am just not that interested in doing things that have been done before. That drives my parents crazy, though - you know, they used to ask, "So, how much are you making, though?" and I'd be like, "Uh, a MetroCard!" But, that's what really drives me, I think - and, the proof in the pudding is MEMPHIS. I mean, I started with MEMPHIS in 2003 and continued with it all the way to Broadway - and it was a real collaboration; our opinions were heard and we had input into the show and into the story. So, that was heaven for me. There's nothing wrong with doing revivals, but I'd rather create a role and not have people say, you know, "Oh, well, he's no Tim Curry!" in the case of that part.
PC: Is this NYMF production of JULIAN PO your first time performing the material or have you done some workshops?
CK: The first time I performed JULIAN PO was a workshop we did a few weeks ago - that was kind of the first time I had ever heard of it. I had first worked with Kirsten Sanderson, the director of JULIAN PO, back when I did LITTLE FISH out in LA with Alice Ripley.
PC: The LITTLE FISH production which would up being recorded, as well.
CK: Yes, we did record that. Actually, Jesse Tyler Ferguson came and saw it - he did it at Second Stage, but they didn't record it then - and he said to me after the show, "Hmm. So, you are doing the recording, then? Must be nice!" [Laughs.] You know, I have known Jesse for a long time and it was so funny - I was like, [Jesse Imitation.] "Oh, I'm sorry, dear!" It was all good - he's a great guy.
CK: Oh, Alice is just the best - I love Alice so much. The Blank Theatre in LA is like elbow-to-elbow and we just had the best time doing that show there. Of course, she was very serious about this role and doing it right and everything, and, so, I remember I said to her, "You're just afraid to be funny, Alice!" and she said, "I'm not afraid to be funny! Am I?!" She was just a hoot - she was great. It was such a great production. Let me tell you a fun story about Alice...
PC: Please do.
CK: OK. MEMPHIS and NEXT TO NORMAL were both on Broadway at the same time and so I gave Alice a walkie-talkie and we would walkie-talkie back and forth before the show all the time - it was really fun and I have some hilarious memories. It went on for quite a while, too - at least before her battery died. You see, the Booth is right by the Shubert - all that separates them, basically, is a door. I've done three or four shows on 44th St., actually, at this point - the Broadhurst, the Eugene O'Neill, the Shubert - I am a 44th St. boy, I guess.
PC: In speaking of Alice and LITTLE FISH, Michael John LaChiusa is so talented, too.
CK: Oh, he is - and he came out to see it; and, of course, he was just totally... totally Michael John!
PC: There is only one!
CK: There is only one! I just love his stuff and he is such a nice guy - I'd love to do HELLO AGAIN someday.
CK: Oh, yeah! Are you kidding?! Of course.
PC: Were you ever involved with his GIANT at any point?
CK: Unfortunately not - and, I wish I saw it, but I missed it. You see, when I finished MEMPHIS, I needed a break - bad. People would say to me, "It's my opening night!" and I'd say, "So what?!" And I knew I needed a break when I felt like that. But, speaking of Michael John, I actually did a reading of another one of his shows at one point - R SHOMON.
PC: Who did you play?
CK: Oh, I've done so many workshops and readings by now, I don't even remember. I remember Audra McDonald was the lead - she was amazing. It was a really cool show, too. Since then, Audra and I got to do that White House special together [IN PERFORMANCE AT THE WHITE HOUSE], too, which was so much fun.
PC: Marvin Hamlisch conducted that, as well. What a night! Do you have any recollections of him?
CK: Well, the only real interaction that I had with Marvin was at the before-show thing and the after party, really. We all came in and sang our solo stuff and that was it, pretty much, but it was such a nerve-wracking night - and totally amazing, too.
PC: Many of the participants have told me how harrowing it was performing at that event - Brian D'arcy James, Karen Olivo, et cetera. What was it like for you personally?
CK: Oh, my God! Well, first of all, George Wolfe directed it. At the time, I was very sensitive of my hearing in one my ears because I couldn't hear very well out of it all the time, so sometimes I would put earplugs in my ears. So, we did four sound checks at the White House, which is hilarious because it takes an hour to get cleared every time you come in to the White House and you are doing a five minute sound check. So, there, I was using a hand mic - which I prefer because you have more control over it. Then, five minutes before the live performance, George says, "Hey, I really want you to wear a lav [bodymic]!" And, I should have said, "No way!" but, instead I said, "OK!" And, the whole time I was singing I couldn't hear myself - at all! [Laughs.]
CK: Yeah, it wasn't good - I was so nervous and was singing from the back of my throat because of the mic thing, but I had so much fun anyway. It was a great night. I mean, the President is literally three feet in front of you and you are performing for him and the First Lady, right there!
PC: Was that a particular honor?
CK: Oh, it was amazing - and I got to meet them both! Before that, the First Lady came to see MEMPHIS and there was this whole time, for two weeks or something, that the Secret Service was going around Broadway and checking out theaters - we all knew something was happening, but we never knew what show she was going to be seeing until she saw it. So, I'll tell you a story... it was a Sunday, and I had severe nerve damage by this point that really affected my breathing and I was usually totally spent by the end of the week anyway. So, that day, I texted the stage manager earlier on and said, "I just can't do the show today," and I got a text back saying, "Call me asap. 911." So, I did, and he said, "Montego tried to call out today, as well, but I have to tell you - and this is completely confidential - that the First Lady of the United States will be in the audience today," and, right then, I literally started to cry. I burst into tears. "OK, OK - I'll be there," I said. And, with the adrenaline, it ended up being one of the best shows I ever did.
PC: How did you manage to get through it? Vitamins? Medication? Luck?
CK: Something just happened - I just got through it and did it. Meeting them was something else, though - I remember at the White House event we were all in this Little Room and we all got to meet the President and the First Lady; this little line of, you know, Nathan Lane and Idina Menzel and Elaine Stritch and Brian D'arcy James. So, it went like this: you go into the room, this military liaison takes your name and then they announce you. There were only four or five people in the room besides us - a photographer, two secret service agents and us - and, so, then they came in... and Michelle hugs me! She was like, "Oh, my God! That's my guy!" and threw her arms around me and gave me a big hug. And, I'm like, "Oh, my God!" and I totally forgot about the President!
CK: I did! She said, "Oh, I loved MEMPHIS so much and I requested you to be here today myself," and then I looked over and the President was standing there smiling. It was totally surreal. It was insane.
PC: Wow. So, what are some of your favorite formative theatre experiences?
CK: Well, I remember seeing MISS SAIGON - that was one of the first big musicals that came to Seattle; CRAZY FOR YOU and MISS SAIGON were the first ones I saw and after those I was just hooked. Hooked.
PC: You'd be great casting as John in the show, since you mention it.
CK: Oh, actually, I'd really like to do that - that would be fun. That's a revival I would want to do.
PC: Do you see a return to Broadway in your future sometime soon?
CK: Oh, yeah - absolutely. I would love to do some film and TV, too - I've written a few things and I'm hoping to get some things going with my agents and stuff for that, actually. But, Broadway is something I definitely want to get back and do - it's something I have to do. Broadway is what I love to do most.
PC: What about a solo album from you someday?
CK: Well, I'm happy to announce that it is in the works right now, as a matter of fact.
CK: I think that this summer I am going to back to Seattle - there are a bunch of reunions and my mom retired after forty years of teaching Kindergarten - and I think we are going to put together the album out there. That's what we're planning, at least.
PC: What is the sound of the album, as far as you can say?
CK: Well, let me give you an example - there's this cover of a song from SWEENEY TODD, "Not While I'm Around", done by Jamie Cullum. His rendition of that song doesn't even sound like a musical theatre song to me - it sounds like an alternative or pop song or something! When I heard it, I thought, "You know, that is something that is really cool that I'd love to incorporate." And, also, my idea is to basically take from Off-Broadway shows, too - old songs; new songs; whatever. It will be all songs that I really like and we'll do them with arrangements that people would never really expect from me. I think we should call it something like SONGS I LIKE THIS YEAR or something like that. We'll see.
PC: Did you toy around with doing an album of cover songs that evoke the era covered in MEMPHIS? It would be a popular concept given your fan-base, I'd think.
CK: Yeah, I know what you mean. If people ask me to sing stuff from MEMPHIS I always do and I love doing stuff in that vein, too - I've started to branch out a little bit in my live shows and I actually am doing some stuff in the MEMPHIS genre. For instance, I've been singing "Walking In Memphis" - which I love - as well as a couple of other songs that frame my experience in MEMPHIS but are not from the show itself. "Walking In Memphis" has become one of my favorite songs to sing, actually.
PC: What other songs are you considering for the album?
CK: Well, I am thinking it might be a little outside Broadway, too, because I really love Elton John's song "Empty Garden" and I think I could do something cool with it.
CK: Yeah, I didn't even know that song until a few years ago. I mean, I thought I knew every Elton John song there was, but, then, someone played "Empty Garden" for me and it affected me so much - especially because the song turns out to be about John Lennon and I have my own associations with John Lennon and LENNON. I don't know, it's become one of my favorite songs ever and I just love singing it.
PC: Do you have a targeted release date for the album yet?
CK: Yeah, probably the Fall - I hope we will have it done by then.
PC: Have you ever sung any William Finn material? You seem particularly well-suited to that, I would think.
CK: Yes. I actually did the first ELEGIES reading - in the part that eventually was played by Christian Borle, I think. You see, I was doing INTO THE WOODS at the same time I did that. I remember that I sang "My Dog" and some other stuff, but my most vivid memory was sitting next to Betty Buckley and we sort of flirted quite a bit - it was pretty awesome. [Laughs.]
PC: Bringing it all full-circle now with your newest project, what can you tell me about this new NYMF show, JULIAN PO? The song already online, "Different People", is gorgeous.
CK: Oh, thank you, Pat! And, isn't she the cutest little thing who sings that with me - and what a beautiful voice! But, yeah, with JULIAN PO, it's strange... it's like, either I get a sense of a show immediately or I don't, you know?
PC: It grabs you or it doesn't.
PC: An "a-ha" moment.
CK: Yeah. And, Ira [Antelis] just writes really great songs with a pop sensibility but also with a musical theatre edge. Everything in the score melds together so well. I think people will be very intrigued by this show - a story like this has never really been done before in a musical, I don't think.
PC: What is the actual story of JULIAN PO?
CK: JULIAN PO is about this guy named Julian who is sort of done with life. There's a movie of it, too, but I have never seen the movie. So, the story is basically about this guy who takes this train to go to the ocean where he is going to go commit suicide - at least that's what he has decided to do when the story starts. So, he goes to this little town and stops there, waiting for his train to pick him up, and it never does.
PC: How fascinating.
CK: He meets this whole cast of characters there - there are really only seven people in the town. So, they all have completely different personalities, obviously, and he starts to become the town therapist - and, by doing that, he starts to realize his own worth. But, they all know that he is on his way to commit suicide, too. And, the other thing is that the town is a sort of mythical place - they tell him that there is no train in this town and there is no highway in this town. So, there's more to the story...
CK: Oh, yeah - maybe! Maybe. But, the thing is, he soon realizes that he doesn't want to die after all and they tell him, "No, no - you have to follow through on what you said you were going to do." They don't say it in a mean way or anything, but, they basically tell him, "You've fixed us and you've done what you needed to do here, and, now, you have to do what you have to do for yourself." So, as dark as it sort of might sound, it's actually pretty funny, too.
PC: So, JULIAN PO has a bit of everything in it.
CK: It definitely does. As my acting teacher would say, "If Chekhov doesn't have any comedy... no one will appreciate tragedy without comedy." So, I would say that JULIAN PO has a lot of moments that are really heart-wrenching, and, also, there are moments that are very funny, too. I think it's a really great story - and, we are developing it as we go along, which is the best part.
PC: Is it one act?
CK: It's ninety minutes right now, but I think it might get a little longer - especially in the next incarnation.
PC: Do you see it moving beyond this production?
CK: Oh, yeah - I think it's got legs.
PC: JULIAN PO sounds like BRIGADOON meets PIPPIN with some Chekhovian shadings.
CK: [Big Laugh.] That's perfect! That's a really good way to describe it, actually.
CK: Oh, yeah - mmhmm. Totally.
PC: Tell me about your young co-star featured on "Different People", one of the highlights from the score that we discussed earlier.
CK: Oh, well, the young girl is actually the town sage - she is this sort of mythical orphan of the town and she basically knows everything that is going on and what is good for everybody, and, especially, what is good for Julian. And, so, that's how they get so close and sets up why they sing that song. We have such a great cast for JULIAN PO - Malcolm Gets, Luba Mason, John Fletcher; everybody. It's a great cast. What's funny, too, is that I replaced Malcolm once in FINIAN'S RAINBOW, so it's great to actually do a show together now.
PC: How did you get involved with JULIAN PO in the first place?
CK: Well, Kirsten Sanderson, the director, is a good friend of mine and she works a lot with AnDrew Barrett - they've done a number of plays together; they are frequent collaborators - and, so she called me one day and said, "What are you doing in June?" and, I said, "Send me the script," and so she did and I just jumped at it as soon as I read it - I loved the script.
PC: You were sold by the script alone.
CK: I was - and, Kirsten, too. I love working with her and she is such a sage person - after spending time with her, you realize she is one of those people that teach you about life; you just go away thinking, "Oh, yeah - that's how it is, I guess." There are things I have taken on in my philosophy over the years from her - she is so smart and so wonderful. And, what's really funny about JULIAN PO, too, is that I came to find out that AnDrew Barrett and I are alums from the same college. So, we had a great time talking about all our old teachers and everything - it was a lot of fun. [Laughs.]
CK: I have, actually - and it was so weird! I mean, people kind of freaked out when I first went back after MEMPHIS and I was like, "Uh, guys, seriously - I've got some major problems!" [Laughs.]
PC: It's not always as sunny for a star as it seems.
CK: Not all the time! But, yeah, I had a blast going back - they opened this new theater there and it was really fun to be able to go back and take part in the celebration and all of that.
PC: Will your journey with JULIAN PO continue beyond NYMF, then, do you intend?
CK: Oh, I do - I mean, it's already selling really, really well and we've already added an extra performance, so it's a really exciting time right now.
PC: Is it too small-scale for Broadway at this point, do you think?
CK: It might be best Off-Broadway - at least I think so. In my experience - it's so weird to say that; it's like, "Hey, mom, guess what?! I have experience! I have an opinion!" [Laughs.] - it's always best to go out of town and work on it a little bit. I think it's always better to let things percolate and not rush into anything.
PC: Hopefully more songs will make it onto YouTube in the interim, then, for those who miss it!
PC: Lastly, WALLFLOWER is another recent web project of yours I wanted to touch upon. What can you tell me about that series?
CK: Well, I only did the first three episodes of WALLFLOWER, unfortunately - but it's a great, great show and I am glad that I got to be a part of it. You see, I had stuff that I was doing in Seattle - I was in a couple of readings that I couldn't get out of and some family stuff, too - so I couldn't come back to film the last two episodes. They had to get somebody else, which is a shame, but there was nothing that I could do. It was a lot of fun to do, though.
PC: With a new musical and a new solo album project on the horizon, 2013 will be an exciting year to say the least.
CK: It will! It is. I have to say, I am so excited to be back here in New York and getting back into the whole theatre thing - I just love Broadway. This is what I love to do.
PC: This was an absolutely stupendous chat and I thank you so much for this today, Chad.
CK: Absolutely - this was such a blast, Pat. Thank you so much for doing this. I really appreciate it. Bye.
PC: Did they play around with giving you any mooing in the show at any point?
PC: Would you consider it?
PC: Alice Ripley is such an inspiring actress, is she not?
PC: Or a new show, perhaps?
PC: Oh, no!
PC: What a story.
PC: I'm glad I asked! So, what can you tell me?
PC: An unusual, but pretty perfect fit, I'd say.
CK: Yeah. With JULIAN PO, I get it - I totally get it - but, I am still at that point now where I am asking a lot of questions. I mean, we have a lot going on in the show - for example, we have these muses who are sort of narrators but also play instruments, too, so when we added those to the show earlier today, it just added a whole new layer to everything...
PC: An allegory, maybe?
PC: The ending seems particularly reminiscent of PIPPIN.
PC: Have you gone back to your alma mater to visit since you MEMPHIS success?
CK: I hope so. I mean, there are some really, really fantastic songs in this show and I cannot wait for people to get the chance to hear them - they will really jump at some of them, I know. I am so excited to be a part of JULIAN PO. I can't wait to perform it for an audience.