InDepth InterView: Matt Bogart Talks 54 SINGS CHESS, Plus 2000+ JERSEY BOYS Broadway Performances, AIDA Memories, Solo Album News & More
Today we are talking to one of Broadway's best baritones all about his accomplished career in musical theatre that began nearly 20 years ago with a memorable turn in worldwide mega-musical smash MISS SAIGON, the thoughtful and debonair Matt Bogart. In addition to looking back at his arrival on Broadway near the end of the last century, Bogart also comments on subsequent starring roles in Broadway productions ranging from Elton John and Tim Rice's Tony Award-winning AIDA to Frank Wildhorn and Jack Murphy's THE CIVIL WAR and far beyond. Additionally, Bogart sheds considerable light on projects he has participated in over the years in regional productions and workshops, including THE BAKER'S WIFE, CAMELOT, ACE, CAMILLE CLAUDEL, R SHOMAN and more. Most importantly, Bogart offers the full 411 on this weekend's hotly anticipated evening of music from famous rock concept musical CHESS set to be presented at popular NYC performance hotspot 54 Below and clues us in on what we can expect from the starry evening, directed by Scott Coulter. Furthermore, Bogart shares stories from the set of SMASH, outlines some of his favorite musical theatre songs to date and details the process in bringing his previous solo albums to fruition along with JAY Records executive producer John Yap, looking ahead to the release of a brand new solo music project set for later this year. All of that, a thorough analysis of participating in 2000 performances of long-running Tony Award-winning Broadway super smash JERSEY BOYS, appearing in the international broadcast and DVD edition of hit jukebox musical SMOKEY JOE'S CAFÉ, memories of the legendary 2002 COMPANY at the Kennedy Center Sondheim Celebration and much, much more!
More information on 54 SINGS CHESS on February 15 at 7 and 9:30 PM is available at the official site here.
PC: Have you ever participated in a full production of CHESS?
MB: Well, here's the thing: Scott Coulter played the Russian when we did CHESS in Cincinnati and I was actually in the ensemble of the show.
PC: No way!
MB: I was - and dancing, for God's sake! Nobody needs to see that! [Laughs.]
PC: And now you're doing it at 54 Below.
MB: Yes. Scott called me and said he had gotten Jessica Hendy - who also did it with us at CCM way back then - along with some other people onboard for the project. I told Scott, "Listen, man, I don't care what song I sing in the concert - I am just happy to be a part of it." And then he gave me "Anthem"!
PC: The big song!
MB: I know! I was so surprised! I wrote him back right away and said, "Scott, you are our Russian, I want you to do 'Anthem'!" And he wrote me back saying, "No. You are doing it."
PC: Do you know who will be doing the American or at least some of his material?
MB: No, I don't - I haven't seen the final song list yet, actually. It's mostly about the songs, though, as you know, so nobody will be playing just one character or anything in this concert, I don't think.
PC: You and Jessica Hendy have performed together before, as well, have you not?
MB: We have. There's a composer named Richard Oberacker who put together an evening with Jessica, Scott, Rachel Ulanet and I at Don't Tell Mama's and now we are getting together again to do this. Jessica and I have also done a show together named ACE that he wrote for me - we did it in Cincinnati and St. Louis and it has had a life in other theaters since then; the Signature Theatre and the Old Globe and places like that have done it, too.
PC: You are old friends, then, for sure.
MB: We are - we definitely are. And, you know, I am just happy to be a part of anything that involves all of these artists that I love working with - and of course to revisit the music of CHESS. I mean, honestly, I just can't wait to sing these songs.
PC: Have you performed at 54 Below before?
MB: Yes - once. Last July, I did a reading of a show with Pamela Bob called PEOPLE LIKE US. We did the entire show there with Todd Almond at the piano - he's the guy who wrote the show. Todd is very busy right now, of course - he's actually working with Courtney Love at the moment, believe it or not.
PC: Todd's work with Laura Benanti is so superb - her 54 Below album with him is absolutely terrific.
MB: I know, I know. I don't use this word very often, but Todd is definitely a genius. I worship him and follow him everywhere - whatever he is doing. He probably thinks I'm a stalker or something. [Laughs.]
PC: A score like CHESS really requires a lot out of its performers. How do you approach roles that may not precisely fit into the baritone range, particularly in the typically range-y the mega-musicals?
MB: Well, I think that some of the leading man stuff in things like Andrew Lloyd Webber's shows can be a little bit outside my range - some of the tenor stuff in WOMAN IN WHITE and that kind of thing, for example. I mean, I can cheat a little bit if it is a rock-based score - but, I can be out of my comfort zone if it is supposed to be real, legit tenor musical theatre-type material. But, you know, I can sing bass in JERSEY BOYS and I can play Billy Bigelow, too - I can pull off a lot of material, but I do have to say that sometimes the high tenor stuff is not a great fit.
PC: You famously starred in another mega-musical on Broadway, MISS SAIGON, but MARTIN GUERRE gets some love on your SIMPLE SONG album, as well - and, rightly so, I say.
MB: That's a score that I really love, too, Pat. Since you're a fan, I can tell you that I was highly considered to do it when they did it over here in DC, but I ended up not getting cast for one reason or another. I learned basically the entire show for the audition, though, so then I took the music with me and I asked John Yap if I could record it - and it turned out to be the only song that they didn't record for the MARTIN GUERRE American recording.
PC: I am such a huge fan of your SIMPLE SONG album - THE BAKER'S WIFE, MARIE CHRISTINE, AIDA, MASS; what a list.
MB: That's such a huge compliment for me to hear that, Pat! I am really proud of that album. Of course, it's not cheap to do something like that either, so I am really happy you like it.
PC: Adam Pascal just did this column (available here) and I was curious if you could recount replacing him in AIDA?
MB: Well, they decided that they were going to hire a standby a little while after they opened and I was the first standby that they hired. They had an understudy for Radames in the chorus, but they decided that they would like to have someone cover that role all the time as a standby, too. So, I was the first one to do it and then Will Chase took over for me and then Richard Blake and Cheyenne Jackson - we were all standbys for Adam for a while.
PC: What a starry group!
MB: Yeah! It was a good job at the time, too, and it afforded me to do a lot of things - like produce the solo album.
PC: Do you enjoy rock-based scores in general? AIDA, MISS SAIGON, CHESS, JFK and JERSEY BOYS all are obviously influenced by rock.
MB: Well, at first, that was more foreign to me, actually, because I studied legit musical theatre and singing with opera students and opera teachers at the University of Cincinnati. So, the rock thing was a huge learning curve for me - Paul Bogaev was the music director, supervisor and conductor of AIDA and he really put me through the paces on that trying to get me up to speed. So, I took that and ran with it and used Adam as a model, as well.
PC: You certainly brought something new to the role, too.
MB: Listen, I by no means do what Adam does, but I'm not sure that Adam does what I do either, you know? [Laughs.]
PC: You each had your own unique take on the part.
MB: Yeah, we did.
PC: Did you get a chance to work on it with famed director Robert Falls at all?
MB: It was actually more put-in-type rehearsal with the stage manager and associate director and conductor from what I remember - people like that. That's pretty standard. Robert came in for two or three note sessions while I was around, but they were not directed towards me. Honestly, I'm not sure if Robert ever saw me do the show - he was busy with a lot of other things in Chicago at the time from what I remember.
PC: I think AIDA is one of the strongest scores of the new millennium. Did you enjoy performing those songs? Two made it onto your solo album, after all.
MB: Yeah, I do. I definitely think the music contrasted to a lot of the other stuff I decided to record for that album, too, so they fit on there nicely. I have to give a lot of credit to John Yap, though, because he told me, "If you are going to do a solo album, record a lot of the stuff from shows that you have performed in so the album will sell." [Laughs.]
PC: Gotta break even, right?!
MB: Yeah, that's part of the commercial side of recording a solo CD such as that, of course.
PC: Your "Proud Lady" is magnificent. Did you ever do THE BAKER'S WIFE at any point onstage?
MB: Actually, I didn't - well, not really. But, I did a reading of THE BAKER'S WIFE with Alice Ripley at the Roundabout Theatre Company when they were considering doing it as part of their season years ago.
PC: Who directed it?
MB: Joe Mantello directed it.
PC: How fascinating.
MB: Yeah, it was basically a reading and then there was a concert - there was a reading, we worked on it and then we did a concert of it for donors and the board and a huge invited audience at Studio 54. After we did the concert they decided not to do the production - I'm not sure why.
PC: This was before the Papermill Playhouse production, yes?
MB: Yes, this was a few years before that.
PC: Did you do the revised version with the townspeople and additional material based on the Trevor Nunn West End staging?
MB: Yes, we did. It was like 2 and a half hours long. You know, I think that part of the problem with it was that parts of the creative team were unwilling to give up parts of the show and revise it and so Joe Mantello had his hands tied and couldn't really change it at all to make it work better. So, Papermill took it over and decided to do it a few years later and they made some changes, actually, but I think those changes had been on everybody's minds for many, many years. I didn't get a chance to see that production, though.
PC: Do you still sing "Proud Lady"?
MB: I do, but it's really difficult to find an accompanist who can play it! [Laughs.]
PC: Part of why I asked! It is notoriously impossible to play.
MB: Yeah, man, you definitely can't just bring that into an audition - it's suicide.
PC: MARIE CHRISTINE's "I Don't Hear The Ocean" is another standout of your solo album, from another lesser known show.
MB: Can I just tell you that I love that show so, so much?! My wife and I saw it at the West Beth Center downtown when they did the workshop of MARIE CHRISTINE with Chris Innvar and Audra [McDonald] and the whole cast.
PC: What was that like?
MB: Well, I remember that it was July and it was burning hot and they opened the garage doors at the West Beth - so, it actually felt like Louisiana and you were sweating so much. But, honesty, watching MARIE CHRISTINE there that day was the best theatrical experience of my life - ever.
PC: Wow! High praise.
MB: By far! By far. It was incredible.
PC: MARIE CHRISTINE is the last original new musical to open on Broadway in the 20th century.
MB: I didn't know that. How cool.
PC: Would you like to play Dante someday?
MB: Ugh. Are you kidding me?! I would totally love to do it! I actually suggested it to a good friend of mine, Molly Smith, who runs the Arena Stage. She always tries to do projects that never really got their due or shows that have a big American influence - of course, this one being set in Louisiana and all the racial issues it addresses makes it a good fit. She didn't bite yet, but I planted the seed. I would really love to do it down there - especially in the round and everything like they have it set up there. It would be amazing.
PC: Did you know Michael John LaChiusa prior to that?
MB: I have known Michael John for many, many years. I remember I was asked to do this 24-hour writing symposium and my song was one of his and it was about Madonna talking about her p*ssy. [Laughs.]
PC: Only Michael John!
MB: Only Michael John! It was so random - but it was great. I remember I had to learn it and perform it all in just a few hours. It was a lot of fun. Then, he hired me to do a cabaret with him that he sang in and performed in, too - LALALACHIUSA. A lot of great people were in it with me - at Joe's Pub.
PC: You have done a workshop or two with him, as well, yes?
MB: Yes. I did a show with him called R SHOMAN. I played The Thief and it eventually became a different show [SEE WHAT I WANNA SEE].
PC: "She Looked At Me" and "Big Money" are both so fabulous as performance pieces for that character.
MB: Yeah, they are - they were both in that version. I did demos for that, too, I remember. I didn't end up doing the production of it, but Michael John still calls me from time to time to work on different projects with him. Speaking of Michael John's songs, I have another solo CD in the works - it's been in the works for many years, but John and I are finally coming to the end of it...
PC: Can you give us any clues on what will be included?
MB: Well, as far as Michael John's stuff goes, it's got HIGHEST YELLOW and some other pieces that don't actually belong to shows. I am very excited to get that out there in the world because I really like to record songs that I really believe in - songs that speak to me and songs that hopefully speak to everybody else.
PC: Your AIDA co-star Idina Menzel of course ended up headlining SEE WHAT I WANNA SEE Off-Broadway. Did you see it?
MB: Actually, I didn't. I think I was already engaged with JERSEY BOYS. I couldn't be happier for Idina, though - an amazing woman; an amazing person. To see all the success that she has had, it proves that good things happen to good people sometimes! [Laughs.]
PC: How magnanimous.
MB: Talented people, too! Idina is so, so talented.
PC: How long have you been doing JERSEY BOYS exactly?
MB: I've been doing it for over 6 years now...
PC: So, well over 2000 performances, then.
MB: Yes, definitely. Let me tell you, though, there are worse things than doing a show like JERSEY BOYS that is as big a hit and is as enjoyable for the audience to watch and as enjoyable to perform in as it is - and also to raise my family on. I've had two kids since doing JERSEY BOYS and bought an apartment in the city and then moved out of the city - we live in Westchester now. So, yeah, there are worse things in the world than doing a show for a long time - especially a show as great as JERSEY BOYS.
PC: Are you looking to take on a new role sometime soon?
MB: Yeah, I am ready to try something new, I think - I am - but it has been a great blessing for me and my family.
PC: What is your absolute favorite moment to do every night?
MB: Well, it's certainly an ensemble show, but I really love when it all climaxes in the sit-down scene in the second act - it's a lot of fun and always very alive with all the guys. That's my favorite thing to collaborate on and do everyday.
PC: Do people at the stage door recognize you from SMOKEY JOE'S CAFÉ? The DVD is ubiquitous and it was shown on TV, of course.
MB: I would say less so for people not in the business, but there are people who do know me from that - sure. There are people who keep an eye out for stuff like that anyway - things that are recorded for television or for film like that was. But, yeah - that's always a nice thing when somebody says, "Oh, I loved you in this," or, "I remember you from this!"
PC: Did you enjoy participating in the filming of SMOKEY JOE'S CAFÉ?
MB: I did. That was a really, really fun project to be a part of - obviously, it's a really great show that nobody expected to run for five years like it did. It was a really entertaining, audience-friendly show, as well, which was great to do.
PC: SMOKEY JOE'S CAFÉ was one of the first major filmed performance as part of the Broadway-themed pay-per-view series, too.
MB: That's right. I'm not sure what they called it or if they are still recording these shows, but, yeah - it was totally new at the time.
PC: Certainly filmed performances have become much more popular in the 15 years or so since.
MB: That's definitely true.
PC: Would you like to do another one - maybe a live TV event?
MB: Oh, of course I would! But, you know, there are a lot of people out there now competing for those parts and those roles. Of course, I'm not at the top of the list, but I will go in and audition and see what happens. Why not?! But, yeah - I agree; I love them, too. I think it's so great that people want to see theatre in that medium - whether film, TV or streaming.
PC: Is it a special kind of thrill for you to know that a performance of yours lives on like that does indefinitely?
MB: Yeah - it really is. I felt that when we were recording it, too - it was actually one of the first things that was recorded in HD for television, so that was new at the time. I was hoping great things for it and I am glad it has found its place.
PC: Do you ever watch your performances on YouTube? An entire AIDA performance of yours currently exists on there if you weren't aware.
MB: I keep hearing that! I haven't seen it yet myself. That's funny.
PC: Another recording of yours that I had to mention is your cover of "Kiss Of The Spider Woman" on THE MUSICALITY OF KANDER & EBB - so thrilling. How did that come about?
MB: Oh, thank you! I can't remember how that came about, but that track was recorded specifically for me by John, I think. So, they asked me to record it and we picked a key - I remember John wanted it to be very desperate in a way, and I think it is. I also remember that day that John really worked me out in the studio - I didn't have much of a voice left after singing that 8 or 10 times in a row! [Laughs.]
PC: You have a longstanding affiliation with CAMELOT. Is that a show you would like to tackle again in the future?
MB: You're right, I do. It came my way several times. As a matter of fact, I did it at Arena Stage first and I really enjoyed myself. Then, I auditioned for Roundabout when they were considering doing it - I guess Roundabout is the theater that keeps considering me for things but doesn't cast me. [Laughs.]
PC: It's a bit of a trend in your career so far, apparently!
MB: The biggest CAMELOT thing, though, was I was cast in a production of CAMELOT that was set to star Liam Neeson. Can you imagine that?!
MB: That was supposed be my big break, man! But, unfortunately, he ended up pulling out and they cancelled it.
PC: What a shame.
MB: It was. But, yeah, CAMELOT has been really good to me over the years and I think I am ready to finally play Arthur.
PC: In a book-heavy show such as that, do you prefer to have ample time to work the scenes equally with the music?
MB: I do. JERSEY BOYS is very book-heavy in a way, too, but we really fly through it in an interesting way, where with CAMELOT all the dialogue needs to get its due just as much as the music does.
PC: Are there other dream roles you'd like to do soon?
MB: King Arthur in CAMELOT, definitely. Bobby in COMPANY, too. I've done COMPANY now four times, but every time I have played one of the husbands! [Laughs.]
PC: The Kennedy Center COMPANY was near-definitive. Was that a particular joy to participate in for you?
MB: Oh, yeah - anybody who was lucky enough to go down to see any of those knows; just a wonderful, wonderful experience. COMPANY is one of my most favorite memories - and, then, to work with Stephen Sondheim, of course, too! Everybody who worked on those shows down there in rep probably agrees - it was just an incredible experience for all of us.
PC: Did Sondheim give you any specific insights personally?
MB: He just gets right to the point - instead of filling the air with a lot of noise, he just zeroes in on the specifics. I think his music does that, too - his music; his art.
PC: What a great cast, too! You and Alice together again.
MB: Yes, I played Paul and Alice Ripley played Amy and we got to do "Not Getting Married Today" - and, you know, honestly, I think Paul loves Amy unconditionally, for all her quirks. They really let Alice fly with her sort of off-beat way of coming up with characters and so I just played the straight man foil to her and loved every single minute of it. It was so much fun.
PC: Alice's portrayal of Amy is so iconic - the yellow rubber gloves.
MB: I know, I know - I love that you remember that and know all these details.
PC: If they did another Sondheim Celebration, would you join up again?
MB: Of course, I would love to do that again. I would love to do some more Sondheim roles - I actually had a theater out West ask me to do SWEENEY a little while ago, but I couldn't work it out in my schedule. I'd of course love to do George in SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE, as well - and Bobby in COMPANY, too, like I said before. I'd really love to do PASSION, as well - I love that show. I know when it came out people were like, "What is this?!" but, in my mind, I just really believe in that show and what it says. I'd love to have a stab at it.
PC: Was it a particularly exciting element to have Jonathan Tunick himself conducting?
MB: Oh, of course. He's such a sensitive soul, but also a true artist in what he does. [Pause.] He's truly amazing. It was truly an honor to be onstage while he was conducting that score that he basically birthed a new sound for.
PC: Working on COMPANY, did you and John Barrowman ever have a MISS SAIGON Chris-off?
MB: [Big Laugh.] Since you asked, I know that John Yap put together this ultimate MISS SAIGON Chris mash-up - just for sh*ts and giggles - of all the Chrises singing "Why God Why" on the same track; all singing different lines. He's recorded a lot of us - John, myself, Sean McDermott - and so he has all of us singing one line each for the whole song. It's really funny, I guess - I haven't heard it yet myself.
PC: Looking back, what is the one role that got away?
MB: Hmm. Well, I did a musical at Goodspeed with Linda Eder called CAMILLE CLAUDEL that Frank Wildhorn wrote. It was years ago, but I had a great, great time doing that and I enjoyed being a part of that process. I was sad to see that that show ended up not happening anywhere after that. But, you know, there are lots of shows out there that we keep our eyes on.
PC: Who did you play?
MB: I played Camille's brother, Paul, who is one of the most fascinating people I have ever played or ever read about even. Speaking of that, I also did a reading of the show AMAZING GRACE and that person - John Newton... if you Wikipedia his life, you won't believe what you read. The show has a lot of it, but not all of it. Between him and Paul Claudel, I think those were two roles that I really felt were special. I also did ZHIVAGO out in San Diego at La Jolla Playhouse and I liked doing that a lot, too - I won an award for it and stuff, too, so that was great. I am happy that that is getting its due now in New York and I hope the best for that show - they're right around the corner from us at JERSEY BOYS, actually.
PC: Did you ask Des McAnuff about switching shows?
MB: [Laughs.] I didn't, but Paul Nolan is playing the role now and he is a great talent - people know him from JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR and ONCE and other things.
PC: Lastly, is it true you filmed a few episodes of SMASH?
MB: Yes, I did. I had a great time working with the people on it - especially Katharine McPhee - and I loved working with Joshua Bergasse, who choreographed it. In the end, they ended up not using me, though. I actually recorded three episodes since they wrote a little bit more for me once we go there and we recorded a whole song together - Katharine and I; "Our Little Secret". I played JFK and she played Marilyn and we did this little striptease scene together, seducing each other into bed. It was for the show-within-the-show [BOMBSHELL]. But, unfortunately, then they hired a different guy. I had a lot of fun while I was there, but I wish they portrayed theatre people a little differently on the show if I'm being honest.
PC: Would you be open to participating in the BOMBSHELL concert?
MB: Yeah, I think so. I'm not sure that they would ask me. Marc [Shaiman] usually has very specific ideas about what he wants, so we'll see. If they asked me, I'd love to.
PC: Would you like to do more at 54 Below in the future after 54 SINGS CHESS?
MB: Oh, absolutely! I think it's a great space and I think it's so amazing that Broadway now has a place to go perform - names or no names or whatever. It's all about really great talent being put up onstage and really great material getting its due. It's so important that these types of pieces get heard - things like CHESS and also new material, too. There's nothing much better than that - getting out there and collaborating and telling stories onstage like that. So, I am so glad that there is a space for us to do that in New York. I love 54 Below.
PC: Thank you so much for this revealing and fascinating chat today, Matt.
MB: Thanks to you, too, Pat. Great talking to you today. Bye.
Photo Credits: Walter McBride, JAY Records, etc.
From This Author Pat Cerasaro